A History of Newspaper Endorsements in Federal Election Campaigns

Originally published on Torontoist on October 16, 2015.

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Cartoon urging readers to defeat Louis St. Laurent’s Liberal government, the Globe and Mail, August 10, 1953.

In the offices of Toronto’s major dailies, editorial boards have been cracking their knuckles tapping out each paper’s official election endorsement. As this article was being written, those which have been published for the 2015 campaign have not strayed from their traditional stances: Liberal for the Star, Conservative for the Sun (which we also expect from the National Post based on other Postmedia papers), and head-scratching caveats from the Globe and Mail, a paper whose choices depend on who’s running the presses and which side of the bed the editorial board woke up on.

During the Victorian era, endorsements were hardly necessary. Party organs pushed their backer’s platform. The Globe filled this role for the Liberals under founder George Brown, while the Conservatives bounced from paper to paper (usually the Mail) as owners developed independent streaks or were deemed useless. Feistier, populist papers like the NewsTelegram, and the World supported the Conservatives, but did so on their own terms.

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Toronto Star, November 6, 2000.

Occasionally, a paper rose above the fray, determined to appear impartial by backing nobody. Having declared itself independent of the Tories prior to the 1887 election, the Mail used its editorial page to criticize hyper-partisanship in ways which are still relevant:

The party organs furnish some extremely entertaining reading just now. All agree that what the Mail says favourable to their side is correct, and all are equally of the opinion that what the Mail says against their gods is wrong. If the party press is to be believed, the sheep and the goats have already been separated. The righteous are in one political camp and the wicked in the other. This being the case, the people, it seems, have no right to enquire further into the merits of the applicants for their suffrages. They must be content with such one-sided information as they can get from the partisan press, and the journal which tells them the unvarnished truth is criminal, except, of course, when the truth it relates is pleasant to the taste.

Several 19th-century newspaper proprietors ran for office, which affected their picks. For example, when Telegram owner, John Ross Robertson, was approached to run by Tories in Toronto East disgruntled with leader Charles Tupper in 1896, the paper backed fellow “independent Conservative” candidates.

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How to fill out a ballot in Parkdale for the 1917 federal election. Graphics such as these were used by many papers to depict how they felt readers should vote. Toronto Star, December 14, 1917.

Wartime united all the major dailies together for the first time in 1917. Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden’s successful overture to pro-conscription Liberals to form a Union government was viewed as a patriotic act. The degree of jingoism varied between papers, with the remaining Liberal rump depicted as an unpatriotic bunch spreading Quebec’s evil influence. The World’s endorsement gives a flowery idea of where our media stood:

No Canadian will ever be able to look another American in the face again, nor a Briton either, if the soldiers’ cause and the new government is not sustained on Monday. It is the duty of every voter to cast his ballot for that sacred resolution taken by the whole civilized world that the sword will never be sheathed until the cause for which it is unsheathed has been won. Let us stand apart from those who wait, with infamous treachery to our gallant dead, ready to sheathe the sword of Canada on Monday. Let us be a solid phalanx to stand behind our armies to give them good courage, good faith, and good cheer.

Until the 1920s, the Globe stood solidly behind the Liberals. When the Brown family sold the paper during the 1880s, the new owners understood that the Globe would be “in perpetual trust for the Liberal party to act as its mouthpiece.” This disintegrated when William Gladstone Jaffray gained control. He despised William Lyon Mackenzie King, partly because he felt our longest-serving prime minister was an opportunist who’d do anything to stay in power, and partly because King failed to push through bills banning what Jaffray saw as one of the greatest evils plaguing humanity: the publication of horse-racing results. The Globe refused to back anyone during the tight campaigns of 1925 and 1926, but returned to the Liberal fold during the Great Depression.

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Advertisement for George McCullagh radio speech where he supported the Tories and attacked the Toronto Star. The Telegram, June 23, 1949.

The Globe’s lasting break with the Liberals came after George McCullagh merged it with the Conservative Mail and Empire in 1936. The new owner had a messianic complex, regarding it his personal destiny to save Canada, a worldview that didn’t mix with the federal Grits. He naively believed the country needed a non-partisan, pro-imperalist government, which citizens would unquestioningly rely on to solve all of its problems. In 1940, McCullagh’s Globe and Mail officially backed nobody, urging voters to elect MPs willing to eventually participate in a coalition government as the Second World War wore on.

By war’s end, McCullagh backed the newly renamed Progressive Conservative party. His hyper-partisanship grew after purchasing the Telegram in 1948, as did his goal to drive the Liberal Star out of business. “I’m going to knock that fucking rag right off its pedestal,” he told his staff. The 1949 federal election showed both sides at their worst, as news coverage was distorted in a partisan manner unseen for decades. McCullagh puffed up Tory leader George Drew, and attacked the Star for being a Commie rag, which allegedly dodged sales tax payments. The Star responded by depicting Drew as being in league with wartime isolationists like Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde. One headline was so over the top that Star execs scratched it for late editions. When the campaign was over, editors at all the papers agreed to exile excessive partisanship to the editorial page.

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Dief as Nero. Cartoon by Duncan Macpherson, Toronto Star, April 6, 1963.

Endorsements rolled out as usual until 1963. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives were in disarray: an election the year before reduced them to a minority government, cabinet ministers fled the sinking ship, and the thin-skinned PM’s paranoia was operating at full tilt. The press’s desire to ditch Dief was so strong that, for the first time in its history, the Telegram backed the Liberals. In its March 30, 1963, editorial, the Tely declared that Diefenbaker had compromised the Progressive Conservatives’ principles so much “that Canada’s position at home and abroad will immeasurably deteriorate under his continued leadership.” The move confused longtime readers; one told columnist Douglas Fisher that the act was as if “devout Christians have had to face the fact that the Bible is a false, spurious document.” Publisher John Bassett’s decision also resulted in something that hadn’t happened since 1917: unanimous support for one party among all major Toronto dailies.

Bassett felt bad about the situation and sent Diefenbaker an apologetic response. Dief called him an SOB.

If the Tely’s support of the Liberals came as a shock in 1963, its rival’s turn in the opposite direction a decade later was equally stunning. The headline atop the Star’s October 19, 1972, editorial said it all: “After 50 Years—Liberals have forfeited our support.” Publisher Beland Honderich observed that the state of the Canadian economy under Pierre Trudeau was a shambles, and that poor management of foreign ownership threatened our nation’s independence. While dubious about both Progressive Conservative Leader Robert Stanfield and the NDP’s David Lewis, the Star sided with Stanfield (“an honest, sincere man”) for promising tax stimulus measures. “The easy way for a newspaper, as for a citizen, would be not to support any party in this election,” Honderich wrote. “But this is not a responsible course for a citizen in a democratic society—or for a newspaper that believes it has a responsibility to provide comment and opinions on the issues of the day.”

The Sun, covering its first election, hailed Honderich for “courage and the strength to break tradition. Canada may be better because of it.” Ironically, the Sun has never shown similar courage as federally it has never officially endorsed any party, other than the Canadian Alliance, which didn’t have “Conservative” in its name.

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Front page, Toronto Sun, February 3, 1980.

While the Globe backed Trudeau in 1972, it joined the Star and Sun on Stanfield’s side in 1974. Unfortunately for Stanfield, he literally fumbled the ball during that campaign. In 1979, the Star became the first Toronto paper to back the NDP (admiring its stands on social justice), but returned to its traditional Liberal support the following year.

As the political landscape realigned itself during the 1990s, our papers seemed lost. Both the Globe and Mail and the Sun continued to support the Progressive Conservatives after the party collapsed in 1993. But reading between the lines, it’s easy to see the editorial writers at both papers really wanted to back Reform and the Canadian Alliance, but felt they weren’t quite ready to hold power—they went out of their way to show that the new right movement weren’t evil, just occasionally wrong. Conducting strategic voting on the right passed for endorsements.

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Cartoon of Jean Chretien by Theo Moudakis, Toronto Star, November 25, 2000.

For elections where editorial writers united in feeling “meh” about the choices at hand, it’s hard to top the 2000 campaign. All endorsements came with heavy caveats. The Globe and Mail backed the Liberals as long as the party dumped Jean Chrétien in favour of Paul Martin ASAP. The Star, disappointed by a divisive campaign where none of the leaders impressed them, reluctantly stuck by the Grits; while Chretien was “an impediment to the renewal that Canadians seek,” the party “provided competent government and reflect the values Canadians cherish.” Though the Sun despised the Chrétien government, it believed Stockwell Day’s Canadian Alliance still wasn’t ready for prime time. It recommended right-wing strategic voting, backing whichever Canadian Alliance or Progressive Conservative candidates had the best chance of knocking off Liberals. Sun editor Lorrie Goldstein offered a list of 50 reasons voters should choose the “ABC” route: Anybody But Chretien.

Internal fissures were evident in the National Post, which was covering its first election. While columnists like Andrew Coyne, David Frum, and Mark Steyn favoured the Canadian Alliance, the paper officially endorsed a Liberal minority, while owner Izzy Asper penned a separate editorial promoting a Grit majority. The Post hoped that the NDP would lose their official party status “and one hopes their will to survive might go with it.” In the following elections, the Post lined up behind Stephen Harper.

Recent years have seen little deviation from traditional party lines, with the exception of the Star’s backing of the NDP in 2011. Sticking with the known has raised hackles among readers, especially when choices don’t mesh with public opinion. How much they still matter is debatable, but they offer an opportunity to argue about the role of the media in politics.

After having gone through nearly 150 years of election coverage, we’ve compiled stats on endorsements in Toronto’s major papers:

Globe/Globe and Mail
Elections: 42 (1867-present)
Liberal: 20; Conservative/Progressive Conservative: 17.5, Nobody: 3; Unionist: 1, Reform: 0.5
Endorsements realized: 21

Mail/Mail and Empire
Elections: 17 (1872-1935)
Conservative: 14; Nobody: 2; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 6

Telegram
Elections: 25 (1878-1968)
Conservative/Progressive Conservative: 23; Liberal: 1; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 11

News
Elections: 9 (1882-1917)
Conservative: 6; Nobody: 2; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 4

World
Elections: 9 (1882-1917)
Conservative: 8; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 5

Toronto Star
Elections: 35 (1896-present)
Liberal: 30; Conservative/Progressive Conservative: 2; NDP: 2; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 20

Toronto Sun
Elections: 14 (1972-present)
Conservative/Progressive Conservative: 13.5; Canadian Alliance: 0.5
Endorsements realized:6

National Post
Elections: 6 (2000-present)
Conservative: 4; Liberal: 1
Endorsements realized: 4

Additional material from Scrum Wars by Allan Levine (Toronto: Dundurn, 1993); the February 7, 1887, edition of the Mail; the November 27, 2000, edition of the National Post; the October 19, 1972, May 21, 1979, and November 25, 2000, editions of the Toronto Star; the October 20, 1972, and November 26, 2000, editions of the Toronto Sun; the March 30, 1963, edition of the Telegram; and the December 15, 1917, edition of the Toronto World.

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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.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Party Nomination Battles, 1926 Edition

Originally published on Torontoist on August 5, 2015.

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Mail and Empire, September 14, 1926.

The 1926 federal election campaign was going to be long and ugly. It was precipitated by a constitutional crisis, two brief minority governments, and a customs scandal involving bribery and booze. The two main party leaders—Conservative Arthur Meighen and Liberal William Lyon Mackenzie King—were mortal enemies whose war began as student debaters at the University of Toronto. Lasting over two months, the campaign witnessed vicious accusations, excessive media partisanship, and all the wonderful sides of humanity elections bring out.

In Toronto, the ugliness manifested itself in several ridings where more than one Conservative candidate ran. The noisiest battle was in Toronto Northeast, which covered the old City of Toronto north of Bloor Street and east of Bathurst Street.

When the election was called at the beginning of July 1926, the Conservatives held every seat in Toronto and York County. Incumbents elected the previous year, such as rookie Toronto Northeast MP Richard Langton Baker, expected to be acclaimed at nomination meetings. The first sign of trouble for Baker’s coronation occurred during a July 27 Toronto Northeast Conservative Association (TNCA) meeting, when Lieutenant-Colonel Newton Manley Young’s name was suggested as a potential candidate during a motion to support Baker. Accusations flew between supporters of both men during the next few weeks over unfair tactics.

By the time the official nomination meeting was held at the Masonic Temple at Yonge and Davenport on August 17, a third candidate had emerged. Speaking last, Baker sensed something was amiss. He dropped a bombshell during the final sentence of his speech. Baker declared, “I will not submit my name to this convention, but I will submit my name again to those who voted for me last October, for I will be nominated and I will be elected again by the 20,877.”

Shouts ranging from “Atta boy” to “He’s a traitor” echoed through the hall. Young received the nomination, thanks to the support of local ward associations and women in the audience. Despite urging party unity and denying rumours he was really a Catholic with Liberal leanings, Young was booed off the stage. The same treatment greeted Young supporter John Currie after he criticized Baker.

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The Globe, August 18, 1926.

Baker immediately bought newspaper ad space stating his interpretation of what had transpired. He filed a protest with the Central Conservative Association of Toronto (CCAT), claiming that neither delegate who nominated Young lived in the riding. He officially launched his campaign a few days later in North Toronto at a TNCA meeting, where some members noted irregularities in the distribution of delegate cards and demanded the resignation of the TNCA’s president. Baker refused to “lie down and allow a steam roller to run backward and forward over him.” He also grumbled that while he had recently heard the concept of “British fair play” uttered 10 times in as many minutes, it wasn’t fair play to dump him for no reason.

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The Globe, August 24, 1926.

The CCAT ignored Baker’s complaints and reaffirmed Young’s candidacy. The ensuing advertising war (a melodrama played out in the gallery above) trumpeted each man’s Conservative qualifications and loyalties. Both insisted Prime Minister Meighen backed their candidacy, though it was claimed Baker only quoted the first half of a telegram from Meighen—the balance stressed party unity.

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The Globe, September 2, 1926.

Baker depicted the party establishment as downtown “bosses” akin to the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine which ran New York City for decades. He also ran splashy rallies, including one at St. Alban’s Square in the Annex that included bagpipers and a cornet player. Alternately, Baker was accused of having paid for 143 party memberships during the 1925 campaign, and of trying to convert the TNCA into his own political machine.

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The Telegram, September 11, 1926.

Newspaper editorials across the political spectrum frowned upon the antics in Toronto Northeast. On the Liberal side, the Globe felt the row was “wholly degrading, and must result in lowering the tone of politics.” The Star observed that the shaky Conservative nomination process “does something to explain the often extraordinary selection of candidates which the Conservatives make in a city that should be able to send half-a-dozen men of cabinet rank to Ottawa, but scarcely ever sends even one.” It suggested that the Ministry of Justice launch an inquiry. The Telegram backed Young for his military service and promises to support veterans’ issues. They went overboard denouncing Baker, painting him as a mere civilian who opposed the public ownership of hydro and provided the Liberals with a wedge to split the Conservative vote. The Telegram saw a vote for Baker as a vote for Mackenzie King, who was frequently depicted as a traitor preparing to sell Canada out to the Americans (while Meighen was the saviour of the British Empire).

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The Globe, September 13, 1926.

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The Globe, September 14, 1926.

As the ballots were counted on September 14, numbers from North Toronto gave Baker a comfortable lead. Around 9 p.m., the faces at Young’s headquarters brightened when they were notified 1,000 votes had been miscounted. The votes from the south end reversed the results, and Young defeated Baker by over 1,100 votes. The Liberals failed to benefit from the split, as the combined Baker-Young total outpaced the Grits by over 12,000 votes.

“My idea of things is to win without boasting, and lose with a smile,” Young told the Globe. When a Telegram reporter visited Baker’s headquarters around 11 p.m. to check if the losing candidate was around, a worker replied “no, but there are a lot of undertakers around here just now.” Baker’s later response lacked grace: “Apparently the people do not want cleaner politics,” he muttered. Reflecting upon the Conservatives’ national loss to the Liberals, Baker observed that “[i]f the same effort had been made by the machine to defeat the forces of Mackenzie King in the other Ontario risings as was expended in Toronto Northeast the Conservative majorities would have brought more honour to the party.”

Baker spent the next few years mending fences with the party establishment. In 1930, he wrested the nomination from Young, and won the riding as part of R.B. Bennett’s national sweep. Moving to the new riding of Eglinton in 1935, he remained an MP until 1940.

Additional material from the July 28, 1926, August 18, 1926, August 19, 1926, August 23, 1926, September 10, 1926, and September 15, 1926 editions of the Globe; the September 15, 1926 edition of the Mail and Empire; the August 20, 1926, August 21, 1926, September 9, 1926, September 10, 1926, and September 15, 1926 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 9, 1926, September 11, 1926, September 13, 1926, and September 15, 1926 editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Mail and Empire, September 7, 1926.

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Mail and Empire, September 8, 1926.

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Mail and Empire, September 11, 1926.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Ramsay MacDonald

Originally published on Torontoist on May 27, 2015.

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The Telegram, October 11, 1929.

The train that pulled into Union Station around 6 p.m. on October 15, 1929 was eagerly anticipated. The station was decorated with flags, flowers, and plants to greet the world figure about to arrive. Railway workers ranging from baggage clerks to mechanics lined the platform eager to greet a man who had spent the past week in the United States negotiating terms of naval disarmament with president Herbert Hoover. When the visitor arrived, the workers waved their caps and tools. A shout arose: “Hurrah for MacDonald!”

British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald crossed the border that morning at Niagara Falls. En route to Toronto via a private Canadian National Railway train, MacDonald told the reporters aboard that his mission to promote global peace “cannot be measured in dramatic pronouncements.” He hoped to influence public opinion via methods such as radio addresses. Days before his arrival, the Telegram newspaper arranged the local broadcast on October 11 of a speech originating from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City. Hearing the speech in Toronto didn’t go smoothly; listeners in North Toronto experienced frequent interference, with MacDonald’s message of peace overwhelmed by a music program. When he was heard, MacDonald assured listeners that he would be happy to discuss with other countries disarmament ideas he and Hoover had devised. “There was nothing in address which could irritate an audience in Berlin or Paris,” a Telegram editorial observed. “The speaker seemed to be conscious that he was addressing the United States of Europe as well as the United States of America.”

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Excerpt from an advertisement for Simpsons department store, The Globe, October 16, 1929.

The speeches continued when he reached Toronto. His jam-packed schedule began with a drive from Union to a welcoming dinner at Government House, the lieutenant-governor’s residence which stood in present-day Chorley Park. The next morning began with a 10:30 a.m. address to the American Federation of Labor (AFL), whose 49th annual convention was being held at the recently opened Royal York Hotel. AFL officials hoped that MacDonald, the first Labour Party leader to serve as British PM, would inspire those attending to fight for a united American labour movement. Instead, MacDonald discussed the importance of preserving peace, as workers would bear the brunt of casualties in any future conflict:

In the next war, death will be dealt out not only on the battlefield, destruction will rise from the bottom of the sea, destruction will descend from the heavens themselves; destruction will meet your wives, your children, your own. The civilian population left miles and miles and miles away back from the front—destruction will meet those silently, and they will be touched by the mysterious breath of poison and in a mysterious way they will drop down in the middle of your streets and die.

MacDonald declared himself a missionary of peace, one who, especially regarding the United States, had “come over to try to close old chapters of historical suspicion.” A few hours later, he gave a similar address to a Canadian Club luncheon.

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Ramsay MacDonald and Ontario Premier Howard Ferguson at the University of Toronto, October 16, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 18413.

At 3 p.m., MacDonald was the star attraction of the hottest ticket in town. He joined a procession into Convocation Hall, where the University of Toronto awarded him an honorary doctorate of law. As MacDonald walked toward the venue, shouts of “Atta boy, Mac!” rose from spectators. Seats were scarce for the general public, as most had been claimed by university staff and students. Police blocked several groups of people from charging into the standing-room-only hall. During the ceremony, which was broadcast live on CFRB, chancellor Sir William Mulock jokingly called MacDonald “the university’s youngest graduate” and noted how the world’s hopes were pinned on him and Hoover. MacDonald used golf as a metaphor for the advice he dispensed to attendees:

My handicap isn’t one to lead any of you to envy me, but I know the rules of the game, and know the wise advice, offered again and again by professionals, ‘Don’t pull.’ Hit the ball squarely, quietly, leisurely and with confidence, because when you begin to press, you ‘pull.’

MacDonald spent the late afternoon greeting the public at a reception hosted by the provincial government back at the Royal York. Among those he shook hands with was a five-year-old boy named after him. Ramsay MacDonald Shepherd’s mother was born in the same Scottish town as the visiting leader, and his great-grandmother was the nurse present when the future PM was born. The reception went smoothly until the crowd, which was admitted in small groups, surged into the greeting area. Chaos was averted by five police officers who, the Star reported, “bobbed up and shooed back the swarming crowd with a skill and finish that was almost suggestive of Queen’s Park, only much more gentle.”

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The Telegram, October 16, 1929. The high number of broadcasts associated with MacDonald’s visit, including many speeches aired on CFRB, was an element local radio retailers couldn’t resist exploiting.

Last on the day’s agenda was a men-only dinner held at Government House, the lieutenant-governor’s residence which stood in present-day Chorley Park. This ruled out the presence of his daughter Ishbel, who had accompanied him on the trip and spent her time in Toronto addressing women’s groups on labour and social issues.

At midnight, MacDonald’s train rolled out of Union en route to Ottawa. Summing up MacDonald’s visit, the Globe observed that he must have realized “that no British Prime Minister could spend a restful day in Toronto, none less than a Premier giving immediate and particular thought to the possibilities and reactions of international association.” Unfortunately, the decade ahead would dash his dreams of preventing a global catastrophe on the scale of the First World War.

Additional material from the October 11, 1929, October 16, 1929, and October 17, 1929 editions of the Globe; the October 16, 1929 and October 17, 1929 editions of the Toronto Star; and the October 12, 1929 and October 16, 1929 editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Ramsay MacDonald, Ishbel and Ramsay. - October 16, 1929

Ramsay MacDonald with daughter Ishbel MacDonald, October 16, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 18407.

Ramsay MacDonald, Ramsay and Sir William Mulock. - October 16, 1929

Ramsay MacDonald and Sir William Mulock, October 16, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 18411.

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The Telegram, October 16, 1929.

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The Telegram, October 17, 1929.

Scarborough Gets an RT

Originally published on Torontoist on March 22, 2015, based on an article published by The Grid on July 15, 2013.

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Toronto Star, March 19, 1985.

Torontonians love arguing about the same proposed transit lines ad nauseum. The current quest to bring Scarborough the subway it deserves as a replacement for the Scarborough RT‘s replacement feels like a replay of past battles where a streetcar/LRT line was displaced in favour of a pricier, sexier option.

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Toronto Star, January 29, 1975.

Among the priority studies recommended in January 1975—by a joint provincial/Metro Toronto task force on the region’s transportation needs for the next quarter-century—was a high-speed transit line linking the recently approved Kennedy subway station to Scarborough Town Centre, Malvern, and Pickering. Scarborough officials saw this line as key to spurring development in a downtown area based around the new civic centre, which would employ 25,000 people.

Based on passenger capacity projections, the plan that emerged was a streetcar line on its own right-of-way. While Scarborough officials glowed about the development possibilities, others, like Toronto city councillor John Sewell, believed the opposite. In a series of Globe and Mail op-eds, Sewell argued the line would serve commuters who worked in downtown Toronto and would be cursed by debt and low ridership. His appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board to hold public hearings was rejected when it approved the line in September 1977.

Another early opponent was North York Mayor Mel Lastman. During a December 1978 North York council meeting, Lastman said that TTC services in his jurisdiction shouldn’t be sacrificed because of the selfishness of a fellow Metro municipality. (Lastman went on to exhibit just that when he later fought to preserve the Sheppard subway line as a development tool for North York.)

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Toronto Star, March 19, 1985. The forthcoming systems elsewhere were Vancouver’s SkyTrain (opened December 1985) and the Detroit People Mover (opened July 1987).

The streetcar line was intended to commence soon after Kennedy station opened in 1980. Instead, TTC staff reports presented in June 1981 recommended a new vehicle Queen’s Park had heavily invested in. Through its interest in the Urban Transportation Development Corporation (UTDC), the province had been promoting the Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS) since the mid-1970s as a cheaper alternative to subways. While there were technical problems with the system’s linear-induction motors, the province saw the vehicles as ideal for a future network of TTC and GO lines. When the TTC approved the system switch, Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey was confident the transit provider would work the bugs out.

Scarborough mayor Gus Harris thought there was “something very screwy” in the TTC’s sudden change of heart. He was quickly isolated for his concerns over ICTS testing problems; Scarborough council approved the switch after a six-hour debate. Their decision was boosted by promises that the province would cover cost increases and that the vehicles would be quieter than streetcars. Some councillors regretted their vote when reports of exploding motors during testing filtered back to them a few months later. One TTC official dismissed the lack of public scrutiny of the project, noting that most people didn’t understand the complexities of ICTS technology.

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Toronto Star, February 22, 1985.

Though several TTC officials favoured naming the line “Metro Rail,” the name “RT” was revealed as the winner of a public contest in January 1982. Speculation that riders would humanize the line’s name to “Artie” proved idle.

Local testing of the new vehicles began in April 1984. The public received free rides on the test track that summer. John Sewell, by now a Globe and Mail columnist, still wasn’t impressed with the line, calling its seating “uncomfortable” and “not private enough.” Gus Harris publicly reversed his position, going from an “I told you so” attitude as project costs rose from $134 to $196 million, to boosting the technology as a sign that Scarborough was “the city of the future.” There were bugs galore, starting with the return of the first four cars to UTDC due to uneven wheels. Late fleet delivery prompted the TTC to operate a reduced schedule once the line opened; shuttle buses would run after 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday.

Up to 1,000 dignitaries and TTC employees attended the RT’s opening ceremony on March 22, 1985. Harris called it the “greatest day in the history of Scarborough,” while a message from Premier Frank Miller (who didn’t attend) observed that “the RT is proof positive that Ontario can challenge the world and produce the best facilities anywhere.” Guests were treated to champagne and a performance by U of T’s Lady Godiva Band at Kennedy station. Also attending were placard-waving protestors angry at the TTC for not making the new line wheelchair accessible.

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“Wheelchair protest: As invited guests prepare to board Scarborough’s new $196 milliion rapid transit system at Civic Centre yesterday; protestors showed up in wheelchairs to complain that the disabled have been denied access to the new line.” Published in the Toronto Star, March 23, 1985. Photo by Alan Dunlop. Toronto Public Library, from the Toronto Star Archives, tspa_0011910f.

The next day, 30,000 people flooded the seven kilometre line to take advantage of free rides during the first official day of service. The biggest complaint during the RTs first week was the small size of the two-car trains. Other complaints soon arose, especially from neighbours between Kennedy and Lawrence East stations who found the RT too noisy. Despite attempts to fix the problems, caused by flat spots on the wheels and rail joints, several complainants eventually wound up with sizable property tax breaks for their misery.

As other problems emerged, the transit system of the future no longer looked so bright. The extension to Malvern was killed due to cost, as ICTS didn’t prove much cheaper than a subway. As early as 1987, local politicians mused about converting the line into a subway, but the TTC indicated that would also cost too much. There was speculation that the RT had to continue operating so that UTDC could sell its system, which had been bought by Detroit and Vancouver, overseas. The line was shut down for over two months during the summer of 1988 to replace a turnaround loop at Kennedy whose curves were too tight for the ICTS cars to handle. As the line’s lifespan dwindled, thoughts about its replacement came down to the LRT proposed in Transit City and the subway championed by Mayor Rob Ford. Whichever form wins, don’t count on it being the last word.

Additional material from the December 21, 1976, December 4, 1978, June 17, 1981, March 25, 1982, July 12, 1984, August 15, 1984, March 7, 1985, June 3, 1985, and October 12, 1987 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the January 29, 1975, September 30, 1977, December 11, 1978, June 17, 1981, June 22, 1981, January 23, 1982, March 23, 1985, and March 24, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 77-06-10 sewell on costly lemon

A sample of the anti-Scarborough LRT articles John Sewell wrote for the Globe and Mail, this one taken from the June 10, 1977 edition (click on image for larger version).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Political Decor

Originally published on Torontoist on December 17, 2014.

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Toronto Daily Mail, February 4, 1887.

It’s possible that some lucky souls will find a Rob Ford bobblehead doll under their Christmas tree this year. Whether hoarded by Ford Nation loyalists or re-gifted as a joke, these novelty items join the long line of political memorabilia that’s been available to Torontonians over the years.

Had the Ford administration been in office during the heyday of the party press, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, newspapers backing Ford would have offered supporters many mementos. Portraits and busts allowed readers to make known their political allegiances, and at election time were akin to modern-day lawn signs.

Had the 1887 federal election been scheduled earlier than February 22, the Mail might have offered its bust of Sir John A. Macdonald to true-blue Conservatives as a stocking stuffer. This fine terracotta likeness of Canada’s first prime minister would doubtless have taken pride of place in the homes of Tory supporters. Supporters of Liberal leader Edward Blake, meanwhile, might have used his bust as a decorative doorstop, tapped a hole in its head to convert it into a flower pot, or used it as a target for shooting practice.

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The News, March 13, 1914.

Photographic prints of Sir James Pliny Whitney served as a “get well soon” gesture. In late 1913, after serving for a decade as premier of Ontario, Whitney was ordered by doctors to take a vacation. On January 4, 1914, attorney general James J. Foy received a telegram indicating Whitney had suffered a massive heart attack in New York City. Though initially he was not expected to live, Whitney rallied. He was brought back to Toronto via train on January 19, and spent several weeks in hospital regaining his strength. By the time the above ad was published, Whitney was able to go on daily walks.

Those who bought a print might initially have been motivated by sympathy, but they soon found another reason to keep Whitney’s portrait handy—Conservative officials were convinced that, despite his health, Whitney would lead the party to victory in the upcoming provincial election. Whitney, realizing it would probably be his last hurrah, agreed to run. Though he barely campaigned, the premier’s appearance at a June 23, 1914, rally at Massey Hall left few eyes dry.

Coming back, my friends, as I have, by God’s mercy, from the shadow of the dark valley, I am constrained, nay, compelled, to express the thanks I owe to the people of Ontario. They have given me an opportunity. I think I may say, of being some service, and they have given me their confidence in full measure—in full measure heaped up, pressed down, shaken together, and running over—and as long as my renewed health and strength are vouchsafed to me I shall be at their disposal, and endeavour to give them the same faithful service I have in the past.

Whitney led the Tories to their fourth consecutive victory, and with an overwhelming majority of the vote. He performed some administrative work over the summer, and issued an official statement regarding the outbreak of the First World War in August. He died suddenly on September 25, 1914, from a cerebral hemorrhage; we imagine his portrait was displayed out of respect around the city.

Additional material from ‘Honest Enough to Be Bold’: The Life and Times of Sir James Pliny Whitney by Charles W. Humphries (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), and the September 25, 1914 edition of the Toronto Star.

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