Happy 80th birthday Bill Davis — a progressive conservative worth remembering in these darker times

Aug 9th, 2009 | By | Category: In Brief
Bland Bill Davis from Brampton in his middle age

Bland Bill Davis from Brampton in his middle age

I never voted for his party. But Haroon Siddiqui’s report on the recent commemoration of “Bland” Bill Davis’s 80th birthday at the York Club, in today’s Sunday edition of the Toronto Star, reminded me of how much I came to admire him (to my surprise), when I worked as an Ontario civil servant in the 1970s.

Bill Davis was the second-longest serving premier of Canada’s most populous province of Ontario (1971–1985). He was, as the historian J.L. Granatsetin has noted, a product of a  “small-town” democratic political culture that now seems to have vanished.  He spoke in interminable sentences. And he was, without making any fuss about it, a progressive conservative (as well as the leader of what is still locally known as the Progressive Conservative Party).

Haroon Siddiqui’s Star column does a nice job of explaining what was so admirable about Bill Davis’s political career. The Wikipedia article on him is also instructive enough reading (despite the official caveat that it “does not cite any references or sources”). And further references are noted in an earlier “Happy birthday Mr. Davis!!!” from a blog called The Independent Thinker.

I did not know Mr. Davis personally at all (though I did write one speech he gave on an obscure subject). What I remember best is how so many harsh plots in the Ontario government policy-making process of the 1970s were recurrently shut down by the premier’s office. Mr. Siddiqui ends his column with a  message from former New Democratic opposition leader Stephen Lewis. Bill Davis was a conservative who “made politics … humane, generous, respectful and urgent … How astonishingly different from the politics of today.”

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