Givens, Philip

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GIVENS, PHILIP (1922–1995), Canadian politician and Jewish community leader. Givens was born in Toronto to Polish immigrants Hyman and Mary Gevertz. After completing Jewish parochial school, he graduated from the University of Toronto in 1945 with a degree in political science and economics and Osgoode Hall Law School in 1949. A member for the Liberal Party from youth, Givens gave up legal practice for politics. A long-time member of the Toronto city council, in 1961 Givens was elected as controller of the City of Toronto. A forceful, progressive, and energetic promoter of the city, after only one term as controller he was elected mayor of Toronto in 1963 – the second Jewish mayor of Toronto. His term as mayor was marked by the rapid expansion of Toronto's cultural and transportation infrastructure. Especially controversial was his championing the purchase of an abstract sculpture, The Archer, by Henry Moore, for the plaza of the new City Hall. Opponents branded Given's support for public art as ugly and a waste of money but Givens had his way. While the sculpture has since become a source of community pride, the controversy rebounded against Givens and he was defeated in his 1966 re-election bid. Givens turned his attention to the federal politics and was elected to Parliament in the 1968 Pierre Trudeau landslide. Givens resigned in 1971 before completing his term, after a dispute with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau over issues that affected the Jewish community and out of disappointment at not being made a member of Cabinet. Givens ran for the Liberal Party in the 1971 Ontario provincial sphere and remained in the Ontario legislature until he retired from electoral politics in 1977. He subsequently held a number of judicial appointments.

Givens was a committed member of the Toronto Jewish community. A Yiddishist and Zionist, he was founding president of the Upper Canada Lodge of B'nai B'rith and president of the Toronto Zionist Council and member of the national executive of the Zionist Organization of Canada. He chaired the United Israel Appeal in Toronto and was active in the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, and a number of other community organizations. Givens is fondly remembered for his flamboyant style and devotion to the preservation of Yiddish language and culture.

[Frank Bialystok (2nd ed.)]