Time passes remarkably fast.
After 21 years as this area’s Member of Provincial Parliament, Norm Miller is hanging up his hat.
Doppler sat down with him to talk about his achievements, pet peeves, and how he plans to wind down after a political career spent mostly in the Opposition lobbying for this area at Queen’s Park.
Miller said he does wish he had been part of the government at least 50 per cent of the time he served as this area’s MPP, instead of in Opposition a majority of the time.
Trying to get things passed when you’re part of the Opposition is much more difficult. “I think I was fairly effective in terms of I had very good relationships with lots of government members and other members in the Legislature, which I do believe helps when you’re asking them to do something,” said Miller. “However, it is much easier when you’re in government, there’s no question about it.”
To this day Miller regrets that John Tory lost the premiership to the Dalton McGuinty Liberals in 2007. “I think if he’d handled a few issues differently, I think he would’ve been elected. If he hadn’t brought up faith-based funding, for example.”
Miller was initially elected under Mike Harris in 2001. He spent between 2001 and 2003 in government and then the next 15 years as a member of the Opposition, and the last four years in government under Doug Ford. “It is good to experience Opposition, no question about it, and it’s a different experience but I do believe you can do more for the riding and you can get more things done in government, for sure.”
Asked why he’s retiring now, at age 66, Miller said: “I just think it’s an appropriate time to have someone else come in and bring in fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the job. I’ve always felt no matter what job you’re doing, after around 20 years is a good time, if it’s possible, to switch and do something different, to make a change of some kind.”
It was no secret that Doug Ford was not Miller’s candidate of choice during the last PC leadership nomination meeting in 2018, which saw Ford elected as party leader. Miller supported Caroline Mulroney, and Christine Elliott prior to that. “I kind of wish in hindsight that I’d supported Christine Elliott in the last bid, however, it’s easy to second-guess things but it’s true I didn’t really know him very well and I was hoping that either Christine or Caroline were going to become leader,” said Miller. “But I think he’s done a good job and some very necessary legislation passed through in setting up the province for development post-COVID.”
As he hands over the reins, Miller said he’s glad that Fairvern Nursing Home will be redeveloped with more beds, that base operational funding has been increased for hospitals, and that there is movement on getting both the Bracebridge and Huntsville hospital sites redeveloped.
Moving forward, he said there are challenges and opportunities in the Parry Sound side of the riding. “Graydon [Smith, who is running for this area as the provincial PC candidate in the upcoming June election] and I toured East and West Parry Sound and as I say it’s kind of like Muskoka 20 years ago and I do believe there’s room for changing the municipal structure to provide more opportunity for a regional view and for development, especially for the little villages. So on this side, you know, you have Burk’s Falls, South River, Sundridge which are really tiny geographic areas and are limited in how they can develop because of that. I think it’s time to look at some amalgamation in East and West Parry Sound,” he said. “Generally speaking, it requires the provincial government to force it to make it happen and I think that would be beneficial for East and West Parry Sound.”
Miller said there is movement on the housing front. “We saw the greatest housing starts in 30 years last year in 2021 and the greatest increase in purpose-built rental housing, which is probably more important, in the last 25 years happen last year,” he said, adding that in the south side of Gravenhurst, 236 purpose-built rental housing units are being built—the biggest single rental housing development in Muskoka.
He said balancing housing development with natural areas and ensuring new housing is aesthetically pleasing is important.
Attracting more workers to the area will be as well, and that includes increasing immigration and skilled labourers, said Miller.
During his time as this area’s MPP, Miller managed to introduce 27 private member’s bills—some were passed into law. The last one, the Life Jackets for Life Act, would make it mandatory for children 12 and under to wear life jackets in smaller recreational watercraft.
“Most people think it’s already the law right now, but it’s not,” noted Miller who hopes it will be reintroduced by whoever is elected on June 2 to represent this area.
Other recent bills that did get passed into law included the Occupiers’ Liability Amendment Act, meant to address the high cost of insurance particularly for snowplow operators. It shortens the window for someone to bring an action against a business for damages or personal injury caused by snow or ice.
“The problem seemed to be so many slip and fall suits and the way the existing law was you could wait until two years and then sue someone. So, if you’re a business, if you’re… Tim Hortons for example, two years down the road you aren’t likely to have the same employees, probably you don’t have any video coverage so it’s very difficult to defend yourself,” said Miller. The law, which passed last year, changes the amount of time someone can bring a lawsuit forward from two years to 60 days, which Miller hopes will bring insurance costs down. He also hopes it will have the indirect effect of less salt on driveways and walkways.
Another bill introduced by Miller, which did become law, is requiring floating dock manufacturers to encase the type of Styrofoam used to make docks float. He said the material would disintegrate, float on lakes, and wind up along the shore and affect ecosystems.
Miller also has the record of having the most interns under the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme. Interns interview Members of Provincial Parliament and pick the ones they want to work with. Seventeen chose Miller. “Maybe it’s because I offered them a plane ride,” quipped Miller who is a recreational pilot.
As part of Miller’s retirement, his staff compiled a book with all of the interns who had served with him and their retirement messages for him.
Miller was born in Newmarket but moved to the area at a young age with his family and spent most of his life in Bracebridge where the family ran Patterson Kaye Lodge. Growing up he often listened and watched his father, Frank Miller, interact with constituents and fellow politicians.
Frank Miller served as Ontario’s premier for four short months and represented the Muskoka riding under Bill Davis. He served as Minister of Health and Minister of Natural Resources. He also served five years as the Treasurer of Ontario. After leaving provincial politics he served as Muskoka District chair. He died in Bracebridge in 2000.
“He was in government pretty much the entire time he was elected and he was a minister the great majority of time as well, so kind of a different experience. I certainly respect my father’s work time there, probably more so having done the job. He was minister of health. That was his first ministry, so pretty challenging ministry, until he suffered a heart attack from the stress of the job which eventually killed him at age 73,” said Miller, who thought his father’s work as treasurer was the best job he had and the one he was most qualified for.
“We had very different experiences. I’m just very proud of what he did and I think he served the people very well,” said Miller who admitted being a little soured by politics at the end of his father’s career. “There was a bit of back-stabbing going on. I was a bit soured on the political experience so I do recall saying: ‘why would anyone in their right mind want to be involved in politics?’ Saying that out loud on a few occasions and I think it was at his funeral in 2000…hundreds and hundreds of people were coming though and each telling unique stories about the difference he’d made on whatever it was that made me think ‘maybe I’ll see if it’s as bad as I think it’s going to be’ and for the great majority it has been very positive and I’ve experienced things that I wouldn’t in any other way.”
He said the best part about the job is getting to know the riding and its people. He now lives in Parry Sound and credits his work as MPP, which enabled him to get to know the area of Parry Sound where he now lives with his wife on Georgian Bay.
“Georgian Bay is spectacular and I kind of like the fact that it’s a bit more open space and not as developed in terms of the waterfront… and there’s a lot of Crown land so it can’t be developed and it’s big water… very rugged.”
He said while he’s enjoyed his time as MPP, it is a job that’s all-consuming. He’s looking forward to spending more leisure time with his family which includes four grown children and four grandchildren.
One of their daughters, who lives in England, will be getting married and they’re also planning to host a party for her here.
Miller’s also thinking his wife might retire next January. She’s a detective with the Bracebridge OPP. If she does retire, there may be a trip to New Zealand in their future.
“I have relatives and friends in New Zealand and I was there once in 1979/80 but it’s so far away to go there, you need a month at least.”
After a year, if he starts getting bored, Miller said he’ll look into volunteering opportunities.
“I hope I’ve made a difference for the people of Parry Sound-Muskoka primarily, and it’s been an honour and a privilege to have served. I’m looking forward to a bit more freedom now.”
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