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Mel Lastman ‘had a bond and a love affair with the people of Toronto’


Hundreds gathered at a chapel in North York with Lastman’s family following his death to pay tribute to the beloved former mayor on Thursday

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Toronto’s first mega-city mayor and prominent businessman Mel Lastman was known by those closest to him as a colourful and sometimes outrageous politician who loved his family and his city. From creating a unified Metro Toronto to staring in catchy television commercials, Lastman knew how to make an impact.

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On Dec. 11, the former mayor of North York and Toronto died at the age of 88. Hundreds gathered at Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel in North York with Lastman’s family following his death to pay tribute to the beloved former mayor. There were many notable names in attendance, including Premier Doug Ford, Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips, former Toronto mayor David Miller and Mayor John Tory.

In a statement posted to social media, Tory, who served as co-chair of Lastman’s campaigns for mayor of Toronto, said he was “a kind, good-hearted man with a larger-than-life personality who always wanted to do the right thing for people.”

Lastman’s impressive career in municipal government spanned over three decades. He served as the third mayor of North York and the 62nd mayor of Toronto — the first to follow the 1998 amalgamation of Metro Toronto.

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As mayor of North York and the then newly formed mega-city, Lastman was favoured by his constituents for his efficiency in city hall and promise to keep property taxes low. He played a large role in the development of the Yonge and Sheppard area, including the creation of the Sheppard subway line and the North York City Centre, which has become a bustling business hub and home to Mel Lastman Square.

“He was a great Mayor and he touched many lives,” Premier Ford tweeted, adding that Lastman was a “true leader and builder.”

Paul Godfrey, a former municipal politician and longtime friend of Lastman, said Lastman was “king of the quote.”

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“He was not afraid to call a spade a shovel,” said Godfrey, who is chair of Postmedia Network, which owns National Post. The media knew if they stuck a microphone in front of him, he would say something worthy of print.

Lastman did not shy away from controversy. After the January blizzard of 1999, the former mayor garnered national attention when he called in the Canadian Army to help remove the 118 centimeters of snow that had left the city immobilized. While the decision was frowned upon by some, Godfrey said “they cleaned the streets up quicker than anybody else could.”

Former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman in 2014.
Former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman in 2014. Photo by Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia/File

While he was known in public to be boisterous and confident, Godfrey said that in private Lastman was shy, quiet, and not as outgoing. Above all, he said that the former mayor was dedicated to his constituents.

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“Mel Lastman had a bond and a love affair with the people of Toronto,” said Godfrey. “And the rank-and-file members of the Toronto public loved Mel because he spoke the truth.”

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown tweeted: “Very sorry to hear about the passing of Mel Lastman. I got to know him while I was serving at the provincial level. He had a wealth of knowledge on Toronto, Ontario and Canada. He leaves behind a very impressive legacy of City building. Condolences to his family and friends.”

Before entering politics, Lastman was one of the most prominent businessmen in Toronto, said Godfrey. He first made a name for himself, by following ice trucks around the city. When they would make a stop to deliver someone ice for their icebox, Lastman would go up to the door afterwards and try to sell them a refrigerator.

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“He probably knew that if he promoted his brand, which was Mel Lastman the person, he would become a household name,” said Godfrey.

Postmedia Chair Paul Godfrey was among the mourners at Mel Lastman’s funeral on December 13, 2021.
Postmedia Chair Paul Godfrey was among the mourners at Mel Lastman’s funeral on December 13, 2021. Photo by Jack Boland/Postmedia

In 1955, Lastman opened Bad Boy Furniture, which he eventually turned into a chain of stores located around the Toronto area. In a publicity stunt for his business, Lastman travelled to the Arctic to “sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo.” In the 90s, Lastman’s son Blayne re-launched the chain. The pair created a television commercial that became memorable in Ontario for its final line: “Who’s better than Bad Boy? Nooooobody!”

At Lastman’s memorial service, Godfrey said that most the moving speeches were given by the former mayor’s sons. Dale Lastman spoke about the impact that the death of his mother, Marilyn, in January 2020 had on his father.

“As Dale said, ‘My father died of a broken heart,’” said Godfrey.

While Godfrey said the memorial service was moving, it did not serve as a final goodbye to the iconic mega-city mayor.

“Mel will live in the hearts of all of us for many years to come,” he said.

Lastman is survived by sons Blayne and Dale, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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