There is definitely something wrong with Toronto. The city that every loyal Canadian loves to hate has gone soft. More than soft, it has lost its nerve and its spine. Its Hogtown reputation was built (honestly) on rapacious lust for the buck, arrogance and a blissful conceit that it was No. 1.
In the past year, the city has evolved into a craven pussycat—tentative, whimpering and confused. It can’t do anything right and, to boot, has gone slightly bonkers because of no leadership, no economy and no self-assurance anymore.
The latest blow to civic pride came from Paris, where a Toronto delegation—after spending $1.5 million—lost out to Lisbon in a bid to play host to Expo 98. It wasn’t even close: the vote was 23-18 against Toronto. This follows Toronto’s failed attempts to get Expo 2000 and the 1996 Summer Olympics, where it was out-hustled by Atlanta, a non-city that is built around an airport and has the worst crime rate in the United States.
All this demonstrates a strange lack of zip in Toronto’s quest to be something. Because everyone in the city is from somewhere else, there is a lack of interest in doing something collectively. Montreal, as we know, has staged a fabulously successful Expo and a fabulously expensive Olympic Games. Vancouver put on the most celebrated Commonwealth Games of all with Roger Bannister and John Landy in the Miracle Mile—and has recently tossed up an Expo.
Calgary put on the Winter Olympics. Winnipeg has done the Pan-American Games. Edmonton has done the Commonwealth Games. Even Hamilton, for heaven’s sake, did the same back when they used to be called the British Empire Games. Toronto? Zilch. Zippo. The Big Zero.
Why this is so is not 100 per cent clear. What is apparent, however, is that the recent string of failures, the wallflower syndrome setting in, has made the city go mad. Mad as in nutso. In a series of official city decisions, it is clear that air-head dementia has taken over.
First, an innocent rock group of grinning
boys called the Barenaked Ladies was barred from playing before city hall. Why? Because new Mayor June Rowlands was persuaded by a fey councillor, who is light in the loafers, that this was a sexist affront.
City council in March voted 11-4 to ban all exotic animal acts within the boundaries of Canada’s largest and wealthiest city—everything from the circus at Maple Leaf Gardens to a striptease act that features a tiger at a downtown bar. SkyDome (where patrons start leaving when it is a 2-2 tie in the seventh) apparently will have to cancel nine performances of the Ringling Brothers Circus next year.
Moving right along, Mayor Rowlands—who it seems is moved by the last person to complain to her—banned the saintly Salvation Army, one of the few good guys left on earth, from staging a fund raiser on city property because one of its tenets is a disapproval of
homosexuality. One could ban most everything, you suppose, if you looked deeply enough into some forgotten sub-clause, but Toronto in its current querulous mood seems obsessed with nit-picking.
Part of this can be explained by the nonleadership of Mayor Rowlands, whose campaign, it has now been revealed, was financed not only by the usual suspects such as Eaton’s and Labatt’s but by St. Lawrence Cement, Pizza Pizza, Ticketmaster Canada and—best of all—the Zanzibar Tavern.
Part of it is the recession. The way to gauge this is in the really important things. A friend who pays $40 for haircuts in trendy Yorkville reports that the price is now $25. Sections of the credit-card strip of Bloor Street now look like boarded-up East Berlin.
Part of it is the cranky Toronto reaction to the alleged socialist government of Premier Prude. Having accidentally voted the NDP into power, the richest city in the richest province is now aghast at the Laurel and Hardy performance at Queen’s Park. The Art Gallery of Ontario has closed for six months for lack of funds and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.
Premier Prude has himself helped things along by opposing Sunday shopping but then suddenly OK’ing it, along with gambling casinos, offtrack betting and slot machines. This mood of goofiness has infected the tourism board, which is about to launch a $ 1.4-million TV campaign, aimed at Americans, featuring the new official tourism slogan: z “Toronto—there’s no jg place like it on earth.”
For once, we agree. A columnist has asked readers for alternatives and has received such suggestions as: Toronto—the city of angles. Or: Toronto—where we know how to spell potato. Or: T.O.—the city that never wakes. Or: Toronto—unlike any American city yet. But we’re trying. Or, my favorite: Toronto—come meet your relatives!
There is a serious side to all this, of course, as there always is on this serious page. There is a need in the country for the old Toronto, the greedy, piggish, impersonal, boring Toronto. We are in enough trouble as it is, with Ottawa lending its usual blend of confusion, obfuscation, bafflegab and incompetence in the constitutional bore.
That will go on, forever, as we know, and we should let the obfuscators and the obscurantists get on with what they do best: talk. But the country can afford only one city as a failure. Ottawa fills that bill very nicely. To fill the vacuum, Toronto must return to its previous role. Bring back Hogtown.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.