FAST, FAST RELIEF FROM CITY HALL!
A DECADE OR so AGO when the Metropolitan government of Toronto was still new, those of us in the business of writing about it were convinced that the whole world was watching our excitements. It was almost true. Fred Gardiner, just by being the first Chairman of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, got asked to speak at learned meetings all over the continent. The Japanese, the Americans, the English, the Australians, all kinds of official tours came to hear the sessions of the Metropolitan Council, which seemed universally regarded as the most revolutionary and successful reform of local government anywhere in the world.
The advantages of being a journalist were manifest. You could count on at least one free lunch a week to help out a visiting editor from Look, or a reporter from Binghampton, N.Y., or a professor from Kansas. On the off-weeks there were the invitations to fill up the room at the reception for the visiting Bangkok water commissioners or the inevitable sanitary engineers from everywhere.
The visiting journalists used the local journalists to check the more incredible facts gathered in their official interviews. “They told me at the transit commission,” a reporter from Boston asked, full of doubt, “there’s no vandalism in the subway, and no muggings. Can that really be true?” He could accept the simple facts, that suburban governments were actually paying tax money to build subway extensions in the central city, and the city was paying for schools in the suburbs, proof that a federal system could work in local government; but the idea that scratching the station names off subway walls was considered vandalism in Toronto was just too much to swallow.
Academics crawled all over the place, examining the minutiae of Metropolitanism. One professor wrote a whole book on the Metropolitan Council’s processes of decision-making in the single field of public transit. An American professor wrote of Metro Toronto’s “tangible successes,” and another gushed that “our sister democracy
to the north has experimented constructively without relinquishing the grass-roots values of democracy.”
The visiting Americans always wanted to know which side the Teamsters were on, and when that was met by blank stares, what issues put the Labor Council and the Chamber of Commerce at each other’s throats. When they got the answer that the two usually agreed on the need for big projects by big government, the visitors staggered home to write articles that there was some special kind of magic, or perhaps malaise, which made this successful new government possible only in Toronto and nowhere else.
The magic was usually ascribed to Fred Gardiner, the big basso-profundo chairman of the Metropolitan Council for its first nine years, who really did say, “The only symphony I understand is the one played on the cash register,” and was accurately described by an American professor as running more of a construction company than a government. / continued on page 80
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We loved the statistics of Metro in those warm, early years!
Gardiner's contribution to the physical well-being of the two million persons who now live in the 240 square miles of Metropolitan Toronto is everywhere to be seen, not least of all in the lakefront expressway systems, the newest one bearing his name, which within a few years after Metro was formed spanned the Humber
River with 16 lanes of traffic instead of four.
The statistics of Metro; how we loved the statistics of Metro in those warm, early years! The best year, the vintage year, was always the last year for which figures were available.
The water supply doubled in six years, so that 70 million gallons of
water a day could be piddled away on lawns and 60 million gallons a day gobbled up by air conditioners where, only a year or two before, it had been against the law to turn on the hose. They built more than 20 new schools a year and enlarged 50 schools a year for six straight years, and they never did have their kids on the factory-like
shift system that was common in North American suburbs during the postwar baby boom. And while it was easy to dismiss all this as the product of a one-man fiefdom run more like a construction company than a government, the simple truth was that no matter what Metropolitan Toronto was like, it was a government and had to make its decisions in the same old way — that is to say, by the slow and painful political processes which remained, Gardiner aside, pretty well in the hands of the same old painful politicians.
While Gardiner was the single most important individual in changing the government of Toronto and its suburbs, cajoling and bamboozling 13 disparate municipalities into sharing their tax money — although the same participants had previously been unable to agree on how to build a linking road or a mutual sewer pipe — he did not essentially change their politics. No one has a monopoly on humbug at City Hall, of course, and those who envy Montreal for Jean Drapeau should remember that the same city produced Sarto Fournier, that Vancouver’s go-go-ish Tom Campbell is only a few elections removed from hapless Fred Hume, and the Toronto of Fred Gardiner was also the Toronto of Nathan Phillips who, retiring as mayor after 36 years in the same City Hall, candidly conceded that he didn’t know where most of the department heads had their offices.
Down the street from Toronto’s City Hall lie the baronial offices of Bay Street, where men open a copper mine or close a gold mine with the flick of a phone dial; within earshot of City Hall lie the crackling advertising agencies that control much of what is seen and heard on radio and TV. guiding the consumption of billions of dollars’ worth of household pleasures. Perhaps it is because Toronto’s City Hall lies in the vortex of power and competence that its antic performances are so beloved by all; City Hall provides fast, fast, fast relief in a city where tense and important decisions are made in private business for the rest of the country.
The buffoonery of Toronto’s City Hall has always been of a particularly
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“Mr. Rootin’-Tootin’” wasn’t amused
harmless, and indeed ingratiating, quality. When a woman councilor refused to go to a Chicago convention on shade trees with a bachelor aiderman because, she said, he kept winking and calling her “Junie baby,” Toronto remained unrepresented on the subject of shade trees, but the chief result of the incident was that Controller June Marks and Alderman Michael Grayson were assured of longevity in office. When the erudite economist Amazasp Aroutunian was Russian ambassador to Canada, he never forgave Mayor Nathan Phillips who, unable to pronounce his name, referred to him in public as Mr. Rootin’-Tootin’, but Toronto rewarded Nate Phillips with an unequaled record of re-election to its City Council. It is still too early to tell what reward of gratitude will be bestowed upon the present mayor, William Dennison, who thought out loud that the Prime Minister of Guyana came from Ghana.
Nathan Phillips, while mayor of the city, went one lunch hour to a meeting of the businessmen in the area of Yonge and St. Clair, where he told them how everyone at City Hall admired the work of the Bay-Bloor Businessman’s Association, correcting himself only when a kindly listener tugged at his sleeve. He then hurried down to the regular Tuesday-afternoon meeting of the Metropolitan Council, where he proposed that henceforth their sessions should begin at 2.30 p.m. instead of two, since so many of the members had vital engagements to attend during the luncheon hour. Although his own City Council continued to meet at 2 p.m., the Metropolitan Council continued its 2.30 habit for many years, a lasting memorial to the importance of the banquet circuit in the lives of Toronto mayors.
Before Nathan Phillips completed his term, the record of longevity in
office was held by one Donald MacGregor, who died in 1942 after 25 years on the City Council. Can anyone doubt that the events of 1925, early in MacGregor’s career, won him forever the hearts and minds of Toronto voters? MacGregor was a controller in that year, which in Toronto means a member of the council elected citywide, as distinct from aidermen, who are elected by wards. He waited one afternoon outside a meeting of the property committee, knowing that Alderman Sam McBride would soon leave and walk through the empty council chamber to the parks committee which was meeting in the room beyond.
“You dirty yellow dog!” MacGregor shputed at McBride as he chased him into the council chamber, pinned him against a heavy oaken railing and chopped him in the cheek with a hearty punch. Alderman McBride grabbed the railing and slid to his knees, while Controller MacGregor continued to hit him from above, inflicting six separate and discernable cuts and bruises on McBride’s head and neck. A doctor later testified that it was MacGregor’s Masonic ring, more than his prowess, that made his blows so effective.
All this was incredible conduct, coming from Controller MacGregor, a soft-faced music teacher and a bachelor. A few days before, he had stood in the Toronto City Council and proposed that a group of perfectly competent typists and clerks be fired because they were aliens; the jobs should go to the daughters of the deserving men already on the city payroll (who, almost without doubt, would be Shriners. Masons, Orangemen or, at the very least, Moose, Elk or Antediluvian Buffalo).
Alderman McBride had been no
less irrelevant: he let slip the secret
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“Why,” said Lamport, “I even went so far as to be fair!”
that Controller MacGregor, who called himself a doctor of music, had obtained his degree from a mail-order American university which he had never visited. Toronto voters didn’t much care who was the dirtier yellow dog; they took both men to their hearts and MacGregor, as we have seen, stayed in office for 25 years, and McBride was elected five more times as a controller and three times as mayor.
As these men’s careers were fading, an alderman, and later controller, named David Balfour was coming into prominence. He served during the 1940s and 1950s, being assured of almost automatic re-election because Toronto at that time had an unwritten but universally respected rule that there must always be one Roman Catholic among the four members of the Board of Control (but not as mayor, of course; Toronto has had two Jews as mayor, but never a Roman Catholic).
As a controller, Balfour is remembered for his espousal of only one cause: the great, and annual, license-plate debate. At that time, the mayor’s limousine always bore the license number 5000 and the four controllers had license numbers 5001,
5002, 5003 and 5004.
They were awarded according to each controller’s standing in the previous election. This was a tradition Controller Balfour wished to upset, after he had been there a while, and he argued that license plate 5001 should not go to the controller with the most votes, a distinction he never achieved, but to the controller with the greatest seniority, a distinction he held for some , time. No one can really remember much else he did, and he even lost that debate.
Controller Balfour had gone by the time the Metropolitan government arrived in the mid-1950s, with the academics and the journalists flowing in behind to record the new efficiency, vigor and determination with which Toronto tackled its problems. But somehow, only the names were changed. Albert Cranham arrived as an alderman from the east end and suggested that the mayor’s chain of office (donated by a hardware store, a distillery and other long-established merchants) failed to afford sufficient dignity to the office. Alderman Cranham wanted to decorate the mayor with a three-cornered hat and a robe of office, “perhaps with a touch of ermine.” This, and his urgent demand
for passes to get aldermen past fire lines (some hapless constable hadn’t recognized him) should have ensured the alderman a seat forever, but they gave him a job at City Hall instead, a job which they then abolished when Cranham retired.
The quality of decision-making is affected to some extent, in government as in business, by the quality
of those who participate. The quality of decision - making was much admired by the academics who analyzed those early, formative years of Metropolitan government in Toronto; but they only read the minute books. The debate on fluoridation, a problem just about every municipal government has wrangled over, was perhaps a low-water mark, even for Toronto. Mayor Jack Holley of Weston simply could not understand how the campaign to fluoridate the water supply could be led by dentists, who pre-
sumably would lose the certainty of future business.
"I have never heard of any organization in favor of doing away with business.” the Mayor of Weston told the Metropolitan Council one day. “To my way of thinking there is a nigger in the woodpile somewhere.” No one seemed to notice, really, and the reeve of the suburb of Etobicoke,
Ozzie Waffle, used the same expression a little later the same day, until Alderman Philip Givens suggested that a government in the focus of so much attention should not express itself in such questionable terms.
Nathan Phillips, after his Rootin’Tootin’ remark was carried in newspapers around the world, rather fancied himself as the master of the intended malapropism; it was part of his image his voters loved so well, that he was just an ordinary guy thrown in with all those political wolves, a rather
generous assessment of a politician who survived longer at City Hall than any other. A sweet, little-old-lady alderman named May Birchard complained one day that she had been trying to speak but the mayor wouldn't recognize her. “I've been holding up my hand for 20 minutes,” she said.
“Well, go ahead," the mayor replied from the dignity of his carved throne chair, “leave the room.”
Another woman alderman, Mary Temple, was under the impression that the council was still discussing the problem of 262 abandoned trash containers spread around the downtown area, and she rose to speak.
“Oh," said the mayor with pained innocence, “are you still on the can?"
While many, if not all. of Nathan Phillips' misapplications were intended to be humorous, no one has really ever been sure about the wild, weaving and swooping language of Allan Lamport, who has been alderman, controller, mayor, transit commissioner and now controller again, an almost permanent fixture in the civic life of Toronto. Did Lamport, for example, really mean it when he was reporting to his Board of Control colleagues on his appearance before a royal commission on civic organization, triumphantly asserting, “Why, I even went so far as to be fair!”
Lamportisms are a hobby among many students of Toronto government, although most of them are some years old, which may indicate, as Lamport himself once said, “You can't lead a dead horse to water.” The late Frank Tumpane, a columnist for the Toronto Telegram, was an enthusiastic student of Lamport; Tumpane once told me that Lamport was a firm believer in forthrightness among public men. “In politics,” Lamport told Tumpane, “you need more of the kind of men who will crawl out from behind the woodwork.”
My own collection includes:
Lamport on the difficulties of getting governmental decisions: “It’s like pushing a car uphill with a rope.” Lamport on the need to terminate an expensive project: “Let’s not just discontinue it, let’s stop it.”
Lamport in opposition to building a Centennial concert hall in a city already well supplied with auditoriums: “We have these theatre seats coming out of our ears.”
Primarily because of Lamport's opposition, Toronto did not officially name its 1967 Centennial project until 1968, although no one in Toronto really found that remarkable. The
Toronto politicians: “They always done the best they could”
government, after all, had come within an inch of having a brand-new and world-renowned City Hall — and no furniture to put in it. The council was deadlocked for months over which of two companies should get the contract. It was not the first time: in 1954 the city opened its first subway and came within a whisker of having no subway cars to put in it.
The failure to name a Centennial project in Centennial year did not arise from any lack of advance preparation. The project had been surveyed to death, almost literally, and even some of those who were skeptical of building a concert hall agreed to finance the surveys required. Even Alderman Fred Beavis went that far when he told City Council on one occasion, “I happen to represent these here Iunchpail constituents who don’t speak too well of the King’s English. These Iunchpail people. I want to get something for them, too, but for the time being I’m going to go along with this here survey.”
When a vacancy occurred through a death on Toronto’s Board of Control, the councilors gave Beavis the promotion. In due course, which means in 1968, he voted against naming the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts as Toronto’s 1967 Centennial project. It was a memorable meeting in May of this year. “It seems we’ve got these theatre seats coming out of our ears,” said the newly created Controller Beavis, and fellow Controller Allan Lamport didn’t flinch at all, apparently believing that anyone who votes the right way is entitled to swipe his material.
In gaining his promotion to the power and prestige of the Board of Control, Beavis joined the three elected members already there: June Marks, who refused to join Aiderman Grayson at the shadetree convention; Allan Lamport, universally known as Lampy, although surely not for the light he sheds; and Margaret Campbell, one of whose claims to fame is that her mother was a subdivider and house-builder.
The two lady controllers, although neither would use the word to describe the other, go by virtue of their vote-getting abilities to the Metropolitan executive committee, where they are joined by yet another lady in politics, Mayor True Davidson of the suburb of East York. She is a 67year-old spinster who wears outrageous self-made hats and once de-
scribed a fellow-councilor as “bigoted, pigheaded and, in his attitude to women, a throwback to the Stone Age.” A precise woman, who sometimes sounds sillier than she is, Miss Davidson refuses to vote for motions that contain no verbs, displaying an ability to parse a sentence, even in officialese, which few of her colleagues possess.
They work under William Allen, a former bank clerk who succeeded Fred Gardiner in 1962 and who, unlike Gardiner, operates by keeping controversy confined to his office and away from public display. The senior member of this powerful central committee is Mayor Albert Campbell of Scarborough, a quiet, conservative man who once argued against having a central phone number for all Metropolitan fire calls because “a phone call made in Scarborough would have to go all the way downtown and all
the way back to Scarborough again.” Being an agricultural graduate and not an engineer, Mayor Campbell could perhaps be excused for not knowing that an electrical impulse travels through a copper conductor at approximately the speed of light. But it was the preservation of suburban identity, not physics, that was really on the mayor’s mind that day.
When he was an elected alderman some years ago, William Allen campaigned for the idea of having the chairman of the Metropolitan Council elected by the people. Now, as chairman of the Metropolitan Council himself, he is against it. An election would change the nature of the job itself which, under Allen’s command, has become more managerial than political, though Allen himself has had long experience with the political outlook: his father, Robert A. Allen, was four times alderman, in the late 1920s
and early 1930s. It’s hard to think of William Allen as the “supermayor,” a term pinned naturally on Fred Gardiner in years past. As thin and small of stature as Gardiner was round and overweight, Allen is justly proud of his ability to master the mounds of paperwork before him. He keeps Lawrence Welk-type music humming on a portable radio near his desk. He is often awake before his three children and is proud of his ability to make three cups of tea from a single teabag.
The Mayor of the City of Toronto acts as chairman of the Board of Control, a difficult task at the best of times and a particularly trying experience in recent months. Perhaps it was the strain that caused Mayor Dennison to switch Guyana to Ghana, to say nothing of the hearty compliment he offered recently to Frank Mahovlich as one of Canada’s greatest golfers. Law students, with a reputation to maintain as devilish little beasts, asked the Mayor to a meeting and in the question period put it to him with a straight face: What did he think of the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs trading George Knudson to Detroit? The Mayor said he thought it would work out for the best.
The idiosyncrasies of Toronto politicians have always seemed to me, however embarrassing, to be harmless enough, frequently providing better television on the local news than the same old retread situation comedies, and hardly a distraction at all from the indisputable fact that the city and the suburbs loosely federated into Metropolitan Toronto are honestly, competently and progressively governed. Civic politics in Toronto lacks the ideological warfare of Winnipeg and the blatant self-interest occasionally uncovered in Edmonton.
Some years ago, I wrote down a sentence spoken by a kindly old Toronto alderman named Frank Clifton who was trying to prevent the Sunday laws being liberalized to include stock-car racing. The way I happened to put it down in my notebook made it, I thought at the time, rather a lovely piece of blank verse:
I always done the best 1 could to leave things just the way they were.
But it’s not true, really. It doesn’t apply to the city, or to its government, or to the look and the feel of Toronto today. Although it may apply, just a bit, to the politicians of Toronto themselves. ★