Not steamed at Miller, councillor says
But supports Pitfield in run for mayor
Aug. 22, 2006. 05:45 AM
PAUL MOLONEY AND JOHN SPEARS
CITY HALL BUREAU
Toronto city hall has been hit with its second high-profile departure this month with Councillor David Soknacki, the mayor's handpicked budget chief, announcing he won't seek re-election in November.
Earlier this month deputy city manager Fareed Amin announced he is leaving to take a job with the provincial government. Soknacki (Ward 43, Scarborough East) said yesterday he will return to his spice business when the council term ends Nov. 30.
Mayor David Miller's critics were quick to blame the mayor for the loss of Soknacki and Amin, as well as the earlier exits of police chief Julian Fantino and solid waste manager Angelos Bacopoulos.
"The message is not good," said Councillor Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt). "This mayor is not one that unites people. He has thin skin. Those that don't agree with him aren't going to last very long."
Soknacki has helped guide the city through perennial budget shortfalls. And even Miller's allies, while disagreeing with Del Grande's sentiments, agree that Soknacki's departure will leaving a gaping hole.
"I've been sitting here racking my brains," said Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East).
"There isn't a name that comes to mind that could fill his shoes right this very minute."
Soknacki, whose political instincts are "diametrically opposed" to the mayor's, showed how councillors can put differences aside and work for the good of the city, she said: "It's a really rare skill."
Soknacki, 51, a fiscal conservative, disagrees with Miller on fundamental issues:
Earlier this month, in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star, Soknacki opposed purchasing subway cars exclusively from Bombardier. The Miller administration has defended the controversial move, in part because it would preserve Bombardier jobs in Thunder Bay.
Soknacki has consistently supported contracting out services to save money, despite heated opposition from civic unions. Former mayor Mel Lastman pushed for more contracts but, under Miller, the issue slipped off the radar screen.
Soknacki would prefer a property tax freeze to the 3 per cent hikes imposed on residential taxpayers each year since Miller became mayor in 2003.
Miller's office issued a statement thanking Soknacki.
"I am proud to have worked with him constructively to deliver budgets that addressed the needs of Torontonians while being fiscally responsible," Miller said in the statement.
"These have been difficult and challenging times in the city's history but I believe our recent accomplishments have laid the foundation for future years."
In an interview, Soknacki said he had accomplished a number of key objectives both in his own ward and with some improved budget processes for the city.
"I came to the conclusion that with those things done, I would rather move out on my own steam than have the door closed behind me," he said.
He wouldn't criticize Miller.
"The mayor and I have agreed to disagree on principle on many issues," he said. "We disagreed professionally. We disagreed on our view of the way the city ought to be run. I hope that we both left with a sense of respect towards the other."
While acknowledging disagreements, he denied he was walking out in frustration. "I'm not the type of person that would pick up my marbles and go home," he said. But Soknacki said he supports Councillor Jane Pitfield's bid for mayor. "I share with her a centre-right view of the world," he said.
The budget chief entered politics in 1994 as a Scarborough councillor and was elected to amalgamated council in a 1999 by-election.
Soknacki quickly showed he was not a conventional politician. He successfully proposed a ban on politicians hiring immediate family members, opposed pay hikes for councillors and donated a portion of his council salary back to the city.
Pitfield (Ward 26, Don Valley West), who worked with Soknacki as a member of budget committee, said she doesn't believe he is leaving due to a falling out with Miller.
"I don't think it's got anything to do with a change of relationship with David Miller," Pitfield said. "I think it's got everything to do with realizing he had given his best and he has other priorities."
But Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre) said in recent conversations, he sensed a deep frustration in Soknacki. The budget chief was increasingly unable to influence the mayor's agenda, said Thompson, who chairs Scarborough community council.
"There was a sentiment of: `I give up trying to make a difference,'" Thompson said.
With Socknacki out, who will be the next budget chief?
Mike Del Grande is an accountant by trade and David Shiner held the postition before. But they are too diametrically opposed with The Mayor.
Begs the question, who else is out there?