Mayors past and present square off in birthday-bash debate

One hundred and seventy-five years after he left the mayor’s chair, William Lyon Mackenzie is back.

Today, actor R.H. Thomson facilitated the fictitious return of Toronto’s controversial first mayor, a man who was uncompromising in his ideals and reviled by his political enemies.

“He believed in the common person,” Thomson said. “His deep concern for democracy for all people was on the cutting edge of progressive politics.”

David Miller and the late mayor, played by veteran actor Eric Peterson, met in a hypothetical debate at City Hall today. The event commemorated Toronto’s 175th anniversary and pitted Miller up against one of Canada’s most divisive figures.

“He was quite outrageous in the sorts of things he said in the press,” Miller said. “At the heart he stood up for front line people, farmers and workers.”

This was a contentious view in the 1830s. Thomson explained that corruption was rampant at the time, with British representatives establishing something of a “new world aristocracy.”

“It was a bit like Wall Street in 2006-2008,” he said. “A financial circle set up to keep the funds flowing in their own pockets.”

Mackenzie wanted that money for public infrastructure, which in the 21st century context, establishes an interesting parallel with Mayor Miller.

“Miller has just been kicked in the head for wanting a property tax increase,” actor Thomson explained. “Mackenzie was kicked in the head for wanting to increase taxes by two cents on the pound.”

Miller’s public transportation parallels Mackenzie’s efforts to build sidewalks. Miller’s SARS is Mackenzie’s cholera. The two mayors have a lot of shared experience. However, their approach is staunchly different.

“I stand up for front-line people,” he said. “But I also try to work with the bankers and the business community, who (Mackenzie) abhorred.”

Political posturing aside, the dramatized debate was designed to provide an opportunity for the public to have a glimpse of an enigmatic figure in Toronto’s history. For the participants, it’s a learning experience.

“It (is) entertaining. If not heated between us, heated about common issues,” Miller said.