When a Toronto suburb 'banned' voice mail at its city hall

Sure, voice mail had its drawbacks, but could a city bureaucracy really go without it?

North York Mayor Mel Lastman enacted change in the summer of 1995

Less voice mail at North York City Hall

28 years ago
Duration 2:18
In July 1995, the mayor North York, Ont., wanted to see way less voice mail being used at city hall.

Sure, voice mail had its drawbacks, but could a city bureaucracy really go without it?

It was something the mayor of North York, Ont., was willing to try in 1995.

In July that year, North York Mayor Mel Lastman made headlines when he said city staff in his Toronto suburb would be using way less of the telephone technology.

"Soon, almost no one at North York City Hall will be allowed to have voice mail taking messages during office hours," the CBC's Havard Gould told Prime Time News viewers on July 7, 1995.

"The exceptions: people who work alone and those who work outside of the office most of the time."

'Who wants to talk to this?'

In July 1995, Mel Lastman demonstrates his experience of being compelled to leave a voice mail message at North York City Hall. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

Gould said it appeared the change in operations had occurred after the mayor had been unable to reach a city staff member.

Lastman was happy to talk about what he didn't like about voice mail.

"Who wants to talk to this?" Lastman said, as he pointed to what appeared to be some of the infrastructure that ran the city's voice mail system.

The push to have humans answering calls that came in meant a lot more note-taking would be necessary. Lastman expected other changes might occur as well.

'They can answer the phone'

A change in operating practices at North York City Hall in July 1995 meant a lot more messages would need to be written down. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

"Maybe less coffee breaks, maybe less chatter," he said.

Several residents visiting city hall seemed to support the mayor's call for less voice mail.

"They get paid for it, so they can answer the phone," a man in a golf shirt waiting in line at a kiosk told Prime Time News.

Gould said that while North York would be falling back on old-school office practices, the mayor seemed confident it was the right choice.

"Communication won't be as modern at this city hall soon, recorded messages will be rare," said Gould.

"But the mayor is betting people will prefer talking to people even when they still can't reach the person they want," he added, as the camera showed a shot of the exterior of Lastman's city hall office.

The exterior of Mayor Mel Lastman's North York City Hall office is seen in July 1995. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

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