Toronto Labour must replace Miller

The mayor of Canada’s biggest city, David Miller, betrayed labour, disappointed his business allies, and was so low in the polls that he announced on September 25 that he will not seek a third term in office. Although the next Toronto municipal election is more than a year away (November 10, 2010), the mega-city’s corporate elite has been busy auditioning potential candidates for the mayor’s chair.

The labour movement should get busy too. It’s time to replace Miller and find standard bearers who will fight for a Workers’ Agenda, rather than fight workers.

Miller began his electoral career as a labour-based, New Democratic Party-backed councillor for the west-end ward of High Park in 1994. Before his successful run for Toronto mayor in 2006 he hooked up with Liberal Party fund-raisers, got Conservative Party strategist John Laschinger to run his campaign, and subsequently let his NDP membership lapse.

Miller’s policies were implemented by an informal Liberal-NDP alliance that controlled the 44-member Toronto city council. Those policies included corporate subsidies, tax incentives and/or deferrals for costly environmental clean-ups, and tax rebates and minimal property taxes for major commercial developers. At the same time, City Hall imposed steeply rising taxes, rents and fees for small homeowners and tenants, and serious cuts to services like street cleaning, snow removal, public access to swimming pools, arenas, community centers and libraries. Welcome anti-corruption reforms were coupled with an economic assault against the majority of residents that still left the city short of operating funds.

The class collaborationist coalition hit a big bump in the road when city hall bosses tried to squeeze the wages, benefits and work place rights of Toronto civic workers. One hundred and twenty pages of management take-away demands precipitated a 39-day strike by 30,000 inside and outside employees, members of Canadian Union of Public Employees Locals 79 and 416, in June and July.

The workers won a partial victory by resisting most concession demands and making modest gains. (See SA, page 10, August 2009.) Then Toronto and York Region Labour Council served Miller and several other city politicians their just desserts by telling them they were not welcome at the 27,000-strong Toronto Labour Day Parade, September 7.

Meanwhile, some of Miller’s Liberal backers, including lawyer/bagman Ralph Lean, and fund-raising co-chair John Ronson, jumped ship. Prominent bourgeois politicians, led by Ontario’s Liberal Deputy Premier George Smitherman, former Ontario Conservative leader John Tory, and several right wing city councillors are testing the water for a mayoral run. The class forces they represent resent Miller for not punishing city workers enough, and for not privatizing services. In the game of municipal musical chairs, the ex-NDP sell-out realized that he would have no where to sit.

Labour Council should learn the bitter lesson from backing a gaggle of Liberals and NDPers in 2006 who went on to legislate in favour of rich developers, bankers and businessmen, at the expense of working people. It’s time to assemble a team of NDP and Labour activists who will fight for a socialist City Hall in 2010.

To make that team accountable, the NDP should convene a Toronto NDP municipal convention, open to all Toronto members. It should debate policies, adopt a programme and determine a method for the selection of candidates for all municipal offices – and find a way to hold them all accountable to that programme. This is how the NDP functioned officially in Toronto up to the 1970s, before a wave of liberal opportunism and populist reform sidelined open and honest labour party politics at the local level. Hard times demand that labour and the NDP head back to the future. -Barry Weisleder