June 18th, 2024

Former Lethbridge MP Ray Speaker remembers Ont. Premier Bill Davis

By Tim Kalinowski on August 10, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Former Lethbridge constituency MLA and MP Ray Speaker is remembering former Ontario Premier Bill Davis, who died on Sunday at the age of 92, as a quintessential dealmaker who often put the needs of the country first before his own provincial agenda.
“He had a good ability to listen to what was going on in negotiations,” remembers Speaker. “He always wanted to make a deal. He was open to that kind of thing.”
Speaker knew Davis in passing as premier when Speaker served at Opposition Social Credit leader in the Alberta Legislature, but did not get to know him personally until much later in 2003 when both Speaker and Davis were tapped by the Canadian Alliance Party and Progressive Conservative Party of Canada respectively to carry out merger talks which led to the eventual formation of the Conservative Party of Canada as it is known today.
“They asked four of us that were called emissaries,” recalls Speaker. “They felt there were four Canadians that had been in politics that could look objectively at merging the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the Canadian Alliance Party. Peter Mackay appointed (Premier) Bill Davis and Don Mazankowski, the former Deputy Prime Minister under Mulroney’s government, to represent the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. And I represented the Alliance Party along with a senator from British Columbia. We negotiated in 2003 the merger.
“At that time, I got to spend time with Bill Davis. I found him to be very objective, very loyal to Canada as a whole, not just Ontario, and a very fair person. He made a good contribution to Canadian political strategies and actions.”
Speaker says the merger deal could never have been accomplished without Davis’ ability to see the big picture.
“I found him to be compromising and objective,” says Speaker. “In our third meeting we had in Toronto he said to me he had tried to get the Progressive Conservative caucus to accept the merger, and Joe Clark and the caucus was giving him a bad time. He finally said to me: ‘Ray, we’ve got to put together an agreement and override the resistance of Joe Clark that’s trying to maintain the past, not the future.’ He said, ‘Whatever you want to do, I will support you and we’ll get this merger done.'”
As premier, Speaker says Davis knew his strengths in representing the most populous province in Canada with the most seats in Parliament, but never overplayed his hand and did not lord it over other provinces.
Speaker says it was the understated approach and evident good will of Davis which made him successful in politics, but, he admits, there was a time when Davis made himself an enemy to many Albertans, in particular, by endorsing then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s National Energy Policy.
“As a resource province, we were always considered the province that was the ‘have’ province,” states Speaker. “But the other provinces wanted a share of our money. And (Davis) saw it as a way to secure a certain amount of funding for Ontario projects. And, regretfully, there was always this bias against Alberta, which is still in the political network of today. I think in this instance he was more likely thinking of Ontario rather than of Canada as a whole.”
Speaker says it wasn’t until dealing directly with Davis during the 2003 merger talks where he was able to forgive the man for that whole NEP episode and see him for the strongly principled person he was.
“He was a strong force on the other side of the merger negotiations to get it done,” states Speaker. “He said, ‘We’ve got to look bigger down the road. We can’t be looking back. Ray, let’s get it done.’ For 14 years he made a contribution to the fabric of Canadian politics (as premier), and he represented himself and his province very well.”

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