Bonus Features: And you’re gonna love it: How Ontario became ‘Yours to Discover’

Before diving into this post, you should read about “Yours to Discover” on TVO’s website.

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Toronto Star, May 1, 1980.

One of the first campaign advertisements, outlining its theme and accompanying tourist materials.

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Globe and Mail, June 7, 1980.

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Toronto Star, June 14, 1980.

The introduction to the first 40-page insert placed in newspapers, followed by the four-page Toronto section.

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Was curling ever a major tourist draw for Toronto? The Terrace was the last incarnation of the Mutual Street Arena/Arena Gardens, the early home of the Maple Leafs.

This section is close to what was published about Toronto in the era’s editions of the Traveller’s Encyclopedia, which I’ll cover in a future post.

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Toronto Star, May 2, 1981.

While intercity bus service has grown patchier across the province over the past 40 years, you can still enjoy a ride to Stratford’s Festival Theatre from several spots in the GTA.

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Toronto Star, June 22, 1981.

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Toronto Star, June 25 1981.

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Toronto Star, July 7, 1981.

Examples of ads touting the Yours to Discover kiosks found at half-a-dozen Eaton’s stores, including a listing of the province’s scenic driving routes, which are barely marked today, depending on if signs survived provincial downloading of sections of those routes during the Harris era or municipalities decided to post their own signs (such as the signs for the Talbot Trail in Elgin County).

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Globe and Mail, July 18, 1981.

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Toronto Star, August 15, 1981.

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Toronto Star, May 1, 1982.

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This article appeared above the “Go Wild” ad, which seems like smart product placement in the Star‘s travel section. You can easily recreate most of these trips today, though there’s nothing on the interwebs about a “Museum of Time” near Cookstown (guessing that it was somebody’s personal collection?).

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Toronto Star, May 3, 1982.

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Toronto Star, May 14, 1983.

From the spring 1983 Yours to Discover newspaper insert, info about the province’s new Teleguide system, which used Telidon technology.

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Toronto Star, June 29, 1983.

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Globe and Mail, June 14, 1986.

Note that the “Yours to Discover” logo was still prominent in this ad from the “Ontario Incredible!” campaign.


Here’s an early 1980s spot for one of the inspirations for “Yours to Discover,” the long-running “I Love NY” campaign.

 

Another early 1980s tourism campaign, this time from Michigan. “Say Yes to Michigan” was used from 1970 until it gave way to “Pure Michigan” in the 21st century.

“This The Day When the Ground Hog Comes Out”

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Toronto Star, February 2, 1912.

Posted above is the earliest front page story regarding Groundhog Day published by either the Globe or the Star.

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On that day’s editorial page, the Star published a piece about the occasion by syndicated poet Walt Mason (1862-1939).

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Toronto Star, February 7, 1908.

Here’s the earliest story from the Star about Groundhog Day, though it’s less about the day, more about farmers from southwest Ontario petitioning the provincial legislature for the right to shoot the critters.

The Canadian Encyclopedia has a lengthier look at the day’s origins, and its history in Canada.

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

One Fine Day at a Provincial Budget Lockup

Originally published on Torontoist on March 31, 2011.

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“We’re in for a long day.”

Overhearing this amid the din of a boardroom in the Macdonald Block, those of us still groggily waking up at Torontoist’s designated table in the media room wondered what we might have gotten ourselves into. Covering the provincial budget was new for us, after all. We were invited to be part of the annual tradition known as the budget lockup, in which reporters from various media outlets are sequestered for several hours to review the budget before its release to the public and to ask government figures questions about its content. No phones, no internet, no contact with the outside world for eight hours.

And so as we settled in, we wondered: would attending the lockup be an educational experience or one that felt like a prison sentence?

We arrived early. Very early. At 8 a.m., we were amongst the first of the media finding their way past OPP officers to assigned spots. We opened our registration packages, which included instructions on how to turn off wireless connections—helpfully illustrated with diagrams of the Wi-Fi signal icon (for Mac users only), in case we weren’t sure how to do that. Waiting at each of our seats was a folder containing photocopied press releases, the three-hundred-page budget document, and a thinner tome featuring the speech Finance Minister Dwight Duncan would give fellow MPPs eight hours later. Duncan’s speech read like a printout of a Twitter feed—sentence-long paragraphs, few containing more than 140 characters. The formatting of the speech was ideal for dramatic pauses during its reading—or a creative interpretation by William Shatner.

As mellow jazz played in the background, we spent the next hours digesting the budget. We quickly realized just how integral a research tool the internet has become when we were denied its riches of information whenever we wanted to look up agency names or old news items. We couldn’t phone external sources either: like the ‘net, phone lines were blocked during the blackout period. But we weren’t left completely in the dark: experts from the Ministry of Finance were on hand to answer our questions to the best of their knowledge. Still, we felt disconnected from the rest of the world; a catastrophe could occur a block away and we would have been oblivious.

Gradually the room filled up and the jazz gave way to the drone of other reporters poring over their packages. A basic spread that would cause only the most zealous watchdogs of public spending worry was served for lunch: lasagna, salad, breadsticks, cookies, soft drinks. As 1 p.m. neared, the noise level in the room decreased as the media and a growing number of government and party officials awaited the arrival of Dwight Duncan to begin the afternoon’s round of speeches and Q&A sessions.

As Duncan and opposition party leaders Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath spoke, we found ourselves lulled and latching onto the key phrases they repeated ad nauseum. Duncan linked Hudak to Mike Harris, to the point where both men’s names rolled off his tongue like one—“Harrishudak.” The speeches by Hudak and Horwath mentioned “families” every other sentence. By the time the opposition leaders brought up families for the fifty-ninth time, it was hard to keep groans internalized. It was interesting to notice the steady decrease in the number of questions each candidate was asked: Duncan filled his forty-five-minute slot; Hudak took half an hour (assisted by quasi-bouncer Norm Miller); Horwath, eleven minutes. The speakers’ backdrops also reflected their status in government: Duncan had the video screens that played budget propaganda all day; Hudak used a sizeable backboard to cover up the screens and a smaller banner on the podium; Horwath had a skinny backboard that the flags onstage cozied up to.

Some parties prepared their press material better than others. When we noticed a Conservative staffer handing out folders, we went up to grab one…only to find that we were out of luck because they printed only fifty copies for a room filled with at least two or three times as many reporters—from which we must conclude a Harrishudak government would save taxpayers money by tightly monitoring the provincial photocopiers. The NDP was better organized, as their staffer handed out single-page statements to be passed around each table.

When the blackout period ended at 4 p.m., mayhem ensued. Some news organizations headed out the door. Some picked up the phones, frantically hitting the hang-up button and waiting for the lines to be turned back on. Most waited for the restoration of internet access to their laptops, though this proved frustrating for several unlucky souls (we latched onto unused DSL lines, as wireless service was non-existent in the room).

By the time we finished filing our initial batch of reports at 5:45 p.m., the room looked as if a parade had gone by, with abandoned folders and remnants of meals left behind. A few diehard reporters were still working while the room was transformed back into an empty meeting space. In the midst of the resetting of chairs and the removal of the detritus, we reflected on the provincial budget lockup and determined that though there were dead points in the day, ten hours in the room wasn’t penal punishment—in fact, it was kind of fun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

I also wrote the following summary of NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s criticisms of the budget, originally published on March 29, 2011.

Perhaps the skinny background sign should have been a tipoff. Of all the government figures who spoke about the budget in the media lockup, New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath took up the least amount of time. While Finance Minister Dwight Duncan spent forty-five minutes talking to the crowd and Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak took a half hour to offer up his response, Horwath outlined her concerns, took questions, and was off the stage in less than eleven minutes.

Like Hudak, Horwath repeatedly referred to families and their struggles to cope with financial insecurity, and how those concerns were ignored in the budget. “Today’s budget shows that Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberals are simply out of touch with the pressures facing Ontario families,” she noted. “The premier says he’s turning a corner, but most families feel like they’ve been left by the side of the road while he drives by.”

Many of her attacks on the government focused on corporate tax incentives that were painted as a giveaway of funds that could have helped families coping with job losses and high electric bills. For example: “New Democrats asked the McGuinty government to put people first in this budget. They failed. They could have made life more affordable for families. Instead, they put another four hundred million into a tax giveaway while families have to pay more.” She complained about fuzzy language surrounding the reduction of public-sector CEO salaries by 10%, noting that if they were truly serious about making such a change, the language would have been made in concrete terms.

Horwath also outlined a number of issues that the NDP felt Ontarians had no reason to trust the Liberals on, from the increase in funding for breast cancer examinations (when clinics specializing in this area had closed ) to opening up more post-secondary spaces (when current students were struggling to afford their studies). She feared that a review of ServiceOntario would lead to American-style privatization of public-service delivery and result in consumer fiascos like the sale of Highway 407. She demanded that all details regarding any contracting-out of services had to be fully revealed before final decisions were made.

Among the few queries directed at Horwath during a five-minute question period was one concerning the scrapping of the proposed Toronto West Courthouse at the former Westwood Theatre site in Etobicoke. She felt this was a weak way to save money given the backup of cases within the justice system. Otherwise, the brief duration of the Q&A session possibly betrayed a disinterest among the assembled reporters in hearing what the third party leader had to say. They got the skinny, then moved on to work on their reports.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Covering the 2011 provincial budget was the moment I felt like I’d settled into a full-time freelancing career. It came at a transitional time in my life: I’d recently been laid off from the desk job I’d had since moving to Toronto in 1999.

The night before my department was downsized out of existence, I was at a gathering at Massey College. I don’t recall what the occasion was – it may have part of a series of Q&As with prominent journalists. I do recall telling people that, after 11-1/2 years of being a cubicle jockey at Canadian Tire’s home office, I was thinking of moving on before year’s end. I was really enjoying my growing side freelancing gigs, and wondered if I could make a go of that, or related steady work.

The next morning, there was a buzz in the air at the office. An invite to a mysterious early afternoon meeting was sent around, which led to rumours of layoffs. I spent the rest of the morning preparing to be let go, by cleaning out my desk and saving freelance and portfolio files from my computer.

The rumours were true. The meeting was short, and I was soon on my way home in a taxi with a package outlining options for my financial future. I called my partner at the time, and we wound up analyzing the situation over dinner at the New York Cafe (a greasy spoon at Broadview and Danforth). Still a little shaken, I laughed at my thoughts of the night before.

It didn’t take long for me to realize being laid off was one of the best things that ever happened to me. The buyout package I chose, combined with 11-1/2 years of accumulated profit sharing, provided income for several years while I concentrated on building my freelance portfolio. I half-heartedly looked for permanent work, but spent more time relishing my freedom and working on my craft.

To this day, I bear no grudges toward Canadian Tire. They provided a steady living as I settled into life in Toronto, a sane working environment after surviving the black comedy of the university paper I’d previously worked for, and the means to get my true career going.

Business relationships I’d been building elsewhere grew stronger. At Torontoist, this meant taking on an increased role, which evolved into a staff writing position with a set quota of pieces per month. Financially it was next to useless, but my work on “Historicist” and other posts led to much more lucrative opportunities.

This also meant the room to experiment with the types of pieces I wrote – Hamutal Dotan deserves many thanks for pushing me into new areas during her editorial tenure. Cover a provincial budget lockup? Sure, why not? At worst, I’d write about the experience. It would be the first of many interesting places I’d find myself over the next few years I doubt I would have imagined sitting at my desk staring out over Yonge Street while trying to get the marketing department to hand in their documents correctly.