One Fine Day at a Provincial Budget Lockup

Originally published on Torontoist on March 31, 2011.


“We’re in for a long day.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Checklist for Discriminating Voters

Originally published on Torontoist on April 26, 2011.


The Telegram, June 8, 1957.

As the federal election campaign hits its final week, one of the big stories is a series of polls that shows a rise in the NDP’s popularity. Whether the party will retain its current momentum and wind up with a substantial increase in seats remains to be seen. Digging around for old party election ads, we discovered a “checklist for discriminating voters” that the NDP’s predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) provided for electors back in 1957. While there was a crest of support for an opposition party that year, the tide went with John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives.

By the 1950s, the CCF wielded influence on social welfare policy that far outweighed its representation on Parliament Hill, and the party was not shy taking credit for inspiring legislation passed by the Liberal administrations of Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent. During a party convention in Winnipeg in 1956, the delegates updated parts of the Regina Manifesto to reflect current realities and to make these policies less scary to voters who thought the CCF were no better than Communists: threats to eradicate capitalism were changed to policies supporting public ownership wherever most appropriate.

One claim leveled at the CCF during the 1957 campaign is one which still plagues the NDP (or did until recently, perhaps): that a vote for the party is a wasted ballot. Though aimed specifically at voters in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, a press release from Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas could have applied to dithering voters in Toronto too:

In this constituency you are being told that you will be wasting your vote by voting CCF. The fact remains that over the past quarter of a century every important economic reform and every piece of progressive social legislation has been popularized by the CCF and has been forced upon a timid and reluctant government. The Liberal Party does not need a bigger majority. What it needs is to be shaken out of its complacency and indifference.

With limited resources to run a federal campaign, the CCF relied more on dedicated volunteers than hired staff. Newspaper ads such as today’s featured item appeared in conjunction with one of the party’s few CBC radio and television spots. Maybe the party should have plastered each candidate’s photo in this ad, as the other major parties did: the best results local CCF candidates mustered were second-place finishes in Danforth and Greenwood. The party lost the only local seat it won in the previous election (York South, where MP Joseph Noseworthy served until his death in March 1956) and would not win again federally until future party leader David Lewis recaptured it in 1962.

Nationally, the results were slightly brighter: the CCF gained two seats for 25 overall. The party’s most stunning performance in Ontario was in Port Arthur, where schoolteacher (and future Telegram and Sun parliamentary columnist) Douglas Fisher knocked off “minister of everything” C.D. Howe.

Additional material from The Canadian General Election of 1957 by John Meisel (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962).

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on December 25, 2010.

This holiday edition was, as the introduction noted, “a sampling of a century’s worth of Christmas advertisements, illustrations, pictures, and stories. Light up a Yule log (real or video), sit back and enjoy.”

For this edition, I’m not using the original gallery format, deleting some archival photos, and adding in some material that didn’t make the final cut. I am also merging in ads originally featured in a post for the 2014 holiday season.

globe xmas1885

Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Globe, 1885. Library and Archives Canada.

In its Christmas Eve 1885 edition, the Globe reprinted the “Story of the Mistletoe” from Youth’s Companion. While much of the piece drones on about mistletoe’s role in Norse mythology and its use by Druids, it includes these nuggets about its contemporary sources and uses, in as non-romantic terms as possible.

It used to be brought over by friendly foreign steamers, but is now found in Virginia and in most of the Southern States, and is largely used for holiday decoration…The American mistletoe is not the genuine English article, although it strongly resembles it. The botanists have given it a new name, phoradendron, which signifies “a thief of a tree.” It is, however, a true parasite. The mistletoe is now so seldom found growing on the oak that when it is found there it is a great curiousity. It frequents apple trees chiefly, and is propagated by birds wiping their bills on the boughs and thus leaving some of the viscid pulp and seed, and if the bark happens to be cracked there it takes root.


Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Globe, 1889. Library and Archives Canada.

Little does the turkey suspect that the young lady who visited each day with yummy treats was secretly fattening him up for her family’s holiday feast. Speaking of turkeys…

globe 1890-12-20 live turkeys

The Globe, December 20, 1890. 


The News, December 22, 1894.

If you couldn’t slaughter a turkey, you could always check out a “slaughter sale” of fine reading material.

news 85-12-22 ads

The News, December 22, 1885.

The News also provided “practical hints for the benefit of West End residents and others” as it named off a variety of Queen West merchants. Among the highlights: a free set of tableware with every purchase of a pound of tea at Laut Brothers (420 Queen West); a stock of nuts “not surpassed in the city” at Mara & Co. (280 Queen West); bargains among the jewellery and other goods damaged in a recent fire at J.I.S. Anderson (294 Queen West); and “beautiful villa sites overlooking High Park and Humber Bay” free of city taxes that went for one dollar per square foot at the real estate office of R. McDonnell at Queen and Gladstone.

me 97 xmas cover

Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Mail and Empire, 1897. Library and Archives Canada.

Underneath the colour cover of this supplement was a collection of seasonal art, stories, and other diversions for the entire family.

20141224xmascardsThe Mail, June 27, 1881.

Even back in the Victorian Age, saving a buck on Christmas supplies like cards was as important as aesthetic considerations.


The Empire, December 22, 1894.

An excerpt from the Empire’s Christmas Day 1894 editorial: “To the mind of the child this is the glorious season of the year when there is no cloud in the sky to dim the sunlight of pleasure in which infantile natures rejoice; but to the mature it is a period, apart from its spiritual associations, the delights of which are tempered by gravity and the joys of which are tinged with sadness, for as men grow memories gather. Looking back upon the Christmases of the past, who is there among us who does not feel that change and decay have wrought their mysteries as the years rolled on, taking here a friend and there a companion and leaving gaps in the ranks more significant and impressive at this time than at any other, so that even at the feast, and where rejoicing reigns, the heart stops for a moment that sorrow may supply its chastening touch.”

news 10-12-24 xmas cartoon

Front page, the News, December 24, 1910. 


Illustration by Lou Skuce, Toronto World, December 25, 1910.


Toronto World, December 22, 1912.

From an editorial on holiday charity: “People are giving freely now, who keep their hearts and pockets closd ’till next Christmas. Why? There is need always as at Christmas time. It is simply that we are moved now by an unusual sentiment–an impulse to kindliness.”


The News, December 23, 1914.

The Copland Brewing Company’s Toronto roots stretched back to 1830, when William Copland opened a brewery along Yonge Street shortly after arriving in Upper Canada. By 1914, most of its products were brewed at its plant on King Street between Ontario and Berkeley Streets. Bought by Labatt in 1946, the site was later occupied by the Toronto Sun.


Toronto World, December 19, 1915.

An editorial note from the second holiday season of the First World War:

Above all, the call of Christmas is ‘Peace on Earth.’ In the present grievous crisis of the world there is significance in this call beyond that of any crisis mankind ever before was called to read. That war has darkened Christmas for so much of the world may well seem, at the moment, the crushing condemnation of all such conflicts.”



Toronto World, December 19, 1915.

As the war staggered on over in Europe, World cartoonist Lou Skuce reminded readers of where the battlelines were usually located on Christmas Eve.


Toronto World, December 25, 1916.


Toronto World, December 25, 1918.

A pair of First World War-themed ads from Eaton’s.


Mail and Empire, December 25, 1920.

With the shadow of the First World War fading, Eaton’s ad held the promise that life was returning to normal for its customers, and that Christmas was a time to rejoice in youthful spirit.


The Telegram, December 19, 1923.

Given that the establishment of Sick Kids was a pet project of Telegram founder John Ross Robertson, the paper took every opportunity during the holiday season to solicit donations for the hospital. Heart-tugging stories to invoke contributions were printed in the Tely around Christmas, bearing headlines like “CHILD SWALLOWS LYE THROAT BADLY BURNED” (December 19, 1923).


The Telegram, December 23, 1933.

A sample of a Sick Kids ad from a decade later.


Toronto Star, December 24, 1924.


Mail and Empire, December 25, 1930.

Simpsons centred its 1930 holiday ad around verse from poet Bliss Carman, who died the previous year.


Mail and Empire, December 20, 1933.

Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the Mail and Empire urged its readers to light up the city at Christmas time. We doubt any displays inspired by this contest were accompanied by a menagerie of front yard inflatables.


Mail and Empire, December 22, 1933. 

Years before teaching the world to sing, or employing polar bears as pitchmen, Coca-Cola offered an economical solution for holiday entertaining during the Great Depression.


The Telegram, December 23, 1933.



Weston Times and Guide, December 14, 1934.

The 1930s equivalent of the slightly naughty gift ads found decades later in alt-weeklies like eye and Now?


Toronto Star, December 23, 1939.


Weston Times and Guide, December 13, 1945.

Relieved that the Second World War no longer interfered in his annual delivery run, Santa relaxed a little in 1945. He found time to stop in Weston for a luscious roast bird. Note the slightly scary look in his eye, as if he’s daring the artist to take the plate away from him.


The Telegram, December 23, 1950.

The poet of Toronto’s sports pages, Telegram columnist Ted Reeve, penned an ode to holiday shopping based on one of the big musical hits of that season, “The Thing“:


As we were walking north on Church, no Xmas shopping done,
We went into McTamney’s to maybe buy a gun.
The clerk behind the counter there let out a mighty roar:
“Get out of here with that shopping list and don’t come back no more.”

We hadn’t done our Christmas cards when reaching work today,
We asked the office girls if they would get them on the way.
They turned on us with a vicious yell as fierce as any blow:
“Get out of here with that shopping list and you know where to go.”

We’ll get to Kresge’s Christmas Eve and in a final dash
We’ll try to get the presents bought unless they want some cash.
The chances are the manager, while tearing up our cheque,
Will heave us out with our boom-boom-boom and land us on our neck

There’s only three more days to go, we haven’t bought the tree,
It is a most perplexing week, we think you’ll all agree.
And if we don’t get anything done we’ll just let Xmas pass
And take that terrible boom-boom-boom and hide it in the grass.


Don Mills Mirror, December 8, 1960.

Either the caption writer was ordered to devise a happy sentence without seeing this picture, or somebody decided to play a cruel joke at the expense of the exhausted Santa at the Don Mills Centre. His arrival by helicopter in late November prompted ten thousand people to greet him at the shopping centre, doubling the number that greeted him the year before. Santa’s trip was delayed ten minutes due to fog and low-flying planes landing at Malton airport. Once the chopper landed, Santa hitched a ride on a fire engine, which took him to his seat at the centre of the complex. With over four-and-a-half thousand kids mounting his lap that day, no wonder Santa looks like he can’t wait to escape back to the comfort of the North Pole.


Weston Times and Guide, December 22, 1960.

Wonder how many diners around that time hummed Marty Robbins’s 1959 smash hit about the west Texas town while eating their delicious young turkey dinner.


Maclean’s, December 9, 1961.

From 1912 to 2006, Kodak’s Canadian division called Mount Dennis home. Its large campus near Eglinton Avenue West and Black Creek Drive is being redeveloped and will service the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Whenever that line begins service, perhaps someone who received a Kodak camera under the tree will be inspired by the site’s history to haul it out and shoot the opening ceremony.


Weston Times-Advertiser, December 22, 1964.

Politicians love sending seasonal greetings, and Alan Eagleson was no exception. Before he achieved fame in the hockey world for forming the National Hockey League Players’ Association and infamy for his criminal actions regarding pensions and disability claims, Eagleson sat as a Progressive Conservative MPP for Lakeshore from 1963 to 1967.



Willowdale Enterprise, December 8, 1965.


Willowdale Enterprise, December 22, 1965.

Santa and the reindeer might have needed a map when a widened Highway 401 between Highway 400 and Hogg’s Hollow fully opened to to traffic on December 16, 1965. The expansion of the freeway from four to twelve lanes included the introduction of the express/collector lane system.



Toronto Life, December 1966.

Toronto Life celebrated its first Christmas by asking Gordon Sinclair to describe how he really felt about the holiday? His verdict? Despite not being a fan of organized religion, Sinclair felt it was “the best and friendliest of all family celebrations when we are with kinfolk; the ones of our blood who accept us for what we are. Not what we should be, or could be, but what we are.” He also described Christmas was the worst day of the year to be alone, a situation he experienced while reporting from Shanghai in 1938. That day he wandered through clubs and pubs “looking for someone to feel sorry with” but found only a black eye (a present given by an American when Sinclair declined to have a drink with him) and a crying fit (after returning to his hotel to find “wish you were here” cablegrams from Canada). There was only one thing he would have changed about Christmas: “that stupid abbreviation, Xmas.”


The Enterprise, December 20, 1967.

An excerpt from the Enterprise‘s December 13, 1967 holiday editorial, which criticized the trend toward war toys like G.I. Joe, which kids might have asked Miss Suzie for as they received a candy cane.

War toys are not going to make a killer out of a child, but they do instil an acceptance which lasts into adult life. In other words, war toys are a marvellous propaganda instrument…The only way to counteract war toy propaganda is for the consuer public to boycott any kind of violent toy–and encourage manufacturers to produce just as interesting toys who emphasis is not military.


Globe and Mail, December 25, 1970.

A stylish seasonal ad from a fashionable Kingsway-area women’s clothier. Two weeks earlier, Lipton’s published a gift certificate order form in the Globe and Mail, positioning it as “great trim for any tree.”


Toronto Life, December 1974.

While CHUM-FM offered a slender Santa for the holidays, its AM sibling distributed its usual CHUM Chart. Topping the Toronto hit list on December 21, 1974 was Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting.”


Toronto Sun, December 16, 1975.

Unfortunately for eager carolers, the Sun-sponsored musical celebration of the season was cancelled due to the first blizzard of the season. High winds coupled with around 20 centimetres of snow resulted in a record number of help calls to the Ontario Motor League (now CAA), severe TTC service delays and the cancellation of a Toronto Marlboros hockey game. The storm did not deter holiday shoppers, as Simpsons reported a minor decrease in the usual last Saturday before Christmas crowd at their Queen Street flagship.


The City, December 3, 1978.

Simpsons felt a little punny during the 1978 holiday season. It was a time of change for the retailer–Hudson’s Bay Company had launched a bid to acquire the department store chain in November, while shoppers at its Queen Street flagship would have seen the south end of the Eaton Centre near completion.


Toronto Life, December 1985.

Because this article needs a touch of 1980s Christmas style.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Who’d Make a Better North York Controller than Mel Lastman? NOOOBODY!

Originally published on Torontoist on October 12, 2010.


Left: The Don Mills Mirror, November 19, 1969. Right: The Enterprise, November 12, 1969.

He had never attended a council meeting. He admitted he didn’t know what exactly the duties were for the position he was running for. He was unable or unwilling to partake in certain traditions of the campaign trail, like handshaking. None of these factors hindered Mel Lastman in his quest to become a North York Controller in 1969: his inexperience was seen by voters and several publications as a plus.


The Enterprise, November 26, 1969.

The Mel Lastman that entered municipal politics was a thirty-six-year-old millionaire who had gone from selling appliances out of the back of a truck to owning fifteen Bad Boy stores. He gained a reputation for attention-grabbing sales gimmicks such as running down Yonge Street in a mini skirt, selling fridges to Inuit, and standing on street corners handing out two dollar bills for a buck. His ignorance of the workings of municipal politics was seen as a breath of fresh air in some quarters, such as the endorsement he received from the Don Mills Mirror: “In his attempt to educate himself about the workings of municipal government, Lastman, in our opinion, will ask the questions which trouble many voters, but rarely trouble politicians.”

Lastman Loop

Diagram of “Lastman’s Loop.” The Enterprise, November 19, 1969.

Lastman’s platform stressed his business experience by questioning how anyone could trust politicians who emptied the financial coffers of North York and Metropolitan Toronto. Among his platform planks, the item that gained the most attention was “Lastman’s Loop.” He proposed to use sixty miles of railway track that CN and CP planned to phase out for passenger service on as a commuter loop operated in a manner similar to the then-recently-introduced GO transit system. The scheme would have used a CP line from Union to Doncaster Avenue in Thornhill, turned west along the track north of Steeles, then used CN lines on the east side of Keele to head back toward Union. Lastman claimed that a trip from Union Station to Doncaster would take half an hour. He also provided for extensions of the service using existing rail lines to the airport. According to a blurb in a Bad Boy ad shortly before the election, Lastman estimated that a system following his plan could build 200 miles of surface rapid transit for the same cost as one mile of subway (which he estimated to be twenty million dollars).

Vintage Ad #1,227: Lastman Speaks for Youth and Gets Things Done! (2)

The Enterprise, November 19, 1969.

Several aspects of Lastman’s platform were tailored for the youth vote, including a vow to fight pollution (“something must be done immediately about pollution or ten years from now, we will all be going in for blasts of oxygen to cleanse our lungs”) and offer clinics for users of illicit substances (“speed freaks and LSD bad trippers will kill themselves before they reach twenty. If they want help, give it to them. Turn your back on a child and you’ll never bridge the generation gap”). Lastman also supported amalgamation of all the municipalities within Metro Toronto, the expansion of North York into parts of Vaughan and Markham townships, improved facilities for students with special needs, private funding for a domed stadium, and an improved Landlord and Tenant Act to favour apartment dwellers.

Lastman’s campaign was marked by the candidate’s unwillingness to do the usual rounds of door-knocking and hand-shaking. “I’m so shy,” he told the Star. “I didn’t have the guts to go out and shake anyone’s hand. I tried it once in a restaurant and the woman told me to go away because she was eating. That was the last time.” This quirk didn’t harm Lastman’s chances among the nine candidates who sought the four available controller seats. When the ballots were counted on December 1, Lastman came in third with just under thirty-six thousand votes. Amid the cheers and high spirits of supporters at his victory party, the Star noted that Lastman looked “bewildered but happy.” If the accounts of his speech that night are taken at face value, it appears that Lastman was still unsure of what his new job entailed: “now, all I want to know is what does a controller do?”

ts 69-12-02 election results

Toronto Star, December 2, 1969.

When asked why he didn’t set his sights on the mayor’s chair, Lastman replied “well, then everyone would have thought I wanted to be king.” He bided his time as a controller before mounting a challenge to the throne in 1972. Once the crown was in his grasp, he held onto it for the next quarter century before overseeing the amalgamation he had supported during his first electoral campaign.

Additional information from the February 1968 issue of Toronto Life and the following newspapers: the November 19, 1969 and November 26, 1969 editions of the Don Mills Mirror; the November 19, 1969 edition of the Enterprise; and the November 29, 1969 and December 2, 1969 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Greatest Canadian of All Times Wants Your Vote

Originally published on Torontoist on October 5, 2010.


The North Toronto Herald, June 3, 1955.

During the current municipal election campaign, some candidates have unveiled promotional materials that demonstrate just how ballsy they are about their ability to govern the city. But for sheer belief in one’s abilities, few can match perennial 1950s fringe candidate George Rolland. The self-styled “greatest Canadian of all times” (we thought that title belonged to Tommy Douglas) tried to gain access to City Hall, Queen’s Park, and Parliament Hill and failed each time. Today’s ad, and its listing of his diverse talents, made Rolland an irresistible choice to 317 voters in the riding of Eglinton during the provincial election of 1955.

The great man had two major liabilities. Number one was a massive ego which led to all kinds of narcissistic fantasies. Whenever he showed up at candidate meetings during his run for Toronto’s Board of Control in 1954, he brought along a display board covered in medals he won in athletic competitions, which he felt entitled him to be a controller. It was reported that he sat in the window of a store he once owned and had a spotlight directed upon himself. He wrote an endless stream of letters to City Hall and local newspapers to prove his genius. As for his belief in his musical genius, Star columnist Ron Haggart noted in a 1960 profile that “he said there had been no composers worthy of mention in the past 500 years (except himself) and he had redesigned the musical scale.”

Liability number two was not so easily dismissed: the man was a raving racist. In his 1954 platform, Rolland promised to introduce “racial segregation laws” that would “correct the inter-racial mixing menace that sweeps over the world today, and destroys the true meaning of Christianity and destroys the self-respect of all persons alike.” If enacted, Rolland’s laws would have applied to schools, churches, hotels, restaurants, residences, and so on. His dream of bringing a touch of South Africa to Toronto was greeted with boos during candidate gatherings. His racist leanings became more pronounced as time wore on, climaxing in a fiery appearance on the CBC TV show Live a Borrowed Life in September 1959. Instead of limiting himself to talking about his supposed expertise on Abraham Lincoln, Rolland told the panel that blacks should move to Africa to establish their own culture instead of battling discrimination.

Rolland filed nomination papers to run yet again for the Board of Control in November 1960. His campaign would have likely included a battle against the design of the new City Hall, as its curving towers were “alien” in concept and would, he claimed, cause a vortex that would transform light breezes into hurricane-strength winds. But Rolland never got to make any more stump speeches. On November 23, the deadline day for candidates to qualify or drop out of the race, Rolland died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-six. His death almost sparked a crisis, as due to the rules of the day, a new nomination meeting had to be held no less than seven days before the election, on December 5. Such a meeting required six days notice in a newspaper. Time was tight and the spectre of holding a separate election for the Board of Control loomed. This scenario was avoided when the Star indicated it could slip the official notice into that evening’s paper. As Haggart noted a week later, “at City Hall, where they laughed cruelly at George Rolland, they had to take him seriously at last.”

Additional material from the November 25, 1954, December 4, 1954, September 10, 1959, November 23, 1960, and November 28, 1960 editions of the Toronto Star.


gm 1955-12-05 rolland racist ad

Globe and Mail, December 5, 1955. One suspects the paper wouldn’t run such an ad today.

Checking my files, it appears I only used the Star‘s archive when I wrote this piece. So, when prepping this reprint, I browsed the Globe and Mail to see what they had to say about this great Canadian. I’m happy to report that they didn’t pull any punches in calling him out for what he was, especially near the end of his life.

Here’s a description of his appearance at a candidate’s meeting during his run for the Board of Control in 1954:

Candidate George Rolland had a number of reasons last night why he should be elected to the Board of Control.

Winding up a rapid-fire election speech before a large audience at Brown Public School, candidate Rolland went to a satchel and pulled out a bright blue vest weighted with medals.

“Just look at those,” he exclaimed to the crowd.

“Running medals, walking medals, wrestling medals, boxing medals and singing medals.”

He looked at the crowd for a moment.

“Folks, all that skill and all that co-ordination of action is yours if you vote for me December 6.”

Among some of Rolland’s other beliefs:

  • Viljo Revell’s design for City Hall wasn’t sturdy enough to withstand a snowstorm. “It may topple over before it is completed,” he wrote in a letter to City Council in 1958. “The building will be very dangerous and unsafe.”
  • Pedestrian crosswalks were “a guessing game” and should be abolished.

His appearance on Live a Borrowed Life provoked editorials in both the Globe and the Star. “Mr. Rolland’s record as a racial agitator is too well known for the CBC to plead ignorance of his offensive views,” the Globe and Mail observed. “It should have realized he would grasp the rare opportunity of a national network audience to present them.” The Star chalked the appearance up to “a producer’s boner,” and that the discussion of heavy issues like racism should occur in a weightier setting than a light entertainment panel show.

Also not impressed with Rolland’s CBC appearance was script assistant Janet Hosking, who watched at home while sick with pleurisy. “I sat and slowly died,” she recalled a few months later.

ts 60-11-24 death tipoff

Toronto Star, November 24, 1960.


The headline of Rolland’s Globe and Mail obit pretty much sums up his character. One wonders how he’d thrive in today’s political climate. I’d hate to see his website…

Additional material from the November 26, 1954, October 2, 1958, November 18, 1958, September 11, 1959,  January 7, 1960, and November 24, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 11, 1959 edition of the Toronto Star.

Tales from the 2010 Municipal Election Campaign


One of the campaign posters referred to in this post. College Street, near Palmerston, September 19, 2010.

Revisiting my back catalogue of work brings back plenty of pieces I’d forgotten I’d written. Case in point: I was more active covering the 2010 municipal campaign than I remembered. I knew I wrote my usual election tie-ins–old ads, Historicists about past campaigns, etc.–but not that I tackled the unfolding mayoral race.

My contribution was two installments of Torontoist’s weekly roundup of the mayor’s race, “Campaign Chronicle.” Here’s the first, originally published on September 25, 2010.

Note: the original versions had plenty of links that are no longer valid. It seems the Globe and Mail and the Star have done a good job of keeping their links the same over the past seven years, the National Post and Sun not so much.

Despite front-page rumours and calls for anyone with weak polling numbers to drop out, as of this writing, the five leading mayoral candidates are hanging in the race. George Smitherman is being positioned as the anti–Rob Ford figure for other candidates to coalesce around, but will anyone follow? The growing spectre of the Grim Reaper stalking several campaigns has lead to loopier, more attention-grabbing policies and advertising campaigns. With the week’s major polls indicating that at least a third of Toronto voters still can’t make up their mind, expect the hallucinatory experience this race has been so far to continue.

Ford’s rising popularity and the strong lead he showed in the Nanos poll as the week began left media outlets scrambling to figure out how somebody they loved painting as a buffoon has become, among decided voters, the leader of the pack. The Sun has settled into being his cheerleader, which reduces the odds of Ford sending out angry emails to his supporters about its coverage. Other city papers are breaking out their crystal balls to predict who will be the power brokers in a Ford administration and who will be in the opposition.

The endless series of mayoral debates (including the one we live-blogged) carries on, and fatigue may be starting to show as candidates become more selective about which gatherings merit their presence, or at least those where the audience will include some supporters. Case in point: the Toronto Environmental Alliance debate on September 23, where Ford made a pit stop before heading to a police retirement party, while Rossi didn’t appear at all. They missed a debate that moved beyond talking points and provided a juicy quote from Joe Pantalone.

Oh Yeah!
In a Globe and Mail article about local Red Tories perplexed as to why centre-right candidates aren’t leading in the polls, writer John McGrath notes that Ford has broken through the “high walls of the Liberal fortress” like “an angry pitcher of Kool Aid.” Come to think of it, Ford has turned as red as the walking sugary beverage on occasion…

Invitees Included the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Doormouse
In the wake of the Nanos poll Monday morning, conservative gadfly Ezra Levant declared Ford’s commanding lead to be “Toronto’s Tea Party!” Allusions to politics south of the border were carried on with the revelation of Ford’s red, white, and blue lawn signs.

Making Voters an Offer They Can Refuse
Speaking of signage, Rocco Rossi’s campaign unveiled its latest ad campaign, which plays upon the candidate’s Italian heritage to show him as the Don the city needs…and we’re not talking the river. The image of a “goodfella” staring out above a darkened city did not impress some members of the Italian community, as, even if Rossi meant the ads to be playful, the images do reinforce certain stereotypes. The campaign could have been different: “I was going to use ‘It doesn’t take great hair to be a great mayor,’ but then George Smitherman came into the race and I thought he would steal it,” Rossi told the Sun.

Let Bygones Be Bygones
Remember Giorgio Mammoliti? The all-over-the-political map councillor (Ward 7, York West) who filed a human rights complaint after Ford allegedly hurled a derogatory term for Italians at him during a council session? That incident appears to be water under the bridge as the former mayoral candidate announced his support for Ford on Wednesday. Mammoliti has inspired other reconciliations among former political enemies—rumour has it that Sir Francis Bond Head is now backing Rebelmayor’s campaign.

Mayoral Idol
When asked by the Star on Tuesday which mayors she admired, Thomson listed three she felt had “accomplished change.” Her idols are David Crombie (“brought youth and a fresh approach”), Michael Bloomberg (“brought in visionary city planning”), and Rudolph Giuliani (“cleaned up crime, homeless issue”).

Arts and Transit
This week’s report card assessment of municipal candidates was issued by ArtsVote. Less than half of those registered to run filled out the form. Downtown incumbents received higher grades than their suburban counterparts, fuelling the arguments of those looking for wedges between the core and outlying areas. Recommended for remedial class was Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), who received an F (“actively working against the arts”).

The right flank of council would likely receive failing grades if the Public Transit Coalition issued grades. The umbrella grouping of transit advocates and union members launched a media campaign on Monday to oppose the privatization of the TTC as proposed by four of the five mayoral frontrunners.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math
One of the areas of the campaign that has shown a high degree of creativity is number-crunching. The most extreme case of number rounding emerged from the Ford camp, which claimed the cost of adding bike lanes to Jarvis Street left taxpayers $6 million poorer. The city’s price tag on the project? $59,000.

Here’s the second installment I wrote, originally published on October 16, 2010 and which was also partly written by Hamutal Dotan.

With the departure of Rocco Rossi from the race Wednesday night, the designated frontrunner field slimmed down to three candidates this week (though uber-diehard supporters can relax in knowing that his name will still be on the ballot). Whether you thought Rossi brought a touch of class to the race or scratched your head at his latest attention-grabbing tactic, his exit from the race will rob it of some of its colour. Be prepared in the next week for more calls to embrace strategic voting, likely for George Smitherman at the expense of Joe Pantalone and the other candidates still hoping to sit in the mayor’s chair. And who knows: perhaps those calls for strategic voting may cause some of us to start looking more seriously at alternative forms of balloting, such as RaBIT, and pressuring the province to implement it in time for our next go-round in 2014.

So, what happened this week?

Follow the Bouncing Poll
At least two polls gained media attention this week. An Ipsos-Reid/CFRB poll released on Wednesday showed Smitherman (31%) and Ford (30%) neck-and-neck, with Pantalone and Rossi bringing up the rear. A Forum Research poll released on Friday post–Rossi exit showed Ford back on top with a six-point lead. Though samples in both cases were small, the key battleground in each poll was the still-sizable contingent of undecided voters, which was in the 16–25% range. With numbers like these, it’s still anybody’s guess what the end result will be.

The Week in Rob Ford Controversies
While his face stared at voters from the cover of Maclean’s, Rob Ford was sued for $6 million by Boardwalk Pub owner George Foulidis after the candidate refused to apologize for suggesting the restaurant owner bribed city officials to gain a vending contract from the city. Tuesday morning found a series of signs erected in the median of University Avenue which declared in stark black and white: “Wife-beating racist drunk for mayor!” The signs, placed by an anonymous person ticked off at the course of the election campaign, were promptly removed.

In an interview with Dandyhorse magazine, Ford noted that bicycle issues had become too political and compared the debates about cycling infrastructure to the battles over abortion.

Now That You’ve Dropped Out of the Race, Where Would Like to Go?
For Rossi, the answer isn’t Disneyland but Spain, where he will spend up to three weeks on a hiking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Former Mayors Weigh In
The number of former mayors of Toronto offering their endorsements grew this week when Art Eggleton followed John Sewell’s lead and offered his support to George Smitherman after the candidate’s speech at the Toronto Board of Trade on Friday. We have yet to hear from David Crombie, June Rowlands, or Barbara Hall, but we do know that somebody claiming to be Mel Lastman isn’t a fan of Ford’s. As far as other endorsements went, Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) sent his regrets to Pantalone and lent his support to Smitherman, while John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West) officially backed Ford.

Report Cards
The Toronto Environmental Alliance issued their final grades, which showed a clear split among candidates in their stands on green policies, if only because half of the frontrunners bothered to fill out the survey. Smitherman and Pantalone earned top scores, while the absentee Rossi and Ford flunked for not even pretending to care.

The Secret of Rob Ford’s Success?
According to an article in today’s Globe and Mailhis post-industrial gut. The same article postulates that David Miller was out of touch with Torontonians because of his weight loss. Thoughtful analysis at its best, ladies and gentlemen.

adventure rob ford cover

One of the memes of the 2010 campaign involved a picture of Rob Ford experiencing issues with an umbrella. Torontoist republished a pile of pics, including this one I created using the cover of Adventure Comics #425 (original art by Michael Kaluta).

On my own blog (originally published on October 28, 2010), I wrote my thoughts about election night, including how I wanted to throw the radio out the window when Sue-Anne Levy gloated about Ford’s victory. 

So here we are, just a little over a month before Rob Ford officially assumes the duties of Mayor of Toronto. Based on the numbers from Monday night, there were slightly more people walking around Tuesday with long faces (or nursing hangovers) than those giddy at the prospect of derailing the gravy train (and nursing hangovers). The results capped a campaign where anger reigned supreme and both candidates and voters did their best to imitate the Incredible Hulk.


I admit it. I drew a line to connect the two stumps of arrow next to Joe Pantalone’s name. Not my ideal candidate, but as the sort-of-stand-in for the outgoing administration, I could live with myself if I voted for him.
Neither Ford nor George Smitherman were enticing prospects. The only thing I discerned all along from the former provincial cabinet minister’s campaign was that he was running for mayor just to become mayor. Give Ford credit: his policies were unpalatable, but there was no question about where he stood. Smitherman’s vagueness allowed him to swing toward the right side of the spectrum when Ford gained momentum, then swing back toward the middle when he became the anointed lead for the anyone-but-Ford brigade…though Smitherman’s swings weren’t as wild, or bizarre, as Rocco Rossi’s.

The notion that voting for Smitherman was a must-do in order to prevent a Ford victory sealed my decision. I’ve never been impressed with strategic voting and its tendency to backfire (remember Buzz Hargrove’s attempts to corral votes in certain directions?). The concept encourages negativity as voters are directed to vote for someone just to prevent a more odious candidate from winning rather than cast a ballot for anyone more aligned with your belief system or who serves as a lesser evil than the designated lesser evil. It’s human nature that we don’t like being told what we should do, which affected my decision and may have swayed other angry voters to the Ford camp (I admit being one who relished insulting Ford for being a buffoon without thinking about the boomerang effect).

While David Miller made missteps, he was nowhere near the anti-christ figure he was made out to be in some circles (hello Toronto Star!). I still admire his positive energy and sense of care for the city. While driving through Leslieville on Saturday, I noticed Miller on the sidewalk outside Bonjour Brioche. I almost yelled out the window something praiseworthy, like “the city’s going to miss you” or “thanks for seven great years.”


I sat down at my computer just before CBC Radio started its coverage at 8 on election night. Besides natural curiosity over how the night would unfold, I intended to help supply the Torontoist live feed with anything interesting that floated across the airwaves. Within twelve minutes of the polls closing Ford was declared the victor.

It hadn’t been a good day generally (for election- and non-election related reasons), but hearing Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Anne Levy sound oh-so-smug as her paper’s poster boy cruised to victory was more than I could take. I got up and yelled at the radio “Oh, f@*k off, Levy!” (possibly with more unprintable words), then rushed over to turn it off. Had the window been open, it might have been the end of my long-time waker-upper.

Sensing I needed to cool down and get some air to regain perspective, I decided it wasn’t worth getting any angrier by sending off more missives. I closed my email, tossed on a pair of pants, flipped the radio back on (luckily Levy had moved on) and waited a few minutes before heading out for a stroll down Bayview with Sarah. We pondered the consequences of the vote and tried to find silver linings amid the gloom that most of our acquaintances reported as they heard the results. The street was quiet, with only a few souls walking or dining. Televisions in bars were fixed on football. Mannequins in store windows offered no comment on the night’s proceedings. The walk provided the calming atmosphere I needed to come back to Earth.


So far, we’ve learned that interviews with our new mayor and football practice don’t mix, streetcars aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, and rumours are floating of nepotism among candidates for the new executive committee. Opponents and pundits are slowly recovering from their shock to figure out how to ride out the next four years. Should progressives tone down the insults that didn’t work during the campaign and find respectful, constructive ways to reach out to and understand the anger of voters who chose Ford? Should they find every means possible to convincingly counter the inevitable gaffes that so far have increased Ford’s appeal? Pray our new mayor commits a snafu so bad that council turfs him? Embrace the quasi-apocalyptic visions predicted during the campaign and wait to rebuild the city after 2014? Keep fighting the good fight at grassroots/community level? Flee to Calgary?

Life rolls along. We’ll survive, one way or another.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 1

Some weeks while working on Vintage Toronto Ads my mind overflowed with ideas. Others, whether due to brain fog, a heavy load at my then day job, or a hectic personal life, produced ridiculously short pieces I’m amazed the editors accepted. Rather than give all of those pieces their own posts, I’m collecting them in batches such as this.

Suitable Attire

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2008.


The Globe, May 12, 1883.

While P. Jamieson tried to raise a ruckus with their dare to the dozen or so other dry goods retailers located in the vicinity of Queen and Yonge, two competitors would have the last laugh—T. Eaton and R. Simpson expanded rapidly after 1883, with the early versions of their landmark stores in place by the end of the 19th century.

Who Are the Educational Trustees in Your Neighbourhood?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2008.


The Leaside Story, 1958.

With today marking the first day back to school for most students in the city, we take this opportunity to let parents know who runs the institutions that will mould your children into upstanding young citizens…or at least the people who ran the show in Leaside 50 years ago.

Founded in 1920, the Leaside Board of Education operated out of Leaside High School by the time today’s ad appeared. Besides the high school, the board’s responsibilities in 1958 included three public schools (Bessborough, Rolph Road, Northlea) and one separate school (St. Anselm). The board merged with East York’s educational overseers when the two municipalities amalgamated in 1967.

Do 1010 Ads Use Stereotypes? We Need to Talk

Originally published on Torontoist on January 27, 2009.

Sources: Toronto ’59 (left) and CFL Illustrated, July 4, 1978 (right).

The provocative stunt-based advertising campaign currently employed by CFRB has been one of Torontoist’s favourite targets for ridicule. This prompted us to dig deep and see if “Ontario’s Family Station” had any promotional skeletons in the closet, as most old CFRB ads we have encountered tend to be warm and friendly.

You be the judge as to whether this pair of ads, one designed to tout the station’s potential reach during the city’s 125th anniversary, the other meant to draw in Argos fans, retain the quaint, humorous charm the ad designers intended or demonstrate how attitudes towards First Nations people and leering football players have changed since they were published.

Look for representatives of either of these groups holding signs for the station on a street corner near you.

When Restaurateurs Go Editorial

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2009.

Source: Upper Yonge Villager, July 16, 1982.

Most ads for restaurants tout the eatery’s virtues (smart decor, well-prepared food) or highlight special offers. Less common, unless the restaurant has bought ongoing advertorial space, are spots where the owner takes a stance on burning issues of the day. Ads for Oliver’s in community papers usually highlighted the menu, but today’s pick tackles the economic problems of the early 1980s with the subtlety of a talk radio caller, though modern callers would not tack on an apology to those who enjoy statutory holidays.

Opened in 1978, Oliver’s was the first of a series of restaurants Peter Oliver has operated in the city on his own and as part of the Oliver Bonacini partnership.