News of Premier Bill Davis’ passing has provoked tributes and reminiscences from many who were affected by him during his premiership from 1971 to 1985. Some of them recall his caring personality, good humour and integrity, a combination of attributes that are sadly lacking in many political leaders today. When I practised law in Toronto I got to spend some time observing him at various functions and always found him to be the consummate politician in the best sense of those words. As the Toronto Star put it, “Bill Davis was the king of a better kind of politics.” Photo Toronto Public Library
My first exposure to him, however, was when I was studying law at the University of Toronto in 1975. The Province had just appointed Eganville native Arthur Maloney as its first Ombudsman. Maloney set out to make his office as accessible as possible both to the public and elected officials so, among other steps he took, he ensured that a member of his staff was always available for consultation while the legislature was sitting in Queens Park. I was fortunate to be hired as his “Night Duty Officer” which required me to be present in an office at Queens Park in the evenings when the House was sitting, so as to respond to anything that might affect the Ombudsman’s Office that arose during those sittings.
I can count the occasions on the fingers of one hand when I actually received a visit from an MPP during my term, but one of those will always stick in my memory. One evening quite late, I think around 9 p.m., I was doing what I usually did, i.e. studying my legal texts. (It’s always nice to be paid for studying.) There was a knock on the door and in walked the Premier. He told me that he just wanted to thank me for the service I was providing. We then chatted about the implications and framework of the newly-appointed Ombudsman’s Office and as he was walking out the door he turned and asked me where I was studying law. When I told him “U of T” he joshed me by saying something like, “Too bad – I went to Osgoode!” (There was then and still remains, I am sure, a competitiveness between the two Toronto based law schools.) It was, of course, unnecessary for him to delay his departure from the House after a long day for this reason but that brief incident was typical of the man who many have described as the ultimate “nice guy.”
His premiership coincided with Pierre Trudeau’s reign as Prime Minister. Trudeau was feted because of his “charisma” and even had a mania named after him. Bill Davis undoubtedly had charisma too, but it was largely derived from his humility and geniality, no less effective for that.