On Wednesday, Mayor David Miller rose in council chambers and introduced a motion to reverse the Monday closings of community centres. For his actions, his opponents—who have been fighting for weeks to get the centres reopened—tried to beat him senseless. It was an entertaining show, the kind you’d never see in Ottawa or at Queen’s Park, where Question Period is limited to 40 minutes a day and each question and answer is limited to less than 60 seconds. Under the clamshell’s rules, every councillor had the right to grill the mayor for a full five minutes, and all those who oppose Miller’s tax plan signed up to take their shots.
The unofficial scorers in the press gallery generally agreed that Miller held his own, but that assessment ignored the broader victory for his opponents: Miller, who’d hoped to get his tax plan implemented last summer while staying squirreled away in his hidey-hole, has been flushed into the open, and his opponents are firing at will. The two lines of questioning in council chamber were, 1) Did you personallyapprove the cuts? and 2) Who do you think you are, overruling city counciland amending the approved 2007 budget by yourself? The answers were, 1) Yesand 2) I’ve said time and again that the city is facing a massive fiscalshortfall. It’s a structural problem. We have been relying on reserves, and thosereserves have been drained. We have to balance our budget for 2008, and I hadto address next year’s budget this year. Yes it sounds complicated, but reallyit’s not.
This all has nothing to do with the city’s fiscal crisis—it’s about Conservatives making New Democrats look bad. And as those things go, it’s been pretty successful. Thus far, they’ve managed to tar the mayor with every negative NDP stereotype (he’s beholden to unions, he can’t manage a budget, he loves taxes) while stripping him of many archetypal NDP qualities (New Democrats are populist, but Miller is imperial; New Democrats care for the disadvantaged, but Miller closes community centres).
Meanwhile, Rome burns. Though Miller is unable to explain the problem in a quick, 10-second sound bite, the city does need new sources of revenue. Opposition councillors know it, but haven’t bothered to present an alternative. Nor will they. Miller’s tax plan will likely carry when it comes up for a final vote on October 22. In the meantime, he’ll just take his licks—punishment for his botched stealth operation in July. What matters more now is how fences will be mended starting on October 23.