How dark should a mayor’s Hour be?

Peter Kuitenbrouwer
National Post
April 2, 2008

At 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, Mayor David Miller got into a car and drove from City Hall to a Shoppers Drug Mart on Eglinton Avenue West. He bought a card for the bar mitzvah of a family friend. Then he got back in the car, driven by his press secretary, Don Wanagas, and went to the bar mitzvah.

The Mayor did this during Earth Hour, after having called on Torontonians to “join me in the dark.”

The City of Toronto was one of three local sponsors of Earth Hour, a global campaign to get people to turn out their lights and consume a minimum of energy from 8 to 9 p.m. on March 29. The Earth Hour logo was yesterday at the top of the city’s Web site.

In the Mayor’s Earth Hour video, available on YouTube, he sits by a flickering gas fireplace, wearing a brown suit and tie.

“On March 29, at 8 p.m. for one hour, I encourage you to switch off all non-essential lighting, and watch as other cities around the globe power down as well,” Mr. Miller says. “Just one hour of your time to help people around the world realize the difference each of us can make and what we can accomplish when we work together. Switch off for Earth Hour and see the world in a whole new light. The issue is real. Your actions will count. So join me in the dark.”

The Mayor’s office said he did the right thing. At 8 p.m. he stood on the stage in Nathan Phillips Square with Jagoda Pike, the publisher of the Toronto Star, and they pulled a ceremonial switch to plunge City Hall into darkness.

“I want to ask you all to do one thing tonight,” the Mayor told the crowd. “Be a leader.”

Mr. Wanagas yesterday called questions about the Mayor’s activities during Earth Hour “petty.”

“Let’s keep in mind the event was symbolic,” Mr. Wanagas said. “The Mayor was in the dark. He was here to pull the switch. He was here to listen to the musical performances to start the show.”

Mr. Wanagas said he then drove Mr. Miller to the Shoppers Drug Mart.

“A family friend had invited him to a bar mitzvah. The date was established long before Earth Hour was started. He got there for the very end of the bar mitzvah. He spent a good part of Saturday doing events for Earth Hour.”

After council passed the 2008 budget on Monday night, I questioned the Mayor about his Earth Hour activities. He got mad. “They wonder why it’s hard to get good people to stand for public office,” he said.

The Mayor has a right to privacy, and had no moral duty to observe Earth Hour at all. That’s up to him.

But he was the one who asked Torontonians to “join me in the dark.” The plea, worldwide, was specific — a plea for people to weather a minor inconvenience for one very specific hour.

“He could have taken an opportunity and taken a leadership role on an issue that he’s been passionate and committed to, and he chose not to do that,” said Karen Stintz, councillor for Eglinton-Lawrence and a frequent critic of the Mayor.

Many others leaped to the Mayor’s defence yesterday. “If anyone’s got some moral high ground, it’s Mayor David Miller,” said councillor Glen De Baeremaeker, an environmentalist. “David Miller practices what he preaches 365 days a year and he has a smaller carbon footprint than most people in the City of Toronto.”

Franz Hartmann, executive director at the Toronto Environment Alliance, said the Mayor has been an inspired leader in making the city greener. “What he does in his personal time, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to comment on,” he said.

Julia Langer at the World Wildlife Fund, which organized Earth Hour, said, “The Mayor has lots of things to do. He was very helpful in turning off the lights.”

Another environmental leader, Lawrence Solomon of Energy Probe, also offered the Mayor praise yesterday, though perhaps not the kind Mr. Miller seeks. Mr. Solomon opposed Earth Hour. “Is North Korea our model?” he asked. Toronto should encourage transit to save energy, he says. Instead, by subsidizing parking at city-owned lots, the city, “does more to lead to energy waste than any other actors.”

“I’m delighted that the Mayor is hypocritical on Earth Hour,” Mr. Solomon said. “But I wish he would not be hypocritical the rest of the year.”

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