Bill Davis had charisma too

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.



  1. Eve-Marie Chamot

    As education Minister he introduced a very practical reform of the provincial education system ca 1964 but unfortunately he went a bit too far when he made university education too accessible ca 1968 so now we have too many low-IQ university graduates delivering mail and waiting on tables and not enough brick masons and plumbers and far too many high-school drop-outs.

    He made a few other “faux pas”

    Sometimes when he was contentedly puffing on his pipe he seemed to project too much of a smug “fat-cat” image and the editorial cartoonists certainly had a lot of fun with that!

    Btw, don’t forget his “secret weapon”:- ie, Darcy McKeough, who actually was smarter than all the provincial Premiers and Pierre Trudeau put together.

    Bill Davis was the right Premier for Ontario for that era and he had a very good Ministerial team to support him
    but this is 2021 and we’ve got a whole different set of problems and a glib, manipulative, deceitful, self-serving Prime Minister and an unimaginative and somewhat thuggish Premier at Queen’s Park both of whom who haven’t got the foggiest notion of how to get us all to a better place:- Deus salvet Canada!

  2. Rand Dyck

    Well put, Roger! He was able to initiate many progressive policies, change his mind when he felt he had made a mistake, and stand up to PET when he thought it was necessary, all the while just being such a decent person. He kept telling his party that it should never forget it was the PROGRESSIVE Conservative party!

  3. Fred Coulas

    I heard Bill speak at a number of functions and met him when he was a guest at Canada Dry’s 75th Anniversary celebrations in 1979. He was a marvelous speaker, so polished, funny and had no problems dealing with hecklers. He was sometimes referred to as “Slick Willy”. He was one of Canada’s elite politicians.


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