A Collection of Heroes and Villains

heroes and villains

For most of my time with Torontoist, the holiday season meant rounding up Toronto’s heroes and villains for the year. Some choices were obvious, others were hotly debated during staff meetings. Feeling drained by the time December rolled around, I usually stuck to my comfort zones (heritage matters, media), feeling that other writers were better at articulating hot button cultural and political issues.

It took time for me to grow comfortable with writing opinionated pieces. When I worked for the University of Guelph’s student newspaper, the section editors had the opportunity to write editorials. My lone contribution was one of the weakest, being little more than griping about aggressive PR people I had to deal with while handling the arts section (I was probably too afraid to write anything stronger, given the toxic atmosphere in that office). Later on, I always feared any opinions might come off as too trite, too weak, and too bland for anybody to care about. I can be a slow, deliberate thinker, and it has taken years to develop many of my viewpoints.

Let’s dive into my contributions to Heroes and Villains. I did not contribute during my first two years with the site (2007-2008) and certain I skipped 2009 (though it’s hard to say, given the individual entries have vanished from the interwebs – here’s the list). To replace the original artwork, I’ll use a mix of photos and appropriate vintage illustrations.

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“The defendants before the court.” Illustration by Eugene Lampsonius. Oevres illustrées de Balzac, vol. 1-2 by Honoré de Balzac (Paris: Gustave Havard, Maresq et Companie, 1851). Old Book Illustrations.

2010 Villain: Rob Ford’s Campaign Team

Originally published on Torontoist on December 17, 2010.

Pundits and voters who held low opinions of Rob Ford during the municipal election campaign had to admit that his brain trust did a brilliant job of capitalizing on voter anger and the lacklustre campaigns of his opponents to win the mayor’s chair for the outspoken Etobicoke councillor. Beyond appeals to the “little guy” and catchphrases like the focus-grouped “gravy train,” tactics employed in the march to victory by now–Ford Chief of Staff Nick Kouvalis and his associates at Campaign Research demonstrated a disconcerting willingness to achieve their goals by any means possible.

When the Ford camp learned the Star possessed the recording of a potentially damaging telephone conversation in which the candidate promised to find OxyContin for constituent Dieter Doneit-Henderson, Deputy Communications Officer Fraser Macdonald jumped into gear—and invented a person, Karen Philby (a.k.a. QueensQuayKaren), a George Smitherman supporter who spouted political views on Twitter. While Philby (whose last name, shared with a Cold War spy, might have tipped off her purpose in life) quickly achieved her intended goal—securing the Ford campaign its own copy of the conversation from Doneit-Henderson—she continued to post tasteful barbs directed at the other candidates (such as referring to Sarah Thomson as a “bitch”).

Philby also proved useful in undermining other candidacies. As “will he or won’t he” stories filled the press regarding John Tory’s intentions, the Ford campaign devised ways to keep him out of the fray, since they figured much of their support would gravitate to Tory if he ran. The methods ran from the mildly amusing (a YouTube video demonstrating Tory’s lack of superpowers when it came to stopping out-of-control gravy trains) to the deceptive: a Ford staffer called into Tory’s CFRB radio show as Philby to attack the host’s integrity.

Now that Ford occupies the mayor’s chair, we wonder what further shenanigans will be deployed to sway public opinion or neutralize opponents. Will a “Gloria Burgess” or “Donna MacLean” step forward to try to embarrass or derail Ford’s enemies? If the campaign was a preview of what’s to come, Ford’s key staff may score points among hardcore devotees and political junkies for the cunning of their tactics, but also further deepen cynicism about politicians in general and about City Hall in particular. We hope what we saw on the campaign trail does not foreshadow four years of dirty politics that use up energy that would be better expended solving the problems of the mayor’s cherished taxpayers.

UPDATE: The Rob Ford era…le sigh. When John Tory won the mayoralty in 2014, one of his campaign advisers was Nick Kouvalis.

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Portrait of William Lyon Mackenzie. Toronto Public Library.

2010 Hero: Shawn Micallef

Originally published on Torontoist on December 22, 2010.

In the foreword to his book, Stroll, Shawn Micallef notes that Torontonians have convinced themselves that our city is underwhelming compared to those world-class ones, such that “we don’t expect to turn the corner and see beauty or be amazed.” Yet Micallef, in an ever-growing number of media outlets (Eye WeeklySpacingYonge Street), uses his sharp observational skills to discover the city’s hidden treasures. In a year in which the media, politicians, and other naysayers suggested that everything in Toronto is broken, Micallef’s curiosity and keen interest in Toronto’s virtues injected a necessary and refreshing optimism.

Stroll, published this year, compiles stories drawn from Micallef’s psychogeographical walks across the city, ranging from the parking lots of Pearson Airport to the tip of the Leslie Spit. Readers gain a sense of the sheer size of the city and are taken to unexpected spots, like the middle of Highway 401 above Hogg’s Hollow. The stories he tells in the book, along with those featured in his Eye columns, weave together history and urbanism, and empathize with the residents of the locales he wanders through.
Micallef’s writing acknowledges the suburbs without denigrating them or deepening the divide between the inner and outer city. Instead, he creates connections between these geographies, mapping the relationships between all who inhabit the GTA. When he went to Etobicoke to cover one of Rob Ford’s campaign barbecues for Eye, Micallef did not mock or demonize those attending, as a journalist for a downtown-based alt-weekly might stereotypically be tempted to do, but portrayed the attendees as normal human beings enjoying their evening. While Micallef irritated several followers on Twitter for not etching those around him as illiterate cavemen, as though the writing were already on the wall, the piece demonstrated his ability to see beyond the echo chamber and understand why people might support somebody who most of his audience finds repulsive.

Micallef’s impish sense of humour was comedic relief during the long, dreary municipal election campaign. For most of the year, he successfully disguised himself as the city’s firebrand first mayor on Twitter: @rebelmayor. While other observers defined the negative tone of the race, @rebelmayor defiantly functioned as a court jester whose mock campaign updates and serious barbs at candidates (those most voters would have also aimed muskets at if given the opportunity) provided a release for the frustrations of the electorate. Though @rebelmayor has been retired for the moment, Micallef’s commentary continues under his own handle on Twitter: after Ford officially assumed office, Micallef encouraged Torontonians to act on their libertarian impulses regardless of how silly they were.

Given how the next four years at City Hall are promising to shape up, we’ll need all the comic relief we can find. Toronto will also need more people like Micallef who are not afraid to defy the defeatists and express what they love about the city.

UPDATE: As of 2018, Micallef is a columnist with the Toronto Star. @rebelmayor pops up once in a while.

Here are the ultimate winners of the competition, along with links to all of the entries.

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

2011 Hero: City Hall Deputants

Originally published on Torontoist on December 12, 2011.

One of Rob Ford’s major accomplishments during his first year in office has been to provoke greater engagement in civic government. The mayor’s zeal for cutting City services has energized citizens to defend programs they believe are vital to Toronto’s well-being. If there was a point when any honeymoon Ford had was over, it was during the deputations given at the marathon Executive Committee session in July. As we summed up at the time, “It was the most important slumber party held in Toronto in years.”

Over the course of almost 24 hours on July 28 and 29, 169 citizens commented on service cuts proposed in the Core Service Review report. Speakers were not the lazy, unemployed types that several executive committee members attempted to portray them to be. Many had never addressed city council before and endured insults and reductions in their speaking time. From teary-eyed teens to neurosurgeons, the deputants represented all corners and social strata of the city.

Among the highlights was a speech dripping in Swiftean satire from retired educator Mary Trapani Hines. Her performance quickly went viral, inspired the “yellygranny” tag on Twitter, and possibly encouraged more people to go to City Hall to witness the rest of the session. Other theatrics included a visit from Santa, and puppet show that caused Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to declare that some deputants were disrespecting council.

But it was councillors like Mammoliti who were being disrespectful. While claiming it was a great exercise in democracy, Mayor Ford paid scant attention to the speakers. Attempts to thin the deputant ranks ranged from running an all-night session to Mammoliti’s insistence that City staff determine if disabled participants were faking their incapacities. These obstacles mattered little when the hardcore Fordites were shown for the fools they were as the testimonials rolled on and a celebratory spirit developed within City Hall.

In the months since these deputations, opposition to the Ford administration’s brain trust has gained momentum as other citizens gained the confidence to fight them—witness the success of CodeBlueTO in derailing a new vision for the waterfront. Another marathon Executive Committee session in September saw an almost equal number of people speak. Early indications are that the voting on proposed City budget cuts won’t go smoothly. Most importantly, the deputants showed that Torontonians aren’t accepting the Ford Nation vision of them as mere taxpayers but instead are citizens who care about the services that make this city their home.

UPDATE: Giorgio Mammoliti was defeated in the 2018 municipal election. It will be interesting to see if the repercussions of Premier Doug Ford’s downsizing of city council and other acts against the city will cause a similar cycle of public pushbacks in 2019 and beyond.

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“Compositor at his case.” Illustrated by E. Bourdelin. Les grandes usines, volume 1 by Julien Turgan (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1875). Old Book Illustrations.

2011 Villain: Sun Media

Originally published on Torontoist on December 21, 2011.

When the Toronto Sun sought a new comment page editor in October (a job filled by former Rob Ford press secretary Adrienne Batra), one requirement was an understanding of the paper’s self-mythologized role as “an organization with edge and attitude that sticks up for the little guy.” Problem is, Sun Media’s shameless support of right-wing politicians who gut programs supporting the vulnerable and who distort facts to play to their ideological base is screwing the little guy.

Decisions to pull its papers out of the Ontario Press Council and to mercilessly attack the CBC reveal a desire to be accountable to no one, especially when Sun Media’s properties bully those they perceive as different or not aligned with their world view. Their refusal to apologize for running a transphobic ad during the Ontario provincial election reconfirmed the organization’s perennially poor relations with the queer community. April’s launch of the Sun News Network brought a Fox News mentality to Canada’s airwaves, complete with guest-haranguing anchors. Krista Erickson’s vicious attack on dancer Margie Gillis for receiving government grants, which Sun Media’s corporate parent Quebecor has been known to accept, prompted thousands of complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

The Gillis incident illustrates Sun Media’s desperation to grab attention by any means. Despite the Sun’s “Welcome to Hell” cover following Dalton McGuinty’s re-election, a ring of fire hasn’t encircled Ontario. While most of Jack Layton’s political opponents paid their respects during the public outpouring of grief following his death, Sun News Network outfitted provocateur Ezra Levant with a garish orange wig and cans of Orange Crush while he and Michael Coren mocked people’s genuine feelings.

To the surprise of few, the Sun emerged as an unofficial City Hall mouthpiece this year. The paper and its City Hall columnist Sue-Ann Levy share the Ford administration’s view of Torontonians as taxpayers first, citizens who appreciate social services, the arts, and fire protection second. Levy’s unwavering support of the gravy hunt and her sycophantic attacks on administration opponents make us wonder if secretly she’s a satirist pulling an elaborate joke on everyone.

But it’s Sun Media’s consumers who are being played for fools. By ratcheting up the outrage to appeal to those who hate to see anyone receive any (perceived) advantage over themselves, and creating resentment of any use of public funds for purposes that its readers feel provide no direct personal benefit, Sun Media’s properties appeal to the worst in human nature. They prey upon our anger and foster a fear of those who don’t share their views or fit into their preferred societal norms. Sun Media’s revered “little guy” would do better to educate himself elsewhere on the nuances of issues that affect him than be patronizingly urged to direct his frustrations in destructive ways.

UPDATE: Postmedia bought the Sun papers in 2014. Sun News Network folded in early 2015. As the Toronto Sun was the heir to the Telegram upon that newspaper’s demise, it can be argued The Rebel was SNN’s offspring. The outrage expressed by the Sun has only grown shriller since this article was written.

Roundups of 2011’s other heroes and villains.

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Checking out the former location of centre ice in the Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws, November 2012. 

2012 Hero: Maple Leaf Gardens

Originally published on Torontoist on December 9, 2012.

It probably comes as a relief to many hockey fans that Ryerson University has been using part of Maple Leaf Gardens as an arena since the Mattamy Athletic Centre opened in September. The reminders of the building’s past are all around you: from the recreation of the old marquee above the entrance, to the walls of photos of memorable moments, to the row of old seats lining the wall by the escalator.

At street level, the Loblaws store, which opened in November 2011, also mixes past and present. Beyond the wall of cheese and specialty food counters, the store’s pillars commemorate important dates in Gardens history. You can look at old newspaper wrestling ads while sitting down with a coffee. Centre ice is quietly marked with a red dot in the middle of aisle 25, though we hope staff haven’t been called too many times to clean up broken bottles of soy sauce from the adjoining shelf. There’s a hanging sculpture made from a jumble of salvaged arena seating. Even the parking garage is decorated with names of sports teams from the past.

The current state of Maple Leaf Gardens is a large-scale example of what can happen when a heritage building’s new owners embrace the structure’s past, rather than treat it with token recognition. Even future bookings, such as the upcoming Ontario Liberal leadership convention, harken back to the political events that regularly graced the Gardens. The site’s deep resonance with the public probably helped in its renewal. One can only imagine the outrage if the Gardens had suffered the fate of 81 Wellesley Street, which was suddenly knocked down in January before it could receive a heritage designation.

For years after the Toronto Rock played their last game there in 2000, we wondered if Maple Leaf Gardens was going to rot away. Former owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment might have been satisfied with that fate, given its reluctance to sell the Gardens to anyone who posed the remotest threat to the Air Canada Centre’s event bookings. As recently as last year, MLSE filed a lawsuit against Ryerson to prevent the university from using the name “Maple Leaf Gardens” for promotional purposes. Ultimately MLSE’s obsession with the bottom line won’t prevent the public from referring to the building by that name: we still call the Rogers Centre “SkyDome,” after all.

Besides, as long as the NHL lockout continues, the Gardens can boast it has hockey games. The Air Canada Centre can’t.

UPDATE: The NHL lockout ended the following month.

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“The shriek of Timidity.” “The defendants before the court.” Illustration by Gustave Doré. The days of chivalry, or the legend of Croquemitane by Ernest L’Épine (New York: Cassell Petter and Galpin, c. 1866). Old Book Illustrations.

2012 Villain: Extreme NIMBYism

Originally published on Torontoist on December 10, 2012.

Condos will destroy neighbourhoods, blot out the sun, and reduce my property values. Rapid transit lines in the middle of wide suburban streets and bike lines on busy downtown arteries will cripple my commute by minutes. Change will kill my comfortable lifestyle and bring strange new people into my community.

Those are effectively the arguments provided by the loudest, NIMBYest opponents of building and transit projects around the city. While there are many people who offer reasoned, carefully thought-out arguments for and against new construction plans, they are often drowned out by those driven by fear, innuendo, and sound bites. The result over the past year has seen ugly battles in neighbourhoods stretching from Humbertown to the Beach.

There is little space left within the city to develop the classic single-family homes that characterized Toronto’s neighbourhoods until the middle of the 20th century. To cope with an ever-increasing population, the city needs to build up. This does not mean 45-storey towers everywhere: smaller-scale projects like the proposed six-storey condo causing havoc in the Beach provide one solution. Yet, to hear the loudest opponents of that project, even a small condo will destroy the community’s character.

What these people forget is that Toronto neighbourhoods have changed before: Jarvis and Sherbourne streets were once the preserve of the ultra-wealthy, Cabbagetown was a slum, Liberty Village was industrial, and the suburbs were farmland or small settlements. Even if they benefitted from a wave of gentrification that shaped their neighbourhood into the comfortable community they know now, these people expect things to remain static. Like it or not, the “villages” they live in are part of the city and cannot stay removed from its overall infrastructure issues.

The true ugliness of the loudest NIMBYs emerges when the economic homogeneity of their neighbourhood is challenged, prompting fear of what even a slightly more economically diverse neighbourhood might mean. At one community meeting regarding Humbertown recently, one proponent of a proposed residential development was told to “get a job” when he argued it would keep area prices affordable. That kind of fear is ugly, and unfair.

In these cases all parties—tenants, homeowners, developers, designers, activists, and bureaucrats—need to put kneejerk, defensive, and reactionary responses aside and work together, to arrive solutions that benefit whole neighbourhoods in the long run. Painful as the process can be, it’s better to work the kinks out of a development proposal than obstinately block it, and better to accept that change is a healthy part of life in a healthy city than to reject even small alterations to the landscape as gross betrayals.

UPDATE: Roundups of 2012’s other heroes and villains.

 

2013 Hero: Church Street Parklets

Originally published on Torontoist on December 30, 2013.

A parklet is, as the name suggests, a teeny tiny baby park. Generally an extension or reuse of existing space, like a sidewalk or a parking spot, it’s a small sliver of the street that’s used to provide greenery and public enjoyment. As we observed earlier this year: “The idea isn’t to promote recreation. Instead, the goal is to reclaim space for pedestrians and idlers and bring vibrancy back to streets that have been dominated by automotive traffic. Building a parklet is a means of creating a sidewalk cafe atmosphere, even—especially—in places where there aren’t any sidewalk cafes.”

A series of parklets was installed this summer along Church Street, in Church-Wellesley Village, as a test run for similar street infrastructure initiatives planned for World Pride in 2014. Backed by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) and the local BIA because of its constructive use of public space and potential to boost local businesses, the project found sponsors in Home Depot and a carpenter’s union. They were installed in a flash, as well: to observers like the Star’s Christopher Hume, their speedy implementation marked a break from the city’s traditionally timid approach to such experimentation.

Beyond offering lounging space from which to watch the city pass by, the parklets offer a glimpse of how we can make streets more amenable to all. Traffic flow improves when fewer drivers block the road with complicated parallel-parking manoeuvres; friends running into each other can move into a parklet to talk without disrupting the pedestrian flow or inducing sidewalk rage.

We’d be happy if similar initiatives to reclaim public space spread across the city. While there’d inevitably be complaints that losing a handful of parking spots would provoke a disaster of St. Clair-ish proportions, we suspect most people would latch on to the parklets—perhaps then, most complaints would take the form of sighing over filled seats.

UPDATE: While parklets didn’t return to Church Street after 2013, they made summer appearances on Elm Street for several years.

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Goad’s map of Corktown area, 1884. 

2013 Hero: Corktown Common

Originally published on Torontoist on December 31, 2013.

The appeal of Corktown Common is as simple as getting to hear the rhythm of frogs who live there. The chorus of croaks emerging from its marshes on a hot summer night temporarily transports you from a heavy construction zone to somewhere far from the city lights.

Though the park won’t be finished until 2014, the sneak preview we enjoyed this summer demonstrates how aesthetic, environmental, and recreational needs can be realized and met in a space Torontonians can be proud of. Adults appreciate the effort Waterfront Toronto made to create a varied green landscape; kids can run wild up and down the knolls, glide down the built-in slides, or go for relaxing swings; cyclists riding the Don or Martin Goodman trails are able to fill their water bottles or take a stretch. (We also recommend just lying on the grassy field and staring up at the clouds). When residents move into the condos rising to the west, we imagine the park will become a community gathering place, an oasis amid the desert of concrete and glass.

July’s intense downpour tested one of the park’s major purposes, which is to function as a berm by protecting downtown from the effects of flooding along the Don River. It passed the test, holding back the waters that trapped commuters and motorists in the lower Don Valley.

Corktown Common demonstrates the viability of Waterfront Toronto’s efforts to improve our lower shoreline, do so in a way that’s enjoyable as well as functional—and in the process, increases our excitement about the many other projects they still have in the works.

UPDATE: It’s still a great park.

I don’t remember the reason why I didn’t contribute a villain in 2013 – either I was nearing my fill of the City Hall gong show by that point, or felt it was better to stick to positive contributions.

Roundups of 2013’s other heroes and villains.

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Grounds of Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Cultural Centre, May 2015.

2014 Hero: The Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Cultural Centre

Originally published on Torontoist on December 22, 2014.

The need for an institution such as the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre, which opened in September, was brought into relief during this year’s municipal election. Anti-Muslim incidents, including sign defacing and slurs, underlined the usefulness of a bridge-building complex. Though bigoted louts probably won’t venture near it, the complex’s role as a cultural centre has great potential to, according to its mission statement, “foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Muslim civilizations have made to world heritage. Through education, research, and collaboration, the Museum will foster dialogue and promote tolerance and mutual understanding among people.”

Though controversial in some circles for bringing about the destruction of John B. Parkin’s 1960s modernist Bata Shoes Head Office, the complex at the Eglinton Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway has the potential to become a new architectural landmark—much as Mies van der Rohe’s iconic steel and glass Toronto-Dominion Centre did after replacing the Beaux Arts–influenced Bank of Toronto headquarters 50 years ago. Like that project, the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre has architectural heavy hitters behind it, including Fumihiko Maki, Charles Correa, and Moriyama and Teshima.

“Don Mills once was a locus for innovation in architecture and planning,” Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic noted, “with offices and warehouse buildings designed by some of Canada’s top architects in the 1960s. That modernist legacy has been badly diluted by new buildings, but the absurdly fine quality of the museum and Ismaili Centre will set a new standard.”

The items displayed in the museum, which has been touted as the first in North America devoted solely to Islamic art, literally provide a colourful take on the culture. Among the most impressive items are painted, lavishly illustrated manuscripts. Cross-cultural influences stand out, whether through works inspired by local cultures or in Iranian paintings that would not have looked out of place in Renaissance Europe.

For once, Toronto may have received just the kind of world-class institution it covets.

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Fort York, 1885. Toronto Public Library.

2014 Hero: The Fort York Neighbourhood

Originally published on Torontoist on December 23, 2014.

For years, it seemed as if Frederick Gardiner had had the last laugh. Though attempts to move Fort York to make way for the Gardiner Expressway failed during the 1950s, the historical site’s location, hemmed in by traffic jams in the middle of an industrial neighbourhood, did it few favours. But thanks to recent developments, the old military grounds now sit at the heart of a revitalized area of the city.

The big news from Fort York itself was the opening of its new visitor centre in September. Though still incomplete, the structure offers a visually stunning space for exhibits and other educational activities. The result of a partnership between Vancouver’s Patkau Architects and Toronto’s Kearns Mancini Architects, it has been described by the Globe and Mail as “part building, part landscape” due to its string of steel rectangular panels.

This year’s edition of Nuit Blanche took advantage of the space within the fort’s grounds (even if the entrances did create bottlenecks), as well as nearby parks such as Canoe Landing. These green spaces offer a place of respite for visitors and incoming residents amid the condo towers rising nearby—and more are in the works, including Mouth of the Creek Park. The chain of parks creates public space and pedestrian corridors, even if the Ford administration did manage to stymie progress through actions such as delaying the construction of a bridge to Garrison Common.

To serve the community’s creative, intellectual, and social needs, the Toronto Public Library opened a two-storey branch across from the fort in May. The branch offers amenities such as a digital innovation hub (complete with 3D printing) and architectural features such as wooden ceiling beams that honour the area’s historic wharves—and it has filled the large library desert that was created by the closure of the Urban Affairs Library in 2011.

While the neighbourhood emerging around Fort York will experience growing pains, it seems poised to integrate itself at last into the fabric of the city.

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Cartoon of Olivia Chow by Andy Donato, originally published in the Toronto Sun.

2014 Villain: Not-So-Latent Bigotry on the Campaign Trail

Originally published on Torontoist on December 23, 2014.

“Diversity Our Strength.” Toronto’s official motto reflects our idealized image of the city as a shining beacon of multiculturalism and tolerance. Yet, as Rob Ford’s mayoralty proved, a significant segment of the population finds bigotry and divisiveness palatable.

Public displays of intolerance marred the recent municipal election campaign. During the mayoral race, Olivia Chow faced a steady stream of slurs about her ethnicity. Some questioned her speaking ability, referencing her accent and the slow speed of her talking—the latter the result of partial facial paralysis. During a debate at York Memorial High School, a heckler told Chow to go back to China. The Sun lowered the conversation by publishing an Andy Donato cartoon depicting a Mao-suited Chow riding the coattails of her late husband Jack Layton (the paper lamely defended it by claiming it always depicted NDPers in the garb preferred by historic Chinese dictators). Whatever your opinion of Chow’s campaign, these attacks were despicable.

So too was the anti-Muslim bigotry that reared its head in ward races. Running in the heart of Ford Nation, Ward 2 candidate Munira Abukar saw her campaign signs defaced with messages such as “Go Back Home.” In Ward 10 (York Centre), TDSB trustee candidate Ausma Malik was targeted by opponents who tried to depict her as a supporter of fundamentalists. Candidates also reported car window smashings and garbage tossed on volunteers.

In the wake of these incidents, front-running candidates had little or nothing to add. As Torontoist’s Desmond Cole observed, “If diversity is our strength, why do political candidates believe they will lose ground for publicly condemning racism?” Pandering to the basest instincts of some voters encourages the ignorant and intolerant and demeans our public discourse—and so does remaining silent.

UPDATE: Roundups of 2014’s other heroes and villains.

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The City, June 18, 1978.

2015 Villain: Paul Godfrey

Originally published on Torontoist on January 4, 2016.

Since debuting as a fresh-faced, twenty-something North York city councillor in 1964, Paul Godfrey has, for better or worse, played a key role in shaping modern Toronto. Since early crusades against “sip n’ sex” at fast food drive-ins, Godfrey has rarely shied away from controversy. During half-a-century in the public eye, he became a consummate networker and backroom operator, especially in local Conservative circles. He often jokes about a line his mother told him as youngster: “When you have your choice in life between smart and lucky, take lucky all the time.”

That luck produced an impressive string of top-level jobs: chairman of Metropolitan Toronto, publisher/CEO of the Toronto Sun, president/CEO of the Blue Jays, chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, chair of the board of trustees of RioCan, and now president/CEO of Postmedia. But his track record has sometimes raised questions regarding whose interests he works for. This is a guy who promoted amalgamation, Mel Lastman, and our desperate need for a casino.

This year was not one of Godfrey’s better ones. His ham-fisted support of the Conservatives during the federal election campaign made a laughingstock of the country’s largest newspaper for the Tories regardless of the opinions of local editorial staff. Andrew Coyne resigned as comment editor of the National Post after a column was spiked for his support of another party. Reeking of desperation, the front page of the chain’s papers bore a Tory attack ad during the final weekend of the campaign. Readers and employees were disgusted, while the competition (including Toronto Star chair of the board John Honderich) had a field day attacking Godfrey’s disregard for freedom of the press.

While Postmedia newsrooms were slashed and its papers hemorrhaged circulation, Godfrey and other officials didn’t exactly share in the pain. A total of $925,000 in bonuses was paid to its top six executives, some of which stemmed from the acquisition of Sun Media, which closed this spring. The optics of these payments, including the $400,000 given to Godfrey, did little to improve Postmedia’s optics in an industry in crisis. He was paid a total of $1.76 million for his trouble, thus living up to his mother’s adage about luck.

Godfrey has enjoyed a long run wielding the levers of power. It’s time to turn them over to somebody else.

UPDATE: As of 2018, Godfrey is still at Postmedia, where he continues to draw a healthy paycheque.

Roundups of 2015’s heroes and villains.

I declined to contribute to 2016’s batch, which proved to be the final edition. By that point I was only writing Historicist for the site, slowly edging toward my decision to leave Torontoist for good.

What would a 2018 edition of Heroes and Villains look like? A few candidates would be obvious. Doug Ford would be high on the villain side, for any number of reasons. I put out a call for suggestions via Facebook and Twitter, and here’s what came back:
2018 Heroes
Ulli Watkiss
Tanya Talaga
Kyle Lowry
Austin Matthews
Overdose prevention activists
Candidates in the 47-ward council race
Chanty Marostica
2018 Villains
Doug Ford
Ontario Proud
Dean French
Faith Goldy
Giorgio Mammoliti
Sidewalk Labs
Sky Gilbert

Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Fine Holiday Season in 1887

Originally published as a “Historicist’ column on Torontoist on December 22, 2012.

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A Toronto-penned carol from 1887 you can play at home this season. The News, December 24, 1887.

In some ways, the holiday season that brought 1887 to a close was similar to today. People rushed around the city to pick up their Christmas gifts. Plenty of booze was downed. Discussions and editorial pages focused on the future of Toronto’s mayoralty. Digging beyond the surface, similarities via the city’s legion of newspapers shows a season that was equally celebratory and cringe-inducing.

Mail columnist H.H. Wiltshire (aka “The Flaneur”) provided the best-written observation of the state of Christmas:

Latterly the question has been often asked as to what is the meaning of the tendency everywhere during the last few years for a much more general observance of the Christmas festival. In some quarters it is attributed to increased reverence, in others to sentimentality, while we are also told that it is only seized upon as an excuse for idleness and gluttony, under the cover of hospitality. Without staying to consider how far any of these views are correct, may we not suppose that one very natural reason is the necessity we all feel for a little rest and enjoyment! Unquestionably there is more work done now in a shorter time than was ever the case before; this must cause a reaction in some form, and this season of the year has appeared most convenient because it is the nearest approach to a recognized universal holiday-time throughout the civilized world. A simple answer to the enquiry is given in the fact that that overworked humanity wants rest.

All of us with healthy minds in healthy bodies enjoy holidays and amusement, and custom, if nothing else, has made both seem especially appropriate to this time of the year. One of the best associations of Christmas undoubtedly is the increasing fondness for family and friendly re-union, when many feuds are healed and words and acts of temper are forgiven; also the inculcation and practice of the truth that there are none of us so poor in ability or in purse but that we can, by merely doing “the duty nearest hand,” make the load lighter and the day more bright for some among those whom sickness or sorrow, misfortune or folly, entitle not only to our kindness and sympathy, but also to be the unsoliciting recipients of practical and generous aid.

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The Globe, December 23, 1887.

The rest Wiltshire extolled wasn’t present on Christmas Eve 1887, as downtown streets filled with shoppers in a rush. Though shop windows were filled with joyful displays, those entering stores to purchase gifts were, according to the Globe, hardly in a celebratory mood. “Almost everybody one met seemed to have a parcel or to be in a hurry to get one,” the paper noted. “To judge by the expression of face and the words caught in passing, the getting of the parcels seemed rather to hinder than to help the feeling of joyousness.”

The papers were filled with holiday-inspired doggerel and Christmas stories which would not be published under any circumstances today. The worst offender was a lengthy illustrated tale published in the News on Christmas Eve whose anonymous author reminisced about the glorious celebrations enjoyed by plantation slaves in the southern United States prior to the Civil War. Every imaginable derogatory term was used in a story filled with pidgin English, stock stereotypes, dancing galore, and “the wild hilarity of a negro gathering.”

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Evening Telegram, December 20, 1887.

Because Christmas Day fell on a Sunday, good upstanding Torontonians were expected to observe the usual pieties that created Toronto’s reputation as a place not to have any fun on the Lord’s Day for decades to come. Not that the day was devoid of pleasure—when evening rolled around, carollers hit the streets, along with impromptu brass bands playing tunes on battered instruments.

There was a sad note Christmas morning when the body of Maria Green was found in a stable behind 40 Elizabeth Street. Rather than provide any sympathy for her death from exposure, the press went into full moralizing mode. The Globe depicted Green as “an elderly woman employed as cook in a house of ill-fame on Albert Street,” while the Mail described her as “a woman of about fifty years of age, and the greater part of her life had been spent in infamy. Christmas brought to her not peace but an excess of drunkenness and debauchery with her tragic death as a wind-up.”

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The News, December 24, 1887.

The delay of most public Christmas activities to December 26 appeared to create a pent-up thirst among Torontonians, as people went wild when the bars reopened that morning. “’Moral’ Toronto Spends a Very Liquid Christmas” screamed a headline above the World’s account of “the drunkenest day that Toronto has seen for years.” Sleighs overflowed with “more young men than is allowed by the law regarding cruelty to animals.” People who claimed to have never touched a drop of alcohol were among those found in packed saloons. Some establishments closed early to avoid a steady stream of barroom brawls and police visits. “The ordinary drinking public dropped into their usual haunts and were surprised and disgusted at what they saw,” the World reported. “By 6 o’clock there were so many places closed that a usual question was ‘well, where can we go to get a drink?’” Police handled the chaos by making arrests only when necessary. The Globe theorized that the drinking orgy was due to liquor vendors attempting to demonstrate that tougher temperance laws would increase the abusive effects of booze, especially a set of bylaws on the upcoming municipal election ballot.

Alcohol control played a key role in the mayoral campaign that holiday season. On November 3, 1887, Mayor William Holmes Howland announced he would not run for a third term. While Howland spoke to Christian and temperance groups in other cities to extol the effects of his campaigns to reduce the availability of alcohol, the question arose as to who would continue his moral crusade and efforts to curb corruption at City Hall. The favoured candidate among the reformer set was rookie alderman Elias Rogers, a Quaker pro-temperance activist who was one of Toronto’s largest coal merchants.

Two other candidates emerged. Edward Frederick Clarke was a rookie Conservative member at Queen’s Park who published the Orange Sentinel newspaper. Unlike many Orangemen of the era, Clarke was seen as a broadminded man due to actions like allowing Irish Catholic activists to speak at the organization’s hall. Because he wasn’t a fervent temperance advocate, he was depicted by opponents as a friend of the saloon. Daniel Defoe was a veteran alderman who touted his long council experience but was handicapped by his Catholic faith in a very Protestant city—the best he could hope for was a spoiler role. Whoever became mayor needed to be, according to a Globe editorial, “a level-headed, painstaking, conscientious man of marked business ability.”

The campaign was well underway when official nominations were made during a raucous meeting at City Hall (now incorporated into the south St. Lawrence Market) on December 26. The loudest members of the overflow crowd were Clarke supporters, who jeered the other candidates and their nominators. Rogers received most of the verbal abuse, some of it deserved. Female electors were still a new concept—Ontario had granted spinsters and widows the vote in municipal elections in 1884—so Rogers pointed out those in attendance and indicated they were on his side. When a heckler yelled “How do you know they are?,” the Telegram noted that Rogers “knew they were on his side because the ladies were always on the right side.”

More troubling for Rogers were reports that he was the head of a “coal ring.” A series of exposes in the News written by Clarke ally and York West MP Nathaniel Clarke Wallace portrayed Rogers as the leader of a cartel who artificially inflated the price of coal in Toronto, failed to pass savings onto consumers after the federal government removed tariffs on the heating fuel, and conspired to drive competitors out of business. Rogers painted himself as a victim via a complicated explanation involving American coal combines, merciless railway companies, and forming his own ring as a protective measure.

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Cartoon depicting Elias Rogers and Edward Clarke, The News, December 31, 1887.

Despite increasingly lengthy explanations about the coal ring which convinced few voters, city churches and most of the press endorsed Rogers. Endless ink was devoted to depicting him as the best man to uphold Howland’s policies and continue the moral crusade against corruption and liquor. Papers like the Telegram were smug in their certainty of a Rogers victory, declaring that the defeat “will simply be extraordinary.”

The extraordinary happened. As the votes were tallied on January 2, 1888, Howland waited for the results at Rogers’ HQ and kept the crowd pepped up. When the early results showed Clarke in the lead, Howland urged people not to leave. By 9 p.m. the race was over—Clarke defeated Rogers by nearly 1,000 votes. Clarke appeared at the window of the News’ newsroom and gave his victory speech, where he declared his win as “not a triumph of the saloon, but a triumph of the moderate over the intemperate party.”

Clarke captured two key groups that Rogers’ backers had looked upon with condescension: labour and women. He pointed out his participation in and arrest during the printer’s strike of 1872 and utilized female canvassers. There were also signs that Torontonians were tiring of heavy-handed, puritanical laws enacted by the Howland administration, such as preventing the hiring of horses on Sundays. In his recently launched paper Saturday Night, E.E. Sheppard observed that people were exasperated by the increasing self-righteousness of Howland’s allies and by “sumptuary laws more arbitrary and intolerant than those which already exist and have been found unworkable.”

Besides Rogers, voters rejected the temperance bylaws on the ballot. They also rejected a ballot proposal to fund construction of a trunk sewer to improve city sanitation, a vote which falls into the great Toronto tradition of balking at spending money on needed infrastructure projects.

Additional material from 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), and the following newspapers: the December 23, 1887, December 26, 1887, and December 29, 1887 editions of the Globe; the December 24, 1887, December 26, 1887, and January 3, 1888 editions of the Mail; the December 24, 1887 edition of the News; the December 10, 1887 edition of Saturday Night; the December 27, 1887 and December 29, 1887 editions of the Telegram; and the December 27, 1887 edition of the World.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Editorial item, The Globe, December 21, 1887.

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The Evening Telegram also weighed in on what clergymen in Boston felt about Santa.

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A poetic attempt to use jolly old St. Nick to sell some merchandise, as found in the December 21, 1887 edition of the News.

Election Night Score Sheet, Get Yer Election Night Score Sheet

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Toronto Star, December 5, 1960.

I suspect there are devoted municipal election junkies who’d love a sheet like this at their fingertips this evening. Adjustments would be required for the present day: five minute increments on the chart would suit the rapid pace of the internet age (or two-and-a-half if your handwriting is as small as mine is). The suburban mayoral races of 1960 would be replaced with either key council battles or, for the truly dedicated, all 47…err…25 wards.

Voting rules had been adjusted so that most renters in the City of Toronto finally had the right to vote – the main qualifications were that you were 21 years old,  a “British subject,” and had resided in the city for a year. For some reason, 63,000 newly enfranchised tenant voters were unable to cast a ballot on the Sunday movie question (the results of which struck another blow to Toronto’s old Sunday blue laws).

In case you’re curious, here are the final results in the Toronto mayoral race from December 5, 1960:

Nathan Phillips: 81,699
Endorsed by the Telegram, the “Mayor of all the People” won his third straight term. His luck ran out in 1962.

Allan Lamport: 58,254
After half-a-decade as chair of the TTC, Lampy decided to reclaim the mayor’s office he held in the early 1950s. He was endorsed by the Star. He was defeated by Phil Givens in his final run for the top spot in 1964, but had a last hurrah as a reactionary councillor from 1966 to 1972.

Jean Newman: 31,999
The first woman to run for Toronto’s mayoralty, Newman was backed by the Globe and Mail. A councillor since 1954, she served as the city’s first female budget chief after topping the citywide vote for the Board of Control. Following an unsuccessful run for a provincial seat in 1962, she retired from politics.

Ross Dowson: 1,643
A perennial candidate and Trotskyist, Dowson ran for mayor nine times between 1948 and 1964.

Harry Bradley: 1,511
Bradley was another perennial candidate whose attempts to hold public office stretched back to a council run in 1928. In 1968, the Globe and Mail declared him “the city’s most unsuccessful civic candidate,” having lost all 35 elections he ran in (Unfortunately his final campaign in 1969 proved to be loss #36). Described as a “former lathe operator, civic employee and consultant on civic affairs,” Bradley’s vote totals ranged from 548 in 1928 to over 20,000 in 1950. He once told a reporter “I’ll continue to run until the undertaker gets me.”

Bradley’s 15-point platform for his 1960 mayoral run included a subway running from Hamilton to Oshawa (which one could argue was accomplished above ground with GO) to be funded by taxing breweries, and persuading one of the major oil companies to fund the construction of the new City Hall

“The last thing Harry Bradley could be called is politically apathetic,” observed Globe and Mail writer Harry Bruce. “For him no day of the year has ever held the excitement and promise of municipal election day. That is the day he has always risen in the council chamber and delivered the five-minute speech which is his right as a candidate. And this year, as a mayoralty candidate, the pleasure will be tripled because he will be allowed a 15 minute speech. No one who has heard him doubts his ability to speak publicly for a quarter of an hour.”

Bruce’s article also reprinted a verse Bradley wrote which was published by one of the city’s papers circa 1944, which Bruce felt was more appropriate in 1960:

I am old, I am bent, I am cheated
Of all that youth urged me to win;
But name me not with the defeated
For tomorrow again I begin.

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Toronto Star, December 5, 1960. Top row features the Star’s team of Lee Belland (also on CFRB), Ray Timson (also on CFRB), Pierre Berton (also on CJBC), Ron Haggart (also on CJBC) and Mark Harrison (also on CBLT). Bottom row: Charles Templeton (moderating a panel on CJBC), Gordon Sinclair (CFRB), Jack Dennett (CFRB), Byng Whitteker (CJBC), and Don Sims (CJBC).

The score sheet appears to be a handy promotional tool for the Star‘s election night coverage, in conjunction with CFRB, CJBC (then part of CBC’s Dominion network, soon to became the local Radio-Canada outlet) and CBLT-TV. Combined, all four media outlets provided the all-star team of analysts and reporters pictured above. CJBC boasted that it offered seven remote locations for suburban politicians to be interviewed, to spare them the hassle of driving downtown (though candidates in East York and Leaside had to venture out to Scarborough to share their feelings about the evening).

Additional material from the November 18, 1960 and the September 12, 1968 editions of the Globe and Mail. Portions of this post originally appeared on JB’s Warehouse and Curio Emporium on October 17, 2014. Some references have been updated to reflect the political reality of 2018.

Vote Brillinger (The Druggist)

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The Telegram, December 28, 1923.

Does being the first name atop a ballot help one’s political career? Likely not; otherwise Dobroslav Basaric would be among the critical contenders in the 2018 Toronto mayoral race. It didn’t aid Magnus Austin Brillinger (1882-1939) in the 1924 race for the two trustee positions up for grabs in Ward 6, which stretched from Parkdale up to his drugstore at St. Clair and Dufferin. When the votes were tallied on New Year’s Day, despite an endorsement from the Globe, he finished third behind future TTC chair W.C. McBrien and veteran board member Dr. John Hunter.

Better luck next year for the St. Clair Avenue West pharmacist, right?

Brillinger barely had time to mourn his loss. Hunter, who had intermittently sat on the board since 1894, intended to retire after the 1923 term, but friends convinced him he had another year in him. Hints were dropped that if he ran, he’d receive the chairmanship he long desired. The day after the election, rumours swirled that the job was no longer guaranteed, prompting an irritated Hunter to prepare a bombshell.

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Dr. John Hunter, Toronto Star, January 4, 1924.

When the board meeting began on January 3, 1924, trustee John McClelland proposed that an open vote for chairman be held instead of the usual secret ballot. McBrien seconded the motion. The board’s solicitor shot down the motion, advising the vote had to be confidential. No candidate won the first ballot, or the second. When the third showed Hunter in last place, he withdrew his name, left a letter on the table, wished everyone a happy New Year, and left the room. Another trustee lamely covered for Hunter’s sudden exit, claiming he had to attend to a patient.

After taking care of other communications, Hunter’s letter was read. He thanked Ward 6 voters for their support, then noted the circumstances which made him decide to run for one more term, including his belief that he had trustee support to become chairman. He noted the heavy responsibilities that came with running the board.

“However,” he wrote, “as neither the honor nor the heavy obligations have come to me, I desire to ask the electors of Ward No. 6, provided my successor can be appointed without putting the city to the expense of an election, to accept my resignation as your representative on the board of education, and for the latter, as soon as it can legally do so, to accept my resignation and to appoint another.”

After the letter was finished, there was a moment of silence before Hunter’s resignation was accepted. Two days later, the Globe concluded that Hunter’s fault “was that he did not see eye to eye with the controlling clique on the board.”

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Editorial, Toronto Star, January 5, 1924.

Who would replace Hunter? Several candidates were suggested, including the runner-up in Ward 8, a much smaller ward which included East Toronto and would have had three reps on the board compared to one from Ward 6. This didn’t sit well with community groups or the daily papers, who felt Brillinger deserved the honour. “What we want is British fair play for a good citizen. We want the position given to the man who was the runner-up in a hard-fought contest,” noted A. Greenhill, president of the Ward 6 Ratepayers ‘Association. “We want justice, not politics, to decide this matter.”

The Globe outlined Brillinger’s positives:

Among the considerations one hears urged in favour of Mr. Brillinger is the fact that he was the first president of the local ratepayers association, and the other fact that in his earlier manhood he served half-a-dozen years as a lay missionary in China—an experience that should mean much in the way of training for self-sacrificing public duty.

Aside: Brillinger first came to public notice in 1911, while he served as a Methodist missionary in China. When the Railway Protest Movement, a precursor to the Xinhai Revolution which toppled the Chinese monarchy, broke out in September, missionaries in outlying areas of Szechuan province were ordered to concentrate in Chengdu. Brillinger was among the 160 Canadians and their families on missionary work in the area—among the others were the family of future Ontario CCF leader Ted Joliffe. Brillinger was asked by Methodist officials to send cables from Chongqing updating the situation. Several of these were published on the front pages of Toronto’s newspapers, providing reassuring messages such as “everything decidedly more hopeful.”

On January 17, 1924 Brillinger was appointed to fill the Ward 6 vacancy. The Globe reported that he “remarked facetiously that in view of the publicity given the proceedings of the board recently he did not know whether his appointment was a matter of congratulation of for commiseration.”

Brillinger stayed on the board for the next 15 years, often winning the largest vote count among B of E candidates. He was regarded as a solid trustee, even if some were annoyed by his heavy use of board cars. He filled in as chairman for two months in 1930 following the death of Dr. W.R. Walters. Vowing to stay the course during his short tenure, Brillinger noted he was liberal enough to consider all suggestions, no matter from what source, and conservative enough to believe that all changes were not for the better.”

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Globe and Mail, July 15, 1939.

Though his health declined during the late 1930s, Brillinger found it difficult to settle into retirement. He sold his pharmacy at 1162 St. Clair West in 1938, got bored, and went into the insurance business. He was visiting his old store on July 14, 1939 when he suffered a fatal heart attack. Trustees, including future mayor William Dennsion, served as pallbearers at his funeral.

Additional material from the January 4, 1924, January 11, 1924, January 18, 1924, and October 22, 1930 editions of the Globe; the July 15, 1939 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the September 7, 1911, September 13, 1911, January 2, 1924. January 4, 1924, January 5, 1924, and January 10, 1924 editions of the Toronto Star. Portions of this piece were originally published on JB’s Warehouse and Curio Emporium on October 23, 2014.

Mayoral Candidates Debate Toronto Heritage Preservation

Originally published on Torontoist on August 25, 2014.

Just three candidates participated in last Thursday’s mayoral debate on heritage preservation issues, and in a refreshing change of pace, the participants managed to find some common ground.

Originally, five candidates were scheduled to attend the debate, hosted by Heritage Toronto. But Mayor Rob Ford went to a campaign fundraiser at his mother’s house instead, and Karen Stintz dropped out of the mayoral race altogether. That left John Tory, Olivia Chow, and David Soknacki, which made for a more reasoned—and less noisy—debate. And apart from a pair of snipes delivered by Tory and Chow, the candidates made no references to the absent mayor.

All candidates recognized emerging aspects of heritage preservation, such as marking the architectural and cultural significance of suburban landmarks and neighbourhoods, and sharing stories about our aboriginal past and immigrant communities. Regarding natural heritage, Chow and Tory proposed rebuilding the city’s tree canopy, while Soknacki suggested looking into creating parks that integrated nature and our industrial heritage.

The candidates felt more could be done proactively to beef up heritage protections. Setting up heritage impact assessments in the permit process was discussed—currently, they are used to evaluate sites listed on the City’s inventory of heritage properties when alterations are proposed. Tory felt such an assessment process required efficient handling to avoid years of delays for preservationists and property owners. Soknacki believed existing channels such as community councils—where residents and councillors would work to determine heritage sites before development battles erupted—could be effective. Chow proposed an increase in heritage conservation districts and developer incentives.

Opinions diverged most over the future of the Ontario Municipal Board. Chow said she’d like to scrap the OMB, but promised reforms—such as incorporating heritage impact assessments into developer applications—as long as the City remains stuck with it. She also proposed creating a local appeal body operated by the City to handle low-level disputes, which would lessen the OMB’s overall workload. Soknacki took issue with the question, noting that all three main provincial parties support the OMB’s continued existence—any talk of dismantling it, he argued, is a waste of time. He also said the establishment of a local appeal body would be a “perverse example” of downloading a provincial responsibility and passing on costs to taxpayers. Tory supported strengthening the development permit system, but feared that placing all appeals in the hands of politicians would create an equally unsatisfactory situation. He believed a local appeals body working with the committee for adjustment might convince Queen’s Park that the City is responsible enough to make sensible decisions.

Both Chow and Tory supported the concept of a Toronto museum. Chow believed it was important to teach visitors about the city’s diversity, and that such a project could be launched initially as an interactive virtual museum. She felt that stories should be gathered now before our elders pass away. Chow stated that such a project would need a “can-do” spirit—Tory indicated he had the will long lacking in past leaders to make a museum a reality: he wants to “get on with it.” He feels that residents have an inadequate grasp of the city’s past, and noted that past proposals have generated lots of talk but no action (here is a current proposal). He suggested that partnerships with the private sector were required, bringing up the construction of the TIFF Bell Lightbox as an example. Chow later elaborated on that point, noting that, depending on the site, a combination of Section 37 funds [PDF] and agreements with developers could be effective. Soknacki was unwilling to spend money on a museum unless it was deemed a priority—it was clear that in this regard, he supported the grand Toronto tradition of saving the museum for another day. Later on, he noted that resources such as bookmobile-style vehicles could be used in place of a physical museum.

Soknacki also questioned funding for an archaeological repository proposed under amendments to the City’s official plan. Currently, archaeological artifacts and records are held in trust by individual archaeologists—a repository would allow the City to take possession of the finds and provide safe storage for future exhibition and research. He suggested that the Royal Ontario Museum or local universities could hold onto items until a public space had been established. Tory wasn’t opposed to the proposal but didn’t view it as a priority, while Chow believed a repository would ensure a consistent approach to the collection of artifacts.

Sun on the Run

Originally posted on Torontoist on September 15, 2009

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Front of Sue-Ann Levy’s campaign office on Mount Pleasant Road, 2009. 

When voters go to the ballot box in St. Paul’s on Thursday their choices will include the latest in a long line of Toronto Sun columnists who have attempted to parlay their print personas into elected office, usually for parties that have matched the paper’s right-wing tilt. City Hall columnist Sue-Ann Levy’s run is part of a tradition that stretches back to the early days of the paper and was inherited from a large number of staffers from the Telegram that sought to represent the public. Some came to the paper during/after their elected stints (True Davidson, Douglas Fisher, Paul Hellyer, Morton Shulman), while others found the exposure didn’t hurt when they ran (Garth Turner). Today we’ll look back at three prominent figures from the paper who, despite not achieving their ultimate goal, left behind tales of colourful, controversial campaigns.

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Logo for Paul Rimstead’s mayoral campaign. Toronto Sun, December 4, 1972.

From the paper’s first edition in 1971 until his death in 1987, Paul Rimstead provided readers with a daily dose of his colourful misadventures. His hard-drinking, populist persona earned him a loyal audience that played a part in his decision to run for mayor in 1972. Born out of a joke during a “welcome home” party at the Brunswick House after he had spent the winter in Mexico, Rimstead initially intended to run for office employing the same irreverent tone found in his column. Along with several other Sun staffers, Rimstead considered ideas such as running a donation-free campaign and a deal with a brewery to market a specially labelled beer around the city. But as Rimstead thought more about a run, his mood changed, as he revealed in his column on October 18:

I went home, enthused about another madcap adventure and started to think. Something told me it wasn’t right. Just a small signal somewhere up there in my usually-vacuous noggin. It would be a ball. Two months of parties. A chance to poke fun at City Hall. But, dammit, this is Toronto we’re fooling around with…This used to be the best city in North America, the best possible place to live. I was away for seven months. When I returned, it was bursting at the seams. More clubs, more music, more entertainment, relaxed laws…more hookers, more crime, more undesirables. We are growing too fast…I am far too worried about the future of Toronto to fool around with it, even though I love a good time. That’s why I can’t run a fun campaign.

At the end of that column, Rimstead asked readers if he should consider a serious run for office. The Sun’s switchboard was flooded with calls for the rest of the day—by the time Rimstead checked with the office before an evening jazz gig, more than thirteen hundred readers called in favour. He soon set up headquarters at the Brunswick House, where volunteers produced signs and buttons. Rimstead remained nervous about entering and waited until the last minute to file his nomination papers, by which time he had already participated in several candidate meetings. His platform consisted of issues he felt the three leading candidates (aldermen David Crombie, Tony O’Donohue, and David Rotenberg) were afraid to tackle—the deterioration of Yonge Street, a rise in handguns, racial tensions (he felt the city turned its back on the black community), the need to shut down Rochdale College, and the need to slow overdevelopment of office towers downtown. As he was allowed to continue writing his column, he arranged to have the three frontrunners write one column a week for the Sun. Rimstead ceased writing for one week after an opponent complained he had an unfair advantage, but returned when he discovered the other papers in town would cover him as just another fringe candidate. The last week of the campaign saw a desperate, bordering on whiny, tone creep into Rimstead’s columns, as he pitched his platform and complained about the lack of respect and coverage from elsewhere. As he noted on November 28, “I’m learning a lot in this election. In a way, it is going to hurt. I am as disappointed in politics now as I am with my own profession. I am afraid I am going to come out of this a cynic.” When the ballots were counted on December 4, Rimstead finished in fourth place with just less than eight thousand votes.

Perhaps Rimstead’s run was best summed up by Jean Sonmor in her history of the SunThe Little Paper That Grew:

He entered as a lark but found himself taking it seriously and the more he did, the more his patchy naivete stuck out all over the place…in the end, the snowy day and the overzealous use of his column to promote himself kept his vote low and his candidacy on the fringe. What the Sun had hoped would be a great whimsical romp turned into a vaguely embarrassing chapter for everyone concerned.

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Advertisement for Lubor Zink’s second election attempt in Parkdale. Toronto Sun, July 7, 1974.

Concurrent with Rimstead’s mayoral run was editorial page commentator Lubor Zink’s first attempt to woo voters as the federal Progressive Conservative candidate in Parkdale. Unlike Rimstead, any humour in Zink’s columns tended to be unintentional. Having fled his native Czechoslovakia after the Communists took over in 1948, Zink’s zealous criticism of anything with the slightest Commie tinge bordered on grotesque caricature, even when his accounts of horrible conditions behind the Iron Curtain were dead on. He displayed an obsessive hatred of Pierre Trudeau, whom he was convinced was destroying the country in a dictatorial manner. Though he would claim otherwise, it seemed clear that his hate-on for Trudeau was the guiding force behind his campaign, even if he told the Sun “he doesn’t bother me as a person—but he does as Prime Minister. I am accusing Trudeau of not only slowing down the economy and raising unemployment artificially, but of killing jobs by undermining the working morale—by destroying the work ethic that built this country.” He blamed the destruction of work ethic on government programs that allowed young people to “do their own thing” instead of good old-fashioned work. When the votes were counted on October 30, Liberal incumbent Stanley Haidasz remained in office, but Zink had improved the Tories’ usual lousy standing in the riding with a second-place finish. Zink waited until late in the evening to congratulate Haidasz on his victory, by which time the MP had left. On the way out, Zink was jeered by two young boys who echoed a refrain that had been heard throughout the campaign: “Zink stinks!”

Insults didn’t deter Zink, who tried again two years later. The 1974 campaign was a nasty affair, as swastikas were spray-painted on Zink’s headquarters on Queen Street and on campaign signs in the north end of the riding, while Haidasz’s windows were smashed. Zink blamed the graffiti on the Liberals’ “almost pathological appeal to chauvinism and racism.” He was bitter about his reception in the “Polish Fortress” he found around Roncesvalles Avenue, where voters were afraid to publicly associate themselves with the columnist. “I am being called a stinking Jew and a Nazi collaborator,” he told the Star. “I would be proud to be a Jew. It so happens I am not Jewish.” He claimed that posters were ripped up nightly and that the tires and radiator hose on his car had been slashed. Haidasz brushed aside these complaints as a case of Zink “running scared” as he tried to take advantage of the vandalism. A call from a local Polish paper that it was “obligatory” to vote for Haidasz because of his Polish background added to the tension. Zink lost again, blaming the defeat on goon tactics and voters who feared change. “They don’t realize that the economy now is like a firecracker in the sky that is burning itself out,” he told the Star. “Anyone who tries to tell them that the brightness can’t last is bound to be unpopular.”

A burning dislike of Trudeau also fuelled the political adventures of the Sun’s first editor-in-chief, Peter Worthington. That he considered running for public office surprised many, as Worthington often admitted that he didn’t care for politicians. But 1982 found Worthington looking for new challenges after he resigned as editor-in-chief of the Sun following its sale to Maclean Hunter. Following a mountaineering trip to the Himalayas, he joined a crowded field of candidates running for the Progressive Conservative nomination in a federal by-election in Broadview—Greenwood. The nomination meeting at the CNE Coliseum on September 9 proved a raucous night, as Greek-Canadian delegates were fuelled with rage stoked by candidate Bill Fatsis and an editorial that had appeared in the Greek Canadian News two days earlier that accused Worthington of “racist fanaticism.” The charge was based on an August 26 Sun column where Worthington denounced multicultural policy as a waste of money that divided Canadians. Boos drowned out Worthington’s supporters as their man lost to Fatsis by sixty-nine votes. Some party officials were relieved not to have to deal with Worthington’s maverick nature…or so they thought.

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Cover of Looking For Trouble, published the same year as Peter Worthington’s second run for office in Broadview—Greenwood.

Despite proclaiming “I don’t think I’ll try politics again. Once is more than enough,” a grassroots campaign impressed Worthington enough for him to re-enter the race as an independent two weeks later. He admitted that “on a personal level, I’ve felt unfulfilled. All the fight was not taken out of me and I wanted to go on. I’m in the same race, I’ve just changed horses.” He also believed that once elected, he would inevitably find his way into the Tory caucus, even if party leader Joe Clark wanted no part of him for violating traditions like supporting the winning party nominee. Nervousness in Tory ranks over the rise in support for Worthington saw Clark visit the riding five times in the final weeks of the campaign. Other newspapers, especially the Globe and Mail, delighted in skewering Worthington, emphasizing his millionaire status, right-wing opinions, lack of knowledge of the riding apart from its softball diamonds, and his tendency to draw attention to himself. He admitted that he “generally made a nuisance of myself” while campaigning, to the point of blaring the theme from Chariots of Fire while wandering along Danforth Avenue. When ballots were cast, he lost to the NDP’s Lynn McDonald by two thousand votes, which placed him far ahead of Fatsis. The wrap party felt like a victory celebration, as Worthington was pleased that Clark had had his “ass kicked.” When asked if he was through with politics, he said, “The last time I quit forever, it lasted three days,” then smiled when he suggested he wouldn’t rule out another run in the future. He later revealed that his secret plan was to run for the party’s leadership so that he could act as a kingmaker for any potential leader who hewed closer to his views than Clark.

By the winter of 1984, the ouster of Joe Clark in favour of Brian Mulroney made Worthington consider another run. Despite manipulations by remnants of the Fatsis camp, Worthington won the nomination. During the election campaign, his outspokenness resulted in opposition from a group calling itself the Committee to Defeat Peter Worthington (CDPW), whose brochures portrayed him as someone who represented hardship for the poor, the military for the unemployed, political confusion and discrimination,” which was backed up by quotes from years of columns. Worthington accused CDPW of being an NDP front and considered pressing hate literature charges. McDonald’s camp denied responsibility and was further outraged when they discovered some Worthington workers reprinted the brochure with a slight modification—the addition of an NDP phone number. Worthington was predicted to win, but finished four thousand votes behind McDonald on September 4. Joking that “it takes real talent to lose even an NDP riding in the middle of a Tory sweep,” he vowed never to run again. Over at McDonald headquarters, a black-draped coffin topped with candles representing Worthington was brought onto the stage once her victory was secure.

In the closing words of his book Looking For Trouble, written in the midst of the 1984 campaign, Worthington wrote:

The creed that the politician’s first duty is to get elected, his second duty to get re-elected, has to change if the country is to improve. The people recognize this, but do the politicians and bureaucrats who control the system? Only politicians can rescue themselves from the quagmire of their own making. It will be interesting to see if someone who feels this way, as I do, can be elected and, if elected, can do anything about it.

Time will tell if any future Sun columnists with designs on elected office will heed these words.

Additional material from Looking for Trouble by Peter Worthington (Toronto: Key Porter, 1984), The Little Paper That Grew by Jean Sonmor (Toronto: Toronto Sun, 1993), and the following newspapers: the September 22, 1982, October 7, 1982, August 14, 1984, and August 17, 1984 editions of the Globe and Mail; the October 31, 1972, June 20, 1974, July 4, 1974, and July 9, 1974 editions of the Toronto Star; and the October 16, 1972, October 18, 1972, October 19, 1972, November 28, 1972, September 9, 1982, September 14, 1982, September 22, 1982, October 13, 1982, and September 5, 1984 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

sun 72-12-04 last word from rimstead

Toronto Sun, December 4, 1972.

sun 72-12-06 rimstead

Toronto Sun, December 6, 1972.

gm 74-06-20 zink poster defacing

Globe and Mail, June 20, 1974.

tely 67-04-01 zink on april fools

A sample Lubor Zink column from his pre-Sun days, looking at April Fools Day for the Telegram in 1967.

ts 82-10-13 worthington election result 1

Toronto Star, October 13, 1982.

ts 82-10-13 worthington election result 2

Toronto Star, October 13, 1982.

gm 84-08-14 worthington mudslinging

Globe and Mail, August 14, 1984.

gm 84-08-17 worthington hate lit

Globe and Mail, August 17, 1984.

gm 84-08-29 worthington house photo

Globe and Mail, August 29, 1984.

As for the 2009 by-election that inspired this column, Sue-Ann Levy finished second behind Liberal Eric Hoskins by a margin of 5,341. She returned to spewing her special brand of vitriol in the Sun, where she remains as of summer 2018.

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.