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Bill Davis

The Honourable
Bill Davis
18th Premier of Ontario
In office
March 1, 1971 – February 8, 1985
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor William Ross Macdonald
Pauline Mills McGibbon
John Black Aird
Preceded by John Robarts
Succeeded by Frank Miller
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for Peel
In office
June 11, 1959 – October 17, 1967
Preceded by Thomas Laird Kennedy
Succeeded by District abolished
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for Peel North
In office
October 17, 1967 – September 18, 1975
Preceded by District created
Succeeded by District abolished
Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for Brampton
In office
September 18, 1975 – May 2, 1985
Preceded by District created
Succeeded by Bob Callahan
Personal details
Born William Grenville Davis
(1929-07-30) July 30, 1929
Toronto, Ontario[1]
Political party Ontario PC Party
Spouse(s) Helen MacPhee
Kathy Davis
Alma mater University of Toronto
Osgoode Hall Law School
Religion United Church

William Grenville "Bill" Davis, PC CC OOnt QC (born July 30, 1929) was the 18th Premier of Ontario, Canada, from 1971 to 1985. Davis was first elected as the MPP for Peel in the 1959 provincial election where he was a backbencher in Leslie Frost's government. Under John Robarts, he was a cabinet minister overseeing the education portfolio. He succeeded Robarts as Premier of Ontario and held the position until resigning in 1985.

In a 2012 edition, the Institute for Research on Public Policy's magazine, Policy Options, named Davis the second-best Canadian premier of the last forty years, beaten only by Peter Lougheed.[2]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Early political career 2
  • Minister of Education 3
  • Premier 4
  • Minority governments 5
  • Final term 6
  • National scene 7
  • In retirement 8
  • Quotes 9
  • Recognition 10
  • Further reading 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13

Early life and education

Davis was born in Toronto General Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, the son of Vera (Hewetson) and Albert Grenville Davis.[1][3] His father was a successful local lawyer. He married twice, first to Helen MacPhee (b. 1931, m. 1955, d. 1962), with whom he had four children (Neil, Nancy, Cathy, Ian), before marrying Kathleen MacKay (m. 1962).[1]

Davis was politically active from a young age. Local Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Gordon Graydon was a frequent guest at his parents' house, and Davis himself became the first delegate younger than seventeen years to attend a national Progressive Conservative convention in Canada. He frequently campaigned for local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Thomas Laird Kennedy, who briefly served as Premier of Ontario in 1949.

He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1951 and attended Osgoode Hall Law School. Davis was a football player during his university years, and his teammates included Roy McMurtry and Thomas Leonard Wells, both of whom would later serve in his cabinet.

Early political career

He was first elected to the Robert Macaulay's campaign to succeed him as premier and party leader. Macaulay was eliminated on the next-to-last ballot, and, with Davis, delivered crucial support for John Robarts to defeat Kelso Roberts on the final vote.

Minister of Education

Davis was appointed to Robarts's cabinet as Minister of Education on October 5, 1962, and was re-elected by a greatly increased margin in the 1963 provincial election.

Davis was given additional responsibilities as Ontario's Minister of University Affairs on May 14, 1964, and held both portfolios until 1971. He soon developed a reputation as a strongly interventionist minister, and oversaw a dramatic increase in education expenditures throughout the 1960s (education spending in Ontario grew by 454% between 1962 and 1971). He established many new public schools, often in centralized locations to accommodate larger numbers of students. Davis also undertook dramatic revisions of Ontario's outdated and inefficient school board system, reducing the 3,676 boards of 1962 to only 192 in 1967. Many boards had presided over a single school prior to Davis's reforms.

Davis also created new universities, including Trent University and Brock University, and established twenty-two community colleges, the first of which opened its doors in 1966. He established the TVOntario educational television network in 1970.

Davis's handling of the education portfolio made him a high-profile minister, and there was little surprise when he entered the leadership contest to succeed Robarts in 1971. He was quickly dubbed as the frontrunner, though his awkward speaking style and image as an "establishment" candidate hindered his campaign. He defeated rival candidate Allan Lawrence by only 44 votes on the final ballot, after receiving support from third-place candidate Darcy McKeough. Shortly after the convention, Davis invited Lawrence's campaign team to join his inner circle of advisors. This group became known as the Big Blue Machine, and remained the dominant organizational force in the Progressive Conservative Party until the 1980s.


Shortly after taking office as premier, Davis announced that his government would not permit continuing construction of the rest of the Spadina Expressway into downtown Toronto (an initiative that had been unpopular with many of the area's residents). The "Davis ditch", the section of Allen Road south of Lawrence Avenue was nicknamed in his honour. He also rejected a proposal to grant full funding to Ontario's Catholic high schools, which some regarded as an appeal to the Progressive Conservative Party's rural Protestant base. Davis's team ran a professional campaign in the 1971 provincial election, and was rewarded with an increased majority government.

Davis's first full term as premier was by most accounts his least successful, with public confidence in his government weakened by a series of scandals. There were allegations that the Fidinam company had received special consideration for a Toronto development program in return for donations to the Progressive Conservative Party. In 1973, it was revealed that Davis' friend Gerhard Moog had received a valuable untendered contract for the construction of Ontario Hydro's new head office and related projects. Attorney General Dalton Bales, Solicitor General John Yaremko and Treasurer McKeough were all accused of conflicts-of-interest relating to government approval for developments on properties they owned. The government was cleared of impropriety in all cases, but its popular support nonetheless declined. The Conservatives lost four key by-elections in 1973 and 1974.

On the policy front, the Davis administration introduced regional governments for Durham, Hamilton-Wentworth, Haldimand-Norfolk, and Waterloo but shelved further plans in response to popular protests. The government was also forced to cancel a planned 7% energy tax in 1973 following protests from the Progressive Conservative backbench. In the buildup to the 1975 provincial election, Davis imposed a ninety-day freeze on energy prices, temporarily reduced the provincial sales tax from 7% to 5%, and announced rent controls for the province.

Minority governments

The 1975 campaign was far more bitter than that of 1971, with Davis and Liberal leader Robert Nixon repeatedly hurling personal insults at one another. Polls taken shortly before the election had the Liberals in the lead. The Progressive Conservatives won only 51 seats out of 125, but were able to remain in power with a minority government. The New Democratic Party (NDP) won 38 seats under the leadership of Stephen Lewis, while Nixon's Liberals finished third with 36. Soon after the election, Davis hired Hugh Segal as his legislative secretary.

Davis appointed right-wingers Frank Miller and James Taylor to key cabinet portfolios after the election, but withdrew from a proposed austerity program following a negative public response. In 1977, he introduced a policy statement written by Segal which became known as the "Bramalea Charter", promising extensive new housing construction for the next decade. Davis called a snap election in 1977, but was again returned with only a minority. The Progressive Conservatives increased their standing to 58 seats, against 34 for the Liberals and 33 for the NDP.

The Conservatives remained the dominant party after the 1975 and 1977 elections due to the inability of either the New Democrats and the Liberals to become the clear alternative. The Conservatives were able to stay in power due to the competition between both opposition parties. As there was no serious consideration of a Liberal-NDP alliance after both campaigns, Davis was able to avoid defeat in the legislature by appealing to other parties for support on particular initiatives. His government often moved to the left of the rural-based Liberals on policy issues. The opposition parties had also undergone leadership changes; Nixon and Lewis, who had posed a strong challenge to Davis, resigned after the 1975 and 1977 elections, respectively. Nixon's successor Stuart Lyon Smith proved unable to increase Liberal support, while new NDP leader Michael Cassidy lacked the support of the party establishment and could not measure up to Lewis's charismatic and dynamic figure.

This period of the Davis government was one of expansion for the province's public health and education systems, and Davis held a particular interest in ensuring that the province's community colleges remained productive. The government also expanded the provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code, and expanded bilingual services without introducing official bilingualism to the province.

Final term

The Progressive Conservatives were returned with a majority government in the 1981 provincial election, mostly at the expense of the NDP. Soon after the election, Davis announced that John Tory (who would become leader of the PCs 23 years later) had been hired to succeed Hugh Segal as his principal secretary. He also announced that Ontario would purchase a 25% share in the energy corporation Suncor, despite opposition from within his own caucus.

In 1983 Davis considered moving to federal politics by running to lead the federal Progressive Conservatives when Joe Clark only received lukewarm support during a leadership review. Davis decided not to do so when he realized that he would not receive endorsements from western Canada because of his support for the Constitution patriation and the National Energy Program. His candidacy had been strongly opposed by Peter Lougheed, the Premier of Alberta.

He retired a few months before the 1985 election, with him and his government still well ahead in polls against David Peterson's Liberals and Bob Rae's NDP. One of his last major acts as premier was to reverse his 1971 decision against the full funding of Catholic schools, and announce that such funding would be provided to the end of Grade Thirteen. Although the policy was supported by all parties in the legislature, it was unpopular with some in the Conservatives' traditional rural Protestant base, and many would stay home in the upcoming election because of this issue.

National scene

He had an awkward relationship with federal Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark. Clark and Davis held differing views over fuel prices, and the Davis government actively opposed Clark's 1979 austerity budget which included a gas tax. In the 1980 federal election, Davis's criticism of Clark's budget was used by the Liberal Party in official campaign documents and it played a role in the federal Tories' losses in Ontario; the swing in support enabled the Liberals to regain government.

Unlike most provincial premiers in Canada, Davis strongly supported Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's 1981 plans to patriate the Canadian Constitution from the United Kingdom and add to it a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Davis's role in the constitutional negotiations of 1981 were pivotal in achieving a compromise that resulted in the passage of the 1982 Constitution.

In retirement

Davis was succeeded by Frank Miller, who was elected leader at a January 1985 leadership convention over Larry Grossman and was widely considered the successor to Davis and his Big Blue Machine. Although Miller was more conservative, the Progressive Conservatives still held a significant lead over the opposition when the election was called. However, after a poor campaign and controversy over Catholic school funding, in the 1985 provincial election they were reduced to minority government and lost the popular vote to the Liberal Party, and were soon defeated in a motion of non-confidence by a Liberal-NDP accord, ending the party's 42-year period of rule over the province.

Davis was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1985, and since his retirement from politics has served on numerous corporate boards.

Davis's reputation within the Ontario Progressive Conservatives was compromised during the 1990s by the party's shift to the right under Mike Harris. Many Conservatives parliamentarians were openly dismissive of Davis-era spending policies, and frequently highlighted the differences between Davis and Harris on policy issues. Davis remained a supporter of the party, but seldom appeared at official events. In a National Post editorial, on the tenth anniversary of Harris' 1995 electoral victory, Harris' chief of staff described the difference in their policies, saying that Davis retained power with a careful balancing act, while Harris used a bold platform to unexpectedly catapult the party from third place to first.

In 2003, Davis played a role in the successful negotiations to merge the federal Progressive Conservatives with the Canadian Alliance, and create the new Conservative Party of Canada. (Clark refused to endorse the newly merged party.) In the 2006 federal campaign, he campaigned for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and endorsed former provincial minister Jim Flaherty. Harper spoke favourably of Davis during the campaign, and said that he learned much from Davis's style of governing. The Conservatives were able to defeat the Liberals to form the government.

In recent years Davis has returned to an honoured position within the party. He was a keynote speaker at the 2004 Progressive Conservative leadership convention, and was singled out for praise in speeches by outgoing party leader Ernie Eves and new leader John Tory. Davis was also present for Tory's first session in the Ontario legislature, following the latter's victory in a 2005 by-election.

Throughout his political career, Davis often remarked upon the lasting influence of his hometown of Brampton, Ontario. He is known, primarily by Bramptonians, as "Brampton Billy".

In 2014, Davis endorsed Christine Elliott in her campaign to become leader of the Ontario PC Party.[5]


  • "Bland works."[4] (Davis explaining how his success in politics went with his unexciting public image.)
  • "If we are building a transportation system to serve the automobile, the Spadina Expressway would be a good place to start. But if we are building a transportation system to serve people, the Spadina Expressway is a good place to stop" [6]


  • OCSOA awarded its 2015 Honorary Membership Award to the former premier in recognition of his leadership in ensuring the continued presence of Catholic education in Ontario.
  • At the University of Waterloo, a building constructed during the early 1980s to house computer research was named after the former premier. The building is called the William G. Davis Centre for Computer Research, or more commonly called the Davis Centre (DC).
  • There is a middle school (grades 7-8) on Bartley Bull Parkway in Brampton named after him (W. G. Davis Senior Public School),[7] as well as one on Langs Drive in Cambridge (William G. Davis Senior Public School)[8] and an elementary school on East Avenue in Scarborough (William G. Davis Public School).[9]
  • In 1987, Bill Davis was made an Honorary Senior Fellow of Renison University College, located in Waterloo, Ontario.[10]
  • Sheridan College named its Brampton Campus after Davis.[11]
  • The University of Toronto Mississauga dedicated a building in his honour.[12]
  • On October 24, 2006, Davis received Seneca College’s first Honorary degree where he was presented with an Honorary Bachelor of Applied Studies. "It is fitting that Bill Davis receives Seneca’s first honorary degree," said Dr. Rick Miner, President of Seneca College. "As one of the architects of the college system in Ontario, he is responsible for a dynamic post-secondary education environment which continues to be a pillar of our province’s economy."[13]
  • The Public Policy Forum honoured Bill Davis with the Testimonial Award for his contribution to public life, public policy and governance in Canada at their 2011 Testimonial Dinner.[14]

Further reading

  • Hoy, Claire. (1985) Bill Davis. Toronto: New York: Methuen.
  • Manthorpe, Jonathan. (1974) The Power & The Tories. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
  • Speirs, Rosemary. (1986) Out of the Blue: The Fall of the Tory Dynasty in Ontario. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.


  1. ^ a b c Hoy, Claire. (1985) Bill Davis. Toronto: New York: Methuen.
  2. ^ Pratt, Sheila (3 May 2012). "Alberta's Peter Lougheed easily tops list of Canada's best premiers". Postmedia News. Retrieved 9 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Brampton Cemetery, Ontario Genealogical Society.
  4. ^ a b Toronto Sun, June 30, 2009
  5. ^
  6. ^ Sewell, 1993
  7. ^ Peel District Schools
  8. ^ school website
  9. ^ Ontario Ministry of Education
  10. ^ Dr. Gail Cuthbert Brandt 'Bold and Courageous Dreams' Renison University College, 2014, pg. 131
  11. ^ Sheridan College website
  12. ^ "Davis praised as ‘education Premier' at building re-dedication" (Press release). University of Toronto Mississauga. 2010-10-18. Archived from the original on 24 October 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-20. 
  13. ^ "Canada’s largest college confers first honorary degree to Bill Davis" (Press release). Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology. 2005-10-24. Retrieved 2005-10-25. 
  14. ^ "Public Policy Forum Announces 2011 Testimonial Award Winners" (Press release). Public Policy Forum. 2011-01-07. Retrieved 2011-04-04. 

External links

  • Ontario Legislative Assembly Parliamentarian History
  • Order of Canada citation
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