Historicist: Looking for a Liberal to Lead Us
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Historicist: Looking for a Liberal to Lead Us

Every Saturday at noon, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.

Source: The Toronto Star, November 29, 1969.

For many pundits, 1969 promised the dawn of a new era in Toronto municipal politics. It was the first election where a number of political parties, be they locally based or appendages of the national machinery, would officially run candidates for city council and the school boards. The Liberals figured they could build upon their dominance of the city’s federal seats and head to victory at City Hall. The fiasco that unfolded during the party’s nomination convention to choose a mayoral candidate should have sent an early sign that stepping into the municipal scene wasn’t going to be an easy task.
One of the main arguments that proponents of a municipal party system like Liberal Senator/backroom bigwig Keith Davey liked to trot out was that a slate of candidates running on a common program would provide voters with a higher quality of choices than picking out platforms they liked the best from the divergent personalities that tended to run for office. As Davey told the Star, “We’ll end the era of two-bit politics.” Davey spent most of 1969 looking for suitable candidates to lead the Liberal charge during December’s election but was constantly turned down. Veteran councillors with ties to the party preferred to run as independents in order to capture as many votes as possible (as former controller and mayor Allan Lamport put it, “Why should I put on a party label and alienate the other fellows?”). Divisions among federal and provincial party officials about the wisdom of entering municipal politics did not help the process.

Stephen and Adrienne Clarkson, with the “cup of defeat.” Photo by Jac Holland. Source: The Telegram, December 2, 1969.

The search for a mayoral candidate reached its climax during the nomination meeting at St. Lawrence Hall on September 23. Early that morning, University of Toronto political science professor Stephen Clarkson sat in his kitchen typing notes for his nomination speech for former Forest Hill reeve Ed Pivnick, who was in the hospital recovering from a bout of appendicitis. By 10 a.m., Pivnick bowed out due to his condition, which left party officials scrambling to find anyone else willing to stand as a nominee that night. After running through a few names with municipal party president Ken Counsell, Clarkson decided that if no one else wanted to, he’d toss his name into the ring. Clarkson described the scene when his wife Adrienne arrived home that afternoon in his chronicle of the campaign, City Lib:

She was alarmed to hear what had happened and insisted on discussing the whole situation. Was I not being used as a sacrificial lamb? Was it wise to rush into a political situation for which I had not made any preparations? What about finances? Would the Liberals who were urging me to run today be there to work tomorrow? I could not answer any of these questions to her satisfaction, or mine either. It was simply too late to discuss: I felt too committed to my colleagues to stop the machine and get out.

The convention got underway around 8 p.m. Besides Clarkson, two other candidates stepped up: teenage Young Liberal Terry Kurtzer and author Norman Elder. As the chairman made the last call for nominations, alderman candidate Peter Stollery stepped up and put forward, to the astonishment of the room, Loblaws Groceterias president Leon Weinstein. When Weinstein made his speech, the crowd received their second shock of the night: he announced that he had been misled by party officials who pulled him aside at the last minute to run. Amid much confusion, Weinstein had agreed to be nominated with the understanding that there weren’t any other candidates. He learned this wasn’t the case when he went to make his speech and discovered there were others lined up ahead of him. Davey attempted to get the other candidates to withdraw immediately but Clarkson refused. Weinstein had a backroom conversation with Davey. “Sorry Keith, but the deal was for a draft and I’m going to pull out. I owe it to my family and my business associates.” Weinstein urged the floor to support Clarkson, then left the hall, reportedly in tears—Globe and Mail reporter Michael Enright summed up Weinstein’s night as “a walking study in political innocence.”

The mayoral candidates ride in on their horses. From left to right: Margaret Campbell, Stephen Clarkson (riding atop Keith Davey), and William Dennison. Cartoon by John Yardley-Jones. Source: The Telegram, November 29, 1969.

Clarkson fell short of a majority by two votes on the first ballot, but his remaining challengers decided to throw in the towel and back him. Clarkson’s victory drew a tepid reaction and many of the attendees felt disillusioned with party brass over the evening’s shenanigans. During the campaign, Clarkson gained the backing of the Globe and Mail and the Star for his youth and progressive-minded platform, but those endorsements didn’t help. When Torontonians cast their ballots on December 1, the Liberals won two out of the twenty-two alderman jobs up for grabs (the victors being incumbent Hugh Bruce and newcomer William Kilbourn). Clarkson finished third in the mayoral race behind winner William Dennison and former controller Margaret Campbell. Of the parties that contested the 1969 municipal race, only the NDP continued to field official candidates on a regular basis.
And what if Weinstein had been the Liberal mayor hopeful? A glimpse of what his campaign could have been like can be found as part of the “What I Want for Metro” series of interviews with prominent Torontonians that ran in the Telegram throughout late 1969. Weinstein believed that the city was “coming out of its shell” and could look forward to a great future.

Paris, London and New York are losing some of their lustre. Metro is gaining its unique glow. We are a young city, therefore we still have a chance to avoid the mistakes of Los Angeles. We have got to be careful that our city doesn’t become a concrete forest. I want the waterfront plan to come alive. I hope we’ll come to our senses and amalgamate our boroughs into one unified city. I’d like to see those pockets of personality like Kensington Market stay intact, just so long as the residents take pride in living there. I am a sentimentalist. That’s the part of Toronto where I grew up and, while progress is important, it’s not always considerate of citizens. Let’s put people like Raymond Moriyama to work on a mall design for downtown Yonge Street. Let’s start to listen to the creative people of our town who have ideas that can make our city the queen city of the world and—for heaven’s sake—will somebody please invite me to play my violin at Massey Hall before they tear it down.

Additional material from City Lib by Stephen Clarkson (Toronto: Hakkert, 1972) and the following newspapers: the September 14, 1969 edition of the Globe and Mail; the September 13, 1969 and September 24, 1969 editions of the Toronto Star; and the November 19, 1969 edition of the Telegram.