When Mel Freezes Over

As I no longer have a copy of this story as it originally appeared on The Grid’s website in early February 2013, this post is based on the draft I submitted for publication.

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Toronto Sun, January 15, 1999.

“It might have people across this country shaking their heads, even rolling their eyes,” Peter Mansbridge observed while introducing the January 13, 1999 edition of The National. To some Canadians, Mel Lastman’s plea for military assistance to help Toronto cope with a record-breaking month of snowfall confirmed their view of the country’s largest city as a magnet for spoiled, whiny wimps.

By the time Lastman requested help, Toronto had endured 84 cm of snowfall over the first two weeks of 1999, with 21 cm alone coming down on January 13. The deepening accumulation, combined with gusty winds and cold temperatures led to chaos. Clogged switches delayed GO service, drifting snow covered the third rail of exposed subway lines, and the Scarborough RT proved its uselessness in inclement weather. TTC chief general manager David Gunn recommended people stay home, as chances were “poor to nil” that closed subway sections would operate for several days. Snowplows barely made a dent on roads as the white stuff continued to fall.

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Toronto Star, January 14, 1999.

“I’m petrified of what could happen,” Lastman told the press. “You come to a point where you can’t push it back any more. Then no cars move. I want to have (the army) ready in case there’s 25 cm of snow.” Lastman had recent precedents: troops were called in for assistance during the Red River flood in Manitoba in 1997 and the ice storm that paralyzed eastern Ontario and Quebec in 1998.

The next morning, four Bison armoured personnel carriers arrived at the former Downsview military base from CFB Petawawa to await use as emergency ambulances. While reservists shoveled out bus shelters and fire hydrants, 420 regular troops were placed on standby. They spent most of their time relaxing around the old base by rehabbing an old gym basement bowling alley, playing cards, and practising snowmobile manoeuvres for a future Arctic posting. One officer who had assisted with the ice storm cleanup told the Star that “it’s kind of hard just sitting here when you want to help.” Lastman told the troops that “it’s better to be safe than sorry…I don’t believe you want to wait until people are possibly gonna die.”

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Cartoon by Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star, January 15, 1999.

Torontonians coped with the situation in varying ways. Commuters stuck downtown booked hotel rooms and made Eaton Centre merchants smile. Cotton Ginny reported a run on nightgowns, while Shoppers Drug Mart was packed with people stocking up on bathroom essentials. Rentals at the Yonge-Wellesley Rogers Video more than doubled. Meals on Wheels provided extra food to clients in case they were forced to close. Municipal and transit employees racked up overtime, with some snow removal employees sleeping in temporary trailer camps. There were the expected idiots: one man was charged after being caught drunk snowmobiling along the Don Valley Parkway.

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Toronto Sun, January 14, 1999.

As the city dug itself out, several city councillors questioned Lastman’s actions and lamented that he didn’t consult them. Lastman didn’t call an emergency council meeting out of fear of the speeches his colleagues might make. “The press would have been there, and what they would have been saying I don’t know. Some of them would have been absolutely out of it.” The mayor believed he was the only person who cared about the welfare of the entire city instead of specific wards, He never regretted his actions. “We arranged it so that senior citizens could go around the corner to get milk,” he boasted to the Star a decade later.

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Toronto Sun, January 14, 1999.

By the time the month was over, Toronto endured a record-breaking 118 cm of snowfall. Councillor Jack Layton found the storm “a teaching lesson in municipal arrogance” due to the city’s complacency. Eye Weekly noted that the previous fall, council’s urban environment committee voted against budgeting an extra $28 million to clear windrows. Up to $70 million was spent on clean-up, more than double the annual $32 million snow clearing budget.

Eye columnist Donna Lypchuk had fun with the charges that Torontonians were wusses when it came to snow. “Torontonians get a little touchy the minute they see a snowflake,” she observed. “Like little robots, they go outside, see their cars covered with snow, make a phone call and then drop back into bed with complete resignation.” She felt the exhaustion of those battling the storm could have been avoided by just letting the snow melt on its own.

Lypchuk’s conclusion? “I think it’s time Torontonians familiarized themselves with important Canadian concepts, such as snow. During the winter, snow is going to fall from the sky. This is not a scary, unusual thing. It is normal. Respect the snow and be prepared.”

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, January 14, 1999.

Confession time: I’m drawing a blank as to what I did during the Snowmageddon of January 1999.

I definitely experienced it. I was living in Guelph, working at the campus paper. Given the regular dumpings Guelph received, the storm likely didn’t seem unusual. It was probably just another snowy day, albeit one with greater accumulation. My guess is that either I curled up with a pile of library books or headed over to the Ontarion office to work, surf the net, or play endless games of Civilization II. It was around this time that staff relations within the office settled into a permanent deep-freeze, sparked by deep disagreements about the cover of that week’s issue. The only story about the storm in the following week’s edition noted there were no plans to shut down the U of G campus, and that students were encouraged to take advantage of increased Guelph Transit service as parking lots turned into mountains of cleared snow.

As for Lastman’s call for the army—it was Mel. Given his bombastic style, it would have been hard not to expect anything else.

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Toronto Sun, January 16, 1999.

After hearing all the jokes made about the situation over the years, reading about the circumstances at the time makes it clear action was needed. The factor that seems to be forgotten is that Toronto was already buried under an unusually large amount of snow. The forecasts for the storm that prompted Lastman to call in the troops didn’t look promising, and city services were already strained. And he did have the examples of military involvement in other natural disaster over the previous two years. The laughs at Toronto’s expense seem partly a natural reaction against the centre of the universe, and partly out of little comprehension of how badly the city’s infrastructure, especially for commuters, was affected. I was really struck by CBC archival clip’s depiction of a Meals on Wheels run, where deliverers provided extra food to clients in case the service had to be suspended.

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Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, January 14, 1999.

I also checked out the Sun’s coverage. The front page on January 14, 1999 bluntly echoed TTC chief general manager David Gunn’s advice: “STAY HOME.” It also introduced the paper’s method of measuring the snowfall: the “Mel freezes over” infographic, which used Lastman’s height as a yardstick for how much snow fell that month.

On the editorial page, a list of snow-related mottos was devised to replace the new official motto the paper loathed, “Diversity our strength.”

Toronto—The city under North York
Toronto—Home of the squeegee kid, until you need one.
Toronto—Our mayor shovels it better than your mayor.
Toronto—Beware of drive-by plowings.
Toronto—Don’t even think about parking here.
Toronto—Where snow melters go to die.
Toronto—Where snowballs have a chance.
Toronto—Apocalypse Snow.
Toronto—Home of the two-hour cab wait.
Toronto—It’s not as bad as Buffalo, but we’re working on it.
Toronto—Where “The Better Way” is walking.
Toronto—We’d rather be in Florida.
Toronto—The flake by the lake.
Toronto—As pure as the driven slush.
Toronto—Home of Pearson Airport—you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave.
Toronto—Plow me.

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Cartoon by Dusan Petricic, Toronto Star, January 17, 1999.

Meanwhile, back over in the Star, it was interesting to read how angry councillors were over the lack of consultation from Lastman. Among the miffed was Frances Nunziata. “I sent a letter to the Mayor January 6 with a number of recommendations,” she told the paper. “I didn’t get any response, or even an acknowledgement.” According to Michael Prue, who represented East York, councillors were “taking all the crap because Mel Lastman tells (the public) that everything’s wonderful and everything’s being fixed and I get phone call after phone call that it’s not that way.”

Sources: the January 21, 1999 edition of Eye Weekly, January 19, 1999 edition of the Ontarion, the January 14, 1999, January 15, 1999, January 16, 1999, January 17, 1999, and January 11, 2009 editions of the Toronto Star, and the January 14, 1999, January 15, 1999, and January 16, 1999 editions of the Toronto Sun.

Goodbye 1919, Hello 1920

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Toronto World, January 1, 1920.

“Toronto folk, old, young, and middle-aged, will celebrate this New Year’s Eve as they never have before,” the Star predicted on its December 31, 1919 front page. Noting that, with most veterans home from the aftermath of the First World War, it was the first true peacetime New Year’s Eve, “so that money and time have been cast to the winds and they are going at it with feathers flying and goodwill bubbling over.”

“People in Toronto want a wholesome good time tonight if they never had it before or never expect to again, and I am going to do all in my power to give it to them,” King Edward Hotel manager George O’Neil told the Star. He expected 1,500 partiers to ring in the new year. Revelers at the Balmy Beach Club witnessed an eight-year-old girl dressed as 1920 driving “Father Time across the ballroom and out of the door, then come back herself and give an exhibition toe dance.”

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Mail and Empire, January 2, 1920.

The Mail and Empire also covered the happenings in the city on New Year’s Day.

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Cartoon by Fontaine Fox. Mail and Empire, January 1, 1920.

The Globe’s year-end editorial focused on the “Week of Prayer” organized by the World’s Evangelical Alliance, as well as some sort of prayers suggested by “The Great Commission Prayer League of Chicago.” One sensed the rambling piece about the power of prayer had the deep religious convictions of Globe publisher William Gladstone Jaffray, a man who some employees believed gave more to his church than them. As the piece concluded, “the new year will prove one of unspeakable blessing to every life if not a day is permitted to pass without going aside with God for solitary prayer.”

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The Globe, January 1, 1920.

The New Year’s Day Globe editorial contemplated an issue still plaguing us a century later, widening economic disparity. The third and fifth paragraphs feel especially relevant.

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The Globe, December 31, 1919.

The Globe also suggested voters casting their ballots in the municipal election on New Year’s Day should re-elect mayor Tommy Church based on his support for the city’s takeover of the privately-operated Toronto Railway Company streetcar system (a goal finished with the establishment of the TTC in 1921). The paper gave other reasons why to deny pugnacious city councillor Sam McBride the mayor’s chair.

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The Telegram, December 31, 1919.

The Globe’s dislike of McBride was muted compared to the Telegram’s. As with many positions held by the Tely during the long editorship of Black Jack Robinson, its hatred of McBride bordered on the pathological. Given the Tely’s fierce support for Tommy Church in general and Adam Beck’s plans for the expansion of the provincially-owned hydro system and electric interurban railways, and its suspicion that McBride supported private ownership of both, its election headlines were, like the one above, were ridiculous. It may not have helped Robinson’s mood that Beck was seriously ill with pneumonia during the campaign.

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Cartoon by George Shields, The Telegram, December 31, 1919.

During a December 29 speech at the Central YMCA, McBride observed that since the death of Telegram founder John Ross Robertson the previous year, the paper had “changed and has become as different as night from day. If the old gentleman were alive and could see the amount of ink and paper that is being used to revile honest public men he would turn over in his grave.” Cue an outpouring of vitriol on the paper’s New Year’s Eve editorial page two days later which declared Robertson’s regrets over supporting continued private ownership of the streetcars when the TRC won its contract in 1891, and his support for Beck and Church.

me 1919-12-31 council endorsements mcaree on 1919'

Mail and Empire, December 31, 1919.

The Mail and Empire took a more balanced position, declaring in its New Year’s Eve editorial that a mayor who combined the strengths of Church and McBride “would be nearly as possible a perfect Chief Magistrate.”

star 1919-12-31 front page

Toronto Star, December 31, 1919.

The Star favoured McBride, as evidenced in this front-page endorsement, and scattered as many pro-McBride articles in its pages as the Tely had blasting him, depicting him as a defender of public ownership despite occasional disagreements with proposed radial railway plans.

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Toronto Star, January 1, 1920.

Ultimately, the 1920 municipal election is remembered not for its mayoral contest (which Church won), but the results in Ward 3’s aldermanic race, where Constance Hamilton became the first woman elected to city council in Toronto and Ontario. But that’s a story for another day…

As editors were so wrapped up in the municipal election, apart from the Globe there was less reflection on Toronto’s editorial pages on what had been an eventful year around the world. Maybe they felt events like the Paris Peace Conference, the Winnipeg General Strike, and the election of the UFO government in Ontario had seen enough type. Maybe they were weary of the strife which dominated the headlines.

But there were plenty of reflections elsewhere. Here is a sampling of cartoons and comment from across Canada and the United States.

Canada

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Kitchener Daily Telegraph, December 31, 1919.

 

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The Albertan, December 31, 1919.

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Sherbrooke Record, December 31, 1919.

United States

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Brooklyn Eagle, January 2, 1920.

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New York Herald, January 2, 1920.

Figures depicted in this roundup of the year include Lady Nancy Astor (the first sitting female British MP), Mexican president Venustiano Carranza (who would be assassinated in 1920), American army general John J. Pershing, Emma Goldman (who was deported along with 248 other radicals), the Prince of Wales (who stopped in the US after his Canadian tour). I’m guessing the “Palmer” cowboy with the long lasso is US attorney-general A. Mitchell Palmer, who was notorious for his anti-radical Palmer Raids. The “King and Queen” visiting Uncle Sam might be Albert I and Elisabeth of Belgium, who paid their respects at Theodore Roosevelt’s grave that year.

ny world 1919-12-31 editorial cartoon

New York World, December 31, 1919.

omaha daily bee 1919-12-31 editorial

Omaha Bee, December 31, 1919.

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Pittsburgh Press, December 31, 1919.

This cartoon appeared in numerous papers on both sides of the border.

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Pittsburgh Press, December 31, 1919.

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Seattle Star, January 1, 1920.

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Washington Star, December 31, 1919.

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Washington Star, January 1, 1920.

Councillor Jack Layton

Originally published on Torontoist on August 22, 2011.

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Toronto Star, November 9, 1982.

Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.” Jack Layton knew the meaning of the advice he gave in his last letter well, as many people said he didn’t have a chance during his first run for municipal office in 1982. He entered one of the most closely watched races that November, when political heavyweights were all but certain to nab the two seats up for grabs in Ward 6. The Star‘s candidate profile of Layton emphasized several issues that remained key concerns throughout his municipal and federal political career.

Jack Layton, 32, is a Ryerson politics professor known to Rogers Cable TV viewers as host of the now-defunct Council Insight show. This is Layton’s first campaign for elected office and he’s hoping the ward’s NDP network will help him win the junior aldermanic spot. He lists housing, transit, neighbourhood preservation and police-minority relations as key issues. Layton lives just outside the ward with his wife, Sally, and children Michael and Sarah. He’s spending $17,000 on his campaign.


CBC clip of Jack Layton following his victory in the 1982 municipal election.

 

Pundits expected the seats in Ward 6 to go to former Toronto mayor John Sewell and rising star Gordon Chong, who Conservative backroom operators felt was mayoral material. Layton used the NDP’s clout in the ward to run a low-cost, volunteer-intensive campaign. Housing proved the critical issue, thanks to tenant worries about massive rent increases after Cadillac Fairview sold off 11,000 units across the city. Chong, who received $40,000 in campaign funding from Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey, didn’t seem to care about these concerns until late in the race, when he proposed that the city borrow $270 million to buy the units and sell them back to the tenants as condos. Both Layton and Sewell ripped apart Chong’s proposal. When the votes were tallied on November 8, 1982, Layton finished in second place with a little less than a 2,000-vote cushion over Chong. The new junior alderman noted that “having 600 workers is a lot better than a $60,000 campaign any time.” At his victory party, where many volunteers admitted surprise that he bested Chong, Layton told the Star that the result “showed even more than we imagined that residents in this ward aren’t going to tolerate politicians who ignore them.”

Once in office, Layton quickly stressed the role citizens played in city politics, “where ordinary people can make a difference.” In a profile that appeared in the Globe and Mail two months after his victory, he noted that “Wherever doors are closed, I would open them up to public participation. And by participation, I don’t mean a smoke-and-mirrors situation where everyone gets to stand up and say their bit but nobody listens. To have access to the decision-making power is more important than expressing opinions only.” Fellow alderman Richard Gilbert felt that Layton was better equipped to handle office than his fellow freshmen councillors because he demonstrated a grasp of local issues by co-producing a Ryerson course on civic issues that aired on CJRT and hosting a community-cable politics show.

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Globe and Mail, January 8, 1983.

At city and regional levels, Layton wasn’t afraid to raise awareness for causes he believed in. As one of the first councillors to talk about and develop plans to combat AIDS, he had his outline drawn in chalk to represent those who had died. He was arrested in 1984 for trespassing when he handed out leaflets supporting striking workers at Eaton’s (the charges were later tossed out on grounds of freedom of expression). He argued against the public financing of the SkyDome (and called for an inquiry into the debts that followed), tried to curb the power of developers who seemed to have a free hand at City Hall during Art Eggleton’s administration, supported his fellow cyclists, worked on homelessness issues, helped launched the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and White Ribbon Campaign, and generally proved a thorn in the side of right-leaning fellow councillors.

During his early years on City and Metro councils, Layton’s style of dress was best described as “hip young political science professor”: glasses, jeans, bushy hair, mustache, and running shoes. When a well-groomed, contact-wearing Layton appeared at a Metro Toronto council meeting in early 1987, the rumour mill was abuzz. Was he cleaning up for a future run at top office? He denied such a move at the time, claiming that he could no longer wear glasses, slacks were cheaper than jeans, and that the haircut was his mother’s idea. He joked that he was “changing my underwear, too.” More seriously, he added, “I figure if I’m going to run for mayor, it’s going to be with my mouth, not my eyes.”

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Toronto Star, February 5, 1987.

But run for mayor he eventually did, announcing his intentions in February 1991. A fear of vote-splitting among right-leaning candidates reduced Layton’s main competition to former councillor and Metro Toronto Police Commission chair June Rowlands. He lost by nearly a two-to-one margin on election night, as voters either embraced Rowlands’ law and order platform or weren’t ready to trust Layton’s economic proposals and the “Smilin’ Jack” image some thought was phony. After declaring defeat, he urged his supporters to continue working toward “a city where everyone has a place at the table” and commit themselves to rebuilding Toronto. If the evening had a silver lining, it was that his second wife (and fellow Trekkie) Olivia Chow won her city council race.
Layton returned to Metro council in 1994, and served on the post-amalgamation Toronto city council from 1997 until he was named federal NDP leader in 2003. He also served as the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, defending the interests of cities across the country as he continued to do when he went to Ottawa.

Early in his municipal career, Layton learned it was more important to reach out to people than just criticize his opponents, a quality that served him well in building trust with voters across the country. By staying in touch with the concerns of others and remaining optimistic in the cynical world of politics, Layton inspired many people to follow and act upon their personal beliefs in bettering society, even when others mocked them. And that spirit is embodied by Toronto residents today, such as the deputants who, despite being called names and told their views were worthless by allies of Mayor Rob Ford, stayed up all night to voice their concerns about the current administration, buoyed by their optimism and hopes for a better city.

Additional material from November 9, 1982, and January 8, 1983, editions of the Globe and Mail, and the November 2, 1982, November 9, 1982, and February 5, 1987, editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 82-11-02 ward profile Toronto Star, November 2, 1982.

The results of this race: Sewell 13,702; Layton 10,101; Chong 8,349; Wong 2,504; Beatty 1,550; Amber 551

Rebellious Councils

Originally published on Torontoist on February 8, 2012.

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City Hall, Front Street East at Jarvis Street, north elevation, 1895 (now the site of the St. Lawrence Market South). City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 98.

Rebellion has been brewing at city council. Today’s special meeting points to the increasing frustrations some of our elected representatives have had with the bull-headed management style of Mayor Rob Ford. But today’s debate on the future of public transit in Toronto is hardly the first time a large segment of council has decided not to toe the mayor’s line. In the past, when council has risen against a mayor’s modus operandi, the results have varied. In the examples we’ve exhumed, mayors have found themselves losing critical votes, losing councillors through en-masse resignations, and even losing their office due to opponents who exploit a great opportunity.

1853: John George Bowes and the Ten Thousand Pound Job

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Portrait of John George Bowes from Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto Volume 6 (Toronto: John Ross Robertson, 1914). Right: Portrait of Sir Francis Hincks from History of Toronto and County of York Volume 1 (Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1885).

Going into his third term as Toronto’s mayor in 1853, John George Bowes had a sterling reputation. The dry goods merchant was known as a man of the people who acted with his fists, occasionally suffering, as Toronto mayoralty chronicler Victor Loring Russell noted, “a broken head.”

Bowes may have wondered if he had cracked his head once too often after his involvement in a scandal known as the “Ten Thousand Pound Job.” Canada West Premier Sir Francis Hincks schemed with Bowes to replace depreciated bonds issued by the City of Toronto to the Northern Railway with a new, more valuable issue. The two leaders quietly bought 40,000 pounds (the local currency before the dollar) worth of old bonds and, as enabled under provincial legislation devised by Hincks, exchanged them for 50,000 pounds worth of new ones, producing a 10,000 pound profit. When Hincks’ role in the scheme became public in the fall of 1853, Bowes denied to his fellow councillors that he’d had any direct connection with the sale.

After Bowes finally fessed up in court about his role, Councillor John Smith moved a resolution at the October 10, 1853, council meeting to censure the mayor for “having practiced such systematic deception towards the Council collectively and its members individually,” and adding, for good measure, that he had “forfeited the confidence of the Citizens of Toronto and of their representatives on this Council assembled.” Bowes’ ally Ogle Gowan introduced several amendments to the resolution to protect the mayor. The first, which resolved that the city shouldn’t attempt to predict the outcome of a judicial investigation, failed by one vote. But the second, which not only stated that none of Bowes’ dealings hurting the citizens of Toronto but also claimed that the mayor had done his utmost to promote citizens’ interests, was left for a future meeting.

When council reconvened on October 24, sparks flew. Gowan’s second amendment was defeated. A series of increasingly testy motions to censure the mayor for lying were also defeated. A final motion introduced by Alderman Samuel Thompson, which regretted Bowes’ lack of candour but stated that his service to Toronto “should exempt him from any further censure from this council in relation to that transaction” passed by two votes.

Councillors outraged by the actions of the mayor and his defenders failed to show up for the next scheduled meeting on October 31. At the November 3 meeting, eight of the 28 sitting councillors submitted a resignation letter. With their concerns overruled by the majority, the departing officials felt that they had little choice but to quit an institution they could no longer trust.

By-elections were called and held within two weeks.

While Bowes decided not to run for a fourth term in 1854, his political career was hardly ruined by the incident. He served in the provincial legislature alongside Hincks, then returned to municipal politics. Bowes was re-elected as mayor in 1861 and served for three more terms.

1886: William Holmes Howland and Liquor Reduction

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William Holmes Howland. Wikimedia Commons.

During his two years as mayor, William Holmes Howland helped birth the notion of “Toronto the Good.” His efforts at civic reform were aimed at moral purification, which seemed to appeal to voters in 1886. Unfortunately for Howland, most of the councillors elected with him were men he denounced during the campaign as stooges of corporations and the liquor trade. This attitude gave the new council little reason to be amenable to Howland’s agenda. Of the 12 councillors who formed the new executive committee, only two could be called staunch allies of the new mayor.

In his inaugural address, Howland proposed several methods of controlling liquor offences, the most controversial of which was a vow to reduce the number of licenses issued to local grocery stores and tavern keepers. The issue was sent to a special committee, whose report included a clause recommending that licenses be capped at 68 stores and 200 taverns, and that the existing license fee be raised by 20 dollars. Howland and his allies spent most of his first month in office trying to persuade councillors to get behind his policies, but a series of late-night meetings frayed everyone’s tempers. When the executive committee received the report on February 18, 1886, it was concerned about how those who lost their licenses through reduction would be compensated. They felt liquor control was a provincial matter, and that since license commissioners already existed, city council had no business getting in their way. The executive committee prepared to shelve the report.

The next day saw a raucous full-council meeting. The World reported that:

The galleries and the benches that run along the walls behind the aldermen’s seats were crowded with spectators. The throngs in the gallery thought it had the right to make a noisy demonstration when it pleased them, and his worship had to suppress them on threats of clearing the room. The proceedings of the city fathers was as Babelish and indecorous as ever. The World would advise some of them to go down to the local legislature and take lessons in parliamentary procedure and order in debate.

Howland grew testy during the meeting, lashing out at the executive committee for illegally interfering with the special committee that had prepared the report. Howland made the fatal mistake of alienating a key ally when he accused Alderman Newman Steiner of cowardice for suggesting that fewer liquor licenses would provoke a rise in illegal establishments. When the report came to a vote, it was defeated 21 to 15.

Opponents used the defeat to pounce on Howland. Supporters of defeated former mayor Alexander Manning produced evidence that Howland lacked the legal property requirements to run for office. The result was a mayor-less city for a week, until a combination of quick legal manoeuvres, public sympathy, and the failure of anyone else to step up at a nomination meeting returned Howland to office. The mayor would have the last laugh, as the municipal election of 1887 brought in a slate of councillors better aligned with his views, which eventually led to a favourable vote on license reduction.

2007: David Miller and the Deferred Tax Vote

As Torontoist’s headline put it, “Davy Had a Bad, Bad Day.” When council voted on July 16, 2007 to defer a final decision on two revenue-generating tax proposals championed by Mayor David Miller, the result was a nail-biter.

Armed with the newly legislated City of Toronto Act, Miller recommended that the city enact a land-transfer tax of up to 2 per cent on home purchases, and a $60 tax applied to motor vehicle registrations. While Miller and his allies crafted the tax proposals, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong assembled a coalition of business and lobby groups to oppose the proposed taxes and lean on undecided councillors, especially the “mushy middle.”

As the tax-proposal vote approached, Councillor Suzan Hall devised a plan to defer a decision until October 22, 2007, which would be two weeks after the upcoming provincial election. Hall reasoned that the campaign period could be used to urge the Ontario government to upload social-services costs, which would have enabled the City to forgo the new taxes. Described by the Star as “a quiet councillor not known as a trailblazer,” Hall came up with the deferral idea after meeting with the Toronto Board of Trade.

When Hall’s proposal was debated on July 16, the National Post felt a speech by Anthony Peruzza marked the point where it appeared Miller was going to lose. Admitting he made his decision five minutes before he spoke, Peruzza, a former NDP MPP, stated that the new format of fixed-date provincial elections provided a “real unique opportunity,” presumably to provide time for political manoeuvring. One member of the executive committee also decided to vote for the deferral: Brian Ashton, who was willing to pay the political consequences so that there was time for tax opponents like the Board of Trade and the Toronto Real Estate Board to aid the city in working out new fiscal relations with the province.

When the votes were tallied, 23 were in favour of deferral, 22 against. Starcolumnist Royson James blamed the result on the city executive’s failure to court the middle, and on Miller acting “more like a monarch than a mayor.” Miller felt that it was unrealistic to expect the province to upload $500 million in social-services costs. “My concern is for the city of Toronto,” Miller told the Globe and Mail. “It is very difficult to look people in the eye and say the resources are not there to meet the needs of Toronto, but that is the fact.”

During the deferral period, headlines were filled with threats of cuts and closures to community centres, libraries, and ice rinks. When the taxes were finally voted on in October, they passed (26–19 for the land-transfer tax, 25–20 for the vehicle-registry tax). Reactions were predictable: Miller told the Star that “It was a tough decision to impose new taxes on the people of Toronto but it’s an essential decision if we want to do our part in creating the kind of city that Torontonians want,” while Minnan-Wong warned the National Post that “The Mayor is coming back for more. There are going to be more increased taxes…that could be in the way of higher property taxes the residents of the City of Toronto have never seen before or more new revenue tools being used.”

Miller, seen as vulnerable, came under increasing attack from his opponents during the remainder of his term. The perception that his administration loved to tax the public was among the factors that propelled Rob Ford into office, which in a way led to the council rebellion that is currently unfolding.

Additional material from The Union of the Canadas by J. M. S. Careless (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967), Mayor Howland: The Citizens’ Candidate by Desmond Morton (Toronto: Hakkert, 1973), Mayors of Toronto Volume 1 1834–1899 by Victor Loring Russell (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 1982), the minutes of Toronto City Council from 1853, and the following newspapers: the July 17, 2007 edition of the Globe and Mail; the November 5, 1853 edition of the Leader; the February 19, 1886 edition of the Mail; the July 17, 2007 and October 23, 2007 editions of the National Post; the July 17, 2007 and October 23, 2007 editions of the Toronto Star; and the February 20, 1886 edition of the Toronto World.