David Miller (LLB 1984) once studied for three days with virtually no sleep for a tax-law exam, earning an “A” for his feat of endurance. But has he retained any of those arcane facts 20-odd years later? “None whatsoever” is his poker-faced reply.
What Miller does remember about his time at U of T’s Faculty of Law – apart from all the hours he spent playing on the rugby team – is the broad knowledge he gained of the legal system, which has shaped his career as a lawyer, city councillor and, since December 2003, the mayor of Toronto. “I learned how to make change, how to be an advocate and how the system really works,” he says. “To me it was all about seeking justice.”
Though Miller was not involved in student politics at U of T, he already had well-entrenched political opinions. His progressive social ideas developed in childhood, growing up with a single mother (his father died before he was two) in an Ottawa neighbourhood where he first experienced the realities of economic disparity. “There’d be a fight at school and the middle-class kids’ parents would get called, but with the poor kids the police would get called,” he says.
After attending Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on a scholarship, Miller came to Toronto for law school and quickly became aware of similar inequalities in his new urban environment. “It started to get me interested in how people in certain city neighbourhoods don’t have as good a chance,” he says. “It was formative in helping me become a municipal politician.”
Now that Miller has the city’s top job, he plans to work closely with U of T on the shared goal of revitalizing Toronto. In the past, the city and university have been two solitudes, he says, and he intends to change that. Miller says he and U of T president Robert J. Birgeneau (BSc 1963 St. Mike’s) have a common interest in lobbying the provincial and federal governments for greater investment in Toronto’s infrastructure, public transit and other factors that contribute to the city’s quality of life and its ability to attract top faculty and students. “If you look at the broader picture, Toronto is going to be successful if its great universities are successful, and the great universities are going to be successful if the city is successful.”