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Get ready for the return of Bill Davis (03/30/05)

If John Tory gets elected as premier, will William Davis be back running in Ontario? The new Progressive Conservative leader and former premier are embraced in a love-in that makes Prince Charles and Camilla look lukewarm.

If John Tory gets elected as premier, will William Davis be back running in Ontario? The new Progressive Conservative leader and former premier are embraced in a love-in that makes Prince Charles and Camilla look lukewarm.

Tory was Davis?s principal secretary and his one-time boss. Now they are seen together constantly, showering praise on each other. It?s a mutual admiration society between present and past unprecedented in Ontario politics.

Davis has pushed hard to get his protege elected somewhere. He first boosted him for mayor of Toronto, citing his ?talent and great social conscience,? but was rebuffed.

Davis encouraged Tory to run to become the Conservative leader, although not officially because former leaders traditionally do not take sides.

But Tory called himself a moderate, and he and others said he resembled Davis. This became a large part of the argument for picking Tory.

Davis went to the convention that chose Tory and urged the party to unite. Davis also traveled to a riding northwest of Toronto to plug Tory when he
was picked to run in a by-election.

Tory put a testimonial from Davis on the front of his campaign literature in which he said Tory would make Ontario ?the great province it once was,?
and provide collaborative leadership.
Tory said he would be like Davis and John Robarts, another former premier, in both encouraging individual initiative and helping the needy.

Some riding Conservatives have described Tory as ?Bill Davis coming back in younger form.?

Davis was also pictured with Tory when he won and praised him for having moderate policies. Tory said he?d try to emulate Davis?s ?decency and
co-operative ap-proach.?

This involvement was a departure for Davis, who had been seen little in provincial politics since he retired, mainly because he and far right-wing premier Mike Harris lacked enthusiasm for each other?s policies.

Davis joined attempts to revive his federal party, however, and returned briefly when Harris was down in polls before the 1999 election and asked
Davis to endorse him. He gulped and did.

Tory and Davis are much more on the same wavelength, but the Conservative leader has given himself problems by resurrecting the former premier and emphasizing their close relationship.

New leaders normally try to distance themselves from their predecessors to show they are different, can stand on their own feet and are not beholden.

Tory risks being accused of being a puppet manipulated by Davis or controlled by a Svengali or Rasputin -there are no end of colourful comparisons opponents can drag in.

Davis also had a mixed record and was not quite the model of moderation and fairness he now is commonly portrayed as being.

Davis was more aware of social needs, but his solution to every concern was to create a new program, and he ran up huge deficits that would not be admired today.

He also was lavish with friends, steering lucrative government contracts to those who ran his election campaigns.

Far from being collaborative, Davis made all major decisions by himself or with a small group of mostly unelected cronies.

These are not just criticisms by enemies. Some were made by Conservatives respected in the party today.

Norm Sterling, the longest-serving member of the current Conservative caucus and a minister under Davis, has said the way Davis made important decisions without consulting was ?distasteful.?

Bob Runciman, who until recently was interim Conservative leader and served under Davis, attacked Davis at the time for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to buy private properties, including part of an oil company the province later had to sell back at a fraction of cost. Davis froze him out of promotion.

Premier Dalton McGuinty?s Liberals could dig up a lot more quotes like these. Conservative won?t want to remind voters of this record.

Eric Dowd is a veteran member of the Queen?s Park press gallery.