The fact that George Smitherman and John Tory are both considering applying for Mayor David Miller’s job in the 2010 municipal election is a healthy sign for Toronto’s body politic.

 


Smitherman is a high-profile cabinet minister in the Liberal government.

 

Tory, a well-connected businessman and former provincial Conservative party leader, lost to Miller by a slim margin in the 2003 mayoral race. Either one would present a serious challenge for Miller, whose anemic political fortunes are due in large part to blunders of his own making.

Miller gambled and lost when the federal government rejected the city’s request to use its share of the infrastructure stimulus money for new streetcars. This resulted in a summer scramble to compile a new list of capital projects that comply with Ottawa’s demand for a March 31, 2011, completion date.

If the head of Canada’s sixth largest government didn’t know in advance that the streetcar proposal was doomed, he is guilty of not doing his homework. If he knew the request was doomed and made it anyway, he is guilty of playing politics and delaying much-needed construction work in a city with an unemployment rate of 10.1 per cent.

The mayor’s handling of the municipal strike was also, to put it mildly, bad for his future employment prospects. Miller’s mistake wasn’t that he agreed in the end to gradually phase out a controversial provision that allows workers to accumulate sick leave days and then collect up to six months of full salary upon retirement. His mistake was to create unreasonable expectations by pledging to eliminate the provision altogether and then failing to deliver.

Polls reveal the cumulative effect of such miscalculations. Just 21 per cent of respondents in a recent survey said they would vote for Miller; 79 per cent said they wanted to see a change in city leadership.

At least as important as how Torontonians will vote, of course, is whether they will vote. Only 38.4 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot for mayor in 2006 when Miller was elected to a second term. Maybe a tough mayoral race will draw more people to the polls. I recently met a woman, for instance, who is vowing to vote municipally for the first time ever so she can “get rid” of Miller for failing to end the sick leave benefit.

That’s good news for democracy, but chilling stuff for the incumbent.