Toronto, the `city that works,' opens up. `The Good' town revises Sunday-closing laws

Leopold Infeld, a physicist friend of Albert Einstein's, once wrote of his years as a young professor at the University of Toronto: ``I dreaded the Sundays and prayed to God that if he chose for me to die in Toronto, he would let it be on a Saturday afternoon to save me from one more Toronto Sunday.'' Toronto isn't so quiet on Sundays anymore. Canada's top financial and manufacturing center has changed, and the changes are dramatic. Waves of immigration in the postwar years have turned the city into a spicy, cosmopolitan place that Torontonians today unhesitatingly promote as a ``new world city,'' a city ``that works.''

Toronto now permits shops to open in tourist areas on Sundays. Some years ago, it lifted the bans on Sunday commercial sports, Sunday theater, and serving of alcohol in restaurants. Fruit stands, gasoline stations, and some drugstores are open.

Although avid shoppers note that most retail stores remain closed in Toronto on Sundays, even that may change.

A provincial legislative committee is debating legislation that would allow any Ontario municipality to decide for itself whether it wanted open or closed Sunday shopping, or anything in between. With the Liberal government holding a majority in the legislature, that bill should pass late this year.

The Metropolitan Toronto Council rejected in June a proposal to hold a plebiscite in the fall on changing the Sunday-closing law.

``This is a city of great stability,'' C.Dennis Flynn, chairman of the council, said in a recent interview. ``This comes from an attitude of: We don't have to create it tomorrow. We think about it today and think about it tomorrow. We create it the day after. We would like to see the reason for change.''

Mr. Flynn himself opposed wide-open Sunday shopping. ``Not for me,'' he says. ``I am a family man.''

But it could be that one or more of the six municipalities belonging to Metro Toronto will take advantage of the new Sunday shopping bill after it is passed.

It was partly keeping Sunday as a ``day of rest'' that earned the city the title ``Toronto the Good.'' In the mid-19th century, 95 percent of the population was of British stock and staunchly Protestant. That basic character continued beyond World War II.

``It was very much a WASP city,'' recalls Flynn.

The actor Peter Ustinov praises today's Metropolitan Toronto as ``New York City run by the Swiss.''

Toronto's two-layer government, which has been widely regarded as a model system for managing a metropolis, faces a major change this fall. At the moment, the Metro Council is composed of 40 elected mayors, councilors, and aldermen from the five cities and one borough that make up Metro Toronto, plus the chairman these 40 select from among themselves. Flynn was chosen chairman in 1984.

On Nov. 14, voters will elect not only these officials for their own municipalities of Toronto, North York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, York, and East York, but they will also directly elect 28 council members. (Municipal elections are nonpartisan.) A month later that new 28-member council will select a chairman from among its members.

The purpose of the change is make the metro government more democratic, to enhance the electorate's recognition of the responsibilities assigned to each level of municipal government.

In Toronto, the metropolitan corporation provides police protection, regional roads and expressways, public transit (subways, buses, etc.), solid-waste disposal, water-pollution control, water supply, ambulance services, social services, homes for the aged, financially assisted housing, and regional parks. The area municipalities look after fire protection, local streets, garbage collection, local and neighborhood parks, local parking lots, local sewers and water distribution systems, and property-tax collection.

The administration and financing of the public elementary and secondary school systems are the responsibility of metropolitan-wide school boards (public and Roman Catholic), which are independent of both the metropolitan corporation and area municipalities.

This system is intended to make municipal government more efficient and effective. It also means, as Flynn notes, that there is ``a constant level of services in every area,'' whether it is a rich or a poor part of town. Key services to the public - such as schooling, policing, and water supply - are relatively uniform.

By contrast, in metropolitan Boston, the quality of schools and other municipal services varies sharply among the more than 100 cities and towns in the metropolitan area, depending on the local tax base and local preferences for spending money. The state government offsets the differences in revenues between rich and poor towns to a degree through grants. But not to the extent achieved in Toronto.

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