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.

Whacking Whitney While Keeping Drew Out

Originally published on Torontoist on October 5, 2011 with additional material mixed in.

Besides lawn signs and public meetings, newspaper advertisements have long been a preferred method for Ontario politicians to spread their message to the public. Whether it’s a simple promise to provide “good government” or a full platform requiring a magnifying glass to read, the press has offered a forum for candidates to make their case to voters as long as they paid for the ad. Today’s gallery shows the evolution of Ontario election ads from short notices in partisan papers to spots where the reproduction quality barely hides the lines of a candidate’s toupee (sorry Mel).

1886

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Richmond Hill Liberal, December 23, 1886.

Back in the 19th century, a candidate generally placed ads in publications slanted toward their political party. Such was the case with G.B. Smith, a Liberal endorsed by the Richmond Hill Liberal. It wouldn’t be a great shock to discover that the paper’s December 23, 1886 editorial portrayed him as “man whose every utterance is straight-forward and fair, for a man whose conduct is open and fearless, for a man whose character and abilities should commend themselves to all.” Voters in York East agreed—Smith represented the riding until 1894.

Results December 28, 1886:
Liberal (Oliver Mowat): 57 seats
Conservative (William Ralph Meredith): 32 seats
Other: 1 seat

1898

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Short , sweet, to the point. The voters fulfilled the Globe’s vow, as the Liberals won their eighth consecutive term in office and their first without longtime premier Oliver Mowat at the helm. Conservative leader James Pliny Whitney was whacked again in the 1902 election, then finally won the premiership in 1905.

Results March 1, 1898:
Liberal (Arthur Hardy): 51 seats
Conservative (James Pliny Whitney): 42 seats
Other: 1 seat

1905

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News, January 24, 1905.

Liberal candidate Hugh Blain claimed nasty things were afoot in North Toronto as the campaign drew to a close. A poster entitled “Will Hugh Blain Deny” that alleged the candidate took advantage of government subsidies for beet sugar was circulated by Conservative supporters of incumbent MPP Dr. Beattie Nesbitt. Attacks on the Grits were common during an election that saw the end of 34 years of Liberal government. Nesbitt won, but he resigned his seat a year later to accept an appointment as registrar of West Toronto.

Results January 25, 1905:
Conservative (James Pliny Whitney): 69 seats
Liberal (George William Ross): 28 seats
Other: 1 seat

1919

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The Globe, October 18, 1919.

The first postwar election was accompanied by a referendum on the prohibition of alcohol, which the province had enacted three years earlier. There were four questions regarding varying degrees of repeal, from dumping the Ontario Temperance Act altogether, to allowing beer to be sold through the government. Voting on each question ranged from 60 to 67 percent against bringing legal booze back.

Results October 20, 1919:
United Farmers of Ontario (no official leader): 44 seats
Liberal: (Hartley Dewart): 27 seats
Conservative (William Hearst): 25 seats
Labour (Walter Rollo): 11 seats
Other: 4 seats

1923

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Toronto Star, June 23, 1923.

Voters didn’t heed Groves’s ad, as she finished second in Toronto Northwest, with 20.9% of the ballots. Her candidacy was attacked by the Telegram for ‘grossly violating” laws which prohibited political activity in schools. Brock Avenue School principal D.W. Armstrong posted a note on a bulletin board urging staff to support Groves, who ran for the Progressive Party. Armstrong accepted all responsibility. “Mrs. Groves did not speak to me about it and in no way have I heard from her in connection with the campaign,” he told the Star. “If it was an error it was mine and I must take the consequences.” Groves she had not campaigned in any schools, but was aware of support from teachers.

Results June 25, 1923:
Conservative (Howard Ferguson): 75 seats
United Farmers of Ontario/Labour (E.C. Drury): 21 seats
Liberal (Wellington Hay): 14 seats
Other: 1 seat

1926

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Toronto Star, November 30, 1926.

Alcohol was the key issue of the 1926 campaign. Premier Howard Ferguson ‘s Conservatives proposed repealing the act to allow government sales, which led to ads like this one. Killjoy drys were overruled in this election: Ferguson won a majority and introduced the Liquor License Act in March 1927, which led to the birth of the LCBO.

Results December 1, 1926:
Conservative (Howard Ferguson): 72 seats
Liberal (W.E.N. Sinclair): 15 seats
Other: 12 seats
Progressive (William Raney): 10 seats
United Farmers of Ontario (Leslie Oke): 3 seats

1934

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The Enterprise, June 13, 1934.

Proof scare tactics can backfire on a party: Premier George Stewart Henry (whose name lives on in the North York neighbourhood named after his farm) saw his party’s fortunes collapse as the Conservatives dropped from 90 to 17 seats against the populist appeal of Mitch Hepburn’s Liberals.

Results June 19, 1934:
Liberal (Mitch Hepburn): 65 seats
Conservative (George Stewart Henry) 17 seats
Liberal-Progressive (Harry Nixon): 4 seats
Other: 4 seats

1943

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Globe and Mail, August 4, 1943.

Governor-generals have to start somewhere. Though unsuccessful in his 1943 campaign against future Toronto Mayor William Dennison, Roland Michener was elected to Queen’s Park two years later.

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Toronto Star, August 3, 1943. 

Following its opposition to Canada’s entry into World War II, the Communist Party of Canada was officially banned in 1940. Despite this, candidates continued to run in federal and provincial elections. In Toronto, A.A. MacLeod (Bellwoods) and J.B. Salsberg (St. Andrew), who advertised themselves as “Labour” candidates, won their ridings. Shortly after the election, they agreed to sit as MPPs for the Communists’ new legal entity, the Labour-Progressive Party.

Results August 4, 1943:
Progressive Conservative (George Drew): 38 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 34 seats
Liberal (Harry Nixon): 15 seats
Labour-Progressive (no leader): 2 seats
Other: 1 seat

1945

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Toronto Star, June 2, 1945.

Building on the success of MacLeod and Salsberg in the 1943 election, the Labour-Progressive Party ran 31 candidates across the province, some of whom were allied with Mitch Hepburn’s Liberals. They failed to keep Drew out, as the Conservatives returned with a majority government. Part of the Tories’ success may have been due to a radio speech given by CCF leader Ted Jollife which accused Drew of establishing a “Gestapo” within the Ontario Provincial Police to keep watch on the opposition. The speech backfired on Jolliffe, though evidence was found years later to support his claims of government spying.

Results June 4, 1945:
Progressive Conservative (George Drew): 66 seats
Liberal (Mitch Hepburn): 14 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 8 seats
LPP (Leslie Morris): 2 seats

1948

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Toronto Star, June 5, 1948.

However, Drew lost his own seat to CCF candidate/temperance zealot Bill Temple in High Park. He quickly went into federal politics and won the federal Tory leadership. Peel MPP Thomas Kennedy served as interim premier until Leslie Frost became party leader the following spring.

Other notable candidates featured in this ad include CCF leader Ted Jollifee (running in a seat that another CCF/NDP party leader, Bob Rae, would hold), Agnes Macphail (Canada’s first female MP and one of Ontario’s first pair of female MPPs), Reid Scott (at 21, then the youngest MPP in Ontario history), and William Dennison (future mayor of Toronto).

Results June 7, 1948:
Progressive Conservative (George Drew): 53 seats
Liberal (Farquhar Oliver): 14 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 21 seats
LPP (no leader): 2 seats

1951

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Weston Times and Guide, November 8, 1951.

The province didn’t feel the same chill: Premier Leslie Frost’s Progressive Conservatives won all but 11 of the 90 seats at Queen’s Park.

Results November 22, 1951:
Progressive Conservative (Leslie Frost): 79 seats
Liberal (Walter Thomson): 8 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 2 seats
LPP (Stewart Smith): 1 seat

1963

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Don Mills Mirror, September 18, 1963.

Yes, the colour of margarine was once considered a major election issue, though butter-hued oil spread was not 100% legal in Ontario until 1995. The ’63 campaign was the first for John Robarts after succeeding Leslie Frost. Note the promises related to the Toronto area—Robarts flipped the switch when the Bloor-Danforth line opened three years later.

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Don Mills Mirror, August 14, 1963.

While Jim Service was unsuccessful in his run for the provincial legislature, he would serve North York as reeve and mayor from 1965 to 1969.

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Don Mills Mirror, September 18, 1963.

1963 was the first provincial election for the NDP, having changed its name from the CCF two years earlier. Party leader Donald MacDonald stayed through the transition, remaining in charge until 1970.

Results September 25, 1963:
Progressive Conservative (John Robarts): 77 seats
Liberal (John Wintermeyer): 24 seats
NDP (Donald MacDonald): 7 seats

1967

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Globe and Mail, October 16, 1967.

At least two of the “action politicians” were or would be easily recognized by the public. Stephen Lewis would win a second term in Scarborough West. Three years later, he became party leader. Over in High Park, Dr. Morton Shulman ran after he was fired from his role as Ontario’s chief coroner earlier in the year for embarrassing the government over inadequate fire protection in a new hospital. Shulman’s crusading medical career had also inspired a popular CBC drama, Wojeck.

Results October 17, 1967:
Progressive Conservative (John Robarts): 69 seats
Liberal (Robert Nixon): 28 seats
NDP (Donald MacDonald): 20 seats

1971

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Don Mills Mirror, October 6, 1971.

The Progressive Conservatives earned their ninth consecutive mandate under new leader William Davis, whose team. All of the candidates pictured in this ad, except for Deane (who lost to veteran Liberal Vern Singer) joined Davis at Queen’s Park. Timbrell ran for the party leadership twice in 1985, losing to Frank Miller in January and Larry Grossman in November.

Results October 21, 1971:
Progressive Conservative (William Davis): 78 seats
Liberal (Robert Nixon): 20 seats
NDP (Stephen Lewis): 19 seats

1975

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Toronto Star, September 16, 1975.

Who’s a better provincial candidate than Mel Lastman? EVVVERYBODY! Well, actually former Toronto mayor Philip Givens, who won Armourdale for the Liberals in election that produced Ontario’s first minority government since 1943.

Results September 18, 1975:
Progressive Conservative (William Davis): 51 seats
NDP (Stephen Lewis): 38 seats
Liberal (Robert Nixon): 36 seats

Vintage Toronto Ads: Booted by a Billboard

Originally published on Torontoist on October 7, 2008.

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Election billboard for Liberal candidates Lionel Conacher and John A. MacVicar, City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1089,

Most of the election signs currently lining the streets of the city stick to identifying local candidates and their party colours. Commentary on the other candidates is rarely seen on lawn signs, while billboards tend to be the domain of lobbyists. This was not the case during the Ontario provincial race in 1948, when passers-by got an eyeful of what the opposition thought of the government.

The Rich Uncle Pennybags character getting the boot was Premier George Drew, whose victory over the Liberals in 1943 launched the Progressive Conservatives’ 42-year run in office. Attempting to give George the boot was one of the Grits’ star candidates, Lionel “Big Train” Conacher. “Canada’s Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century” entered politics after his hockey and football careers wound down, starting with a stint as MPP for the long-gone Toronto riding of Bracondale from 1937 until his defeat in 1943 by Ontario’s second female MPP, Rae Luckock of the CCF (forerunner of the NDP).

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Election billboard for Progressive Conservative candidates George Drew and Dana Porter, City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1089, item 2863.

The Tories countered with billboards using a sober portrait of Drew. Note the hint of a heavenly aura.

After the ballots were counted on June 7, the Progressive Conservatives won 53 of 90 seats, a drop of 13. Drew lost his own riding, High Park, to the CCF’s William Temple, a temperance crusader largely responsible for protecting The Junction’s dry status. Temple felt his victory was “a personal rebuke to the arrogant and dictatorial handling of public affairs by Mr. Drew. It is proof that his labelling as a ‘Communist’ everyone who disagrees with him no longer frightens the people of High Park.” Drew proved Temple’s accusation in a speech given after the opposition parties conceded, warning that the rise in the CCF vote (the party went from 8 to 21 seats) marked the “insidious, vile, poisonous encroachment of Communism,” and that Ontario voters should not be surprised if events similar to the recent Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia occurred. You be the judge whether Drew reflected period Red Scare fears or expressed sour grapes over his loss and the CCF’s new status as the official opposition.

With his personal defeat, Drew stepped down as premier and entered federal politics. By the end of 1948 he was leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ottawa, losing twice to Louis St. Laurent before his retirement in 1956. His career wound down with a six-year stint as the first Chancellor of the University of Guelph.

The Liberals’ 14 seats did not include Conacher or John A. MacVicar, as both were defeated by the Tories. Like Drew, Conacher tossed his hat in the federal ring and was elected as an MP the following year. Conacher served Trinity as an MP until his death from a heart attack during a parliamentary softball game in 1954.

Additional material from the June 8, 1948 editions of The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star.