Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


He wanted Toronto to work for everybody Add to ...


Amidst private grief and public outpourings, it is still tempting to imagine David Pecaut washing up on a desert island, even one as much in danger of sinking into the ocean as Tuvalu in the Pacific. He would dry himself off, figure out a way to convene an international summit on global warming, followed by an e-commerce task force on innovative ways to export coconuts.

And once he had tapped into the brain waves of his far-flung global partners, he would convince them to join a diversity round table and a mentorship initiative across the diverse economic and social sectors of the minute island. Naturally, he would persuade a series of strong, capable women to run these projects. Then he would blue sky an annual cultural festival that would attract tourism dollars, enhance local artistic standards, and build international audiences. And he would do all of this for free, earning nothing more than the praise of the islanders and the satisfaction of making his island a more innovative, competitive and diverse place.

That's how the whiz management consultant - who never took a business course, let along acquired an MBA, operated. A whirlwind mix of civic virtue, entrepreneurial chutzpah and midwestern iconoclasm, he was, to his admirers, the best mayor Toronto never had, to his exhausted cronies, an Energizer bunny in need of a dimmer switch, and by his own definition, a civic entrepreneur who had found his opportunity, his cause, and his legacy in Toronto.

Short, with a beatific smile, he was an insatiable talker about lofty ideas, and a nonpareil convener of the mighty, the needy and the cutting edge.

Convinced that Toronto could be a model for the world, he set about forging inclusive working partnerships among the social, economic and cultural sectors, and spawning "do tanks" rather than think tanks. He wanted Toronto to work for everybody - poor as well as rich, immigrants as well as descendants of United Empire Loyalists. Unlike, say, the up-from-the-sidewalk approach that urban activist Jane Jacobs espoused, Mr. Pecaut brought his management consulting and networking skills to the table. Both left the city a better place.

Early in 2004, in the wake of SARS, and in anticipation of the door-opening celebrations of several museums and concert halls, Mr. Pecaut met Tony Gagliano, CEO of St. Joseph's Communications, for lunch in Grano, a North Toronto eatery and cultural petri dish. The two men were strangers, but as soon as Mr. Gagliano mentioned the idea of a one-off cultural festival in Toronto, "the sparks flew." By the time they had finished eating, they had hatched the genesis of an annual arts and creativity festival they called Luminato.

"Working with David has been one of the greatest joys of my life," says Mr. Gagliano. "He is the smartest person I have ever met. But smarts on their own, although nice, are limited in their importance. When you combine smarts with the ability to get things done, then it is look out time."

Many people, including William Thorsell, president of the Royal Ontario Museum, were counting on Mr. Pecaut to run for mayor in 2011. Calling it the "next logical chapter" for a man with such a successful record of building civic projects from the ground up, Mr. Thorsell suggested that Mr. Pecaut's strong public policy orientation would have forced other candidates to campaign on issues rather than personality.

Indeed, he did think seriously about running, but in the way that bad luck and lousy timing can dash Teflon-coated expectations, it was not to be. By the time Mayor David Miller announced on September 25 that he would not seek a third term, Mr. Pecaut's colorectal cancer had metastasized. He was in a bigger struggle, one he couldn't win, and that meant putting aside earthly political ambitions.

And yet, those last months gave him time to reflect on his life, his ambitions and his legacy. "I am the kind of person who loves making change happen, but who also has a bit of an antipathy to being in a power structure," he said in an interview in late November. As a consultant, he could feed his insatiable curiosity by working for a range of clients in a variety of fields and exercise a lot of influence without having to endure "all of the rigamarole of being in a hierarchy."

Single page

Follow on Twitter: @semartin71


In the know

Most popular videos »


More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular