Bill Davis legacy revealed in new book
Steve Paikin, author and host of TVO's The Agenda, signs a copy of his new book Bill Davis: Nation Building and Not So Bland After All for Barrie cardiologist Dr. Brad Dibble during Paikin's speaking engagement at Georgian College, Monday night. DOUG CRAWFORD/GEORGIAN COLLEGE PHOTO
Former Ontario premier Bill Davis is the subject of a new book by author and TVO’s Steve Paikin, host of The Agenda.
Paikin was at Georgian College on Monday to talk about his book Bill Davis: Nation Building and Not So Bland After All.
Davis is acknowledged as the ‘father’ of the Ontario college system.
“He stepped down as premier of Ontario in 1985 so there are a whole bunch of college students who don’t have first-hand memories of this man,” Paikin said while driving up from Toronto for his speaking engagement.
Davis’s legacy is multifaceted, Paikin said, adding the Brampton-based MPP was premier for 14 years from 1971 to 1985. The 87-year-old still lives in the Brampton home he grew up in.
“If you want to talk electorally as a politician, he was the last guy to win four elections in a row. No one had done that since the First World War. He bookended those four wins with majority governments," Paikin said.
“Davis was a savvy, smart politician and a moderate, middle-of-the-road progressive conservative,” he added. “As a result, when he ran a minority (provincial) parliament from 1975 to 1981, he was able to tack left on some issues and get the NDP support, tack right on other issues and get the Liberals’ support and he was able to get things done.
“He was not a hard ideological guy. He was a pragmatic guy who wanted to increase the size of the (political) tent and get more people inside and get things done,” Paikin added. “He liked to occupy the vast political middle, which is where he thought most of the public was.”
Paikin agreed that Davis was often dubbed the education premier.
“He created the community college system 50 years ago,” he said. “Would there have been a Georgian College without Bill Davis? I don’t know. But I know that there is a Georgian College because of Bill Davis."
Georgian College president and CEO MaryLynn West-Moynes said Davis was recognized by the college many years ago for his contributions.
“He was the first person named as a Fellow of Georgian College, an honour bestowed on individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to education or the general expansion of knowledge, most notably in the central region of Ontario,” she said. “Ontario colleges have come a long way since 1967 and it is fitting to celebrate Steve Paikin’s success in bringing the Bill Davis story – part of our story – to life.”
Paikin said "maybe a half-dozen universities" came in on his watch and he eventually initiated full funding for the Catholic school system.
But perhaps his biggest achievement is the role he played as a nation builder and helping to repatriate the Canadian constitution, he added.
“If he wasn’t part of that in 1981, I don’t think it ever would’ve happened. Pierre Trudeau drove the bus and drove that process. But it wouldn’t have happened without Bill Davis’s input,” he said.
Paikin said Davis used to like to run a “relatively bland” government, adding the former premier took some advice from another former premier: "You never get in trouble for the speeches you don’t give or the decisions you don’t make."
“Mr. Davis used to like to let issues percolate along for a long time. Sometimes they would burn themselves out so, no problem.
“One of the Queens Park reporters went up to him one day in a scrum and said, ‘Why is your government so bland?’ His answer was, ‘Bland works’,” Paikin said. “It was a very short but punchy and accurate quote. It was an ironic comment because there was nothing bland about Bill Davis’ 14 years as premier.
“He had some difficult issues to deal with. He’ll go down in history as one of the most consequential premiers we ever had.”