Provincial Budget 2012: Opposition Parties React

Originally published on Torontoist on March 27, 2012. Also check this post for coverage of the 2011 provincial budget.

If Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s response to the provincial budget were a drinking game, anyone chugging at the phrases “$30 billion deficit” and “no jobs plan” would have gotten stinking drunk.

Hudak and his finance critic Peter Sherman painted a picture of a government that doesn’t grasp the seriousness of the economic situation it faces, preferring to continue spending on pet projects instead of devoting itself to job creation. They repeatedly emphasized how the province was making itself unattractive to investors through mounting debt and its decision to freeze corporate tax cuts.

When The Agenda’s Steve Paikin asked Hudak what could be changed to make the budget more palatable to the Tories, the PC leader replied that he would want a public-sector pay freeze with no exceptions across the board, fixes to the arbitration system, reduce the size of cabinet to 16 members, promote competition for delivery of public services, and reduce the business tax rate. Referring to continued support in the budget of green power, Hudak noted that the province “can’t afford to base a 21st-century energy policy on when the sun shines and wind blows.”

When it came to the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, aka the Drummond Report, Sherman initially didn’t mince words: “The Drummond Report was a scam. The Drummond Report was a delay tactic on the part of the McGuinty government to give them a year to do what it is you see today. The Drummond Report was a toolbox to be used to divide and conquer.” Yet moments later he accused the government of paying lip service to the report, cherry-picking whatever it liked, while Hudak continued to repeat Drummond’s doomsday scenario of a $30 billion deficit by 2017-18.

While Hudak and Sherman were blunt about their party’s intention to vote against the budget, NDP leader Andrea Horwath played coy. Though elements like the corporate tax cut freeze (delaying a planned reduction) were crafted to gain the party’s approval, Horwath felt the budget fell short in terms of job creation/preservation and controlling utility costs. She was unhappy that the Liberals crafted the budget without consulting the opposition, even if previous news reports indicate that she and McGuinty had at least one conversation, and declared that she was the only person committed to making the minority government work.

If Hudak was hung up on doomsday scenarios (which she termed as a “my way or the highway approach”), Horwath endlessly repeated the NDP’s intention to consult the public, especially families, for their opinion of the budget before determining her course of action. Over the coming days the NDP aims to receive feedback via in-person discussions with MPPs, and with the public through the use of “phone lines and the internet.” Despite efforts by several reporters to get clarification on whether the NDP would support or reject the budget, neither Horwath nor fellow MPP Michael Prue indicated how they will vote.

But both Horwath and Hudak did agree on this: if the budget vote forces an election, it’s all Dalton McGuinty’s fault.



Rebellious Councils

Originally published on Torontoist on February 8, 2012.


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

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

1853: John George Bowes and the Ten Thousand Pound Job


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

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

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

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

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

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

By-elections were called and held within two weeks.

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

1886: William Holmes Howland and Liquor Reduction


William Holmes Howland. Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2007: David Miller and the Deferred Tax Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feasting on Ford Fest (and the rant that follows)

Originally published on Torontoist on September 10, 2012.

One of the first things that happened when we arrived at Ford Fest: we were asked to provide our names, addresses, and phone numbers. When we tried to skip the sign-in process, a volunteer told us it was required. We said we weren’t comfortable providing our personal information. “Then why are you here?” demanded another. (She later said the information was for “security purposes.”)

Rather than protest further, we scribbled our names amid over 5,000 other signatures from those who came to enjoy the Ford family’s hospitality, as matriarch Diane Ford threw her Etobicoke home open to the entire city in an annual tradition.

Apart from disputes over people cutting into the burger line, it was one of the evening’s few confrontations. The laid-back atmosphere—which mixed die-hard supporters, neighbourhood families, politically engaged residents who often disagree with Ford, the curious, and the media—must have been a relief for the Fords after a rocky week in court. A Facebook-organized LGBT gathering didn’t materialize, though people wearing rainbow colours danced to Councillor Gary Crawford’s (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest) hire-worthy cover band, Gently Bent.

The relaxed approach applied to the food line, whose mass disorganization would have made an anarchist smile. No one knew where the queue began, so people joined in wherever they could without offending others. We let in two elderly women who sweetly looked around to make sure nobody would call them out. As we waited, we observed several requests for security to deal with line jumpers and one loud public shaming by the pool.

The line snaked around the backyard, threatening to form an infinite circle that would never lead to the lone barbecue pit. Standing for over 90 minutes for burgers and hot dogs provided time to observe the Greco-Roman-inspired lawn décor and the rose petals floating in the pool. A beer and wine station along the way offered relief, though some trouble with the tap produced cups that were 70 per cent head/30 per cent brew.

Our wait was punctuated by watching the exploits of one enterprising party-goer ahead of us, who loaded up a cooler with a case of free pop, brought take-out containers for the grill, and tossed a used bun back at the cooks. His extreme behaviour embodied the front-of-line ethos, where the long wait broke down into a free-for-all whenever the latest charred item came off the grill. Once away from the line though, tension eased. (The entire event was much busier than last year. If Ford Fest carries on, the food line will require better planning: line markers and additional grills would be a good start.)

Ford Fest provided the mayor with a friendly platform to list his accomplishments and pep up the crowd for his 2014 re-election bid, which promises to continue with an us-versus-them mentality. “We have to get out there, bang on the doors,” he shouted. “As you saw this week, they’re coming after us, every which way.” While thanking his family (including a trembling salute to his late father), Ford indicated that brother Doug “gives me the marching orders, and I march.” (The crowd didn’t erupt in laughter.)

Ford also promoted his Don Bosco football squad, urging guests to attend their season opener on September 14 against the Donald A. Wilson Gators, who won last year’s Metro Bowl. “Mark my words,” he boasted, “we’re going to be the Metro Bowl champs, not Donald Wilson.” He was rewarded for his football and charitable efforts with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and couldn’t resist a shot at his legal opponents: “Some people think that it’s a terrible thing to help kids out, but I’m helping kids out!”

Plenty of kids were on hand, enjoying the food or the balloon animals made by a roaming man in a tux. They were also encouraged to lend vocal help to Gently Bent’s rendition of “Another Brick in the Wall.” It was unclear if that song accidentally or intentionally commented on the depths of the mayor’s knowledge of municipal law.

What stood out most at Ford Fest was the family’s genuinely welcoming nature—including personal thanks from Diane Ford, who went table to table to say hello. For all his faults as a public official, Rob Ford’s ability to connect with people on a personal level is what has gotten him as far as he has, and its merits are real. However and whenever he leaves office, it’s at least one (and possibly the only) thing future mayors may want to adopt from his tenure.


Warning: this is going to be a long one. Working a few long-simmering thoughts out here, so be ready for some ranting.

Apart from the usual second-guessing about using certain turns of phrase, or leaving out a fact I wanted to throw in, I rarely regret pieces I’ve written. This one is an exception, due to its ending. I wrote the final paragraph based on what friends who were there observed, especially after I left the premises. I also felt I needed to include some balance in there and reflect the vibes others felt, lest I came off like a stereotypical anti-Ford crank easy fodder for pro-Ford supporters willing to defend their boy at any length.

Truth is, whatever welcoming nature was happening, I wasn’t feeling it that night. Looking back at it now, Ford Fest was a key point in my deepening disillusionment with Toronto politics and the coverage of them.

From the moment I was asked for personal information—and the reaction the friends and I received when we questioned the necessity of collecting such info, which I bet was later used for campaigning purposes—I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land.

My discomfort grew as I waited for food. The line represented many elements of the Ford mayoralty—the chaos, the pathetic, the pettiness, and the selfishness. The closer I moved to the grill, the more I felt end of days was imminent. Between watching people grab as many free items as they could without concern for others, jostling in line, and the every-man-for-themselves free-for-all at the front, I pondered how easily civilization could come unglued.

Coupled with speeches which entrenched the divisive nature the Fords thrived on, I felt something die inside of me. This was populism at one of its lowest, basest forms. Make people scramble like animals for free food while preaching that instead of working together to create a better city we should further inflame the divisions that don’t help anyone other than politicians eager to benefit from the flames of fear, hate, and paranoia.

Was everything I was taught growing up—to respect others different from you, to work together instead of apart to solve problems—just a bunch of hooey I shouldn’t have paid attention to?

I know the idea at the time was to understand what made Ford supporters tick, not to demonize them. And, to a certain point, I could see how Ford’s blend of personal vulnerabilities, working for individual constituents and speaking to a demographic who felt beat up by the system could entice a voter. And I also knew Toronto’s history of doing everything on the cheap and knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing, qualities Ford embodied. But I also saw how the more opponents and the press pointed out every single peccadillo, every single misstep, one grew immune to the insanity and shrug it off. Information overload was not a blessing. The moderate/progressive side never figured out how to make a palatable alternative which could appeal to soft Ford voters, always finding a way to make a message too weak to hold up, or bumble campaigns.

The city and its media were sucked into a reality television show, and the joke usually seemed to be on us.

While the Ford era provided plenty of material for me to add historical context to, I grew weary of the circus. I turned off social media feeds obsessively dedicated to City Hall. I glossed over stories in the newspaper, or groaned whenever the latest mishap floated across the screen. Over the next stretch on this site, you’ll see stories I covered regarding urban politics that only deepened my disillusionment, especially when the loudmouths took over the floor.

Burying myself in other work seemed a better alternative than despairing over what could actually be done to turn the tide against increasingly divisive political and social issues. Sometimes I’d turn down stories that felt too depressing to crank out, or could only support rather that work to solve divisions (though I did write the occasional partisan crack if I felt strongly about the issue—nobody’s saintly).

Let’s say the 2016 American election didn’t help my state of mind.

What did the Ford era ultimately bring us? Setbacks to building a better transportation infrastructure. Jokes for late-night comedians. Growing the seeds of distrust between the core and suburban areas in the city that don’t need to be there, which continue to be perpetuated by politicians who only heed their baser instincts, their baser constituents, or their constant need for attention.

As I write this update at the dawn of March 2018, some polls suggest Doug Ford has a shot of becoming the next provincial Progressive Conservative leader. Though I have tried very hard to tune him out, it’s hard to escape all news about his campaign, of which stories suggest he’s still playing his family’s brand of divisive politics. If he wins the leadership, I would not be shocked if he winds up premier, which is a depressing prospect. Or, depending how much Doug shows his true colours if he gains power, perhaps an opportunity to work to finally kill this brand of destructive rousing of partisan nastiness and expose it for the brutality that underlies it—if wider opponents can ever get over their bickering between each other on individual causes.

Does some of what I’ve just ranted about sound cynical and jaded? You bet.

I suspect I’m not alone feeling this way. If there’s a new, broader way to fight this crap, I’ll all for it. The movement among American youth to fight guns shows glimmers of hope. And, having worked with many millennials, I’m hoping that things may change once they start holding positions of power.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled historical stories.



Four City Museums to Close?

Originally published on Torontoist on November 14, 2011.


Councillor Joe Mihevc, interpreters, and community forming a chain around Montgomery’s Inn.

“Our heritage is not for sale. Our heritage is not for closure. Our heritage is not for contracting out and it is not for dismantling piece by piece.”

With these words Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) greeted a crowd of around 200 concerned citizens outside Montgomery’s Inn in Etobicoke yesterday afternoon. The historic site is among the four City-operated museums rumoured to be on the chopping block when the city budget comes out on November 28. Besides Montgomery’s Inn, the other heritage properties that account for $1 million in cuts are Gibson House, Market Gallery, and the Zion Schoolhouse.

Mihevc organized the Sunday press conference to mobilize public support for the museums. A petition is already online, and the audience was told that they should chat about the affected sites via social media. He announced a plan to request that the city museums division conduct a review to find ways to increase revenue. Mihevc believes that both the community and council need to act as “good stewards” of the city’s historic properties, many of which survived through decades of committed volunteer engagement that could be disrespected and forgotten.


Michael Redhill speaking at Montgomery’s Inn. 

Among the speakers was writer Michael Redhill, who compared the effect of closing museums to a dementia patient’s loss of memory. “Only a form of dementia would make the loss of the city’s history a fair value for a million dollars. Is your soul worth a mere million? Apparently Toronto’s is.” Redhill proceeded with a thoughtful critique of the Ford administration’s valuing of cost-cutting over the more enduring, if intangible, benefits of preserving heritage sites in which citizens can take pride:

The current municipal government has shown that it is willing to do anything in the name of money, no matter the cost to the city’s soul. The closure of four museums that are also heritage sites is an indication of soul sickness at the municipal level. This inn has stood on this very spot for 180 years while this city council will be gone in three. Torontonians should stand united against short-term fixes that will do permanent damage. These coming budget cuts will effectively ensure the disappearance of four important historical sites, and I think we have to recognize that. They’re not just closing the museum and getting rid of the workers; there will never be the political will to reopen these places once they are closed… Without a history to draw on, citizens will eventually think that there is no city to honour or preserve and that the needs of the present are the only ones that matter. We know what happens to people when they are convinced that their own needs are the only ones that matter. Do we want to live in a city that thinks that way?

Following a series of speakers connected to the affected museums, the audience was asked to form a human chain around Montgomery’s Inn.

Some of Mihevc’s fellow councillors went on Twitter yesterday to refute his claims regarding closures. Executive committee member Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West), who proposed in September’s council budget sessions that alternative service models for city museums be examined, stated that “museums are not being sold and will hopefully never be closed. Staff can make budget cut recommendations but Council has final say.” She was backed up by Gary Crawford(Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest), who noted, “We should not allow political grandstanding to take us off course.”

When we spoke to Mihevc about these comments earlier today, he noted that he had talked to Robinson and, based on that conversation and further checks with his sources, he is “absolutely right” about the proposed closures. (Robinson did not respond to our request for an interview before publication time.) He mentioned the parallel example of a council vote in September that prevented the elimination of community environment days, which the budget committee appeared to ignore when it proposed last week to reduce the number from 44 to 11. “So it seems the mayor is not paying any heed whatsoever to any of those motions,” says Mihevc.

Whether million-dollar or nickel-and-dime cuts are to be made to Toronto’s museums, intimations made over the past few months that there will be closures are stirring people to defend the value of these institutions. As Redhill mentioned, it’s difficult to imagine these sites will ever reopen if the doors are locked, at least not without extraordinary effort.


The following disclaimer was added shortly after the piece was published:

Shortly after publication, and after emerging from a meeting she’d been in, Councillor Robinson did indeed call us back. She insists that museum closures are not on the budget cut list, and feels that the combination of a front-page article in the Star on Saturday and Mihevc’s statements are needlessly stirring up fear within the heritage community. “I’m not sure why this has resurfaced because council was very clear in its direction to staff to say that this was not a direction we want to go in,” she told us. “Council is willing to look at alternate service delivery models and alternate funding models but we want to keep our museums open.” Robinson, who calls herself “a museum nut,” finds the prospect of closing any heritage site “as bad as closing a library, if not worse.”

For all the negative coverage of potential closures to city heritage museums, Councillor Robinson perceives some positives coming out of this incident. She referred to the fallout from Doug Ford’s dreams of Ferris wheels and monorails: “The silver lining on the waterfront was people started talking about it and it reinvigorated that piece of the city and got some attention focused back on it. There’s always a silver lining.”

Let’s just say that Robinson was furious when she phoned back, as I received an earful about professionalism and such. This incident illustrated the pitfalls of turning around stories in a hurry in order to be first/close to first online.

It was a learning curve.

The press conference itself was a little weird, especially the human chain element. My cynicism about events such as this grew over time (even if my sentiment was with the speakers), as did my pessimistic view of politics in general. None of the museums rumoured to be on the chopping block closed permanently.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Fothergill’s Follies

Originally published on Torontoist on November 1, 2011.


Colonial Advocate, February 16, 1826.

It’s rare to see an advertisement accompanied by a large image in an early-19th-century newspaper. Ads of the era were usually a narrow column of text that occasionally featured a small illustration—pages from this period resemble a modern classified section more than a collection of eye-grabbing enticements to buy merchandise, return lost horses, or read government bulletins. But the person whose home was up for grabs in today’s ad was embroiled in a controversy at the time that merited an unusual notice.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography’s entry on Charles Fothergill is blunt about his professional shortcomings:

Fothergill’s career was an unbroken sequence of failures that were largely of his own making. He was well read in both general and scholarly literature but vitiated his promise by espousing projects far beyond his financial, if not his intellectual, means. He bemoaned his lack of patronage in Britain, and in Upper Canada he found it galling to be denied preferment by a clique of officials whom he thought beneath him in both breeding and education. In neither country, though, did he adopt any rational plan to achieve by his own efforts the wealth and leisure he needed for his scholarly projects, and in Upper Canada he squandered his one bite at the cherry of public patronage. His self-destructive risk-taking is probably traceable to an obsessional neurosis akin to that of the compulsive gambler.

Born in England in 1782, Fothergill gained an early reputation as a naturalist and might have led a more successful life had he devoted himself entirely to ornithology. Instead, he immigrated to Upper Canada in 1817 and soon piled up debts via businesses he operated in Peterborough and Port Hope. Fothergill moved to Toronto (then called York) to assume the job of King’s printer in January 1822.

Elected to the colonial assembly to represent Durham County in 1824, Fothergill caused endless grief to Lieutenant-Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland in both his elected and his patronage positions. Originally a loyal Tory supporter of the government, he gradually fell into a leading opposition role and voted with the Reformers in the assembly. By January 1826, Maitland had had enough of both Fothergill’s attacks on government policy and his inefficient, debt-piling operation of the official print. Though fellow Reformer William Lyon Mackenzie was not a personal fan of Fothergill’s, he defended his colleague’s work in improving the quality of the official newspaper, the Upper Canada Gazette. A week after Fothergill got the boot, Mackenzie wrote in the Colonial Advocate that he lost his position due to “his open, candid and independent conduct in the assembly.” Mackenzie saw the dismissal as a warning to other assembly members that “if they exercise the faculty of thinking and speaking, they must succumb to the opinions of the powers that be, or lose their bread.”

At a public meeting on January 24, 1826, prominent Reformers voted to raise funds to financially support Fothergill during this rocky period. We suspect they also decided to help Fothergill sell his home—note Mackenzie’s role in the ad. Fothergill returned to Port Hope, where he once again demonstrated his lack of business acumen. He also gradually alienated his Reformer colleagues in the assembly as his conservative impulses reawakened. He launched an anti-government newspaper, the Palladium, two weeks after the rebellion of 1837, but, as Early Toronto Newspapers 1793-1867 notes, “The paper died a natural death from its publisher’s lack of business sense in 1839.” The final insult came a month after he died penniless in 1840: personal papers and materials he long planned to incorporate into a “Lyceum of Natural History and Fine Arts” went up in flames.

Additional material from the January 12, 1826, and January 26, 1826 editions of the Colonial Advocate.



Catholic Schools: Separate But Equal Funding

Originally published on Torontoist on September 16, 2011.


St. Paul Catholic School, No. 409 Queen Street East at Power Street, January 24, 1919. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1017.

At the upcoming rally in Queen’s Park this Sunday to support gay-straight alliances in Roman Catholic schools across Ontario, we easily imagine students holding up signs proclaiming “Equality or Bust.” Forty years ago, placards with that message were also held up by pupils, but at a mass rally at Maple Leaf Gardens to urge the provincial government to fully fund separate secondary schools beyond grade 10. The current debate about the appropriateness of providing public money for religious education is the latest manifestation of an issue that has bedevilled Ontario educators and politicians since the days of the Family Compact.

There was a time when education in Ontario was headed down a non-denominational path. Back in the 1840s when, depending on the day, the province was known as Upper Canada or Canada West, Egerton Ryerson championed a “common school” system for all students regardless of their faith. While Ryerson envisioned a system free of church influences, politics scuttled his plans. Since the Protestant minority in Lower Canada/Canada East had obtained the right to their own schools, the Catholic minority felt they merited the same treatment. By giving the minorities funding, the religious majorities in both Canadas could be satisfied for a few minutes before their next squabble.

Despite his reservations, Ryerson agreed to clauses in a series of acts beginning in 1841 that established separate schools in the colony’s educational system (Toronto’s first, St. Paul, opened within a year). Though opposition was fierce—Protestant papers imagined “popish plots” galore—the establishment of a separate school system seemed secure following the passage of the Scott Act in 1863. Even then, there was a provision that later proved annoying for rural Catholics: “no person shall be deemed a supporter of any Separate School unless he resides within three miles (in a direct line) of the Site of the School House.” Those who lived four miles away were out of luck until a Canadian Supreme Court ruling nearly a century later.

Yet few supporters of full funding quote the Commons Schools Act or Scott Act. Instead, they point to the document that created modern Canada, the British North America Act of 1867. Section 93 covered the separate school situations in Ontario and Quebec by guaranteeing the rights of those that already existed. By the 20th century, the consensus was that the laws on the books covered funding for separate schools up to grade 10. Beyond that, students either entered the public system for free or coughed up tuition fees for private schools that covered the remaining secondary school grades.


William Davis with group from Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, 1970s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5385.

Of the attempts prior to the 1980s to secure full funding, one that came close was the Provincial Education Program campaign of the late 1960s, where the Catholic Church used leaflets, letters, public meetings, and sermons to rally the cause. While they succeeded in gaining support from the provincial Liberals and NDP, the campaign caused a backlash among many non-Catholics. While pro-funding supporters argued out of claims of fairness, opponents ranged from old-fashioned bigots to newspaper editorials similar to one in the Star which believed a fully separate school system would not promote “a tolerant and harmonious society.” Internal divisions were also apparent among Catholics: there was surprise when future cardinal Emmett Carter initially backed a proposal to move operations of London’s Catholic Central secondary school to the city’s public school board.

At a rally sponsored by a Catholic high school student association that drew an overflow crowd to Maple Leaf Gardens on October 25, 1970, Minister of Education William Davis told the audience not to “hold out any false hopes” that funding would be extended. He was as good as his word: nearly a year later, on the eve of the 1971 election campaign, Davis, now Premier, rejected the idea on grounds that it opened up the doors to a fragmented education system. He believed full funding could be “tantamount to the abandonment of the secondary and post-secondary educational system as it exists today, in which the education of the student, while it reflects the ethical and spiritual values of the community, and while teaching respect and tolerance for all religions and creeds, remains, nonetheless, non-denominational and non-sectarian in character.” Though the Liberals and NDP campaigned in support of full funding, Davis’s Progressive Conservatives won the election. Case closed.

Or was it?


Globe and Mail, June 13, 1984.

Flash forward to the end of Davis’s tenure. On June 12, 1984, he shocked Queen’s Park by announcing that as of September 1985, starting with one grade per year, full funding would be extended to separate secondary schools. Indicating that he hoped the move would heal “a long and heartfelt controversy,” Davis received a standing ovation from all parties in the legislature. Families would no longer have to pay up to $1,100 a year in tuition to send their kids to high schools that would no longer be private, while officials in cities like Toronto looked forward to easing their overcrowded conditions with new facilities. Some concessions were forced onto separate school boards: they would have to accept any students and, over the next 10 years, had to agree to hire any non-Catholic teachers laid off from the public system due to shifting enrolments.

There was backlash among traditional Protestant Tory supporters, who couldn’t believe what Davis had dropped on them. This betrayal was among the factors that helped sink the Big Blue Machine in the wake of the 1985 election, which saw several anti–full funding candidates run for office. New Premier Frank Miller indicated he would delay the implementation of funding, but his fatally small minority government had no chance to act. Under David Peterson’s Liberals, full funding rolled out as intended and sparked turmoil in some communities as public schools were closed or threatened with closure.


Globe and Mail, June 12, 1985.

Yet Ontario’s publicly funded separate school system was beginning to seem out of step with actions elsewhere. Denominational schools went by the wayside in Newfoundland and Quebec in the late 1990s. The United Nations human rights committee declared full funding discriminatory in 1999. There was also the question of why, beyond historical and political reasons, Catholics merited a school system while other faiths didn’t. The status quo rolled along until the provincial election campaign of 2007, when Progressive Conservative leader John Tory proposed extending funds to other religions. The success of Tory’s proposal among the public is one of the reasons we’re covering Tim Hudak during the current election.

Where does the full funding issue go from here? The refusal of bodies like the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board to heed provincial guidelines on equity and inclusivity in relation to gay students may satisfy staunch adherents of the faith, but such demonstrations of bullying damages their public image—and much more seriously, their credibility in the eyes of many Ontarians. Apart from the Greens, who back one secular system, the major parties contesting the current election are barely rocking the boat in terms of suggesting changes to the funding formula or addressing how to confront Catholic boards on their discriminatory actions. All that’s certain is that the debate over public funding has hardly been settled by the legislation that was supposed to do just that.

Additional material from History of Separate Schools of Ontario and Minority Report 1950 by E.F Henderson, Arthur Kelly, J.M. Pigott, Henri Saint-Jacques (Toronto: English Catholic Education Association of Ontario, 1950), Catholic Education and Politics in Upper Canada by Franklin A. Walker (Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1955), Catholic Education and Politics in Ontario Volume III by Franklin A. Walker (Toronto: Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario, 1986), and the following newspapers: the June 13, 1984 edition of the Globe and Mail; the February 10, 1968, October 26, 1970, September 1, 1971, June 13, 1984, and June 3, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star;and the October 26, 1970 edition of the Telegram.


Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

Originally published on Torontoist on September 1, 2011.


A photo montage showing what a monorail might have looked like at Bay and Bloor. The Telegram, April 29, 1958.

You’ve heard all the jokes and Simpsons references related to Doug Ford’s vision of a Toronto monorail, his grandiose derailment of Waterfront Toronto’s development plans. But Ford is not the first Etobicoke-based politician to be mesmerized by the possibilities of single-rail travel. From the 1950s onwards, civic officials from the former township have participated in schemes ranging from a monorail system within Etobicoke General Hospital to an above-ground link between Union Station and the airport. One flirtation with single-rail technology that Etobicoke civic officials helped promote with their suburban peers, though, had it ever become reality, would have resulted in a monorail being installed along Bloor Street, instead of a subway line.


Vernon Singer, Reeve of North York 1957–1958. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 251, Item 1.

For an idea that ultimately stunk to City of Toronto officials, it’s appropriate that the inspiration came at a sewer convention. North York Reeve Vernon Singer was attending a sewage conference in Dallas in early 1958 when he wandered off to the local fairgrounds. He was mesmerized by the short monorail line that had attracted visitors to the site for the past two years. Back at the convention, Singer told fellow Metro Toronto councillors Chris Tonks (the reeve of York Township) and Charles R. Bush (an Etobicoke representative) about his discovery. The politicians met a publicist for the system’s manufacturer, Monorail Inc., who dazzled them as Lyle Lanley wowed the citizens of Springfield. Especially impressive was the construction cost: $1 million per mile. Given the trio’s reservations about the estimated $200 million cost for an east-west subway along Bloor Street, a monorail that could be built for peanuts was highly appealing.

gm 58-04-29 photos

Globe and Mail, April 29, 1958.

Once they returned to Canada, Singer and Tonks demanded that Metro Toronto council conduct a full investigation into the benefits of monorail before giving final approval for a Bloor subway. While Tonks believed it would be “deplorable” if his demand wasn’t met, TTC Chairman Allan Lamport wasn’t so sure. “Lampy” told the Star that he thought “a couple of high-priced salesmen have been advising some amateurs.” He believed any monorail on Bloor would be “an ugly roller coaster,” that it didn’t make sense for Toronto to build an elevated rail line when cities like Chicago and New York were tearing portions of theirs down, and that estimates that 60,000 passengers would be transported each hour were only possible if multiple lines were built. Metro Toronto Chairman Frederick Gardiner shared Lamport’s reservations, as transit consultants advised him to stay away from monorails—cars swayed in the wind, switching cars off line was time consuming, and promises of high speeds had never been realised. It also became clear that the $1 million per mile estimate only applied to building the tracks, not to costs like securing rights-of-way, demolitions, and building supporting structures like pillars.

tely 58-05-01 editorial

Editorial, the Telegram, May 1, 1958.

Singer and Tonks pushed ahead. They arranged to meet with Monorail Inc. president Murel Goodell at Singer’s downtown law office on May 3, 1958. This move outraged Gardiner and other councillors who felt the reeves lacked the authority to hold a meeting that seemed designed to stall the subway. As Singer and Tonks had “got us into a mess,” Gardiner insisted that the meeting be opened to other local bureaucrats. Tonks consulted his “respect for taxpayers” playbook and told the press that if Lamport didn’t show up, “it will be a slight on the endeavours of those trying to save the taxpayers from a huge expenditure.”

Around noon on May 2, Singer talked to Goodell on the phone and warned the Texas businessman to be ready for a fight. Goodell claimed he was a fighter. Four hours later, a telegram arrived from Goodell indicating that he wasn’t coming to Toronto. “We agreed to meet you in a small, informal session,” the wire read. “We are not ready for any official meeting without first a thorough investigation plus conferences with our experts and your local authorities on what Monorail can do in Toronto.”

So much for being a fighter.


The Telegram, May 3, 1958.

Gardiner was furious. He called the cancelled meeting “the biggest municipal flop in years.” All of the daily newspapers had editorialized against monorails, with the severest attacks appearing in the Star. The paper believed Goodell chickened out when he was “unprepared to face a stiff quizzing by men who know their business” and regretted not seeing Gardiner and TTC officials tear into him.

The fiasco didn’t deter Singer, Tonks, and Etobicoke reeve H.O. Waffle from introducing a motion at the next Metro council meeting to “make immediate arrangements” for a study. As the Telegram put it, they seemed to have “one-track minds” which “refused to be thrown off the track.” To the reeves’ amazement, Metro council voted 9 to 8 on May 6, 1958 in favour of further study. Over the next month, pro- and anti-monorail supporters gathered their evidence for a June 17 meeting.

But the pro-monorail forces underestimated Frederick Gardiner. Unbeknownst to the rest of Metro council, Gardiner commissioned A.V. Roe’s Avro Aircraft division to study the use of monorails within Metro Toronto. Like the TTC, Avro felt monorails had no place in heavily built-up areas. Where they might work was in the suburbs, especially along CN’s rail line from Union Station to Malton Airport. Besides offering speedy service to passengers heading between the landmarks, such a line could also have provided commuter service between downtown, Weston, and Rexdale, and hooked into the subway system at Union and the proposed Dundas West stations. That such a line would also service Avro’s aircraft and engine plants in Malton could have only been coincidental. The report estimated construction would cost $76 million.

wtg 58-05-08 monorails work

Weston Times and Guide, May 8, 1958.

Several councillors were outraged, as Gardiner refused to let them see Avro’s report in the name of confidentiality. Despite censure for his actions, Gardiner emerged victorious when a motion for further study into monorail as public transit, which would have delayed a final subway approval vote by 60 days, was defeated 15 to 8. The Avro report was eventually released to council and the Bloor subway line got its go-ahead. While consideration was given to a Union-Malton monorail for a couple of months, the plan was rejected by the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board that September. A direct rail link from downtown to the airport would remain at the dream stage for years to come. Monorails were envisioned for sites like Exhibition Place and the Toronto Islands, but the line that operated at the Toronto Zoo from 1976 to 1994 was the only one that made it off the drawing board.

Will Doug Ford’s dream of a waterfront monorail come true? The city’s history says don’t bet on it.

Additional material from the Avro Aircraft Limited Report on Monorail (Toronto: A.V. Roe, 1958) and the following newspapers: the April 29, 1958, April 30, 1958, May 3, 1958, May 6, 1958, and June 18, 1958 editions of the Globe and Mail; the April 29, 1958, April 30, 1958, May 1, 1958, and May 3, 1958 editions of the Toronto Star; and the May 3, 1958 edition of the Telegram.


Like other hare-brained ideas which emerged from either Ford brother, no waterfront monorail is on the horizon as of early 2018. Re-reading this piece, it’s interesting the note how Avro’s vision of a monorail service between Union Station and Malton sounds a little like the UP Express train (though they’re still working on a proper connection with Dundas West subway station).