SEXES

The Kormos affair

A controversial politician loses his job

D’ARCY JENISH April 1 1991
SEXES

The Kormos affair

A controversial politician loses his job

D’ARCY JENISH April 1 1991

The Kormos affair

SEXES

A controversial politician loses his job

Peter Kormos says that he has often had trouble working with authority figures. In 1967, when he was 15, Kormos was elected president of the student council at Eastdale Secondary School in Welland, Ont. But when the principal overturned a council decision, Kormos led a student protest that closed the school for three days. The principal expelled him. Last week, Kormos tangled with yet another superior, Ontario Premier Bob Rae. On March 17, Rae fired Kormos after a series of embarrassing incidents that began when Kormos posed, fully clothed, as a male pin-up in the tabloid Toronto Sun newspaper. The dismissal was the first major controversy for Ontario’s first New Democratic Party government, and generated heated debate between feminists and Kormos supporters about the duties and responsibilities of the premier and his ministers.

Rae had appointed the flamboyant Kormos, a lawyer who wears cowboy boots and drives a green 1990 Corvette sports car, to his original cabinet in October, 1990, along with a Canadian record 11 women. For Ontario’s New Democrats, his departure could delay or even jeopardize two of the party’s major policy initiatives. As minister of financial institutions, Kormos was responsible for developing and implementing the government’s proposed publicly owned auto-insurance program. Kormos also was the minister of consumer and commercial relations, and was working on guidelines to eliminate sexism in advertising, which he viewed as part of the government’s commitment to “gender equality.” Although some observers argued that Rae overreacted by firing his minister, women’s groups applauded the move. Said Judy Rebick, president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women: “We thought that anything to do with women and sexism should be taken out of his hands.” Women’s groups and female members of the NDP caucus denied that there had been a deliberate campaign to oust Kormos, but many were appalled to see the NDP minister as a “SUNshine Boy” in the March 6 Sun. Said Julie Davis, party president and secretary treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Labor: “I was offended by it and thought it was a stupid, irresponsible thing to do.” Rebick added that Kormos had indirectly promoted the social acceptability of the paper’s daily page 3 photos of scantily clad SUNshine Girls, which she described as “one of the most sexist things in Canadian newspapers.” In his defence, Kormos said: “I am not Bobby Bicep. It started out as something done in a spirit of self-deprecation. I

guess my sense of humor doesn’t travel well.” The day before his picture appeared in the Sun, Kormos inadvertently added to his troubles by telling reporters that the government intended to adopt stringent regulations aimed at eliminating sexism from advertising. During a break in a cabinet meeting at Niagara Falls on March 5, Kormos said: “I hope we can set rules that will ensure that sexism in wine, spirits and beer advertising is eliminated.” Maclean ’s has learned that at a private meeting shortly after the election, NDP adviser Gerald Caplan warned officials of Labatt’s that the party regards the

use of sexist images in beer advertising as a major irritant.

The timing of the minister’s statements surprised and angered his leader, as well as the advertising industry. After he had fired Kormos, Rae told the Ontario legislature that the cabinet had not even discussed, let alone approved, guidelines for eliminating sexist advertising. And Suzanne Keeler, a vice-president of the Toronto-based Canadian Advertising Foundation, said that she had met with Kormos in early January for a discussion about advertising for alcoholic beverages. She added that sexism was only one of several subjects discussed. Said Keeler: “We were completely taken by surprise by the announcement that he was going to bring in regulations.” In the wake of the controversies over the Sun photo and the anti-sexism campaign, the former minister also found that he had to defend himself against the activities of unidentified adversaries. Several reporters in Toronto began receiving unmarked white envelopes containing press clippings about Kormos and one of his aides, Michael Grimaldi. The clippings reported that Kormos was convicted in 1983 for failing to file income tax returns for three consecutive years while he was attending university. Other clippings dealt with Grimaldi’s conviction in February, 1988, for assault causing bodily harm against his former commonlaw wife.

After television and newspaper reports about Grimaldi’s past appeared, women’s groups strongly criticized Kormos for hiring Grimaldi, whose conviction was wellknown within the party, ineluding the premier’s office. Said Rebick: “Someone who has beaten a woman is not qualified to deal with an issue like sexism in advertising.” The premier was on vacation in Ottawa when the controversy over Grimaldi erupted.

But after he returned, Rae summoned Kormos to a 9 a.m. meeting on March 17, a Sunday, and asked him to resign. Kormos refused. But by the following morning, Rae had appointed Marilyn Churley to replace Kormos as consumer affairs minister and named Brian Charlton as minister for financial institutions. Meanwhile, the colorful and often controversial Kormos had been shifted to the backbenches, where he promised to be loyal to the party, though he may become a thorn in the side of Ontario’s rookie premier.

D’ARCY JENISH