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Duly Quoted: Former Mayor John Sewell

“The right response is to rethink the megacity and give each culture its own governing structures, its own voices. There’s no sense in continuing to force the two cultures to war within a single bosom.”

—Sewell, who served briefly as mayor of pre-amalgamation Toronto, writes, in today’s Globe, about the cultural, political, and historical significance of another mayor whose reign may end up being equally short: Rob Ford. Sewell argues, as others have before him, that Ford’s mayoralty is the result of a culture clash between downtown and the suburbs—one that was exacerbated when Toronto and its surrounding municipalities were consolidated into a single city in 1998. Unlike some other commentators, Sewell thinks the solution is to de-amalgamate.


  • Kroberts

    I agree, let’s split from the suburbs – it was a failed experiment, time to end it.

  • Anonymous

    There are other ways around the problems caused by divisions along pre-amalgamation lines. Increasing local autonomy is one. Redoing ward boundaries so they include downtown and suburban neighbourhoods is another.

    What makes him think the suburbs are uniform?

    • Patrick Dinnen

      This map of wards that voted Ford for mayor and those that didn’t suggests some uniformity.

      • Anonymous

        That’s an imposed uniformity (a single-issue suburbs-first candidate) and it’s misleading (it only shows how voters voted, not how all residents feel, and discounts the sizable minorities that do not conform to the colour choice). Nearly all of those suburban wards voted for Miller over Pitfield, and half for Miller over Tory. Even at face value, you see the suburbs weren’t uniform in their support, or even a pattern to it (weak and strong side by side, strong support near to and far from downtown, weak support in the farthest wards, etc). Those results also contradict the direction the suburbs voted in provincial and federal elections.

        Sewell has let the suburbs-vs-downtown rhetoric fool him into forgetting those suburbs were once divided as well.

        • Dave

          Don’t forget as well that many of those wards where a plurality supported Ford in 2010 actually elected progressive councillors to serve them. For example, I live in Ward 33, where voters chose Ford over Smitherman but also re-elected Shelley Carroll. And that’s not the only example.

          A lot of that pro-Ford support in the suburbs wasn’t necessarily conservative vs. progressive, but a general feeling of anger and uncertainty that Ford exploited, coupled by a lack of enthusiasm for Smitherman, a flawed candidate who ran a lousy campaign.

          • Testu

            Even Sewell doesn’t appear to be saying that the suburbs are exclusively conservative. Certainly they elect progressive representatives at certain levels of government. But that general feeling of anger and uncertainty was largely a reaction to the previous eight years of Miller, who many felt focused almost exclusively on downtown development (true or not). And yes, Smitherman was a really bad candidate too.

            I don’t see how returning the city to its various independent municipal governments is bad for anyone. We all get better representation and it’s a lot harder to get bent out of shape over “cultural divides”.

          • Anonymous

            “Even Sewell doesn’t appear to be saying that the suburbs are exclusively conservative.”

            No, he didn’t, but pointing to the Ford/Smitherman map (as you and Patrick Dinnen did) does. “Look how different they are from the downtown, and how alike they are among themselves – they all voted for the lone conservative candidate who pandered to them!”

          • Patrick Dinnen

            Tyrannosaurus, I made exactly one claim in pointing to the map that shows that the suburbs voted pretty heavily for Ford and downtown for Smitherman. My claim was that the voting patterns in the map suggested some uniformity in the suburbs, contrary to your point about a lack of uniformity.

          • Anonymous

            A single data point contradicted by every other current and recent voting map means the conclusion (uniformity) drawn from it is way off.

            It would be more accurate to say the suburbs have deep internal divisions, with many ridings having natural allies downtown, if you want to read into voting trends. (Not that I’m saying that.)

          • Anonymous

            A good point.

    • Testu

      There may be other ways but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Have a look at this:

      It very clearly shows that the old City of Toronto did not vote for Rob Ford. I’d suggest that this is because people in the old city area don’t believe he has their best interests in mind.

      Amalgamation was a bad idea to begin with, it was done to relieve the province of responsibility for funding a lot of services we use in the city. It jammed a bunch of fundamentally different regions into a single city for the sake of downloading costs to the municipality. And now we’re seeing the results, when the city core is happy the suburbs aren’t and vice versa.

      It seems like everyone would be a lot better represented by going back to the old city boundaries.

      • Anonymous
        • Testu

          I’m not following you. How would re-redistricting solve the issue of large numbers of people outside of the city core voting against increased services and the taxes/fees needed to pay for them?

          I understand that the most recent mayoral vote wasn’t a referendum on those issues but given the very clear language Ford used when running that is essentially what people were voting on.

          • Anonymous

            These wards existed before Ford threw his hat in the ring, you must realize. Large numbers of people outside the city core voted for Smitherman, which is easy to forget when the ward map is reduced to an either-or colour scheme. They also voted for Miller, the Liberals and NDP (which represent the majority of them at Queen’s Park and Parliament). Some of them even voted against Lastman. Suddenly Ford enters the race and the suburbs are forever polarized, a monolithic fiscal conservative mass with nothing but scorn for municipal services? No, that isn’t true.

            By incorporating neighbourhoods from the Old City with neighbourhoods from the suburban cities, we could have erased those old municipal boundaries and would have lost this easy cliché that the suburbs and downtown are irreconcilable. Had the wards been composed differently, we’d have urban and suburban neighbourhoods represented by the same councillor, who would be hard-pressed to ignore one for the other and hope to be re-elected. Some wards would still be entirely suburban or urban, that’d be unavoidable, but there would be a buffer of mixed wards between them.

            (The notion that services are only found downtown, or only used by downtowners, or only desired by downtowners, is ludicrous. Indeed, Ford campaigned on increasing services to the suburbs in the form of subways-subways-subways.)

          • Testu

            So your solution is to force compromise by ensuring that people are poorly represented? Look further down in that link, there’s a graphic showing the vote spread between Smitherman and Ford on a riding by riding basis (colour coded too).

            It’s not that there aren’t people in the suburbs that want expanded services and/or are willing to pay for them, it’s that there are far more people who don’t. You can shuffle the ridings around all you like and that will still be the case. There is a very clear geographical correlation there.

            We’ve already seen what happens when you force people who have significantly different ideas about what their municipal government should provide to share representation, it’s the ridiculous mess we’ve been dealing with since amalgamation. It’s one of the reasons our transit system has gone absolutely nowhere in the last decade. Forced compromise has ensured that no one gets much of anything done.

            This isn’t petty tribalism, this is a very clear case of different regions having different priorities. The best way to serve the majority in each region was and still is to give them their own government. It’s not efficient but democratic government isn’t always about efficiency.

          • Anonymous

            Why are you ignoring everything prior to Ford’s ascension to the mayor’s office? Why are you implying that a current temporary one-dimensional allegiance is how it will be going forward? There is no correlation with this assumption prior to Ford, nor at the provincial level post-Ford, nor at the federal level. Hell, his support in those parts of the city keeps falling (two links there), and even his supporters would elect Olivia Chow over him in 2014.

            Redistricting isn’t “my solution”, it’s a possible solution – one of many – to the perceived problem of suburban/downtown Inner Suburbs/Old City divisions. Incorporating both types of neighbourhoods would ensure their mutual needs would be address. We aren’t talking about Colonial Africa here; East York is not going in invade and massacre the Beaches.

            Divorcing transit matters from election campaigns would go a long way to solving the on-off-on-off-on problem that’s been plaguing Toronto too (which replaced inter-municipal transit planning problems prior to it). You and I shouldn’t get to vote on whether or not a swath of the city has the population to support a subway; transit planned by popularity campaigns (streetcars block traffic! subways for Mimico! cancel that order for diesel buses, we want them electrified!) is doomed to gridlock and failure.

          • Anonymous

            I can agree with many of your points here, without disagreeing with John Sewell’s. The last municipal election was a ‘perfect storm’ of several factors that may not be repeatable (hell, let’s hope not): the garbage strike and implosion of the Miller administration, Nick Kouvalis’ robo-calling machine, Ford’s under-the-media-radar campaign, a bunch of relative unknowns splitting the vote (and yes, Smitherman was largely unknown at the municipal level except in a bad way; Pantalone’s hanging on ’til the end a demented indulgence), the sucker-punch of John Tory (NK later crowed about), campaign lies (“No cuts, guaranteed”), shady financing, the orchestrated scapegoating of unions, yadda yadda. So there was an undeniable suburban/urban electoral divide that Ford’s handlers exploited to the hilt. I don’t know that alone justifies undoing amalgamation (and it sure as hell doesn’t justify a stronger mayor). Yes, amalgamation was bad, no it was not the sole cause of Rob Ford being elected mayor.

          • Testu

            To better address your argument, yes I’m aware that those ridings have existed for quote a while. I’m also aware that the suburbs are not some monolithic entity. Pre-amalgamation “the suburbs” were several different cities, and I believe their governments served them much better that way.

            If the (hypothetical) mayor of Scarborough or Etobicoke feels their constituents want a subway, then let them work on support for it in their city. If they can get them to agree to the methods needed for funding then they’ll have a subway. If not, it doesn’t prevent people in York or Toronto from getting their transit service expanded or improved if they’re willing to pay for it.

          • Anonymous

            “If they can get them to agree to the methods needed for funding then they’ll have a subway.”

            There’s no reason the same thing can’t be applied to the amalgamated city (or the region as a whole).

          • Testu

            In theory, the argument would be: “Because we’ve established that we can’t get them to agree on what to fund and where”. We also have fewer options per region in dealing with the provincial government for funding.

            I don’t believe that this is a unique situation that has only arisen because of the divisiveness of Ford’s rhetoric. And we may have a chance to see exactly how much Ford’s support has fallen if there is a by-election and Ford runs (as he’s said he will).

            More to the point, Ford doesn’t matter, no specific counsellors or mayor would make amalgamation better for the citizens of the city. Have a look at this report:
            It was generated in 1997 at the request of the then City of Toronto, it very clearly describes why amalgamation is a bad idea and would have negative effects for all of the citizens in the new mega city.

            And here: is a 10 year later follow up by one of the authors of the original report.

          • Anonymous

            “Because we’ve established that we can’t get them to agree on what to fund and where”

            Which would apply to the City of Scarborough just as it does to the City of Toronto. Any smaller city can be further divided – the people of Rexdale want subways, subways, subways! And good luck getting neighbouring cities and their transit planners and voters to agree on where the lines should meet, or that they should even build the same mode of transit to meet yours.

            I will have to follow up on the reports you linked to tomorrow.

      • OgtheDim

        If you actually study the results via poll, you’ll see a LOT more nuance then that map Testu. Usually around 20-30% of the downtown voted for Ford, and about the same in the inner suburbs voted for somebody other then Ford.

        • Testu

          Who cares? This isn’t specifically about who did or didn’t vote for Rob Ford, that just happens to be a useful illustration of the problems with the way people are represented in the current city of Toronto.

          I’m not making any value judgments about the various suburbs’ culture or priorities (Sewell may have been). I’m saying that the current city structure serves us all poorly and beyond high-minded talk of “finding consensus” I’ve not seen any real arguments for keeping the mega city.

          Even Ken Greenberg form Spacing Toronto ( seems to be arguing that the suburbs will be forced to become more urban eventually so we should all just deal with it until then.

          • OgtheDim

            “Who cares?”

            Those of us tired of downtowners being called late sipping liberals and the inner suburbans being called Neanderthals.

            Its the same as saying all people in Red states in the US think Republican.

            There is much more nuance.

          • Testu

            I get that I’m not explaining myself clearly here.

            There is plenty of variance in people’s wants and needs across any region. Having people forced into a larger municipal system with less individual representation and forced to basically compete over resources in a single municipal budget is not doing them any favours.

            My point is that the system that was in place pre-amalgamation served everyone better than the system that was forced on the municipalities. I don’t know why people treat the mega city as some sort of sacred cow. It’s not doing anyone any favours and was basically foisted on us for the sake of removing costs and responsibility from the province. We have a larger city and less for everyone.

          • John Duncan

            I agree, although I also strongly believe we shouldn’t treat the pre-amalgamation municipal lines (or even the Metro border) as sacrosanct either. There’s a good argument to be made for more than six lower-tier bodies, a wide variety of different ways to have them interoperate politically, and new technology has made it much easier for them to share back-of-house stuff to maintain whatever economies of scale there currently are, while being much more responsive to residents.

  • Tom R.

    All I know is, I moved here in 1998 and living here has become a progressively less pleasant experience every year.

    • Anonymous

      Depending on where you started from, one could say that about very broad swaths of the world.

  • OgtheDim

    This quote is taken out of context. Sewell argues that the city of Toronto from the 50′s is superior in culture and approach to dealing with people. He sees these dueling cultures.

    He’s wrong.

    He is, in essence, a conservative; he wants to go back to what was.

    Except what was is not what he thinks it was.

    My biggest beef with him is he has not taken the time to go out into the inner suburbs and listen to people and their concerns.

    Until he does that, he has no credibility.

    • Anonymous

      The built form determines people’s needs to a very large degree. The suburban form creates a set of issues that is very different from the urban form, acknowledging that such differences exist isn’t claiming superiority for one over the other but recognizing reality.

      I wouldn’t go back to the old city boundaries but I do think it makes sense to split the city into two the suburban north and the more urban south. Even in the inner suburbs the more southerly portions which were developed first are more urban in form than the more northerly areas which were developed for car culture.

      If it were up to me I’d split the city along Eglinton, or there abouts, with the southern more urban portion being one city from the east to the west and the same for the more suburban portions. They largely comprise two different worlds, I’ve lived all over the current city and there are extremely different areas. the suburbs for example never developed much in the way of resources and programs for its residents since they were supposed to be mostly homogenous middle class car owning house owning single families which of course is not at all the case today.

      The old city of Toronto on the other hand did invest in resources and programs for its citizens. Its no accident that the vast majority of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods are in the inner suburbs where resources to support the needs of citizens was never considered important, that’s well reflected in the attitudes of the Ford brothers, Holyday and Mamolitti who oppose the sorts of services the citizens of the old city of Toronto took for granted since they existed there since the 1800s. Its also no accident that most of Toronto’s most violent areas are also found in the inner suburbs resulting from the lack of services for the citizens.

      Clearly the suburbs still oppose providing such services for its residents, after all Miller’s major policies were focused in the inner suburbs, such as Transit City, priority neighbourhoods to increase resources for citizens where the former cities never bothered building them, and the tower renewal program, though that also did much for the urban areas as well. Yet despite the great need for such things in the inner suburbs Miller’s efforts to bring the level of services found there more in line with the old city of Toronto was met with fierce resistance and considered a major waste of money by the people who were to benefit from Miller’s initiatives. That represents a major culture difference that cannot just be dismissed as not knowing the concerns of the people of the inner suburbs.

      Toronto was almalgamated by Harris, against the expressed wishes of the vast majority of citizens affected, to create a more conservative Toronto since he realized that the more conservative suburbs would dominate the more liberal old city of Toronto and that’s exactly what has been happening since the forced amalgamation. That’s not to say one is right or wrong but that they are different. The inner suburbs have been dominating the political climate of the mega-city since day one so I just don not believe that their concerns have as of yet been unknown or unmet. Its a culture clash plain and simple, not a mere lack of understanding. We have the inner suburbs determining where bike lanes go in the old city and what services the citizens of the entire city can have. The needs of urban Toronto are going unmet because of the dominance of our political system by suburban politicians. That is a serious problem. Both could get exactly what they wanted if we separated back into a suburban and urban Toronto.

      • OgtheDim

        “The built form determines people’s needs to a very large degree.”

        Spoken like a planner as against a sociologist or social worker. There is more then one way to examine how people behave.

        That and I challenge your ideas about how people in the suburbs saw the initiatives of Miller. They like them, when they were asked for their opinions. They were often not asked.

        Having spent close to 5 years going around and listening to people who did neighbourhood and community work, I can tell you that the issues of people in need in the inner suburbs were not all that different from those within the old core. Safety, opportunity.

        • Anonymous

          Actually I was a sociology major in university. Its not about how people behave but what their needs are and how they get met, which does have, well not everything but an awful lot to do with the built form, the physical space people inhabit. A community that has easy access to retail, transit, community centres, libraries, parks, play grounds and so on has very different needs than a community that doesn’t have easy access to such things, or to some but not all. Safety as you point out is a universal concern, but how its accomplished in a well off neighbourhood of detached single family homes is different than how its done in areas with widely separated apt. towers and in ares with more density where there are more eyes on the street. Its easier to be low income in an urban area where the density provides for more localized social services, where transit is easily available and things like groceries can be bought within easy walking distance. Being low income in a suburban area is much tougher since such areas were designed and built under the assumption that they’d be inhabited by people with middle class incomes who could easily afford cars and where driving to buy groceries, to access social services, parks and rec, libraries or whatever would be easy and natural. They weren’t designed for low income people who cannot afford a car and end up having to walk vast distances to get anywhere since everything is so spread out, where apt towers are surrounded by park like land and often fenced off to prevent people from using short cuts across the property forcing them to walk long distances alongside busy roads. Suburban areas were also not designed to support transit so transit is very poor in such areas again disadvantaging low income people. And since suburban areas do tend have large numbers of financially comfortable people who can afford detached single family homes on large lots, except for localized concentrations of poverty, they mostly elect politicians who don’t support meeting the needs of lower income people through such things as community centres, homeless shelters, subsidized programs for children and so on. After all they such things are not a concern for such people since they don’t need them. In low density areas there is less mixing of people from diverse backgrounds and income levels so often the needs of other types of people is simply unknown so not considered at all. In denser areas people from very diverse backgrounds and income levels mix more creating a greater awareness about the problems other people face.

          Anyways I’m going to bed but to me its pretty hard to argue against a person’s physical environment, the built form they live in, determining much about what their needs will be, or perhaps rather how their needs need to be met.

  • Tobias Bushey

    Please Join my event on facebook for a rally at City Hall to De-Amalgamate Toronto – One of many to come!