Debriefing Toronto’s Municipal Election

By James Cullingham (@JamesCullingham)

John Tory, Bloor Street, Toronto July 2014, (photo by James Cullingham)

John Tory, Bloor Street, Toronto July 2014, (photo by James Cullingham)

Darkness has lifted over Toronto. While that might be temporary, it does not make that arrangement any less welcome. With the election of Mayor elect John Tory Toronto is no longer led by a man who is frequently described as addicted, angry, and insulting. To the best of our knowledge, John Tory carries no such labels. So…we have progress.

Continue reading

Cold Comfort: Firewood, Ice Storms, and Hypothermia in Canada

By Josh MacFadyen

The following piece was recently originally posted on The Otter ~ La Loutre

Many Canadians had a brush with homelessness, or at least heat-lessness, over the holidays. Over half a million customers across Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick spent Christmas in the cold and dark, and ten days after the 2013 ice storm homes were still coming online. With the region currently experiencing snow storms and extreme cold temperature warnings, Canadians may be thinking about the fragility of urban energy systems and our level of preparedness for extreme weather events. (At least we seem to be intrigued by travel delays, frost quakes, ice mayors, historic frozen negatives, boiling squirt gun experiments, and of course Frozen, as well as more serious local relief efforts such as Coldest night of the year and “In from the Cold” campaigns.)

The ice storm was deemed the largest in Toronto history, but since it follows only fifteen years after a similar ice storm in Quebec and Eastern Ontario these may not be isolated 100-year events. Extreme weather events appear to be on the increase, and 2013 was a banner year. Debates over the Toronto’s preparedness and resilience are ongoing. Anthony Haines, CEO of Toronto Hydro, promised there will be discussions regarding future improvements and “there is no doubt, learning is to be had.” Winter storms can be especially risky when cold weather and power outages overlap, and historically, extreme cold has been far more lethal than floods and heat waves.

I suggest that the kind of learning “to be had” includes a broad understanding of our historical relationships with extreme weather and urban energy supplies, including food and heat. Climatologists will be working to identify the frequency of these weather events, but historical climate data also allow historians to create detailed risk-maps of extreme cold weather events in Canada over time. Historical research in energy, transportation, and urban planning may then show us how Canadians adapted to these challenges over time. Continue reading

Municipal Conflicts of Interest in Canada, Old and New

ActiveHistory.ca is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in early September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our favourite and most popular blog posts from this site over the past year. Thanks as always to our writers and readers!

The following post was originally featured on December 4 2012.

By Daniel Ross

He was a controversial mayor from the start. An unabashed populist, he rallied support during his campaigns by promising to cut taxes and reduce waste at city hall. As a result, he won an impressive share of the popular vote. He never denied having links to the city’s business and development community—he ran a successful business himself—and his policies certainly reflected that. From early on, accusations of bending the rules shadowed his career. But it was a legal challenge from an ordinary citizen alleging a conflict of interest that led to him losing his job.

Rob Ford and William Hawrelak. Sources: City of Toronto; City of Edmonton Archives, EA-10-1600

That man’s name was William Hawrelak, mayor of Edmonton from 1951-59, 1963-65, and 1974-75. His story is remarkable, and not just because of its superficial similarities to that of recently deposed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Few Canadian politicians have managed to combine success and failure as dramatically as he did in his 30-year career in public office. But in another way, his tale, like Ford’s, is nothing new. Concern over politicians using public office for private benefit has often dogged local politics in Canada, and one result has been strict conflict of interest law.

In this post I’d like to take a look at Rob Ford’s removal from office in light of a short history of municipal conflict of interest in Canada. It turns out there is nothing unprecedented about the penalty he faces, or the populist way he and his supporters have responded to his removal. Continue reading

Municipal Conflicts of Interest in Canada, Old and New

By Daniel Ross

He was a controversial mayor from the start. An unabashed populist, he rallied support during his campaigns by promising to cut taxes and reduce waste at city hall. As a result, he won an impressive share of the popular vote. He never denied having links to the city’s business and development community—he ran a successful business himself—and his policies certainly reflected that. From early on, accusations of bending the rules shadowed his career. But it was a legal challenge from an ordinary citizen alleging a conflict of interest that led to him losing his job.

Rob Ford and William Hawrelak. Sources: City of Toronto; City of Edmonton Archives, EA-10-1600

That man’s name was William Hawrelak, mayor of Edmonton from 1951-59, 1963-65, and 1974-75. His story is remarkable, and not just because of its superficial similarities to that of recently deposed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Few Canadian politicians have managed to combine success and failure as dramatically as he did in his 30-year career in public office. But in another way, his tale, like Ford’s, is nothing new. Concern over politicians using public office for private benefit has often dogged local politics in Canada, and one result has been strict conflict of interest law.

In this post I’d like to take a look at Rob Ford’s removal from office in light of a short history of municipal conflict of interest in Canada. It turns out there is nothing unprecedented about the penalty he faces, or the populist way he and his supporters have responded to his removal. Continue reading

From Andrew Carnegie to Margaret Atwood: Toronto’s “Unelected” Champions of Public Libraries.

Used with the permission of Toronto Public Library

Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, brother of city mayor Rob Ford, recently ignited public controversy over potential cuts to the city’s public library services when he claimed not to know much about author Margaret Atwood, who had spoken out against possible cuts to services and closures of library branches. Councillor Ford’s insistence that Atwood “get democratically elected” so that she could have a say in deciding library funding policy in the city was ludicrous, particularly given the Toronto Public Library’s history. Continue reading

Looking Back on Pride

Gay Picnic picture (Part of the first Pride Week events): Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives, Toronto Gay Action, Vertical File (c. 1972).

By Mathieu Brûlé

The relationship between the City of Toronto and the city’s queer communities has been a popular topic of discussion in Toronto over the past few weeks. Prompted by Mayor Rob Ford’s decision to forego Pride Week’s festivities in exchange for time at his family cottage, many, critics and supporters alike, have expressed disappointment in the mayor’s decision to forego the 16-year tradition of Toronto’s mayor’s marching in the Pride Parade. While it is true that attending Pride events is not an official duty of the mayor, it certainly is a sign of goodwill from the city’s highest elected office. Since 1995, Toronto mayors have made it a point of attending Pride. To many, this was a sign that the City, which has not always acted in the best interests of the city’s queer communities, was willing to work with them to make Toronto as inclusive as possible and celebrate sexual diversity rather than suppress it. We need to consider Rob Ford’s decision in this context. Continue reading

The “War on the Car” has a long history

Looking north on Toronto's Bay Street in 1924. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1116

Last week, newly-elected Toronto Mayor Rob Ford continued his campaign rhetoric by proclaiming that “the war on the car is over.” On the first day of his mayoralty, Ford announced he intends to halt construction of a light rail transit line on Sheppard Avenue.  The mayor says a subway under Sheppard Avenue should be built instead of the surface light rail line running in its own right of way on the suburban thoroughfare.  Placing transit along Sheppard Avenue underground, with its massive cost increases and unsure future, falls in line with Ford’s conception of streets as primarily conduits for car and truck traffic.

The Sheppard light rail project is the first line under construction to build Transit City, a plan introduced in 2007 to crisscross under-serviced areas with light rapid transit.  Ford’s announcement puts the Transit City plan in limbo.  The province, who is paying for the project, has suggested it will look at Ford’s emphasis on subways, but its final decision is unclear.  Queen’s Park has indicated the city would be forced to cover the millions of dollars in contract cancellation penalties and construction costs, which runs counter to Ford’s mantra against “wasteful spending” and “respect for the taxpayer.”

If the “war on the car” in Toronto is apparently now over, when exactly did it begin? Continue reading