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

ts 94-08-25 eglinton groundbreaking

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.

sun 95-07-21 subway protest

Toronto Sun, July 21, 1995.

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Globe and Mail, July 21, 1995.

gm 95-07-22 eglinton deferred

Globe and Mail, July 22, 1995.

sun 95-07-22 editorial

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

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Globe and Mail, August 4, 1995.

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.

sun 1990-09-07 page 71 mammo

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.