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For nearly a century now, the Conservatives and the Liberals had been in a back and forth battle for supremacy when it came to provincial politics in Ontario.
For the Liberals, they had been trying to return to power since 1943, and the Progressive Conservatives were right in the middle of a political dynasty that would not fall for another 30 years.
Leslie Frost continued to lead the Progressive Conservatives and the province. Over the previous four years, Frost’s government had expanded its schools, highways and hospitals. In regards to education, his government continued to expand education at every level. From when Frost came to power, to the end of the 1950s, his government would increase the number of universities from four to 12. The investment into education, which was $13 million, would be $250 million by the end of the decade. His government invested heavily into the economy and began constructing the 400 series of superhighways.
The money going to highways would be a contentious issue during the election. The Kingston Whig Standard would write quote:
“In the last two or three years, several million dollars of the Ontario taxpayers’ money was shoveled into various contractor’s pockets without any practical gain to the electorate. These contractors working on highway contracts have in some cases been prosecuted, and in others have been shielded by their political accomplices.”
Most notably, his government would introduce the Fair Employment Practices Act and Fair Accommodation Practices Act, which governed laws against the discrimination of people based on their race, ethnicity or gender.
The Ontario Liberal Party decided to go back to a former leader, Farquhar Oliver, in the hopes that the party could reclaim some of the glory of the Mitchell Hepburn years. Oliver had been in the Legislature since 1926, and was last the leader of the party in 1950 when he was ousted. He would return to the leadership position on April 9, 1954.
Oliver would state in the election that it was time to kick Frost out with quote:
“A lusty clap on the back and a kick in some other part of the anatomy.”
Oliver would also attack the Conservatives for their slow work to enact hospital insurance. He would state that the government wanted health insurance but wouldn’t implement it because they stated there not enough hospital beds. He would state quote:
“They have certainly had plenty of time in 12 years of government to build more.”
He would also accuse the government of corruption in the construction of highways, but Frost would respond that Oliver was making statements without any foundation of truth. He would state quote:
“He no welcomes before the people making statements which he never made in the Legislature. In fact, I had to prod him to say anything at all.”
The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation would now be led by Donald C. MacDonald, who had come in as leader on Nov. 21, 1953. MacDonald was coming into the party at its lowest point. Only ten years before he became leader, the party nearly formed the government but now only had two seats in the Legislature. At the time MacDonald became leader, he did not even have a seat in the Legislature.
There were rumours that the Social Credit Party would enter into the Ontario election but they chose not to, stating they had no quarrel with the government of Frost. Macleans would report on June 11, 1955, quote:
“Provincially, they think Premier Frost is conducting affairs to most people’s satisfaction and that there is no particular reason for turning him out. Therefore, they don’t propose to waste any time or money trying.”
This election was the first in history where television would begin to play a role. CBC would permit its television stations, and privately owned ones, to be used for political purposes. All the political parties in the election would be given free time on the television network for political speeches.
In the June 9, 1955 election, the Progressive Conservatives increased their majority by four seats to finish with 83. This would be the last time that the Progressive Conservatives would have more than 80 seats in the Legislature until 1995.
Frost would say in his victory speech quote:
“My first words here among my friends and neighbours are of gratitude to the people of Victoria and Haliburton who again have given me their confidence. At this time of their great endorsement, which is rated a great political victory, I accept the verdict of the people with humility, conscious of the responsibility which this mandate carries.”
The Liberals would rebound slightly, picking up three seats and finishing with 11 to form the Official Opposition.
The CCF, under its new leader MacDonald, picked up one more seat than the last election to finish with three. That extra seat came courtesy of MacDonald, who was elected to the Legislature.
Macdonald would state quote:
“There is no use in kidding. It is a big disappointment. In the industrial areas where we thought we’d get in, we just didn’t.”
There was an expectation that over two million people would cast a ballot since 2.9 million people were eligible to vote. Only 61 per cent would vote though, with 1.7 million casting a ballot. Some recently enfranchised Indigenous on the Six Nations Reserve would choose not to vote. They stated they would boycott it because they stated they had their own constitution and they wanted to protect their treaty rights.
As Ontario entered its last election of the 1950s, the man at the helm of the province, Leslie Frost, was hoping to win another majority government. Frost, who had been the premier of the province since 1949, was still extremely popular and his government continued to expand various projects and services in the post-war boom for Canada.
His government had introduced voting rights for the Indigenous and began the process to turn the federation of the old City of Toronto into Metropolitan Toronto. It had attempted to get control of income tax from the government but had failed, and it had introduced legislation for equal wages for women, who were now working in larger numbers.
When the writ was dropped, it dropped on the exact same date as the 1955 election. The election would also fall only two days prior to the 1955 election as well.
Frost would say when the writ was dropped, quote:
“It is all part of a dynamic economics creed. More people, more industry, more jobs, more wages, more opportunities.”
Frost was also starting to get long in the tooth, and was approaching 65. He had been involved in provincial politics for the previous 22 years, and was ready for retirement.
Before he could do that though, he wanted to win another election.
The Liberals, continuing to try to organize themselves after nearly two decades out of power, were now led by John Wintermeyer, who had become the leader of the party in 1958. He had been elected to the Legislature in 1955 in a close race against his Progressive Conservative opponent.
The NDP were once again led by Donald C. Macdonald, who hoped to bring the party out of the depths and give it more of a say in the Legislature.
The Progressive Conservatives were hoping for big things with this election. The federal Progressive Conservatives under John Diefenbaker had just won the largest majority in Canadian history the year previous, and there was the hope that support could swing to the provincial election.
Throughout the campaign, Wintermeyer would promote several policies including universal medicare, more improvements to welfare assistance, and full funding of Catholic Schools.
During the campaign, Macdonald would actually do quite well in terms of gaining support from rallies. The largest rally of the campaign was when 2,000 people came to hear him speak at Massey Hall in Toronto. He would state at it quote:
“If we develop the resources of this province there should not be a single soul living in poverty.”
The CCF wouldn’t just attack the Conservatives this time, but also levied attacks against the Liberals in hopes of getting their voters. At one point just before the election, Macdonald used the words deceit, election bait, political thievery and a grab-bag of election gimmicks to describe the Liberals. Macdonald would state quote:
“The Liberal platform is one part political thievery, one part retreat from its own trial balloons and one part deceit. It is an attempt to deceive the people of Ontario. The Liberal platform does not give any hint at all where the money is to come from.”
The election was especially heated, more so than previous elections. Frost, generally seen as level headed and not quick to anger, would actually attack two Liberal MPs in a speech, as well as MP Paul Martin. Macdonald would attack the premier over the Northern Ontario natural gas issue, while Wintermeyer attacked Frost for failing to implement the labour relations committee recommendations. He would call it the facade of postponement. He would state quote:
“Frost is afraid to do something at election time for fear it might upset the apple cart.”
At the federal level, various individuals would speak about the Ontario election. Ellen Fairclough, the first female cabinet minister in Canadian history, would praise the agreement announced by the Conservatives during the election to give immigrants the same social and welfare benefits available to other residents. On the flip side of this, Liberal MP Paul Martin would call it nothing more than an obvious pre-election arrangement.
Wintermeyer would also challenge Diefenbaker to enter the election campaign to defend his tax-sharing arrangement that he had made with Frost for the province. He would say quote:
“Premier Frost and Mr. Diefenbaker are afraid to bring the issues squarely before the people of Ontario. Is Mr. Diefenbaker afraid to come into the province today after the promise he made two years ago?”
Under the agreement, Diefenbaker had promised more tax revenue to Ontario during the 1957 federal election, but only $14.9 million of the proposed $100 million a year had been paid. Wintermeyer would call it simply window dressing.
Through the election campaign, there was the belief by some that the Liberals would see a great success after 18 years of Conservative rule over the province. One Liberal hopeful MP, Archie Laidlaw, would state quote:
“There is substantial evidence of a desire for a change from the old, Frost Conservative government to a Liberal government with young, vigorous leadership and fresh ideas.”
Unfortunately for the Liberals, it would be more of the same in the election.
In the June 11, 1959 election, the Conservatives lost 12 seats but since they had such a large majority in the previous election, they retained their majority with 71 seats over the other two parties.
Frost would state quote:
“We lost a few to the fortunes of war, but I’m pleased with the result. Anything over 68 seats is good. That was the way I figured in 1955. I was surprised then we got 83. I’m going to have some fun now for a couple of days.”
Oddly, even though Frost was re-elected in his Victoria riding, a riding he had won continually since 1937, his opponent, Liberal John Nesbitt, refused to concede. Eventually, when it was clear he had not won, he was forced to concede the election to his opponent.
Wintermeyer and the Liberals were able to make large gains in the election, doubling the seat count of the party from 11 to 22. With the increased seat count, Wintermeyer was happy, even if his party didn’t take the election. He would congratulate Frost and state quote:
“We will work to get the government to enact at least some of the legislation we proposed in our election campaign.”
Macdonald and the CCF also saw an improvement, rising by two seats to finish with five. He would be carried off on the shoulders of his supporters. As for the election, he would only say he wished Frost well. He would add, speaking of the Liberals quote:
“We raise the issues and the irony of it is that the Liberals were able to take advantage of the anti-government trend we had created.”
When the 1963 election rolled around in Ontario, Old Man Ontario, the man who had led the province since 1949, was no longer the leader of the Progressive Conservatives. He had retired in 1961 after several decades in provincial politics.
He was replaced by John Robarts, who was born in Banff and therefore the only premier of Ontario not to be born in Ontario, had served in the navy during the Second World War and was elected to the Legislature in 1951. In 1958, he gained his first cabinet post and in 1959, became the Minister of Education.
On Nov. 8, 1961, he became the new premier of Ontario. Many considered him an unknown man, and many people didn’t seem to know much about him.
Maclean’s would write in December 1963 quote:
“Robarts is so adept at keeping his family off the hustings that his wife’s face is less familiar to his electorate than Mrs. Kruschchov’s. Many people who voted for him can’t pronounce his name, even Leslie Frost accents the wrong syllable first.”
The Liberal Party was once again led by John Wintermeyer, who hoped to continue the trend he had started in the last election and gain more seats for his party.
The CCF was now gone, but not really. Like on the federal level, it had been renamed and revamped as the New Democratic Party. While the party name had changed, the person leading it had not. Since 1953, Donald Macdonald had been the leader of the party and that would continue through this election as he hoped to increase his party seats once again.
The Conservative Party’s advertising strategy was built around showing Robarts as a decent man. Maclean’s would write quote:
“During the election campaign, by conveying the impression that he was somehow above politics, he made the then-provincial Liberal leader, John Wintermeyer…look boorish and unprincipled.”
A major topic in the election was organized crime in Ontario, which was an issue the Liberal pushed heavily in the election.
Robarts would state quote:
“In Ontario, there is organized crime but no syndicated crime. The one joy I took from the special report of Mr. Justice Roach on crime in the province was that, sure there were a couple of rotten apples in the barrel, but the rest are all right.”
Robarts method of answering Liberal accusations of organized crime and corruption in a fatherly and firm way actually gained him votes on those issues, rather than hurting him. Robarts was popular enough that even the Toronto Star, for the first time in its entire history, told its readers to vote for a Progressive Conservative.
The NDP would try to gain some votes by attacking the Conservatives over corruption as well. Macdonald would state that no provincial government in Canadian history had had as many scandals as the Progressive Conservatives of the previous 10 years. He would state quote:
“The situation has gone from bad to worse because the provincial government has persistently tried to cover up, rather than clean up, its own mess.”
Arguably the biggest issue was the proposal by the federal government to create a Canada Pension Plan, and how Ontario would fit into that plan. At the time, Robarts’s had a proposal for a portable pension plan.
Wintermeyer would state quote:
“If the Canada Pension Plan stays, great chunks of the Robarts pension legislation will have to be cut out. The guts will have to be ripped out of it.”
Wintermeyer would demand that Robarts give a clear yes or no if Ontario was continuing with its own pension plan proposal.
Robarts would fire back at Wintermeyer, calling his campaign nothing but vilification and falsification. He would state that the gloves were off, in a change from his usual laid-back campaigning manner. Robarts would state quote:
“Mr. Wintermeyer was left without a leg to stand on, without a feather to fly with. One would think he would have learned that you can’t make progress by throwing mud.”
Federal health minister Judy LaMarsh would get involved in the election campaign over the pension plan. She would say of Robarts quote:
“I’m not sure just where Premier Robarts stands in regard to the Canada Pension Plan. One should scrutinize very carefully exactly what it was that the Premier said in the meeting.”
Wintermeyer would be very happy that LaMarsh was getting involved in the election issue. He would state quote:
“Miss LaMarsh’s statement fortifies and substantiates the position I have taken all along.”
Federal Progressive Conservative leader John Diefenbaker would state quote:
“Well, her intervention in my last election campaign proved very helpful to me. Unfortunately for me, they withdrew her two days after she started.”
Robarts for his part would state that he was open to amending Ontario’s pension plan to that of the federal system. He added that it was an issue that the Liberals had injected into the election. He would state quote:
“Probably if I hadn’t called an election we’d have gone on and worked this out. I have no worries about our ability to do this. I am quite sure that after the election is over I can sit down with Prime Minister Pearson and we’ll come up with a good scheme, good for Ontario and for the rest of Canada.”
Religion would also become part of the election campaign, albeit briefly. Wintermeyer was Roman Catholic while Robarts was Protestant. Wintermeyer accused Robarts of injecting religion into the election by stating that Wintermeyer was trying to set religion against religion.
Wintermeyer would respond quote:
“Now with the help of the Tory press, he has in these last few days attempted to exploit religious prejudice. Well, I think it is an act of a desperate man and I am not going to answer him.”
As the election approached, George Wallace, a Liberal candidate in Renfrew North, charged Conservative campaign workers with pressuring deputy returning officers in the election to help the Conservatives get elected. He stated many were promised jobs if they campaigned for the local candidate.
Wintermeyer would tell supporters that he could see the Liberals picking up 62 seats out of the 108 in the Legislature. He would state quote:
“With a Liberal government after Sept. 25, Ontario will take her rightful place as the banner province of Canada. I have confidence in the people of Ontario. They know things are not all right at Queen’s Park at this time. They are concerned about the future.”
Sadly for Wintermeyer, his seat estimate was way off.
In the Sept. 25, 1963 election, the Progressive Conservatives won their seventh consecutive majority, picking up six more seats to finish with 77 in total.
Robarts, with his first official election win, was jubilant. He would state quote:
“I need hardly tell you that I am deeply gratified by the result of today’s contest and I desire to express my appreciation and my heartfelt thanks to those who have made our success possible.”
Speaking on the dispute over the pension plan with the federal government, he would state quote:
“I repeat my offer of full co-operation with Mr. Pearson and I repeat again that while we regard it as our first responsibility to keep Ontario strong we are equally determined to do all in our power to keep Canada united.”
Wintermeyer would help the Liberals to once again increase their seat count, rising two seats to finish with 24. Unfortunately for Wintermeyer, he would lose his own seat, and that would be end of his time as the leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.
The Kingston Whig Standard wrote quote:
“Mr. Wintermeyer, hard hitting Kitchener lawyer, was silent on his future after the returns overwhelmed him Wednesday night but colleagues said his career in politics appeared finished.”
For Wintermeyer, he found out his father was deeply ill only hours before he lost his seat in the election.
He would say quote:
“I just can’t understand it. We thought we were all right here. It is like being hit with a…”
The newspaper at that point said he simply trailed off.
Prime Minister Pearson would state simply that he had regret that Wintermeyer had been defeated. He would state quote:
“I have a high regard for him.”
Wintermeyer in his resignation speech the following day stated quote:
“I feel that I should leave no doubt in the mind of the party or the public as to my position in view of yesterday’s conclusive result.”
LaMarsh would also comment, stating quote:
“Of course I am a Liberal and I like to see the Liberals get elected.”
He would later go on to work as a director of a television station in Kitchener and serve with the Canadian Olympic Association before he tragically passed away in 1993 from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The New Democratic Party would raise two seats as well, finishing with seven, as the party slowly began to climb back to respectability.
The year 1967 was a big year for Canada. Not only was it the Canadian Centennial Year, but Expo 67 was also held that same year in Montreal. Both of those topics have been covered on my other podcast, Canadian History Ehx.
It was also an important year for Ontario as the province went into another election, on the 100th anniversary of its first ever election.
After winning his first election in 1963, John Robarts stayed on as the leader of the party. Over the previous years, he had become a supporter of Medicare after initially opposing it, and he believed in Canada having two official languages and he would work to have French language education offered in Ontario.
Education was a major focus of his time as premier of Ontario, especially over the previous six years before the 1967 election. He would be responsible for the construction of five new universities in Ontario, the establishment of the Ontario Science Centre and Ontario Place and the creation of teacher colleges.
His government also began a major movement to the use of nuclear power for Ontario’s power grid.
The Liberals, still trying to build back to their glory years of the 1930s, were now led by Robert Nixon. Choosing to go with a young leader with name recognition, the party chose Nixon. His father was Harry Nixon, the former premier of the province, and he was elected in 1962 to the legislature following his father’s death. At the time he was chosen as the leader of the Liberal Party in 1967, he was 39 years old. Nixon wasn’t the first person chosen after previous leader Wintermeyer though. Andy Thompson was chosen and was expected to lead the party in the next election. Unfortunately, in 1966 he was involved in a car accident that severely injured two elderly women. He was also severely hurt and he would withdraw himself as leader on the advice of his doctors. Nixon then put his name forward and no one ran against him, making him the new leader of the party on Jan. 7, 1967. He would have a baptism by fire to learn the ropes before the election came along in October.
As per usual, the NDP was led by Donald MacDonald, who had been leading the party since 1953 and had helped it grow, slowly, in the Legislature with each election.
Overall, the election was described as dull and with no major issues dominating election talk. Charles Lynch would write quote:
“Rene Levesque draws more space for quitting the Quebec Liberal Party than Robert Nixon gets for leading the Liberal Party in Ontario. Premier Daniel Johnson gets more attention with a statement about Honolulu than Premier Robarts gets from a seemingly endless series of election speeches.”
The Hamilton Spectator would write of the election quote:
“Ontario elections can put you to sleep. Candidates and parties just can’t seem to crack the indifference barrier. Yet if a provincial election is to be taken with the same degree of concern as Thursday’s garbage collection, democracy is in trouble.”
Robarts would notice the apathy for the election and would state that the election campaigns had quote:
“Failed to resolve itself around any single issue and debate, or has tended to become diffuse.”
That doesn’t mean it was free of anger or drama though.
Robarts would attack Macdonald, whose party was growing in popularity, especially as the federal leader was the highly popular Tommy Douglas. Robarts would state that the NDP claim that the Progressive Conservatives have ignored northern Ontario was completely false. He would call the party a harbinger of doom.
At one point, Robarts found himself facing an angry demonstration of people picketing against his Home Ownership Made Easy Plan. About 20 people with the Building Trades Council protested stating that the plan would give work to non-union speculators. The plan allowed medium income families to acquire low-cost housing with a small down payment. This would not be the first protest over the matter that Robarts would have to deal with.
Also during the campaign, two foster children were also taken from the home, by force, of Mrs. Arthur Timbrell and Robarts had to order an official inquiry into the affair.
The topic of northern voters seemed to be one of the more popular ones as each party leader tried to woo the voters to their side.
The Brantford newspaper wrote quote:
“A lack-lustre campaign with no issues raised by the ruling Conservatives, the Liberals or the New Democrats, has increased the importance of local issues and of these, the most common is the complaint that a riding is in a forgotten part of the province.”
Robarts would state that he was sick and tired of hearing such complaints, stating his party treated all parts of the province equally.
Nixon would propose that a northern development committee be created to help deal with northern issues such as subsidized power rates and highway development.
MacDonald would state that the area needed a special northern affairs minister and a Crown corporation to speed the development of resources in the area.
At the time, northern Ontario had 14 ridings.
Throughout the campaign, Robarts would promise several things, which was criticized by Nixon as not being feasible. He would state quote:
“Surely this is the sort of politicking which went out in the Dirty Thirties. This is the taxpayers money he is spending.
Robarts would mostly have a low-key campaign.
The Kingston Whig-Standard wrote quote:
“Premier John Robarts has been handshaking his way through hamlets, towns and cities, speaking to as many high school students as to adults, propounding his favourite theme: You’ve never had it so good.”
Nixon travelled everywhere he could in the province, even meeting with university students. He would also state that he supported lowering the voting age, which was set at 21.
This was the first election where pollution and the environment was becoming an issue, albeit at a much less level than seen today. Nixon would promise to establish a summit between Ontario, Quebec and American states along the Great Lakes to find a common approach to deal with pollution.
Matthew Dymond, the Health Minister for the Province, would also announce that beginning in 1969, all cars sold in Ontario had to have devices to control exhaust fumes.
Television would continue to grow in importance in Ontario elections and Nixon would urge that there be a debate on television. This was one year before the first federal election debate would happen. Nixon would urge Robarts to debate with him on television, which the premier had refused to do before. Nixon would state he was shocked over the refusal, stating quote:
“After all, John Robarts is an effective orator.”
He would say after the election that the lack of a debate was a regret. He would state quote:
“I would like to have seen an opportunity for Mr. Robarts, Mr. MacDonald and myself to discuss the issues in person. I was under the impression Mr. Robarts would have been willing to do this but his advisors were opposed to the idea.”
In the Oct. 17, 1967 election, the Conservatives won their eighth straight majority government but lost eight seats in the process to finish with 69. Two seats lost belonged to cabinet ministers in Robarts government.
Robarts would say little about the election, only stating that his party would quote:
“Be back in business today at the same old stand.”
The Liberals had a good election under their new leader, gaining four more seats to finish with 28 as the party continued to claw its way back from its low point in the 1940s.
Nixon would state quote:
“I believe the strength of our caucus has been improved. I think the future looks good.”
The NDP had its best year so far since it was the Official Opposition in the 1940s when the party surged ahead with 13 more seats, finishing the election with 20 in total.
MacDonald stated quote:
“With about 20 seats, and the Liberals 27, all we needed was a swing of four seats and we would have been the Opposition.”
The election would be bitter sweet for Macdonald, who had taken the party from only two seats when he became leader in 1953, to its current level of 20. That was the most seats the party had since 1943. Macdonald would be out as leader in 1970 though as he stepped away to prevent a divisive fight in the party as Stephen Lewis was rising up and wanting to become the leader of the party.
MacDonald would serve as the party president from 1971 to 1975, and would remain in the Legislature until 1982. He is considered to be the best premier Ontario never had.
This would also be the last election for Robarts, who would retire in 1971, just prior to the next election. He would be succeeded by a new man, who would lead the party throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Since the 1930s, each decade had been dominated by one premier in Ontario. The 1930s had Mitchell Hepburn, and the 1940s began a string of Conservative premiers who led the province. The 1940s had George Drew, while the 1950s was the time of Leslie Frost. The 1960s was when John Robarts. When the 1970s came along, it was time for a new Conservative premier to take over and this time, the mantle fell to Bill Davis.
After the retirement of Robarts, Davis was selected as the new leader of the party on March 1, 1971. First elected in 1959 at the age of only 30, he was initially a backbencher but would soon find himself as the Minister of Education under the government of Robarts. As education minister, he would oversee a spending increase of 454 per cent between 1962 and 1971, along with the opening of hundreds of schools. He also oversaw the amalgamation of the school boards from 3,676 in 1962 to only 192 in 1967.
In the leadership race on Feb. 13, 1971, he won the leadership of the party by only 44 votes over Allan Lawrence.
As premier, he would immediately bring in his campaign team to serve as his principal advisors. This group would become known as the Big Blue Machine.
Only three months after he became premier, Davis announced that the Spadina Expressway project in downtown Toronto would not go through as it was highly unpopular among area residents. In July 1971, he created the first Minister of Environment post in the provincial government and on Aug. 31, he rejected a proposal to grant full funding to Ontario’s Catholic high schools, which were publicly funded only to grade 10.
On Sept. 13, 1971, still new to the post of premier, Davis announced that the province would be going into an election.
Davis would state quote:
“We are, as all of us recognized, undergoing a difficult period in Canada’s history. National problems not of our making and external decisions not of our choosing all combine to present difficulties and challenges to our provincial economy.”
The Big Blue Machine would spend $6 million on its campaign, putting the image of Davis in nearly every area of the province.
Many expected that Davis would not win the election. Not only was he new to the premier’s chair, but across Canada six of the eight provincial governments to call an election since 1969 had seen a change of government.
The issue of separate schools, something not seen as an issue in the province since the 1890s, would come up. At one point at a campaign stop in Toronto a Hungarian man asked Davis why Ontario couldn’t have separate schools when other provinces had them. An aide working for Davis would lead the man away before Davis could answer. Another man at the same stop would tell Davis not to extend grants to separate schools beyond Grade 10 and that if he kept to that, he would have his vote.
The Liberals were still led by Robert Nixon, who had brought success to the party with more seats gained in the 1967 election. The hope was that with the new leader in Davis, the Liberals could make inroads with voters and maybe even win the election. Nixon would disagree with Davis over the expressway and the separate schools issue in the province. Nixon would also welcome the election call, stating quote:
“The concept of change that the people can trust appeals to me. We are confident that our organization is at a peak of efficiency and that we will win.”
On the NDP side of things, Stephen Lewis was the new leader. He had succeeded popular politician and leader Donald MacDonald the previous year. First elected to the Legislature in 1963 at the age of 26, he was part of a youth movement for the party as it headed into another decade. Lewis would agree with Davis in cancelling the expressway, but disagreed with him over the issue of separate schools.
During the election, Davis would announce several job creation proposals, which the Liberals would contend was stolen from their own platform that was announced weeks earlier. Nixon would state quote:
“I believe what it does is that it reinforces what I was saying in the first few weeks of the campaign, while Mr. Davis was saying wait-and-see.”
Davis was also greeted by protests at many of his stops. At the Richmond Community Hall, hecklers yelled at him during one campaign stop. In Smiths Hall, he had to delay his lunch half an hour due to protesters. Outside of Perth, Roman Catholic students and nuns were picketing him and in Carp, someone hung a sign across street lamps that stated quote:
“Oh we made lots of graft from regional government. It pays all our expenses.”
At a rally in Kanata, separate school supporters had to be quieted so that Davis could make a statement.
Nixon would continually attack Davis over the separate schools, calling it unfair. Nixon stated he would extend it to Grade 13 if elected. Davis would reply quote:
“I find the government’s position is not completely understood by everyone and it may be necessary from time to time to clarify it.”
Lewis would actually speak to several large crowds in the province, including his largest crowd when 1,500 people came to see him at London Centennial Hall, typically a stronghold of the Progressive Conservatives. Lewis would tell the crowd quote:
“The New Democratic Party has a machine and I’m looking at it. It is a lot stronger than all the dollars the Tories can amass. The Tories don’t understand Ontario anymore.”
He would also call Davis, Pierre Elliott Davis, stating he was a man who promised nothing and would keep that promise if elected.
On Oct 5, 1971, the first televised debate in Ontario’s history was held with the three leaders speaking to voters. The first 45 minutes was a question and answer period, and the last 15 minutes was less structured.
Davis would state he was frustrated with the format. He would state quote:
“I was not always able to reply to charges directed at the government.”
Nixon would also criticize the format, stating that the time limit was not enough for each speaker and there was not a winner, just three people exchanging reviews.
Lewis would be happy with his performance but felt that the debate itself was not interesting. He would say quote:
“We were great, but the format was dully, listless and ridiculous.”
At the end of the debate, CBC received 11 phone calls, four which were favorable and seven that were unfavorable. Most of the criticism was over the format itself. CFTO received 84 calls, 33 of which had a favorable reaction and 23 that were unfavorable. As well, 21 people called in asking if they could ask a question, and 10 asked if Ironside would be shown.
This election was the first where the voting age had been lowered from 21 to 18, bringing in another 412,000 voters, plus another 400,000 who were too young to vote in the 1968 election.
On the Oct. 21, 1971 election, 117 members of the Legislative Assembly were elected. The majority of those came from the Progressive Conservatives who picked up a gain of nine seats to finish with 78. This was the highest total for the party since 1955 when Leslie Frost won 84. The party would not see this many seats elected again until 1995.
Davis, who was said to be grinning from ear-to-ear, stated that he was quote:
“very humble, very gratified.”
The Liberals, despite continually increasing their seat total from a low of eight seats in 1951 to the high of 28 seats in 1967, lost eight seats in the election to finish with 20, the party’s lowest total since 1955.
Nixon would state quote:
“It looks like old Les Frost was right. I have no regrets at all but I feel Ontario may not be well served by a small opposition in the house.”
The NDP would also suffer in the election after continually gaining seats since they had only two in 1951. The party lost one seat, falling to 19, not a lot but still a downward trend that was not welcomed by the party.
The total amount of voters for the election was 3.6 million, a record for the time, amounting to 65 per cent of eligible voters. One vote that Davis received was from his wife Kathleen, an American citizen who voted for the first time in an Ontario election.
One interesting aspect of this election was that it was the first time that a provincial election was held on a Thursday. From that point on, except for 2007, every election has been held on a Thursday.
Change would be coming to Ontario politics and that change would first be seen in the election that came this year. After the past two elections were relatively sedate affairs, the 1975 election would be much more bitter.
Bill Davis had had a first term that was considered to be little in the way of successful and a series of scandals would weaken his government with the public. There were allegations that a company was given special consideration for a Toronto development project in return for donations to the Progressive Conservatives. Another scandal was that Gerhard Moog, a friend of Davis, had received a $44.4 million contract to build the Ontario Hydro head office. As well, Attorney General Dalton Bales and Solicitor General John Yaremko were all accused of conflicts-of-interest over the government approval of developments for properties they owned.
The scandals would begin to erode the confidence of the public in the government, which was seen in the fact that the Progressive Conservatives lost four by-elections in 1973 and 1974.
As the 1975 election approached, Davis would impose a 90-day freeze on energy prices, reduce the provincial sales tax from seven to five per cent temporarily and put in rental controls in the province.
Even with the rent controls, the cost of rent would prove to be the major issue of the entire election.
This election would also be the first in which spending controls were in place for the parties. The Election Expenses Act had been passed and limited how much was spent on political advertising and limited spending to 21 days preceding election day. Each party was only allowed to spend $2.6 million on ads.
The Progressive Conservatives would campaign on the slogan of Your Future, Your Choice.
The Liberals and New Democratic Parties were still led by their leaders from the last election, Robert Nixon and Stephen Lewis.
The New Democratic Party would run on the slogan of Tomorrow Starts Today and ran its campaign before the election calling for rent controls, highlighting the stories of people who had to deal with bad landlords who imposed massive rent increases. The pressure of rent controls issue from the New Democrats would result in Davis coming to that decision to impose rent controls just before the election.
As I mentioned before, this election was quite bitter, especially between Davis and Nixon. Nixon would state that Davis was providing a daily handout of election goodies that were nothing but quote:
“rotten, bad practice for a democracy. That approach is going to cost him the election.”
Davis would attack Nixon right back, stating that the attacks were nothing more than destructive criticism. Davis would tell reporters quote:
“Unfortunately, from time to time, there comes along a public figure, desperate to achieve higher office, who is willing to resort to almost any tactic in order to achieve his ends.”
Nixon would pledge that his government would save taxpayers $40 million by chopping 10 per cent of the $400 million in government administration costs. He also announced he would kill the Judy LaMarsh commission on television violence.
Throughout the election campaign, billboards showed the image of Nixon to entrench him in voter minds. Polls also showed that his party was well ahead of the Progressive Conservatives in the election.
In the televised debate, it was considered to be one of the most bitter debates in the province’s history. Davis stated that Nixon was lying to the people of Ontario, and Nixon stated that Davis was trying to buy re-election with public money. The two men constantly interrupted each other. At one point, Nixon stated that he was running a good campaign. He would state quote:
“I know you don’t like our ads and frankly I don’t like yours but at least we’ve got people interested.”
Davis responded quote:
“It has not been a good campaign. Your campaign has been one of the worst I have seen in my history in politics, founded on misrepresentation, inaccuracies and, on occasion, deliberate falsehoods.”
Many would consider the debate, a round robin type of debate in which the parties debated each other one on one rather than all three together, a win for the NDP. One campaign worker for the Liberals would say after the election quote:
“The debate helped destroy us in Toronto. Nixon and Davis both lost out and it boosted the NDP.”
Davis also dealt with plenty of angry voters during his campaign stops. At one stop in St. Thomas on Sept. 1, a man named Harry Walters yelled quote:
“How can you break the law when no one else can?”
He was referring to the fact that the premier’s campaign bus was parked where it blocked traffic on another street. The premier stated quote:
“I didn’t park it.”
During a call in show, Davis was asked which party he would want to work with, and he would state neither. He then added regarding Nixon, stating that he had quote:
“the nastiest campaign I have known in politics, negative, personal and full of falsehoods and misrepresentation.”
While the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives attacked each other constantly, Lewis and the New Democratic Party did its best to stay out of the fray. Lewis would also avoid providing a string of last-minute promises as the election day neared. The Ottawa Journal wrote quote:
“In short, the NDP has run a campaign of restraint and even respectability, ironically, the most dignified of the three parties and it is at least intriguing to wonder what reward this will bring them.”
At one point, Lewis and Nixon crossed paths on the campaign trail on Aug. 15. Nixon would state as the two shook hands at the airport quote:
“I wanted to ask you about your integrity.”
Lewis replied, with a grin, quote:
“You handle it.”
Lewis would put most of his attacks against landlords in the province. He would state at one point quote:
“I have a message for the landlords. The rent examples I choose are becoming more and more representative of what’s happening in this province in the major urban settings. It clobbers working families, it takes the stuffing out of working families, it eats up pay increases and the landlords don’t deserve it. They don’t need it.”
At one point, Lewis had a throat infection and fever but he still travelled to three cities, covering 800 kilometres in one day.
It was not until the end of the election campaign that Lewis would begin to attack other parties, and he focused mostly on the Liberals. This was because he saw the Progressive Conservatives as a party on the decline. He also ridiculed reports in the press that the Progressive Conservatives were asking him to attack the Liberals.
In a poll just before the election, the Liberals were at 23 per cent, the Conservatives at 19 per cent and the NDP at 15 per cent.
In the Sept. 18, 1975 election, the Progressive Conservatives took a nose dive in support. For the first time since 1945, they lost their majority in the Legislature, falling by 27 seats to 51. That seat count was the lowest the party had seen since it had 38 seats in 1943. The loss of 27 seats was the sharpest drop for the party in its seat count since the party’s collapse in the 1929 election when it went from 92 seats to only 17.
The victory party of Davis was more subdued than it was exciting. That being said, Davis would state that he was not completely surprised by the election result.
In his speech, Davis would also speak to Lewis, stating quote:
“I say to Mr. Lewis, he waged a very constructive campaign. If this is carried forward, we can look forward to a progressive government.”
The New Democratic Party, meanwhile, saw its support surge with a gain of 19 seats. This pushed the party to 38 seats, marking the highest total for the party in its existence, four more than it won in 1943. For the first time since 1948, the party was also the Official Opposition.
Lewis would state in his speech quote:
“It is wonderful for a change to have a political rather than a moral victory. This is the end of personal abuse in Ontario politics as far as I am concerned.”
The Liberals, while falling to third place in the Legislature, still had a very successful election, rising to 36 seats for a gain of 16 seats in the election. The 36 seats was the most the party had enjoyed in the Legislature since Mitchell Hepburn led the party to 66 seats in the 1937 election.
Nixon would state, stating there would be no alliance with the NDP, quote:
“It may last months, maybe a couple years, but there’ll be an election before four years is up. It is traditional for our party to maintain its independence. There will be no alliance. People feel well served by the three party system.”
With his third election loss in a row, Nixon would answer about his future stating quote:
“I’ll have to wait and see what happens in the near future.”
Asked how long the minority government could last, Davis would tell reporters quote:
“I’m optimistic it can work for a period of time.”
As it turned out, the next election would come about in less than two years.
As for Nixon, after this loss, the young dynamic leader of the Liberal Party would be out as party leader. Nixon would resign as leader in 1976 but he stayed within provincial politics. He would stay in politics until 1991, long enough to see the Liberal Party return to ruling the province.
After the first minority government for the Conservatives in decades, it was no surprise when another election came along in a very short amount of time.
Bill Davis continued to serve as premier and the leader of the Progressive Conservatives, and he headed into this next election with the hopes of gaining a majority government for the party once again. He had called an election in order to take advantage of the 1976 Quebec general election that saw the Parti Quebecois come to power.
For the NDP, Stephen Lewis was still at the helm and still popular in the party. After the success of the 1975 election, there were hopes the party could gain more seats and even contend for leadership of the province.
As for the Liberals, their decades long saga of difficulty seemed to reverse in 1975 but that didn’t save Robert Nixon as I mentioned. Now, the party was led by Stuart Smith. He may not be known, but he had a massive impact on Canada in one particular way. In 1965, he was looking to gain the nomination to run as an MP in Mount Royal for the Liberal party. He would withdraw his name though, so that a man named Pierre Elliott Trudeau could run instead without strong opposition. Trudeau won the election in that riding and would go on to serve as Prime Minister of course. In 1975, Stuart was elected to the Legislature. When Nixon announced he was stepping down from his role as leader, Smith put his name in to replace him as leader. At the Jan. 23, 1976 convention, 2,000 Liberal delegates cast their votes and after three rounds, Smith emerged as the winner with 51.2 per cent of the vote.
As leader, and still a rookie MP, Smith would have his competence tested almost immediately in the Legislature. In the Speech to the Throne, the NDP made a motion to condemn the position of the government. Smith, not consulting his party, made a sub-amendment to the NDP motion to also condemn the government. This motion, if passed then, would bring down the government and trigger an election. The NDP and Liberals voted to defeat the government 70 to 48 on the Liberal amendment, but the Liberals voted with the Progressive Conservatives on the NDP amendment, preventing the government from falling.
Smith tended to have a more subdued campaign, not putting out any major policy changes and not attacking Davis as much as his predecessor Nixon had. He would state that he was quote:
“Sitting tight. I’ll have to see what the other two leaders do. My temptation is to say there will be no more major policy statements.”
Smith would state that he sensed there was change on the horizon and that he was hopeful the party could finally end 34 years of Progressive Conservative dominance in the Legislature.
The Conservatives would funnel $20 million into the campaign in order to get a majority government once again. Davis would also travel 48,000 kilometres across the province during the five week campaign, good enough for one trip and a bit around the Earth. The party ran on the slogan of Your Future, Your Choice, the Liberals would change the slogan to quote:
“your children’s future and your choice.”
Davis put most of his attacks on the NDP, feeling that Smith was not a real threat to his party. He would tell voters that if the NDP were to be elected, it would be nothing but an increase in personal taxes, poor private sector growth and unchecked bureaucracy. He also stated he was the best option for the province in handling the growing crisis of Quebec separation.
Lewis would contradict this by stating that his NDP government would offer $100 million in tax cuts.
Job creation was a major issue for the election, with Smith offering to create 100,000 new jobs in three years. Lewis would unroll a $280 million economic improvement plan and Davis stated that his government had created over 700,000 jobs over the previous six years that he had been in power.
The development of the northern portions of Ontario was again an election issue and Davis would place the blame on the lack of development on the NDP, stating that the party had frustrated the government’s attempts to bring it economic development and jobs.
During the campaign, Davis was often on the defensive to defend his government’s record from the previous six years, including the $7.2 billion debt of the province.
At one point on the election campaign, a heckler handed a petition to Davis, interrupting the speech for ten minutes. Then, he suddenly collapsed and was attended to by Dr. Richard Potter, the former health minister.
In Oshawa, NDP supporters heckled Davis during a speech. Davis would actually invite the hecklers aboard the media bus following him around, saying they made him look good.
Lewis was very hopeful heading into election day with poll numbers showing that the party sat at 30 per cent, one per cent more than its poll numbers from the previous election.
Lewis would state quote:
“We walk into this election finale with the highest standing this party has ever had in its history.”
The campaign wasn’t all smooth sailing for the likeable Lewis. At one point, he was greeted with protesters who were concerned with the future of Minaki Lodge in Kenora. The Davis government wanted to spend $20 million to get the lodge renovated and fixed up, while Lewis wanted it to be sold to private investors.
There was also another television debate, with Smith being seen as the chief victim due to the fact that his sound system was not working properly. Of those who watched the debate, 66 per cent were unimpressed with the leaders or the points raised.
In the June 9, 1977 election, the Progressive Conservatives picked up seven more seats but remained a minority government.
Davis would tell his supporters at a subdued celebration quote:
“I am confident the other leaders will join me in pursing for our province an aggressive program to sustain our country.”
With some speculating he may not stay in power because of two election disappointments, Davis said quote:
“I intend to stay as a leader of the party.”
Former prime minister John Diefenbaker would give his opinion of the election, blaming it on Dalton Camp, the man who was once his supporter and then ousted him from the leadership of the party. He stated quote:
“It is not the first time Mr. Camp has been wrong.”
The Liberal Party would lose one seat but thanks to the fact that the New Democratic Party lost five seats, the Liberals formed the Official Opposition once again in the Legislature.
Lewis would state quote:
“In the NDP, we bleed a little and then we get back to fight again. I cannot conceal, it would not be honest, my own personal feeling of disappointment that our own showing was not better. You take your lumps in politics.”
Smith in contrast would claim victory over the election as his party moved back into second place. He would state quote:
“The people decided to deny Davis his majority. That is a victory for us and now, possibly as the official Opposition, we will do our best to make this the best possible government.”
Two notable things also happened during this election. The first was that Sheila Copps ran for the first time in politics, losing in her riding though. She would go on to become a federal cabinet minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada.
Jim Bradley was also elected for the first time in this election. He would hold his seat of St. Catherine’s until 2018, the second-longest tenure of any MPP in the province’s history after Harry Nixon, who served from 1919 to 1961.
Former premier John Robarts would state quote:
“Davis won and lost. Smith lost and won. Lewis lost and lost.”
For Lewis, after taking his party to success initially, and then falling back in this election, his time as leader would come to an end. He would step down as the leader of the party and a member of the Legislature. After politics he went on to work for CBC Radio, and then served as the Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations in the mid-1980s.
As the calendar swung over to a new decade, Ontario was ready to head into another election. It would the fourth election in a decade for the province and once again, Bill Davis was hoping to gain the majority that had eluded him for the past two elections.
The Liberals were once again led by Stuart Smith, who hoped to continue on the success of the previous election.
The NDP no longer had Stephen Lewis at the helm as he had resigned as leader following two election defeats. He would be replaced by Michael Cassidy in 1978. Cassidy had been elected to the Legislature in 1971 and took over from the popular Lewis as the party had suffered losses in the 1977 election. Taking over from Lewis was not easy for Cassidy. Lewis was known for his charisma and dynamic personality, while Cassidy was known for having a dry personality. He was also quite left-wing, and was not fully trusted by the party establishment. Many in the party tried to encourage him to resign before the election, but he would ignore this.
Support for the NDP would also fall, from a poll in June 1977 when it sat at 30 per cent, to 21 per cent by February 1981.
Macleans would write on Feb. 9, 1981, quote:
“Cassidy has been a lacklustre leader with a weak image, especially compared to the party’s former leader Stephen Lewis.”
The following month, Macleans doubled down, stating quote:
“Cassidy, who is about as colorful as a deep sleep on the stump, plods along, lecturing mainly to the committed on the virtues of Crown corporations, maintenance of rent controls, a higher minimum wage and the dangers posed by doctors billing over the medicare fee schedule.”
Davis kicked off the election campaign in early February but just a few days prior, he promised to inject $1.5 billion in economic stimulation over the next five years into the economy. For many, that was the indication that an election was imminent. In fact, in the week leading up to the election call, the Conservatives would have a series of announcements for spending.
The Liberals had to quickly organize a press conference when the election was called, but the Conservatives were already ahead of the game.
This would be the first winter election in Ontario’s history since 1926.
During the election, the NDP and Liberals would make the economy the key issue, and highlighting 10 years of Davis government and what they felt were the problems with his leadership.
Things did not kick off well for Davis. At his nomination meeting for his riding, in front of 500 supporters, a group of hospital workers began to yell Strike over and over, angry that the government had crushed their strike and suspended 2,500 hospital workers, while firing union leaders. Davis would say quote:
“You will not intimidate me. The law of this province is very clear. You may disagree with it, but that’s the law. The law is simple. The law says hospital workers do not have the right to strike.”
While that may have seemed like a rough start, in the end if helped Davis. A poll a week after the incident, many liked the image Davis projected, stating he looked like a leader.
Davis would promise millions of dollars for a variety of projects. He would pledge $45 million to mining projects, $600 million to farmers, and huge sums of money into power generation in the province.
Stuart would say of Davis was smug, unimaginative and incapable of dealing with problems that didn’t exist decades ago.
There would be no debate this election after Davis set a deadline during the 44-day election, for the networks to agree on a format. When they couldn’t, he cancelled the debate. One reason that the debate may have been cancelled was because Stuart came across well on the television.
Davis would focus nearly all of his attacks on Smith, and the two were described as having an open dislike for each other. At one point, Davis said quote:
“When the leader of the Opposition says we have a crummy manufacturing sector, he’s not criticizing me, he’s criticizing the small businessman, the small and the big industry right across the province.”
He would often refer to Smith as Dr. Negative because Smith often attacked the Conservatives, stating they had led the province to economic ruin.
Smith would fire back stating quote:
“I believe that the failure of economic leadership which we have witnessed over the Davis decade is the direct result of a deep and pervasive complacency, a fundamental smugness, an arrogance of power, a willingness to rest on past laurels.”
Despite the numbers showing lagging support for the NDP, Cassidy would state that he saw the party making a comeback and rumors of its death were exaggerated. Cassidy would state quote:
“If people were positive about our prospects, I might have some misgivings.”
Smith would be optimistic as well, stating that the party had the clearest shot at the Progressive Conservatives since the Second World War. He would state quote:
“The two important factors we have going for us politically are that the NDP is out of it and for the first time, the government will have to defend its record at a time when prosperity is seen to be leaving us very quickly.”
Cassidy would attempt to show a more relaxed manner late in the election, often joking with reporters. In the Muskoka region, he would tell reporters that it was there he met his first love, learned to play pinball and crashed his motorcycle. Cassidy would say that his new confidence and relaxed style was because of how the campaign was going. He would state quote:
“For a while at the beginning, the other two leaders were bashing each other to death and there seemed to be more drama there.”
There were hiccups for Cassidy through the election. One of the worst was when he tried to meet with the officials at Perley Hospital to convince them to rehire 37 laid-off non-medical workers. He would call five times and leave four messages, all of which were ignored, making him look quite bad on the election trail.
By the time the election was only a couple days away, polls showed that the Conservatives sat at 37 per cent, while the Liberals had 22 per cent and the NDP with 13 per cent. Most analysists were expecting a Conservative majority.
Smith would respond to the poll stating he didn’t trust the poll. He would state quote:
“The momentum is strictly with us now. The public is being turned off by Mr. Davis’ jingles, television advertisements and give-aways, and I believe we are making great progress and we certainly can win.”
In the March 19, 1981 election, Davis was finally able to win his majority government once again. His party’s seats would rise by 12 to 70 and all of those seats came at the expense of the NDP.
Davis would state quote:
“I sense the people of Ontario have said, we believe in economic progress, we believe in the commitments to move the economy of this province ahead, we believe in the explicit commitments that have been made and we also understand that it is part of your responsibility to see that the sensitivity, the humanity and the social justice of this province are maintained. And I say to the people of Ontario, I accept that responsibility.”
The Liberals lost no seats, but gained no seats, finishing with 33 as they had in the 1977 election and remained in the Official Opposition.
Smith would state quote:
“I would have liked to have formed the government in one step, but it might, unfortunately, require two steps. I look forward, I can assure you, to being the leader of the opposition which the people of Ontario have elected me as again.”
Smith had stated that he would resign if the party did not do well in the election. He would keep that promise, resigning as leader and leaving the Legislature in January 1982. His successor would be David Peterson. Smith would be credited with transforming the party from a rurally-based conservative party to an urban, political force that increased its electorate. It was because of Smith that the party would suddenly come roaring back by the next election.
The NDP suffered badly under their new leader, losing 12 seats, all of which went to the Progressive Conservatives. Cassidy would barely win his own riding, beating his Progressive Conservative opponent by only 599 votes. The loss of 12 seats negated all of the gains the party had made throughout the 1970s.
Cassidy would state quote:
“All of us are disappointed. It has been a set back for our party. Together we have our work cut out, both to fight on the issues in the legislature and to build our party across Ontario for the next provincial election.”
Shortly after the election, Cassidy stepped down and was replaced by Bob Rae, the man who would take the NDP to its greatest success, but that is a story for the fifth and final part of our series.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Ottawa Daily Citizen, Wikipedia, Ontario Legislative Assembly, Elections Ontario, Macleans, Montreal Star, Montreal Gazette, Kingston British Whig, Hamilton Spectator, Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg Tribune, Owen Sound Times, St Catherines Standard, Windsor Star