Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Miller at the Underground

Written by Aliza Libman - Assistant News Editor
Excalibur - Wednesday, 31 March 2004

Youth engagement in the political process was the subject of discussion on March 26, when Toronto Mayor David Miller spoke at a town hall meeting held on York campus.

Sporting a button that read “subway to York”, Miller discussed youth engagement and community activism with the modest crowd at the daylong conference.

The conference was sponsored by a non-partisan organization called the Ginger Group, comprised of students and academics, many of whom attend York and Seneca.

According to organizer David Sloly, the primary purpose for the conference was “to engage people in public policy debate”.

“We’re here promoting getting involved, but not [specific] parties,” says Sloly, who says that the members of the Ginger Group are “people with interesting ideas about making society better”.

York president Lorna Marsden and Senate chair Ian Greene were among the 75 attendees of the conference.
Miller told the audience that he was proud of his track record since being elected mayor in November.

“We’ve changed the way we do things at City Hall,” he said, noting that a clean city, policing and job creation were his priorities.

Mayor Miller’s ideas to improve society included “Listening To Toronto”, a system of consultation with Torontonians.

“Communities know best what their own needs are,” he said.
The mayor also expressed a desire to find jobs for disenchanted youth and to work for a cleaner city.

During question period, Miller was staunchly defensive of the need for public development.

York Federation of Students vice-president external affairs Alan Kan asked the mayor about transit, suggesting that privatizing the TTC might be a way to alleviate some of its problems.

“Privatizing the TTC would be the single biggest way to destroy the city,” replied Miller, who noted that “not all bus routes make money”.
He also drew upon the example of Highway 407, calling it “an example of ideas triumphing over common sense”.

“We literally gave a gold mine to the private sector,” the mayor said.
While much of the crowd praised Miller for his initiatives to better the city and his support for the Jewish community in the wake of anti-Semitic attacks in the city, he also drew criticism for his recent move to stop construction on the Island Bridge.

“Because of your plan to stop the Island Bridge, my dad is losing his job,” challenged a York student who identified herself as Michelle. “How do you feel about that?”

Miller was defensive of the decision, though, stating that he did not believe that job losses were a necessary direct result of the move.
“I can’t accept that cancelling the bridge equals job losses,” he said, adding that he believed it would actually create jobs in the long run.
“As mayor, you have to look at the big picture.”

Though Miller did not address the issue of the subway at York significantly in his speech, he hasn’t given up hope that an extension will eventually be constructed.

Miller explained that the subway would have been done by now had the motion passed in 1995, when it was originally brought to city council.
“I voted for it in 1995,” says Miller. “It lost by four votes.”

Miller says that even if construction began tomorrow, the amount of time needed means that the first people who would benefit from it are currently 12 years old.

“The TTC’s first priority has to be to maintain the current services,” Miller says, explaining that implementing a two-year, $43 million busway would be more feasible than a seven-year, $1.4 billion subway extension.

Miller said that he was glad to speak at York, though youth voter turnout is down.

“They’re residents of Toronto and I want to hear what they have to say. It doesn’t matter whether they vote or not.”


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