The little towns on our drive into Toronto seemed prettier and more prosperous than some we had seen farther west. Fergus is one example. The main street is tidy and retains enough hundred-year-old buildings that it appears to have had a long and dignified life. The post office is an example of much of the Ontario architecture -- reminiscent of some of the older buildings we'd loved at Oberlin. Behind the main street, we strolled along a Downtown Fergus walkway above a foamy river rapids, enjoying one of the many little touches of civic pride. We're becoming accustomed to seeing flowers in baskets along bridges and hung from light poles. The Ontario provincial flag is bold in bright green and gold and crimson.
Our hotel is in Markham, a suburb east of Toronto. This is the center of high-tech commerce for Toronto -- IBM, Sprint, SONY, etc. More remarkable is the presence of Asians throughout Toronto and especially here in Markham. We photographed a fairly typical sign from a small shopping mall -- mostly in various Asian languages. Oh by the way we went back the next day for lunch and had exquisite cooked-to-order Chinese food at affordable prices. A very pleasant change from the steam-table buffets that are served in many Chinese restaurants in the U.S. We were the only non-Asians in the restaurant.
Asian neighborhoods are just a small part of the international flavor of Toronto. On our way into town the first day here we passed through an goodly mix of ethnic neighborhoods, including Italian, Middle Eastern, and Greek, each with their own restaurants, grocers and fruit stands, news stands, bars and social clubs. On the other hand, we did read in the paper that Canada is being rather tough on the gypsies of Hungary (which the Canadians call the Roma). It seems these gypsies poured onto the planes seeking refugee status claiming they were facing unconscionable discrimination in Hungary, but it might be the case that some of them just wanted out of the miserable economic situation there. The matter is still in the Canadian immigration courts. Asian shopping center
Our mission to find Hard Rock Cafe paraphernalia for Scott took us to not one but two Hard Rock Cafes. The main one, in the middle of the entertainment district, edges on a new and attractive plaza. Eaton Center, just across the street, is a large and light-filled mall tempting to mall-walkers. The second Hard Rock Cafe is tucked into Gate One at the SkyDome, where the politicians had arranged to throw the first ball for the day's game (there's an election coming up.)
On our second day in Toronto, after a pleasant time shopping for new well-made washable travel clothes at the headquarters of Tilley Endurables, we visited the Ontario provincial legislature. We were disappointed to learn that the tour would be abbreviated because the legislature was meeting, but immediately exhilarated to learn we could obtain passes to the visitor's gallery and watch the proceedings!
This was the most interesting and entertaining experience we've had in a long time. Perhaps it's because of the upcoming election, or perhaps it was because we just picked a lucky day, but the proceedings kept us spellbound for two hours. The Speaker, in his black robe with white tie, sat at the head of the room, in front of a massive heraldic carving. The legislators sat at capacious desks facing each other across the center aisle, government on one side, opposition on the other. The center aisle contained the Speaker's staff, sitting at tables.
Eight young pages were stationed on the steps leading to the Speaker's chair. Dressed in black suits with brightly shined black shoes, the four boys and four girls (we think about ten to 12 years old) sat on cushions placed on the edge of the top step waiting to be summoned on errands -- delivering messages, providing fresh glasses of ice water, carrying papers. Whenever the Speaker rose, the youngster rose, in a wave. Presenting a CN Tower rises high paper to the Speaker, the page then bowed before returning to his or her post. In fact, everybody bowed to the Speaker on arrival in the chamber.
The debates were spirited, with lots of participation from the assembly members (we in the gallery were cautioned not to applaud or speak or demonstrate, and we had to leave our cameras with the security guard). Among the assembly members were the Provincial attorney general and several ministers, who were called upon by the opposition to defend their performance in specific instances. At times the member speaking was drowned out by hoots and catcalls and hands slapping on desktops. The whole thing was rather reminiscent of a Koch math seminar at LSU.
Partway through the meeting, a group appeared in the gallery just across from us: The International Senior Organization from someplace were several dozen Indian men in turbans of many colors and one tiny woman in a pink sari. Mr. Wong, the representative from Markham, our suburb, introduced a bill to make May Asian Heritage month in Ontario.
Health care is a major political issue in Canada, and the Liberal government has not been able to find enough money to keep up with rising costs, so they are expected to lose many seats in the upcoming election. Here on the provincial level, a lot of the questioning on health care was just politics, intending to keep the heat on the Liberal party over health care.
While we were in the gallery there was one roll-call vote. Bells rang all through the building for five minutes, and then the legislators were called, one by one. The order is through the party in power (the Liberals), followed by each of the opposition parties (NDP, Conservatives, and Ontario Provincial Legislature Greens). The staff at the speaker's table came to life, with one calling the names, a second observing the member stand up, and a third echoing the name and the vote cast. They went at an enormous rate of speed; perhaps little more than a minute elapsed to poll the 61 legislators present. What fascinated us was that the vote was 100% along party lines; all 46 Liberals voted aye, and all 15 members in opposition voted nay. We were thus reminded of the party discipline common in parliamentary governments; in the U.S. there are generally some who do not vote with the party.
There's a second house in the legislature, called the Senate, but we think that the elected parliament is the real political power.
On the side walls of the chamber are wood carvings; the side facing the government seats features an owl, urging them to be wise, while the side facing the opposition has a carving of an eagle, urging them to be vigilant, which they were. Another interesting point is the mace, about four feet long, gilded copper, resting on the far end of the Speaker's Table in the center of the hall. This is the fourth or fifth mace in the Ontario Legislature. The first is now on display in a case on the first floor, having been returned to Toronto by President Roosevelt in 1939 -- it had been captured during the War of 1812 and kept in the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis until that time.