The Eglinton Subway We Almost Had

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid, which launched the series, was originally published online on March 20, 2012. As the original introduction put it, “introducing Retro T.O., a new series where we revisit key moments in recent Toronto history that still reverberate today.”

Sticklers may notice I’m not republishing these in any particular order. You may continue to stickle (which turns out to be a word!)

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Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star, July 21, 1995.

To those assembled at the corner of Black Creek Drive and Eglinton Avenue, August 25, 1994 was a great day for the future of Toronto transit. A group of shovel-wielding dignitaries led by Ontario Premier Bob Rae broke ground on the Eglinton subway, a project that had been discussed for nearly three decades. Rae, whose York South riding would be served by the 4.7-kilometre, five-station line running from Black Creek Drive to Allen Road, touted the thousands of construction jobs required to build the subway before its planned opening in 2001. City of York officials were all smiles, especially Mayor Fergy Brown, who told reporters he was “busting my buttons with pride” that the municipality finally had its own rapid-transit system. If all went well, the future promised an extension from Black Creek to Pearson International Airport.

Despite the enthusiasm of the line’s backers, opposition rose from the Eglinton West Subway Committee, a group of businesses dreading the impact of construction on their livelihoods. Their fears echoed those expressed in response to every large-scale transit project Toronto has ever built, such as the “St. Clair Disaster.” “We’ll have a loss of parking,” local resident Elaine Chee told the Star. Fearing “traffic jams, noise and dust,” Chee believed the disruption would create a “loss of business and loss of jobs.”

Though work moving utilities and digging Allen station caused some headaches, fears of a neighbourhood apocalypse were unfounded. On July 21, 1995, the new Progressive Conservative government announced $1.9 billion in cuts to education, infrastructure, job training, and social services. Among Minister of Finance Ernie Eves’ statements: “We will proceed with transit projects in a phased approach, beginning with the Sheppard line in Toronto. We are deferring the Eglinton West project until the province and Metro Toronto have sufficient funding to proceed.”

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Toronto Star, July 22, 1995. Click on image for larger version.

The preservation of the more expensive Sheppard line struck some observers as purely political, as if the Tories gave Rae the finger and punished City of York voters for rejecting the party at the polls. By contrast, voters along the Sheppard line provided the new government with its attorney-general, Charles Harnick. It didn’t hurt that Sheppard’s loudest booster, North York Mayor Mel Lastman, was a longtime Tory. Provincial officials who insisted that the Eglinton line was merely hibernating sounded as convincing as a dead parrot pining for the fjords.

The deferral sat poorly with recently elected City of York Mayor Frances Nunziata, whose municipality was left with a $50-million hole in the ground. With the support of councillors she usually fought with, Nunziata pressed the province to honour all existing contracts for the subway before mothballing it. Local coalitions that fought the subway gave way to groups working to save it, led by businesses worried about the impact of growing traffic jams along Eglinton.

While officials in York were livid, next door in Etobicoke, Mayor Doug Holyday took the cut in stride. Believing the cuts in general were a positive thing, he felt slashing Eglinton was a fact of life necessary to compensate for NDP overspending. “There is a time when we will want to see the subway go all the way to the airport,” he told the Star, that time being when money was available.

Little did Holyday know he’d wait almost two decades for that money to appear.

Additional sources: the August 25, 1994, August 26, 1994, and July 22, 1995 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, August 25, 1994.

Similar concerns have occurred over the course of the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line, especially through Little Jamaica.

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Toronto Sun, August 26, 1994.

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Toronto Star, August 26, 1994.

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Toronto Sun, July 21, 1995.

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Globe and Mail, July 21, 1995.

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Globe and Mail, July 22, 1995.

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You could play mad libs with this Toronto Sun editorial from July 22, 1995.

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Globe and Mail, August 4, 1995.

Goin’ Down the Coalition Road

Originally published on Torontoist on April 12, 2011. Keep in mind while reading this that “current” means the 2011 federal campaign, not 2019 (see update section).

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Why is Bob Rae so happy? The Globe and Mail, June 19, 1985.

Throughout the current election campaign, Conservative leader Stephen Harper has blasted the opposition parties for conspiring to form a “reckless” coalition government that would ruin the nation’s stability, despite his own participation in talks to form an alliance in 2004 with horrifying socialists in the NDP and unholy separatists in the Bloc Québécois. While the long-term results of Harper’s fear-mongering and of other candidates’ denials regarding their willingness to form governing alliances are yet to be determined, it is not necessarily true that a coalition would result in disaster. Heck, if it wasn’t for a coalition, Harper might not be campaigning to retain his role as Canadian prime minister.

Since the colonies that formed Canada gained responsible government in the mid-19th century, coalitions, or written accords between parties, occasionally dotted the political landscape. The following three examples show the benefits and pitfalls of forming ruling alliances: one formed a nation, one nearly tore it apart, and one broke four decades of uninterrupted rule by the same party.

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Three figures of the Grand Coalition: Sir John A. Macdonald, George Brown, and Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché. Library and Archives Canada.

 

Government: The Great Coalition
When: 1864 to 1867
Where: The United Province of Canada, composed of Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec)
Parties involved: Pretty much everyone—Clear Grits, Liberal-Conservatives, Bleus, and some Rouges
Leaders: Premiers John A. Macdonald (Canada West), Étienne-Paschal Taché, followed by Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau (Canada East)
Why: Deadlock. The government of the United Province was designed so that, instead of dividing seats by population, each half had equal representation. Unfortunately, like a relationship on the rocks, one half frequently disagreed with the other. By the dawn of the 1860s, the double majority that was effectively required to pass legislation rarely occurred, which led to a succession of short-lived governments. Frustration grew in English-dominated Canada West over its proportion of seats, as its population surpassed that of French-dominated Canada East. When the movement toward uniting the British North American colonies gained steam, a committee headed by Clear Grit leader George Brown looked into the constitutional difficulties the United Province faced. A crisis point was reached when a government headed by Liberal-Conservatives Macdonald and Taché fell by two votes on June 14, 1864. Rather than grant a dissolution of the legislature, Governor General Lord Monck suggested that the fallen government leaders talk to Brown. Despite his deep enmity toward Brown, Macdonald insisted that he be brought into any new government. When Macdonald announced the proposed coalition a few days later, the legislators, as historian W.L. Morton described in his book The Critical Years, reacted with joy:

The House, wearied of piecemeal and sterile politics, wearied of a prolonged crisis, rose cheering, and leaders and backbenchers alike stumbled into the aisles and poured onto the floor. The leaders shook hands and clapped shoulders; with a spring the little Bleu member for Montcalm, Joseph Dufresne, embraced the tall Brown and hung from the neck of the embarrassed giant. The tension of years of frustration broke in the frantic rejoicing.

Results: Within a few months, the coalition organized conferences in Charlottetown and Quebec City to woo the Maritime colonies into a permanent union. Under the new government framework, seats in the House of Commons were roughly divided by population. Once confederation was achieved in 1867, the coalition dissolved to fight for seats in the Dominion of Canada’s first federal election.

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A typical cartoon from the Unionist camp during the 1917 election campaign. The Telegram, December 14, 1917.

Government: The Union Government
When: 1917 to 1921
Where: Dominion of Canada
Parties involved: Conservatives, pro-conscription Liberals, a few independents
Leaders: Prime Ministers Robert Borden (1917 to 1920) and Arthur Meighen (1920 to 1921)
Why: As the First World War entered its fourth year, casualties among Canadian troops outpaced the number of fresh volunteers. Under pressure from Great Britain (which experienced two coalition governments during the war) to provide more manpower, Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden determined that, despite the objections he knew would arise from farmers bemoaning the loss of family labour and Quebec voters who despised military officials who refused to create French-only battalions, conscription was required. Borden hoped for support from all parties when a conscription bill was introduced in May 1917 and began coalition talks with Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier. A sticking point was Laurier’s wish to hold an overdue election as a referendum on the issue (Canadians should have voted in 1916, but Borden received a year’s reprieve from the governor general due to the conflict), which Borden felt would be a waste of energy better expended for the war effort.

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Harsh words directed at the “quitters” in Quebec, along with the extension of the federal vote to women for the first time (under certain conditions), are among the highlights of this Unionist ad. The Telegram, December 10, 1917.

By the end of August 1917, conscription was law. Despite objections from some highly partisan members of the Tory caucus (whom Borden felt lacked “the spirit which prompted our young men to cross the sea and go over the parapet. All of them are backward and cowardly”), Borden assembled a cabinet in mid-October that included a handful of pro-conscription Liberals and independent MPs. When an election was called, Borden’s coalition ran under the Unionist banner against Liberals still loyal to Laurier. During the campaign, Unionist propaganda demonized Quebec and anyone else who didn’t support conscription, and tarred Laurier for forcing an election the country didn’t need. To warp the vote their way, the government enfranchised female relatives of soldiers and disenfranchised anyone who emigrated to Canada after 1902 from certain so-called enemy nations. After the votes were cast on December 17, the Unionists won 153 seats. The Liberals won all but three of the 65 seats in Quebec, but only captured 20 outside of la belle province.

Results: Conscription proved problematic, as most conscripts sought exemptions to service (which led the government to cancel all exemptions in April 1918), and riots broke out in Quebec. After the war ended, the government continued to wield a heavy hand as it attempted to crush postwar outbreaks of labour unrest such as the Winnipeg General Strike. After Borden’s retirement in 1920, new Prime Minister Meighen hoped to forge the coalition into a new permanent party and campaigned during the following year’s election under the banner of the National Liberal and Conservative party. It wasn’t to be, as Meighen finished third behind William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberals and the new Progressive party. Long term, Quebec proved its capacity for a long memory by refusing to provide the majority of its federal seats to the Tories until John Diefenbaker’s landslide victory in 1958. During the Second World War, the Conservatives again proposed a coalition government, but King refused to go along.

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David Peterson and Bob Rae sign the accord under which they soon governed Ontario. The Toronto Sun, May 29, 1985.

Government: Liberal-NDP Accord
When: 1985 to 1987
Where: Ontario
Parties involved: Liberals, New Democrats
Leaders: Premier David Peterson, NDP leader Bob Rae
Why: After 42 years in power, the wheels fell off the Big Blue Machine. Whether it was due to the Progressive Conservative party’s rightward shift under new leader Frank Miller, outrage from the party base over outgoing Premier William Davis’s announcement of full funding for Catholic schools to grade 13, or general fatigue with the party having been in power for so long, May 2, 1985, was not a good night for Ontario Tories. Though the Tories wound up with the most seats, the seat numbers (52 PC, 48 Liberal, 25 NDP) made it all but impossible for Miller to provide a functional government. With Bob Rae in a kingmaking position, talks began between the NDP and the other parties. Though the progressive party traditionally found the Liberals more odious than the Tories, the rightward tilt of the government-in-waiting Miller was assembling (which included fresh-faced ministers Ernie Eves, Mike Harris, and Bob Runciman) made Liberal leader David Peterson a more attractive partner. Key NDP officials were nervous about forming a proper coalition, worried that the party would be subsumed into the Liberal fold or experience heavy losses in the following election as the federal NDP had after it propped up Pierre Trudeau’s government from 1972 to 1974. An accord was reached whereby for two years Peterson would be premier, the NDP would not trigger any non-confidence votes, and both parties would support legislation for programs ranging from reforming rent regulations to pay equity for women.
On June 18, 1985, the Miller government was defeated on a non-confidence vote over its throne speech. After his defeat, Miller launched a vicious attack on the opposition, suggesting that Peterson and Rae were engaged in unnatural acts to kill his government, and that Ontario would be “held economic hostage by a Liberal and NDP lynch mob.” He also noted that the NDP had “prostituted themselves for power” and warned that the accord would be the party’s death warrant. The next day, Miller advised Lieutenant-Governor John Black Aird to ask Peterson to form a government instead of dissolving the legislature for another election.

Results: As per the accord, legislation for pay equity and other issues of shared importance to the Liberals and the NDP passed, and Ontarians were spared an election for two years. Peterson reaped the benefits of the accord, as he led the Liberals to a landslide victory in 1987. Though the NDP lost four seats, Bob Rae became leader of the opposition thanks to a total collapse of the Tories under Miller’s successor Larry Grossman.

Additional material from The Critical Years: The Union of British North America 1857-1873 by W.L. Morton (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1964), Blue Thunder by Bob Plamondon (Toronto: Key Porter, 2009), Rae Days by Thomas Walkom (Toronto: Key Porter, 1994), and the June 19, 1985 editions of the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

Coalition was a hot topic during the 2019 federal election campaign. In retrospect, I should have republished this piece during the campaign, but my brain was deep into other election-related stuff.

Electing Bob Rae

Originally published on Torontoist on October 1, 2015. I also wrote about the 1990 provincial election for TVO in 2018.

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Globe and Mail, September 7, 1990.

On this morning 25 years ago, a ceremony took place at Convocation Hall. At the podium was Bob Rae, being sworn in as the first NDP premier of Ontario. His speech reflected on the unexpected thrill of victory he and his colleagues had experienced nearly a month earlier:

They say that the greatest joys in life are those that are unexpected. This day and this ceremony certainly fall into this category. The new government that is taking office today is made up of men and women from across the province, from all walks of life. Few of us ran in the last election feeling our party would win the election on September 6th; we ran because we had a message to bring to the Ontario public, because the cause of social democracy made sense to us and, in some cases, because no one else was willing to run.

The swearing-in marked the end of what had been a wild contest. When the 37-day campaign began, David Peterson looked like he would sleepwalk to victory. So he was calling an election two years early—polling was good, why not secure another majority government?

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Toronto Star, August 8, 1990.

That arrogance undid the Liberals. Their campaign started so lazily that their headquarters still wasn’t equipped with a functioning phone system five days into the race, and workers arrived at the party bus only to find computer equipment was still boxed up. It also didn’t help that Peterson was publicly told off at his campaign launch by Toronto environmental activist (and current city councillor) Gord Perks.

With more than 50 per cent popularity in early polls, Liberal support slid. Many factors were at work: a growing sense that Ontario was ruled by arrogant yuppies who cozied up to developers and Bay Street, resulting in massive cost overruns for publicly-funded projects like SkyDome; the Patti Starr affair, where several MPPs were mixed up in a scheme diverting funds from a charitable organization into political coffers; Peterson’s deep involvement in constitutional crises like the Meech Lake Accord, which irritated many voters tired of the surrounding debates. Add in a sense the economy was faltering, and many observers wondered if the election call was a bad idea.

On the opposition benches, the once-mighty Progressive Conservatives were slowly rebuilding. Broken financially and spiritually, they had only chosen their first permanent leader in three years, Mike Harris, in May 1990. Internal party polling suggested they might win as few as four seats. When the writ dropped, only 31 candidates had been nominated. It didn’t help they shared the same party name as increasingly unpopular PM Brian Mulroney.

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David Peterson chained by the Patti Starr affair, Mike Harris chained by Brian Mulroney, and Bob Rae chained to a balloon. Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, September 2, 1990.

As for the NDP, Rae warned his caucus to prepare for an early election, one he privately decided would be his last as party leader. He was pessimistic about their chances, figuring that at best they’d play kingmaker as they had five years earlier. Some party members were still ticked off about how the accord Rae made with Peterson in 1985 cost them dearly during the 1987 campaign.

Rae quickly benefited from the Liberals’ poor public performance, attacking the government’s integrity. As media scrutiny grew, the campaign team cranked out An Agenda for People over a few days in August. Promises included government-run auto insurance, stricter rent controls, increases to the minimum wage and daycare spaces, strengthening pay equity, and higher corporate taxes. Rae’s campaigning style improved, showing a stronger sense of humour than in previous races. Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives campaigned on lowering taxes and not much else—that message didn’t play well yet, requiring a few years to mature into the Common Sense Revolution.

As September began, all three Toronto dailies endorsed the Liberals. Some of the reasons were ridiculous—the Globe and Mail claimed Peterson’s government was “composed of generally nice people with good intentions.” The Sun couldn’t quite shed its Tory leanings, insisting voters had to choose between Peterson and Harris to avoid economic catastrophe under the NDP. Had they not been so weak, one senses the Sun would have preferred backing Harris, of whom they declared “time may well prove him to be a great leader and premier, providing he sticks to conservatism.” The Star saw the NDP as a credible alternative, but felt the Liberal economic record warranted their return.

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Cartoon by Brian Gable, Globe and Mail, September 6, 1990.

These endorsements didn’t sink in. By campaign’s ended, panic-stricken Liberals attacked anything, but found few listening. At a campaign stop during the final week at a Shriners rib dinner in Woodstock, 320 of 350 ticket-buyers chose not to show up until Peterson left. Those who were there concentrated more on drinking beer and playing cards, impatient to get to the ribs.

Going into election day, Rae saw the polls pointing to a minority win. He wound up with 74 seats, compared to 36 for the Liberals and 20 for the PCs. Peterson lost his seat in London. In Metro Toronto, rookie NDP victors included Rosario Marchese, Tony Silipo, and current city councillors Anthony Peruzza and Giorgio Mammoliti.

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Toronto Sun, September 7, 1990.

Yes, Mammoliti.

Billing himself as “George,” Mammoliti, then a maintenance superintendent for the Metro Toronto Housing Authority and president of his CUPE local, defeated Liberal incumbent Claudio Polsinelli in the riding of Yorkview by 1,600 votes. He accused Polsinelli of banking on support among the community’s Italians, observing over a victory beer that “this is a multicultural riding and you have to pay attention to all groups, not just one.” He had campaigned on improving rent reviews, strengthening security at housing complexes, and improving Jane-Finch’s lousy public image.

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Toronto Sun, September 7, 1990.

A notable local NDP victor was Gary Malkowski in York East. Defeating Liberal Christine Hart, (who had resigned as culture and communications minister earlier in the year over integrity issues surrounding her nomination) by just under 800 votes, Malkowski became the first deaf politician elected federally or provincially. Though a rookie, the Star felt he conducted his campaign with “the air of a veteran politician.”

At his victory party at the La Rotanda ballroom on Dufferin Street, Rae joked that “maybe a summer election isn’t a bad idea after all.” His young daughter Lisa’s reaction to the win? “Daddy! You’re now the boss of everybody!”

The next five years were difficult, as the worsening economy and the government’s inexperience didn’t always mix. The mere mention of Rae’s name still induces agony among some voters. While the NDP benefited from voter rage, the 1990 election showed that for a moment, it was possible for a party which had largely been viewed as the conscience of the provincial legislature to overcome the socialist boogeyman stereotypes and hold office.

“As far as I’m concerned,” Rae noted while casting his vote, “the politics of fear is over.” If only that was the case more often in the electoral realm.

Additional material from Loyal No More: Ontario’s Struggle for a Separate Destiny by John Ibbitson (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2001); From Protest to Power by Bob Rae (Toronto: Penguin, 1997); the September 4, 1990 and September 7, 1990 editions of the Globe and Mail; the September 17, 1990 edition of Maclean’s; the September 1, 1990 and September 7, 1990 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 2, 1990 and September 7, 1990 editions of the Toronto Sun.

A History of Toronto’s Many Casino Proposals

Originally published on Torontoist on February 27, 2013.

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Ontario Government Building, September 3, 1928. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 6196.

When it comes to Toronto, the house odds have not favoured the gaming industry. Call it our deep-seated puritanism, the lingering traces of “Toronto the Good,” or a deeper concern for how gambling affects our community. The current debate over a permanent Toronto casino has roots in past battles, especially when it comes to allowing gambling at Exhibition Place.

Starting with the Western Fair in 1978, the province permitted licensing of gaming rooms at large fairs. CNE officials hoped a casino run during the Ex would fight declining attendance and revenue. The obstacle was persuading opponents that a small gaming room was not the start of a slippery slope towards the horrors associated with gambling.

The chief opponent was Art Eggleton, who, as both an alderman and as mayor, believed the idea tarnished the CNE. “There’s enough gambling, games of chance, that go on at the Exhibition,” he told the Globe and Mail in 1991. “We don’t need casino-type gambling down there. I think it detracts from the family-type atmosphere of the fair.” He feared a rise in crime, often citing Atlantic City’s experience—a bit of a stretch, given the proposals he fought were for a short-run, small-scale gaming room. Eggleton was a consistent opponent. He was eventually the only member of the Exhibition Place board of governors to vote against its 1984 application for a gaming area.

The CNE’s first pitch, made in 1980, involved a blackjack room in the Coliseum with one-dollar-maximum bets. City council’s executive committee rejected the proposal. “When we start basing our revenues on games of chance,” Mayor John Sewell noted, “I think we’re in trouble.” The province dismissed the application, but left the door open for future tries as long as there was general agreement at all levels that a casino would benefit the community.

Female croupiers, 100 blackjack tables, 10 wheels of fortune, and a tasteful country-and-western backdrop made up the CNE’s 1981 application. Metro Toronto council, chaired by current casino-pusher Paul Godfrey, backed the plan. When the City and province rejected this bid, Godfrey accused them of hypocrisy, noting the contradiction of dismissing a casino when few were bothered by the games of chance on the midway, which included crown and anchor games involving money. He claimed the province held two sets of values—puritanical for Toronto, relaxed everywhere else.

To improve its odds, the CNE focused its 1984 application on charity. The proposal called for 50 blackjack tables and eight wheels of fortune to be placed in a renovated annex of the Coliseum. A charity would operate the casino, with proceeds going to the City’s Sesquicentennial Committee. The proposal noted that casinos appealed “to singles, couples and families alike. As such, it fits in well with the CNE’s concept of offering something for everyone.” The City and province once again rejected the application. Godfrey accused the province of playing “a silly little game,” while Eggleton was quoted as saying, “enough is enough.”

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Toronto Star, August 31, 1993.

The CNE’s 1991 bid appeared as doomed as its previous attempts when the City’s executive committee dismissed it without debate. But CNE officials and charities that would benefit from a casino raised such a stink that the issue was reconsidered. Events like a mass rally of nearly 100 charitable organizations at Exhibition Place had the desired effect: on June 24, 1991, the executive committee supported the new application. “Well, whaddya know,” Sun city hall columnist Christina Blizzard declared. “Toronto finally outgrew its painful puberty and teen acne and grew up a whole lot.” The rest of council and the province gave their blessings. Forty charities were drawn out of a hat to be the beneficiaries of the casino, which set up shop that year in a room within Exhibition Stadium.

In early 1992, the province contemplated setting up six permanent casinos across Ontario. Metro Toronto was slated for two. Exhibition Place and Woodbine Racetrack were the frontrunners. After casino legislation was passed in 1993, Premier Bob Rae insisted that the priority was to see how the pilot project in Windsor went before considering proposals for casinos elsewhere. This didn’t do anything to stop the flow of schoarly and journalistic reports on the effects of casinos on Metro Toronto. Metro’s legal department felt Exhibition Place would accommodate a casino without requiring much tinkering with the City’s official plan. Community Services wanted half of the profits of a Toronto casino to go towards improving social programs. Metro Toronto Police didn’t want a third-party company to run any casino and feared a “steady and significant erosion of community standards and tolerances.”

A November 1993 open letter from Metropolitan Toronto Convention and Visitors Association president William M. Duron described a future where no city could afford to go without a gaming centre. “It is generally acknowledged by tourism experts that within 10 to 15 years,” Duron wrote, “cities that do not have casinos will be the exception. As casinos become more commonplace in North America, this unique selling proposition and tourist demand generator will be an expected attraction in a community.” How something that would eventually be ubiquitous could be considered a unique selling point is a good question. Duron also proposed Union Station and Old City Hall as casino sites.

In February 1994, Metro Council voted 18 to 15 against locating a casino here. While casino supporters like Howard Moscoe saw gambling as part of the “fabric of our society,” opponents like Derwyn Shea thought a casino offered little more than low-paying jobs. “What you’ve really found,” Shea noted, “is a way to enrich the hookers and pimps and junkies.” As North York Mayor Mel Lastman put it: “What do we need this headache for?”

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Toronto Star, September 10, 1994.

A $1 billion proposal backed by Las Vegas-based Mirage Resorts emerged during the summer of 1994. Dubbed “The Millenium,” the plan would have transformed land west of the SkyDome into a casino and family entertainment complex. The scheme was promoted by Broadview-Greenwood MP Dennis Mills, who compared the plan to Expo 67. Despite discussions with the federal government, the idea was rejected by the province, which wanted Niagara Falls as the site of its next casino.

This didn’t stop Mills, who regaled the press with his vision of a series of casino/entertainment complexes stretching along the waterfront from Exhibition Place to the eastern harbour. These would feature midways and 360-degree theatres. He was convinced casinos would draw more conventions to town. Among the skeptics was Metro Councillor Brian Ashton, who thought the City had given up enough lakeshore parkland already, to accommodate Harbourfront’s condo towers.

Until the current round of casino discussions, proposals involving Exhibition Place continued to emerge. An idea to move the charity casino into the Ontario Government Building (now the Liberty Grand) was seen as an attempt to impress the province. A 2001 CNE board casino proposal touted the use of profits to fund public transit and waterfront projects. And now we have all the current proposals. Given the lengthy battles Exhibition Place fought for a temporary casino, it would be crazy to rule it out as a possible site for a permanent one.

Additional material from Casino—A Proposal for the 1984 CNE (Toronto: Exhibition Place, 1984), Casino Gambling in Metropolitan Toronto (Toronto: Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, 1993), the December 13, 1979, February 1, 1980, February 5, 1980, January 27, 1981, May 28, 1981, June 12, 1991, July 16, 1994, and August 3, 1994 editions of the Globe and Mail, the May 25, 2001 edition of the National Post, the February 21, 1984, June 21, 1991, March 19, 1992, February 11, 1994, and September 10, 1994 editions of the Toronto Star, and the June 25, 1991 edition of the Toronto Sun.

UPDATE

In May 2013, Toronto City Council voted 40-4 against allowing any new gaming sites in the city.

That Time Salman Rushdie Surprised Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on December 7, 2012.

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Toronto Star, December 8, 1992.

The PEN Canada benefit that happened twenty years ago today at the Winter Garden Theatre was an unusual evening. Amid serious readings supporting free expression, there were lighter moments, like when the Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, and Paul Quarrington appeared on stage in cowboy garb to sing country tunes written by Atwood.

It wasn’t long before talk turned to Salman Rushdie. Starting with John Irving, a succession of authors addressed the death threats Rushdie faced after Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on him in February 1989 for blaspheming Islam in The Satanic Verses.

After reading a passage from Midnight’s Children, Atwood introduced the next writer. There was a collective gasp from the crowd of 1,200. Clad in a black PEN t-shirt, Salman Rushdie walked onto the stage.

Rushdie’s appearance had to do with his desire to emerge from hiding. After three years of seclusion, the author decided to be—as he notes in his recent autobiography, Joseph Anton—“a loud and visible man.” Starting with an appearance at a Danish PEN event, Rushdie became an unannounced guest at writing benefits around the world. He was invited to Toronto by his Canadian publisher, PEN Canada president Louise Dennys. Organizing the event required two months of cloak-and-dagger work. Rushdie’s name was never mentioned during phone calls and no information was leaked to the public—especially where he would stay (the home of Michael Ondaatje and Linda Spalding). The coded phrase when his appearance was confirmed was, according to Star columnist Michele Landsberg, “We have a turkey for lunch.” The event had the type of security usually reserved for a royal visit.

He arrived on December 5 on a private plane with a Ralph Lauren-designed interior, which he later said was the most comfortable transatlantic flight he had ever experienced. Two days later, PEN organized a top-secret lunch for the city’s top media executives. Rushdie urged the group to pressure the federal government to use its influence in international organizations to defend him at the United Nations. He believed that “the issue is simple: you don’t kill people for writing books.”

At the Winter Garden that night, authors were summoned backstage by Saturday Night magazine editor John Fraser during intermission. “The security people didn’t like it,” Fraser told the Globe and Mail. “We had to convince them it was okay to let so many people backstage.” The writers were handed papers listing events during Rushdie’s seclusion. One writer joked to Rushdie, “This is a helluva bar mitzvah you’re getting,” to which Rushdie responded, “Yes, but it’s a beautiful one.”

After the thunderous applause he received upon taking the stage, Rushdie discussed witch hunts and the power of comedy. He urged the audience to lobby politicians to impose sanctions on Iran and encouraged them to read The Satanic Verses. Rushdie then read a story of his, “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship.” Afterward, Dennys read a message from Minister of External Affairs Barbara McDougall, offering Rushdie the federal government’s support.

Rushdie was joined onstage by Ontario Premier Bob Rae, the first sitting leader in the Western world to publicly meet with the author since the fatwa. “Rae was youthful, friendly, blond, wore sneakers, and said he had agreed to come on stage at the benefit even though his wife was afraid he would be killed,” Rushdie later recalled. Noting that other political leaders seemed to be “terrified by an obscene edict from a fanatic sect in Iran,” Rae told Rushdie that “You are always welcome among us here in Ontario and Canada.”

Two days later, there were editorials in the Globe and Mail and the Star pushing the federal government to act. Both papers criticized Ottawa for seemingly being more interested in building trade with Iran than with censuring it for anti-democratic behaviour. The Globe suggested that cancelling the fatwa should be a condition of furthering the economic relationship. Star columnist Richard Gwyn felt the PEN event showcased the Bob Rae people had voted for: a classy, intelligent leader instead of a politician leading a gaffe-prone government. Pierre Berton used his Star column to urge a massive boycott of Iran, as otherwise “it means nothing that an evil old man can reach out beyond his country’s borders to invoke the death penalty against a citizen of a free country.”

Not everyone was impressed with Rushdie’s visit. McDougall received and promptly dismissed a letter from a Thornhill mosque which viewed the framing of Rushdie’s situation as a free speech issue hypocritical, given the alleged blasphemy against Islam and the recent deportation of holocaust-denying British historian David Irving. A letter from a University of Toronto student published in the Globe and Mail accusing Rushdie of religious intolerance and portraying his supporters as people who “lend legitimacy and credibility to his mockery of the belief system” sparked weeks of debate in the editorial pages.

In a letter published in the Star a year after his appearance, Rushdie wrote that the evening was “one of the most special moments of my life. When I walked on to the stage and felt that great wave of sympathy and support, it helped wash away the year of murderous hatred and the pain of the witch hunt.” He added that he was relieved that he had not experienced a single threat while in Canada, and he also praised Rae and McDougall for their support, as well as the House of Commons for unanimously passing a resolution condemning Iran.

“I send you my thanks,” he wrote, “and I send you my love.”

Additional material from Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), the December 8, 1992, December 9, 1992, December 11, 1992, and December 30, 1992 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the December 8, 1992, December 9, 1992, December 12, 1992, and December 16, 1993 editions of the Toronto Star. This story was suggested by Torontoist reader Patricia McCowan.