Every Saturday, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.
An Alberta-based Conservative leader leading a minority government to the polls. A Liberal leader from Quebec whose initial reputation was built as an intellectual. A NDP leader representing a central Ontario riding. Harper, Dion and Layton? Try Clark, Trudeau and Broadbent, the leaders offered up to Torontonians the last time a federal Tory (in this case, Progressive Conservative) minority government faced an election.
1979 was a whirlwind for political junkies. An election on May 22 ended Pierre Trudeau’s 11-year run as Prime Minister and saw Joe Clark head the first Progressive Conservative government since the defeat of John Diefenbaker in 1963. The Tories’ minority was fragile, often propped up by a handful of Social Credit MPs from Quebec. A December budget bill that proposed an 18 cent per gallon tax on gasoline was defeated when the Socreds abstained from voting after the government refused to allocate the revenues to Quebec. Broadview-Greenwood MP Bob Rae introduced a non-confidence measure that passed on December 13, which resulted in a two-month election campaign. Trudeau had announced his resignation as Liberal leader, but the quick demise of the government led him to stay on.
Metropolitan Toronto results, February 18, 1980 federal election. The National Atlas of Canada, 5th Edition
When the ballots were counted on February 18, Metro Toronto helped carry Trudeau back to power, with 17 of the 23 ridings within its boundaries going Liberal. The widest victory margin came in York West, where Liberal Jim Fleming was returned by nearly 13,000 votes. The least successful candidates were Marxist-Leninists Keith Ramdeen (St. Paul’s) and Dagmar Rappold (York West), with 30 votes apiece.
One candidate who benefited from the long campaign was Minister of Health and Welfare (and former Toronto mayor) David Crombie. First sent to Ottawa by Rosedale voters in an October 1978 by-election, the coming battle would be his third in 14 months. Two days after the government fell, Crombie checked into Toronto General Hospital, complaining of severe indigestion. It was a mild heart attack, which kept Crombie in the hospital for two weeks. Upon his release, doctors recommended that he avoid active campaigning. Despite his illness, Crombie stayed in the race and was back on the streets before election day. He received campaign assistance from Ontario premier William Davis, who accompanied him down Yonge Street to meet constituents. Crombie was far more comfortable with the local colour than Davis, especially when something inside House of Lords Hair Design caught Crombie’s eye.
He insisted on going in. Mr. Davis demurred, but followed reluctantly. And there he was-a green-haired attendant, replete with lime-rimmed Elton John sunglasses, leaning against the counter. Punk-rock music wafted from the ceiling speakers. It didn’t faze Mr. Crombie, who’s reasonably familiar with the Yonge Strip. But for the pride of Brampton and guardian of family morality [Davis], it was a bit too much. Mr. Davis was determined not to be photographed with the attendant and edged his way, as unobtrusively as possible, out of the shop.
Crombie won Rosedale by less than 1,700 votes over Liberal challenger Anne Cools. “This is the first time in Canadian history that a campaign was won without a candidate,” he joked to supporters during victory celebrations. On the state of his health, Crombie said, “I can’t get over tall buildings yet but the shorter ones I’m alright on.” He remained an MP through 1988, returning to cabinet as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development after Brian Mulroney’s sweep in 1984.
The most controversial race in the city was in Spadina (now Trinity-Spadina), home to the most candidates running in a single Metro riding (11). Progressive Conservative candidate Eric Jackman threatened to equip his scrutineers on election day with Polaroid cameras to combat alleged voting fraud. Reports circulated during previous races of offences ranging from outside voters to people casting ballots at several polling stations—the NDP compiled a list of 3,000 ineligible voters. He was also concerned by Elections Canada’s decision not to enumerate voters, but rather to go with an updated version of the 1979 election list in order to save money and not add to Canada Post’s mail volume during the holiday season. Jackman hoped that the cameras would scare off illegal voters and claimed that “these cameras won’t intimidate anyone who has a right to vote…I was campaign manager in the riding last time and I know there is hanky-panky going on.” This approach did not endear him to Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Marc Hamel, who refused to allow cameras inside polling stations but admitted there was nothing he could do to stop Jackman from deploying shutterbugs outside the venues. Party brass also ordered Jackman to cancel his plan, but the candidate, who indicated he was unfamiliar with the Tory platform, vowed to use the cameras regardless. He did, however, back down within a week of the story making the front page of The Toronto Star.
But Jackman wasn’t satisfied. As voting began election day, he had letters delivered to the deputy returning officer of each poll which ordered them to challenge every voter unless they were sure of that voter’s identity. Spadina returning officer Leslie Singer received 30 phone calls by lunch time from confused officials not sure of whose instructions to follow. Jackman finished the day in third place, behind incumbent Liberal Peter Stollery and NDP candidate John Foster. Within weeks, Jackman carried out a campaign threat and petitioned the Ontario Supreme Court to have the results in Spadina, and potentially across the country, voided due to the lack of proper enumeration. The case bounced around the courts for the next year-and-a-half, until the Liberals appointed Stollery to the Senate in July 1981 and called a by-election less than two months before Jackman’s case was to be heard. Spadina voters showed their displeasure at the shenanigans of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives by electing former city councillor Dan Heap, who held the seat for the NDP for the next decade.
As for the person who technically induced the election, Bob Rae faced a tight race in Broadview-Greenwood but defeated Liberal Philippe Deane Gigantès by 2,000 votes. Two weeks before the end of the campaign, Rae announced his engagement to Arlene Perly. He resigned his seat in 1982 to become leader of the provincial NDP but made his way back to Ottawa earlier this year, switching parties and sides of the Don River as the Liberal MP for Toronto Centre.
Sources: The Toronto Star, February 2, 1980 (Liberal ad), The Toronto Star, February 9, 1980 (Progressive Conservative ad), The Globe and Mail, February 18, 1980 (National Citizens’ Coalition ad). Additional material from the February 7, 1980 edition of The Toronto Star and the February 13, 1980 and February 19, 1980 editions of The Globe and Mail .