Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday August 10, 2021
Premier Bill Davis was the steady hand driving Ontario’s Big Blue Machine
William Grenville Davis, premier of Ontario for 14 years (1971 to 1985), was a baffling, contradictory figure – a shy, inscrutable man, who liked family and football yet spent his life absorbed by political issues, travelling up to 160,000 kilometres a year; a tradition-bound, non-intellectual with a passion for ideas and experimentation that gave birth to such intellectual playgrounds as the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
The press consistently panned the performances of Mr. Davis, reporting that he was bland and boring, but he charmed voters out of the trees. Right-wing conservatives described him as a left-wing socialist; left-wingers attacked him for pandering to the right.
“Bland works,” he once said. “The only time a politician gets in trouble is when he opens his mouth.”
He was renowned for his ability to appear prosperous, calm and confident, to say little, and to lead the province through dramatic, potentially unpopular changes.
Mr. Davis died on Sunday at the age of 92 surrounded by family in Brampton, Ont., a family statement said. He was the fifth consecutive Tory leader to occupy the premier’s office since 1943 and held the office longer than any other.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Mr. Davis’s death. “The former premier of Ontario leaves behind an incredible legacy of service – and I have no doubt that the impact of his work will be felt for generations to come,” Mr. Trudeau tweeted.
Premier Doug Ford said Mr. Davis served Ontario “with honour and distinction” and flags across the province will be lowered to half-mast in his honour.
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney said in a statement that “Canada has lost a great statesman today, and I have lost a great and true friend. Bill Davis devoted his life to Ontario, to Canada and to his family. The progress he made on many fronts as premier place him in the front ranks as one of Canada’s greatest premiers ever.”
Mr. Davis supported the controversial energy policies and constitutional endeavours of then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals; under his premiership, the free-enterprise Tory government bought a 25-per-cent stake in Suncor, an oil company, and initiated tripartite industrial strategies advocated by the New Democratic Party. And as education minister, he reformed and vastly expanded the education system – all without upsetting too many of the people too much of the time.
Yet his skills as a politician failed to help his successor. Nearly 42 years of Conservative government ended 138 days after he stepped down as premier on Feb. 8, 1985. His successor, Frank Miller, called an election and failed to win a majority government in the May 2 election. Mr. Miller’s minority government lost a vote of confidence on June 18 and on June 26, he resigned. (Continued: Globe & Mail)