Assessing the Miller Legacy, and the Fights to Come

by S. da Silva – BASICS Issue #18

So the David Miller camp in City Hall is finished.  With Giambrone’s sexual indiscretions blown up in the media into a full out public debate, and with public calls for him to step down as TTC Commissioner coming from all quarters, the only NDP’er in municipal politics that had a shot at being the next Mayor had his knees blown out before the race even got started.  But let’s be honest with ourselves: What has this NDP-oriented City Hall really done for working-class Toronto?  More damage than good.

With more than six years in office, the Miller camp had ample opportunity to prove themselves to the working people of Toronto.  Instead of leading a real struggle to get higher levels of government to fund municipalities, or to take back the burden of funding social programs downloaded onto them – such as social housing – Miller’s Toronto managed a system bound for structural crisis. Under such circumstances, it’s been easy for the municipal administration to push through sky-rocketing property taxes, rising transit fees, cuts to community programming, and attacks on the wages of municipal workers. Yet, while the economic situation of Toronto’s majority deteriorated, the police budgets never stopped rising.  Miller’s Toronto swelled the police budget by 40% over his two terms, from $634 million in 2003 to about $900 million for its 2010 operating budget – despite the violent crime rate progressively dropping down to its lowest point in decades.

It was in Miller’s Toronto that municipal workers were forced to resort to a long (and stinky) strike in the summer of 2009.  And it was in Miller’s Toronto that TTC workers were denied their legal right to strike when they were legislated back to work by the provincial government at the end of April 2008.
But while a supposedly “centre-left” government did more harm than good for Toronto’s working-class, and with Giambrone now out of the race for Mayor, we can expect that attacks from above will only intensify under the next municipal government.

In late February, the Liberal MPP David Caplan introduced a private member’s bill that would declare the TTC an “essential service”.  Ontario Premier McGuinty endorsed the bill and pressed city politicians to make the issue a pillar of the City’s next elections.  This legislation would deny transit workers of the quickly eroding right to strike.

The weeks of hysteria in the media about TTC workers sleeping on the job and mistreating customers is all beginning to make sense now.  While the real scandal is a fair hike to $3.00 for a single fare and $121 for a monthly pass, the ire of Toronto’s majority was being directed to the workers that serve them on a daily basis.  With a projected budget shortfall of as much as half a billion dollars on the horizon for Toronto, we can be sure that TTC workers will be the first to be placed on the chopping block at their next round of bargaining in 2011.

With Giambrone out of the race in Toronto’s next mayoral race, the stage is set for the political discourse to be taken further to the right.  George Smitherman is talking about privatizations and creating toll roads; Rocco Rossi is talking about selling off Toronto Hydro; and BASICS Enemy of the People for for January 2008 Giorgio Mammoliti, the city councillor who said we need to call in the army to deal with urban crime, is calling for the creation of casinos and massively gutting grants to in the arts and culture sector.

So let’s face it Toronto. The NDP’ite Miller camp has done little for working class Torontonians expect hold back the most right-wing forces from launching their offensive.  And now that time has come.  So let’s do away with the illusions and get ourselves organized for the major fights to come.