We need better, even if we don’t deserve it.

Yesterday on my Facebook, I posted a status update bemoaning the lack of decent candidates (from the left or right) likely to be vying for the mayoralty of Toronto and I think the idea is serious enough to warrant an expanded opinion.

It’s no secret that I think Mayor David Miller has become a flaccid and terribly disappointing mayor. For someone that seemed so issue driven when first elected, his early failures (destroying the island airport) may have permanently humbled him. I defy you to find an issue on which he’s taken a firm stand since then. Rather he’s attempted, in his hamfisted way, to “play politics”. But even in that effort he’s fallen flat. Mayor Miller has managed a substantial centralization of power in council with the establishment of the “Executive Committee” but hasn’t used that power to implement any substantive change. Worse still.  he has until recently enjoyed a high approval rating and yet he’s still obviously terrified of being unliked. But don’t get the impression that I think Mayor Miller doesn’t have a decent vision of the city. He’s pro-bike, pro-transit, pro-intensification and all of that is great. What he lacks is any courage in his convictions. He could be the Mayor that funded transit with road tolls, built a network of safe, segregated bike lanes and helped the city create a new global image. Instead he’s chickened out on tolls, half-assed a bullshit bike network and sold out our image (i.e. street furniture) to an advertising company. Worst still, he’s taken up valuable time taxing plastic bags to divert garbage while the real garbage disaster (labour unrest) was bubbling away unchecked.

But the point of this post is to remind all you leftys in Toronto that Miller is NOT our Mayor and that currently the other potential options are likely to be even less our Mayor. Do you really think Karen Stintz will be an advocate for transit? Or that John Tory will seek create a viable bike culture? No, they won’t. They’re small picture people, interested in management but terrified of leadership. Then again, David Miller is the exact same way.

Plastic bags? Coffee cups?!? Who gives a fuck? These aren’t grand visions, they’re the kind of things you do quietly becuase regardless of their correctness, they’re boring and uninspiring. And Karen Stintz is right to jump all over the Mayor for trying to make a 5-cent plastic bag tax into a substantial accomplishment.

But perhaps there’s another problem. Perhaps Torontonians are in large part not ready for a grand vision. Or rather that the city (like Canada as a whole) is too regional to implement a grand vision. That suggestion is, of course, total bullshit. New York City is executing on a grander vision for their city, as is London. It’s rocky and painful, but it’s happening. And if those cities can improve transit, increase public space, decrease emphasis on automobile travel then what excuse could we possible have for falling behind? Lack of leadership is a reason, but not an excuse. And having a mayoral system that doesn’t grant our mayor as much singular power as say New York, London or Chicago is a problem to address, not to hide behind.

But we are a weak-kneed populace, terrified of real change. So we have to take a measure of responsibility for taking a young, energetic Mayor like David Miller and helping him fear our shadow. Left or right, we seem to like our Mayors humble and/or stupid. We need better leaders, ones who will ignore us occasionally and push forward through our fear and NIMBYism. But we have to get the correct person. Too left or too right and it’s a disaster. Mayor Rob Ford or Mayor Howard Moscoe would certainly have the tenacity, but can you imagine the horror show of a city either one of them would create. I shudder to think. We are scared of a real leader…but we’re the public, our feelings can be changed.

It’s a tough time for Toronto and not only because it smells bad right now. We have a huge leadership gap and currently no one to fill it. Is there someone out there? There must be. We just have to look a little harder.