HOW TO KEEP ON BEING MAYOR OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST CITY
Toronto’s Nathan Phillips gets roasted for his banquet-hopping, jeered at for his globe-trotting and mocked for his foot-in-mouth remarks. But he’s led his city through its greatest growth and greatest prosperity
TORONTO'S VOTERS chose for their first mayor a controversial national figure named William Lyon Mackenzie. Then for 120 years they cautiously elected men closer to other Canadians’ image of Toronto the Good, a staid and satisfied city of Tories and Orangemen.
Those successive mayors may have aroused Toronto's stolid emotions, but they were largely unknown in what every proper Torontonian considers to be the hinterland.
Today, fifty mayors after Mackenzie, Toronto's mayor is a man whose appearance is familiar to millions beyond Toronto, and w'hose doings and sayings have gained space in newspapers and newscasts across the country. Nathan Phillips' visible characteristics — his plume of white hair, close cropped mustache, horn-rimmed glasses and a face pink and unlined in his sixtyeighth year — are probably familiar to nearly as many Canadians as John Diefenbaker's curls and dimples or Wayne and Shuster’s antic grimaces. Certainly no previous mayor of Toronto could enter a cobbler’s shop on a back street in Quebec C ity, as Phillips recently did for an emergency heel repair, and be greeted with “Ah, c’est monsieur le maire de Toronto!"
It is true that much of Phillips' out-of-town publicity derives from events of less than national significance, but twice his doings and sayings have been related to an audience of thirty million who watch the Jack Paar Show, a controversial U. S. network program seen in Canada via some border stations.
On one occasion Genevieve, the French charmer, went into an ecstatic description of how' that wonderful Maire Phileeps of Toron-to had visited her in hospital after she broke a leg in a backstage mishap and had presented her with a maple leaf pin and flowers. Another communicant was Haya Harareet, the Israeli actress who starred in Ben-Hur. She confided to Paar’s listeners that Phillips had told her Israel would have benefited by staying in the British Commonwealth.
Phillips regularly receives attention for his steadfast refusal to bestow mayoral kisses on beauty contest winners. Doughnut Week queens and visiting movie stars (which he says would be undignified), and for his unconventionally humorous greetings to eminent visitors at City Hall (which his critics say is undigni-
fied). By all odds Phillips’ most far-echoing quip was his comment as he watched Amazasp A. Aroutunian, Soviet ambassador to Canada, sign his name in the guest book. Phillips tried to pronounce the name under his breath, then exclaimed: “It sounds to me like you’re a rootin’ tootin' fellow, Mr. Ambassador.”
It is also true that in his own home town Phillips has been rapped and ridiculed by the press and his political opponents for more activities and attitudes than any previous mayor — for his association with Toronto’s planned double-concave city hall which is already being dubbed “Nate’s Clam Shell” and “Phillips’ Folly”; for his venture into art criticism such as condemnation of nude pictures in a University of Toronto gallery and of living seminudes in the Canadian National Exhibition midway.
But this also means that Phillips name and photograph appear in the Toronto newspapers more often than anyone else’s (there’s a newspaper legend that one photo editor quit his job because he’d “seen enough Phillips photos to last a lifetime.”)
Phillips’ own reaction to attack is calm, if not silent. This makes him a baffling adversary. As one city-hall critic puts it, “Nate is like the man of whom it was said ‘Nobody can blackmail him — what other men get blackmailed for, he boasts about.’ How can you come to grips with an opponent who doesn’t defend himself when he’s attacked but proclaims in a voice louder than yours, ‘Mine’s the right way and that's how I’m going to continue to do it’?”
As a case in point, Phillips was quite unabashed by the “rootin’ tootin’’ furor. “It was a small witticism that I threw in to break the ice,” he explained recently. “Everybody laughed — including the ambassador — but the papers made a big thing of it.” Phillips regards humor as therapeutic. “A joke relaxes me after the serious business of running the greatest city in the world.” he says(1#t also shows visitors that Toronto isn't full of stuffed shirts b-t of friendly people.”
He has continued to greet visitors jovially — and to be criticized for it. Some of the choice items CONTINUED ON PAGE 34
synonymous with Toronto, through the rose-tinted spectacles of Mayor Phillips,
here enthroned on Bay Street
in front of City Hall, with his wife Esther. Why are the downtown streets empty? It was Sunday
Mayor of the world’s greatest city
Continued from page 26
"In answer to critics who called him a social butterfly, he published a sweetly lethal ad"
in his widely quoted repertory include:
To Cardinal McGuigan, after Phillips returned from Rome, where he had an audience with the Pope: "We got along so well that I could have taken over the blessing rights in Toronto. But 1 told His Holiness they were already in good hands.”
To Lord Louis Mountbatten, presenting him with a medal when he opened the CNE for the second time: ”1 hope you haven't pawned the one we gave you eleven years ago."
To Governor - General Vanier: "I'm told that you're part Irish and part French — and sometimes a little Scotch.”
The people who criticize Phillips are more vocal than, but not nearly so numerous as, those who support him. His detractors inevitably face the hard fact that he has received more votes from I oronto citizens and survived the roughand-tumble of civic politics for longer — thirty-five years — than any other man living or dead.
In a city of which some outlanders still say, "You have to be an Orangeman even to get elected dog catcher, Phillips is the first mayor of the Jewish faith. He says he has almost never encountered racial prejudice. But in the campaign which first won him the mayoralty in 1955, after his only two defeats in civic elections, he maintains that the injection of religion actually helped him. During the campaign. Mayor Leslie Saunders, a militant Protestant widely regarded as the probable winner, made remarks about Toronto's Protestant traditions which Phillips took as "a deliberate attempt to defeat me on the racial issue."
But Phillips won. In his inaugural speech he declared that he did not intend to serve any group, but to be "mayor of all the people." I hat phrase has become Phillips' oft-repeated slogan and his opponents, even while they deride it, admit it is probably worth thousands of votes.
The man who most frequently clashes w'ith Phillips on civic affairs sometimes calls himself ironically "the mayor of none of the people." He is Frederick Gardiner, also known as "Big Daddy,” chairman of the Metropolitan Toronto council, which has taken over some of the administrative functions of Foronto and a dozen surrounding municipalities. Phillips admires Gardiner's ability, but adds: "Of course, he is an appointed official. He doesn't have to face the people every two years.”
Phillips in his sixth year as mayor of Toronto is the highest paid elected civic official in Canada. He receives $24,300 a year (recently he turned down a $1.000 raise voted by City Council with the comment, "I knew' what the job paid w'hen I became a candidate for mayor and I'm quite satisfied with that.") To the despair and sometimes disbelief of his detractors, he has been repeatedly chosen to head a government that annually spends more than any province except Ontario, Quebec and B. C. He has run Toronto, after his own fashion through its years of fastest growth and greatest prosperity.
To do this Phillips works a minimum
fourteen - hour day that sometimes stretches to seventeen hours, often seven days a week. In a community that boasts of being "the city of homes" no citizen has less home life than the mayor. Nevertheless. few other couples are as constantly in each other's company as Nathan and Esther Phillips.
Mrs. Phillips (her husband and most friends call her Ett ) explains this seeming paradox: "Fortunately, a good part of the mayor's duties consist of things we both love — going places, meeting people, representing the city at all kinds of pleasant and worthwhile functions." The mayor has established a firm rule: any invitation to the mayor, except to obviously "men only” gatherings, includes his wife.
In their unusual combination of municipal duty and togetherness, the mayor and his petite vivacious wife set a pace that exhausts marry a younger traveler on the civic circuit of banquets, balls, opening nights, receptions, exhibitions, conventions, charity affairs, annual organization meetings, testimonial dinners and entertainment of visiting dignitaries. Sometimes Phillips doesn't have time to go home to change, so he does this in his city hall office. Occasionally Mrs. Phillips, whose own daytime engagement schedule is nearly as heavy as her husband's, changes in his office too.
He rolls with the punch
For the Phillips, an evening at home is a rarity. So when on a recent Sunday night they decided to invite friends for dinner Phillips had to explain: "We'll be going out to a restaurant. We don't know how well our new housekeeper can manage dinner — we've only had her a month."
The Phillips' daughter, now married and living in Sarnia, Ont., relates that for years after she was old enough to attend parties her father was never at home to see her leave, and not until he was immobilized by an operation did he first see her dressed in grown-up finery.
Nathan Phillips’ tireless participation in the "public appearance" part of his job is not applauded by his opponents. In fact, it is derided as indicating that lie is a social butterfly, and is added to the long list of complaints that are made against him.
He’s far more interested, say his critics, in the social side of being mayor than in the routine problems of administration. In the last Toronto civic election the “social butterfly" charge became the chief issue raised by his opponents. Phillips ignored it until the last week of the campaign. Then he bought display space in the newspapers to publish a sweetly lethal advertisement. He did not deny anything. In fact he asserted that the functions he had attended during the year were "too numerous to mention."
He added that almost invariably these functions were held in the evenings "after your mayor has already put in a full day's work on the city's administrative busi-
ness.” Then he printed a “partial list” — just sixty names long — of the functions he had attended during the year "to lend official support and personal assistance.”
The list included just about every worthy group in the city. It took in gatherings for assorted constructive purposes of every religious denomination, of ethnic groups including Ukrainian, Scottish. Slovenian. Polish, Italian. Macedonian. Estonian, German, Baltic, Lithuanian and Hungarian organizations, with St. George’s and St. David’s Societies thrown in for good measure. He added functions in aid of epileptics, newsboys, boy scouts, ex-convicts, the Y MCA and YWCA, the Working Boys’ Home and the Big Brother Movement.
"If,” concluded Phillips’ ad. “attending such gatherings at the invitation of organizations seeking civic encouragement for their worthwhile efforts is being a ‘social butterfly.’ I accept the designation as a compliment.” To each of the ethnic, religious and charitable groups named, Phillips’ message was plain: his opponents were trying to defeat him by claiming that the mayor's interest in their affairs indicated a frivolous outlook.
Veteran city hall observers agree that the "social butterfly” campaign backfired and that Phillips' shrewd advertisement may well have been the deciding factor.
His critics also charge that Mayor Phillips is too ready to take off for parts abroad instead of sticking to his desk. The log of his travels as mayor is indeed an impressive one. He has visited most of the countries of western and southern Europe, Britain, Israel, the islands of the Caribbean, Florida. Mexico and most major cities of the United States. Phillips answers his critics blandly:
"My trips spread the name and fame of Toronto far and wide. Any time I can bring three or four million dollars into Toronto by putting in an appearance and making a speech in some foreign city, I think it’s worth my absence.” Phillips' reference is to a trip he made to St. Louis to persuade an international convention of real estate men to hold their 1959 meeting in Toronto.
Phillips is also accused of monopolizing the scores of invitations to assorted functions that pour into city hall, and not passing on even those he can’t accept. "The only bid I got last year was to a spiritualists’ convention,” grumbled one alderman, “and spirits don't vote."
Phillips says: "I’d be only too happy if others were acceptable to those who send the invitations. Those invitations are to the mayor of Toronto and I feel it my duty to accept all I can. When 1 can't, 1 tell my secretary to find out if someone else will do. Usually they say they would be offended at that, and I’m not going to force them to accept someone they don’t want.”
Phillips isn’t interested in the dull routine of detail involved in running a city, say his critics. They point to a recent incident in city council when Jean Newman, Toronto's first woman controller, director of the civic budget, Phillips' sharpest adversary and his most likely opponent for mayor in 1961, reported that Toronto would have a budget surplus for 1959.
"That's better than last year,” observed Phillips. "We had a deficit, didn’t we?”
"No, we didn't,” replied the lady controller in exasperation, "we had a surplus of four hundred thousand dollars.”
Phillips explained his philosophy about details of business when he proposed a twenty-million-dollar world’s fair for Toronto in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, and members of council peppered him with questions about details of his plan:
“There are people who are better qualified than I to work out the details, and they are paid for that. The mayor’s function is to initiate broad plans for the betterment of this great city.”
Phillips insists that he is far from incapable of grasping details. "When I was actively practicing law,” he says, “there was no greater stickler for detail. There used to be a saying in the real estate business, ‘When Phillips searches a title, that title is searched.’ ”
But his legal reputation does not rest solely on his painstaking approach. Few of the Toronto women who support Phillips because of his willingness to support their “varied and worthy activities" know that he has done womankind a far greater service. In legal circles the ebullient mayor of Toronto enjoys a quieter but wider and more enduring celebrity as “Phillips. N., counsel for plaintiff in Applebaum v. Gilchrist.” The case, which occupies the greatest space of all the hearings before the Ontario supreme court in the court’s official reports for 1946, won the final victory in women’s long struggle for legal and personal equality with men.
Phillips represented Mrs. Solly Applebaum in a damage suit against a Mrs. Gilchrist, a divorcee, for allegedly "wrongfully enticing her husband, whereby she lost his society and services.” Mr. Justice W. F. Schroeder denied a writ, on the legal (but to the layman startling) grounds that although a man could sue another man for wife-stealing, a wife in Ontario had no redress against another woman who caused her husband to stray.
His gamble pays off
Phillips was aware that numerous previous decisions were against him, but he considered them remnants of a medieval custom that made man the master and woman the chattel. He appealed to the Supreme Court of Ontario.
Strangely enough, Phillips based his appeal largely on an Australian case in which the majority verdict held that “inducing a husband to depart from home, whereby the wife loses the society, comfort, protection and support of her husband, affords her no cause for action.”
"It was a dangerous step.” Phillips recalled recently, "and the judges seemed surprised that I cited the case. But I explained that I hoped they would be more impressed by the single dissenting judgment of Judge Isaac Isaacs than by the majority verdict.”
Isaacs, who later became governorgeneral of Australia, had declared: “I am at a loss to understand why a married woman should be unable to obtain in the King’s courts redress for deprivation of rights which, if she is a normal wife and mother, are the most precious she possesses.”
Phillips’ "dangerous step” succeeded. Mr. Justice Wilfrid Roach found against his client, but the two other judges reversed the decision of the lower court.
Phillips, who has served as a crown prosecutor as well as a defender, has long since lost count of the number of cases he has been involved in. Wnich is not surprising, since, at 67, he has been "in law” for more than fifty-one years.
Nathan Phillips was born in Brockville, Ont., but the family soon moved to Cornwall. (Nathan had a younger brother and four younger sisters, of whom two sisters survive.) Jacob Phillips’ haberdashery business was small, his son remembers, because his chief interest was politics. He was a dedicated Conservative but never ran for office. Nathan s mother, the former Mary Rosenbloom, who was
keen-minded and active until her death a few weeks ago at eighty-nine, managed the small family income shrewdly.
Phillips cannot remember a time when politics wasn’t a major ingredient in his life. And when he was ten years old he knew what he wanted to be—in addition to a politician. One day he sat in the courtroom at Cornwall while Robert Pringle, an eloquent lawyer, addressed a jury. "I knew then that I must become a lawyer,” Phillips recalls.
He breezed through his junior matriculation before his sixteenth birthday. At the same time, though, he had to earn money to see him through Osgoode Hall, the Ontario law school in Toronto. He set one thousand dollars as his objective —a huge sum for a student to acquire in those days. Some of it he earned by selling neckties in his father’s store, but the greater part came from photography. With a No. 2 Kodak Brownie box camera he roamed Cornwall and vicinity, soliciting family portraits, baby pictures, snapshots of family pets, First Communion photos and bridal groups. He developed and printed the films himself and sold them for fifty cents a half dozen.
His two boyhood occupations have remained his hobbies—photography and neckties. Phillips bestows ties much as John D. Rockefeller bestowed dimes. He keeps dozens in his city hall office and at home and hands them out, after due appraisal of his guest’s shade of clothing and temperament: gaudy cravats for extroverts, conservative models for more withdrawn personalities.
And if anyone wonders what Nathan Phillips discussed with such distinguished visitors to Toronto as Lord Louis Mountbatten and Prince Philip, after the official platitudes had been exchanged, here is the inside story: it was photography.
Phillips discovered that both these celebrities shared his enthusiasm for the projection of three-dimension color slides. The mayor owns a library of hundreds of slides, which add up to a photographic record of his and Mrs. Phillip's travels, but he seldom has time to look at them.
Phillips continued his photographic career until he was eighteen, by which time he had accumulated his thousanddollar objective and had served two years in the Cornwall law office of Robert Smith, later a judge of the supreme court. Then he took off for Toronto and Osgoode Hall.
A young man in a hurry, Phillips graduated six months too early to be called to the bar—the minimum age was twentyone. (A few years later he would become the youngest King’s Counsel in Ontario.) While he waited for age to catch up with him, he had leisure for some social life. At a party he met a girl named Etta Lyons. Not long after he was called to the bar, Phillips and the vivacious Miss Lyons were engaged and he had a job with a law firm. It was then they started the inseparable partnership that endures to this day — in a way that Mrs. Phillips remembers with mixed emotions: "On Saturdays we stepped out — to an office where Nate had rented desk space. We used to go there and wait for legal business to come in, so that he could build up a law practice on the side and afford to get married.”
The engagement was not a placid one. Phillips bought a violin and learned to play it as an instrument of courtship. He kept it at the Lyons home, and interested neighbors learned to regard that fiddle as a barometer of the state of the romance.
"Look,” they would say behind discreetly drawn curtains, “Ett has sent Nate
packing with his fiddle. They’ve quarreled again.” A few evenings later Phillips would return triumphantly with his violin case, and word would pass around that they had made up again. After the violin had made several trips, they were married in 1917.
Phillips first ran for city council in 1924, admittedly as a first step toward what he hoped would be a career in federal politics. Although he was invincible as an alderman, his three attempts to win federal and provincial elections failed. Phillips accepted the verdicts as a strong hint that his future was with Toronto.
In gratitude, he has become Toronto’s most voluble and emphatic booster. He uses the term “greatest city in the world” interchangeably with the name Toronto. Recently when he had to undergo minor surgery he told the anaesthetist: “I'm going to talk about Toronto while you're putting me under. When I stop talking
about Toronto you’ll know I’m unconscious."
If Phillips wins one more election he will become the longest-serving mayor of Toronto, 'with eight years. Only one other Toronto mayor, Thomas Church, served as long as seven years, and the average of all mayors since Mackenzie is just over two years. Even if he loses, he will probably share in a unique situation—the first mayor to be defeated by a woman candidate, since Controller Jean Newman is regarded as his most likely opponent in the next election.
If and when he is no longer mayor, Phillips says he will have to go back to law to earn a living. Although he is the highest-paid elected civic official in Canada, Phillip says he is far from being comfortably off. "I own my house and some mining stocks of uncertain value, and that's all.”
He doesn't drive a car, but travels in
a city-owned Lincoln and it takes two chauffeurs working in shifts to keep up with his schedule. Often on his way to city hall he will pick up someone waiting at a bus stop, and listen to his views on what’s right and wrong with civic government. When his passengers thank him for the ride, he answers: “Don’t thank me. It’s your car.”
He says that until something happens to change his status of “mayor of all the people.” he will be far too busy to think of his future. His schedule allows him to catch up with the day’s news only by reading the newspapers under the dome light of his car as he drives from one meeting to another. Once a fan of many comic strips, he now has time for only one: Mandrake the Magician.
“There’s a man who would make a good mayor,” he says enviously. “With a hypnotic wave of his hand he could be at six places at the same time.”