Miller leaves NDP, shifts to neutral COLIN MCCONNELL/TORONTO STAR Mayor David Miller told the Toronto Star yesterday he and Premier Dalton McGuinty have always understood each other. Apr 18, 2007 04:30 AM Jim Byers City Hall Bureau Chief Mayor David Miller is no longer a member of the New Democratic Party. Miller told the Star yesterday he has let his party membership lapse because he has important dealings with both the federal and provincial governments this year. He said his understanding of party membership is that it ends at the end of each calendar year and that he simply didn't renew his membership for 2007. "There are very critical inter-governmental issues for the City of Toronto, and I don't want to be in a position where people could accuse me of being partisan," he said. "I haven't been. But I want it to be very clear I'm not. My role as mayor inter-governmentally is far too important right now." Miller said he didn't think his NDP membership was an issue in the past. "But there are provincial and federal elections coming up, and provincial and federal politicians become exceptionally partisan during elections. And given it's such a critical time right now for Toronto I don't want to be accused of it." Asked if this is only a temporary move, he replied, "I think it will be fairly permanent as long as I'm mayor." Miller also said he has no intention of joining a different political party. Does this mean he's rejecting NDP philosophy? "No," Miller said, "but as mayor it's a very practical job. You do lose interest in partisan politics. I have to work with a provincial government that's Liberal and a federal government that's Conservative and occasionally with other provinces that are NDP, and I need the ability to work with all of them on behalf of the people of Toronto. And, yes, city councillors also belong to many parties." Asked if he thought his status outside the NDP might help in his current dispute with the province over a $71 million payment for social services, Miller replied, "I don't see it as a ... significant issue or I would've announced it (the end of his NDP affiliation). I just let it lapse (instead). But to the extent anyone would think anything I was doing was because of partisan considerations, I would hope this would clarify that." Miller will push for one cent of the federal GST during the next federal election and has said he'll push for a better financial deal from Queen's Park during the fall provincial campaign. He told the Star's editorial board yesterday he will speak about Toronto's issues and party platforms but won't endorse individual candidates or parties. Despite the city's budget crisis, Miller said he hasn't had a serious conversation with Premier Dalton McGuinty for nearly six weeks. But that doesn't mean their relationship has soured. "We haven't had a chance to have dinner at my house lately. But I've always thought we had a respectful relationship, that we understood each other." Miller said McGuinty's Liberal government has helped the city in the past, but that that doesn't mitigate the need for Queen's Park to give the city the $71 million it owes for social service programs. And while he doesn't like the idea of taking the province to court to settle the issue â€“ a proposed tactic that goes to city council for a decision Friday â€“ Miller said he has no choice. McGuinty and Miller's staffs talk all the time, but Miller said he's not going to be picking up the phone any time soon to talk about the $71 million. And he said his pride isn't getting in the way. "We've made our case. They know it. If I speak to the premier I know what he'll say. He'll say, `David, I agree with you, you're right, I always thought downloading was wrong ... but we don't have the money.' But that isn't true." On Friday, a proposed $7.8 billion budget will be debated by city council. It includes a 3.8 per cent property tax hike for single-family homes and 1.3 per cent on commercial, industrial and multi-residential properties. It also includes drawing $400 million from reserves, draining virtually all that's left of legally accessible savings. Miller said suggestions by Queen's Park that Toronto doesn't have its economic house in order are out of line. "That argument is absolutely false. It's always been false. It is utter nonsense. Absolute, complete nonsense." He pointed to a chart showing the city has increased its spending by roughly 4 per cent a year between 1998 and 2007. But he said the federal government has hiked its annual spending by 7.9 per cent in that period, while the province's spending has risen 7.5 per cent per year. But a chart given to city councillors also shows that the city has substantially increased spending on what it calls core municipal services. In 2003, the city spent $681.4 million on those items, which include planning and transportation. The figure rose to $785.6 million by last year, and will grow to $825.6 million in the coming budget. That's a hike of 21.2 per cent in four years. "If people, when they say we don't have our house in order, mean we should close library branches and swimming pools, I'm sorry, I don't agree with that," Miller said. "You can't point to this budget and find an area where there's been a significant increase in spending on programs that are under our control."