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22gigantes.com - A biography of perhaps Ontario’s most important premier, who, despite having been out of public life for thirty years, is remembered fondly by many as the head of one of Ontario’s most progressive, yet conservative, governments.
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About the Author Steve Paikin is anchor of The Agenda with Steve Paikin, TVO’s flagship current affairs program since 2006. He has written four previous books on politics, including Paikin and the Premiers. Paikin has spent thirty years in journalism, almost 25 of them at Ontario’s provincial broadcaster. He lives in Toronto. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. INTRODUCTION Election night — June 12, 2014 — was one of the most anticipated in Ontario political history. Because the public opinion surveys were all over the map, none of the so-called experts could predict with any certainty what was about to transpire. Millions of Ontarians would turn on their television sets that night with no clue as to who was going to win. I got a taste of that uncertainty just a few days earlier. After taping an episode of The Agenda on TVO with the provincial finance minister and his opposition critics, and when the cameras were no longer rolling, I asked all of them what they thought would happen on election night. Michael Prue, who was running for re-election for the New Democratic Party in Beaches–East York, forecast another minority government for the Liberals. But Vic Fedeli, a rookie member for the Progressive Conservatives from Nipissing, was feeling so bullish about things that he saw a majority government for his PCs. The finance minister himself, Charles Sousa, whose rejected budget was the cause of the election in the first place, looked down, shook his head, and didn’t even dare predict. I confess I was taken aback by his apparent lack of confidence in the Liberal Party’s re-election prospects. On the night of June 12, I anchored TVO’s live, four-hour, commercial-free election broadcast. It was the ninth Ontario election I’d covered. After eight elections, you’d think I would have a strong sense of what was about to happen. But I didn’t. Sources I’ve long trusted over the years were all saying different things. Then the numbers started to come in. The Liberals quickly jumped out to a solid lead. Then they surpassed the all-important 54-seat count — enough for a majority government. And yet none of the other network “Decision Desks” was prepared to declare definitively that the Liberals had indeed won their majority. Everyone was just too skittish and lacked confidence to make the call. But as the night wore on, as the Liberal numbers firmed up, and as the Tory numbers just fell flat, shock gave way to acceptance: Premier Kathleen Wynne had saved the Liberals’ bacon, and thanks to a remarkably efficient vote, captured a solid majority government with just 38.7 percent of the total votes cast. Not only that, she had broken the rookie curse. Not since 1971 had Ontarians given an unambiguous victory to a first-time leader. In that case, a young 41-year-old rookie leader named William Grenville Davis inherited the PC mantle from Premier John P. Robarts in February, then enlarged the size of the PC majority in the ensuing October election. But for more than four decades after that election, no governing party had figured out how to transfer power from one leader to the next successfully. Until now. The other big takeaway on election night in 2014 was how thoroughly Ontarians repudiated PC Leader Tim Hudak’s unadulterated, unambiguous, “small c” conservative agenda. Seventy percent of them voted against it. Since Bill Davis’s departure in 1985, and in almost every general election thereafter, Progressive Conservatives had abandoned the moderate, pragmatic centre that was such a feature of the 42-year-long Tory dynasty (from 1943–85) and had moved harder to the right. The result: just two election wins in nearly 30 years, both by Mike Harris (in 1995 and 1999). While true-blue conservatives interpreted those mandates as Ontarians finally embracing their inner Common Sense Revolutionary zeal, many other observers didn’t. They saw those wins as a reaction (maybe overreaction?) to an ineffective and unlucky NDP government — a “market correction,” if you like. And so the 2014 election result crystallized for many what had become increasingly clear over the years. First, in Ontario, there is only about 30 percent of the population that embraces a hard right-wing agenda of deep tax cuts, an increasingly confrontational approach with unions, and a fervent dislike of government in general and the public sector in particular. Second, that right-wing core is simply not big enough to win elections. The bottom line: it’s still Bill Davis’s Ontario. That’s right. Almost three decades after he retired from a quarter-century-long career in politics, it’s still Bill Davis’s Ontario. Despite the influx of millions of people from faraway places, whose customs and religious practices are a million miles removed from the Christian town of Brampton he grew up in, it’s still Bill Davis’s Ontario. Why write a book on a man who’s been out of public life for 30 years? For so many reasons, the first of which is, incredibly, Bill Davis has never sat down with an author to tell his life story for a book. So many lesser politicians have had their biographies written, and yet Davis has always refused. Part of that can be attributed to his own personal modesty, upon which his parents always insisted. “I’ve never been too attentive to my legacy,” Davis told me in 2015. It’s astonishing, particularly given his accomplishments. His tenure as premier was nearly 14 years long — he’s the second-longest-serving premier in Ontario history. He won four consecutive elections, something that hadn’t been done since before the First World War. Had he not retired from politics in 1985 at the height of his personal popularity, no doubt he would have won a fifth mandate as well. “He’d have wiped the floor with David Peterson and me,” acknowledged Bob Rae of that 1985 campaign Davis opted not to fight. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau gets most of the credit for patriating the Constitution with an accompanying Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But it’s no exaggeration to say it never would have happened without Bill Davis, and this book will tell you why.
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