|Toronto Sun, November 3, 1980.|
After a nine-month slog, the 2014 municipalelection campaign draws to a close today. Amid its stranger-than-fiction twists and turns, a sad truth has emerged: there is a segment of Torontonians who have discovered they can get away with boldly displaying small-minded attitudes we like to sweep under the carpet. As Ward 2 candidate Andray Domise observed in atweet this morning referring to a gawdawful Andy Donato cartoon of Olivia Chow published in the Sun, one of the campaign's big problems is "that we've given racists, sexists, xenophobes a platform of legitimacy in TO politics." From attacks on Chow's ethnicity to the mutilation of signs for Islamic candidates, it hasn't been pretty.
(If I had a magic wand, I'd teach the Ford family, and their hard-core supporters, the concept of “consequences.”)
Past elections weren't immune from this excrement. There have always been candidates and followers stirring the pot at election time to capitalize on existing prejudices. One of the ugliest campaigns in this respect occured in 1980, when incumbent mayor John Sewell's support of gay activist George Hislop's run for city council unleashed a tidal wave of homophobia. As Sewell's challenger Art Eggleton put it during an October 21, 1980 town hall meeting at St. Lawrence Centre, "he has raised the concern of an awful lot of people in regards to his bias to Mr. Hislop" (Eggleton, who won the 1980 election, later refused to officially recognizePride celebration during his 11-year mayoralty). When the organizer of an anti-gay rally at Nathan Phillips Square the week before asked Sewell point-blank if he was a "practicing homosexual," the mayor noted that it was an issue which was "a difficult one for anyone to deal with, myself included...it's something we have to deal with."
Among those in the audience at that meeting was fringe mayoral candidate Anne McBride. Though not officially invited, she snagged three minutes of speaking time. A born-again fundamentalist preacher from Scarborough, McBride noted that she opposed the recognition of homosexuals as a minority group because they "need help," which she would offer through clinics. To a mix of cheers and jeers, she stated that they were "trying to invade our society." On her way out, several attendees shook her hand.
|Globe and Mail, November 8, 1980. Note that this appeared as a "personal" ad in the classified section.|
Two weeks later, six McBride supporters -- including three children -- picketed outside the Toronto Star. The kids belonged to council candidate Jim McMillan, who declared that the youngsters, aged 6 to 9, fully understood what they were protesting against. The picketers claimed the paper had not given her the coverage they felt she was due. One sign, reputedly made by McBride, asked if Star publisher Beland Honderich and reporter Kevin Scanlon were homosexual. Scanlon responded in his "Election Notebook" column.
Mrs. McBride says the homosexual issue is THE issue in this election campaign. If I were a homosexual, it would follow that I would also be THE issue in this campaign. If I were THE issue in this campaign, wouldn't candidates return my phone calls? They don't and I'm not.
The campaign ended painfully for McBride, when she fell down a flight of stairs two days before the election. Though she sprained an ankle and pulled a hamstring, her spirits were undimmed - her workers were "busy and working steadily."
McBride finish third out of the seven mayoral candidates, with 1.9% of the vote. She placed ahead of other odious candidates, including a white supremacist.
McBride ran unsuccessfully for office at all government levels over the next decade, though future campaigns were based around seniors issues, transit, and giving Scarborough "a high moral profile." Toronto elected its first female mayor, June Rowlands, in 1991.
Additional material from the October 22, 1980, November 10, 1980, and November 11, 1980 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the October 22, 1980, November 5, 1980, November 6, 1980, and October 29, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star.