Politics and Politicians

William Lyon Mackenzie

Toronto politicians traditionally alternate between administrators and reformers, with lots of wooly characters in between. York's first mayor is the feisty William Lyon Mackenzie, riding a frothy wave of reform against the Family Compact in 1834. The public give him the boot a year later. In 1837, Mackenzie leads the failed Rebellion and scampers off to the United States to avoid prosecution.

Of the mayors who follow Mackenzie, over forty are members of the Orange Lodge Brotherhood. Clichés about Toronto The Good may stem from this line of Protestant mayors, but it is William Holmes Howland who pushes religious reform front and centre. Perhaps for the best of reasons.

A wealthy businessman and evangelical convert, Howland runs for mayor in 1886 on a campaign of anti-corruption and morality. Appealing to the newly enfranchised woman voter, Howland also takes up the cause of the slum dweller. Unable to impose temperance after his victory, he appoints the first morality squad to fight vice and prostitution - the supposed scourge of the poor.

Mayor Nathan Phillips

The last of the Orange Order Mayors, Leslie Saunders fights a rowdy last campaign, thudding to defeat with an ill-advised statement on City Hall stationary about the Battle of the Boyne's importance to freedom. It ignites huge controversy and helps elect Toronto's first Jewish Mayor, Nathan Phillips in 1955 - Mayor of all the people.

Phil Givens is a mayor ahead of his time. He understands that big-city problems will become a huge issue and tries to yank Toronto into a world-class metropolis. He loses the 1966 campaign partly because of the huge controversy around his acquisition of a Henry Moore sculpture. Thoroughly urban, Givens is more interested in high rise apartments, development, self-serve liquor stores, all-night supermarkets and free rock concerts, than in Fall fairs and old time fiddling contests. He possesses a huckster's instinct with a real love and vision for Toronto.

A far cry from the liberal Givens, former mayor Allan Lamport is City Controller during the hippie days in Yorkville. Headlines scream all over the country as Lamport forcefully tries to rein in the nuisance of "imported" hippies coagulating on his streets.

Mel Lastman and Barbara Hall

John Sewell, "Mayor Blue Jeans", is far more left-wing than Givens or Lamport. Sewell's activism in opposing developers at Trefann Court leads him into politics and the mayorlty in 1978, and proves how far a once Tory Town has come. Sewell's election is a victory for young voters. Facing the urban problems of the seventies, Sewell initiates policies that include citizens in development issues and, as a result, helps to keep the downtown core vibrant and liveable.

Women too, make it to the top job in modern Toronto. Conservative June Rowlands is elected in 1991, followed by NDPer, Barbara Hall, Toronto's last mayor. The contentious battle to form the mega city results in the election of Mayor Mel Lastman, muscling for power with the province and intent on keeping Toronto world-class.

Federally and provincially, Toronto voters exercise enormous influence. Once a solidly Protestant city of conservative leanings, the number of traditionally Liberal Catholic voters increases, pulling the city towards the Left. The huge and constant arrival of immigrants also shapes politics. Federal Liberals successfully position themselves as the `immigrant' party and consistently woo and win their vote.


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