Friday, April 18, 2008

Mayor brings "Torontonian values" to China

Trip funded by city taxpayers

Mayor David Miller has defended his recent, taxpayer-funded jaunt to the People's Republic of China by insisting he will be bringing "Torontonian values" to the despotic regime.

As our city faces a number of imminent difficulties, including a potential transit strike, it is fair to ask whether our chief executive should be travelling abroad on our dime, assuming for himself foreign policy duties heretofore unrelated to municipal government. More important, one wonders just what "Torontonian values" Miller means to represent.

Off the top of my head, here are a few of my values for Toronto: I value being able to get to work. I would value my trash being picked up without it having to be gift-wrapped. I value a city in which kids of every economic background have places to play, free of charge, all four seasons of the year. Just how, exactly, does His Worship buggering off to China address any one of these?

Prosaic as such things may seem to a romantic soul like Miller, these are precisely the sort of issues we elect city leaders to address. Moreover, if these and other city-level concerns like crime, litter and taxes were well in hand, I doubt I or anyone would begrudge the mayor soaring over to Asia to show folks how it's done.

Instead, Torontonians face spiralling costs, deteriorating services, and funerals for teenage victims of violence on our streets. Through it all, our mayor always seems to have someplace else to be. He would rather skip town for a brow-furrowing session over solar power and windmills with Robert Redford than stick around and deal with the issues for which Torontonians elected and pay him.

Here is a simple value David Miller ought to understand -- do the job in front of you before setting off to save the world.

Miller has promised that among his espousal of "Torontonian values" will be some discussion of China's abysmal attitude toward human rights. Not for nothing, what leverage does the mayor of Toronto suppose he can bring to bear upon China's dictatorship? The sheer power of his personality? Having had some years to assess that power, Torontonians may advise Tibetans not to start ringing the bells of freedom just yet.

So far, the trip is going just as one might have predicted. According to Miller's April 14 press release, he has signed a suitably Soviet-sounding "Memorandum of Understanding" to forge a new "culture of partnership" with the mayor of Beijing. Knowing Miller as we Torontonians do, could any of us conceive of a more typically inane gesture for our mayor to undertake? The man continues to defy satire.

The gist of this agreement is that the cities will co-operate to enhance future prosperity (wisely shunning an earlier draft, wherein the mayors would quarrel in order to destroy prosperity of the past), including an exchange of senior staff between Toronto and Beijing. As the arrangement progresses, one wonders who will be schooling whom on the finer points of socialism and state control. If you think the City of Toronto has nothing to teach the Chinese communists about authoritarianism and overreach, try removing a dead tree from your private property or appealing your house taxes.


We don't ask Henry Kissinger to fix our potholes. We expect the mayor to tend to such matters. So the question remains -- what is Miller doing conducting diplomacy in China?

The mayoralty of Toronto may seem too small for a man of Miller's outsized ambitions. But the job is important to those of us who live here. If the basic needs of our splendid city are uninspiring to our current mayor, any number of right-thinking folks, with their priorities in line, would be happy to relieve him of the task in 2010.