Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who is used to being interviewed by the media, reversed roles with TVO broadcaster/author Steve Paikin to talk about his book about Bill Davis as part of the inaugural In Conversation series at the Central Library Theatre.
The event, which took place on October 14, turned out to be entertaining and informative, in particular, because the former Ontario Premier was sitting in the audience providing some interesting anecdotes, even a little good-natured heckling directed at Paikin and Crombie.
Crombie began by saying she relished the role to “turn the tables” on Paikin, who had appeared numerous times on his show, The Agenda, on TVO, a network coincidentally that Davis launched as Minister of Education in Ontario before beginning his run as Premier from 1971-85.
The book, Bill Davis: Nation Builder, And Not So Bland After All (Dundurn Press), became a national best-seller upon its release in 2016 and has won multiple awards.
Crombie had read the book and had a list of 30 questions she prepared, some of which pertained to the book, others about her constituency and the Region of Peel.
Paikin, who had covered Davis as a reporter, said he had he been pestering the former Premier about writing his authorized biography for about 20 years before given the green light.
“I think I must have just been irresistible,” Paikin told Crombie.
When Davis invited Paikin to his home in Brampton to discuss the book, he was told about two conditions: a chapter about his father, a successful lawyer in Brampton; and Davis’ role in the amendment of the Constitution in 1982, in particular his role in telling Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to add a notwithstanding clause allowing the government or provincial legislatures to override parts of the document.
“These are no-brainers,” said Paikin. “You can’t write a book about this man without writing about his hero, who was his father, who was great Crown Attorney in Peel for more than three decades, and the Constitution is one of the great highlights of his political life.”
Paikin said he’d heard over the years that there was a fundamental decency to Davis, which isn’t seen enough in political public life these days.
“You, of course, being a notable exception,” Paikin said to Crombie, which drew some hearty laughs and applause from the crowd.
Crombie wanted to centralize the conversation to the history of the Region of Peel, which Davis had been instrumental in creating in 1974 as well as creating the City of Mississauga. Probing Paikin about Davis’ relationship with former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion “back in the old days,” the response was quick and to the point: “Tempestuous as hell. I think it’s better today.”
Paikin said it was Davis who decided that having dozens and dozens of municipalities in areas where consolidation made sense was something that needed to be done. Paikin said as Mayor of Streetsville, McCallion was “absolutely, positively 110 percent” opposed to the consolidation for the City of Mississauga.
“She had to go along with it because his government pushed it through,” Paikin said. “I think it turned out to be a pretty good decision.”
When asked how McCallion felt about the Region of Peel, Paikin said he wasn’t sure she wanted to secede from it like “somebody else does,” referring to Crombie.
That prompted Crombie to reply that, in fact, McCallion, did want to secede.
“So you took that from her?” Paikin asked Crombie.
“It’s the right thing to do. The right thing for the right reasons,” Crombie replied.
On the subject of Davis’ role as Minister of Education, Paikin said Davis was instrumental in creating the entire Ontario college system 50 years ago starting with Centennial College in Scarborough.
“It is one of the truly great education achievements in the history of the world, never mind the province,” Paikin said.
Paikin added that the best decision Davis made as Minister of Education was to get into the TV business, creating TVO.
“What?” Crombie responded with a laugh.
“A very good idea,” Paikin said with a smile and caused the audience to laugh and applaud.
He said Davis’ strong point was his ability on every issue to find the “sweet spot” on compromise. He also said the title for the book came from a remark after a reporter once asked Davis why he ran such as bland government. Davis’ reply was: “bland works.”
Following the conversation between Crombie and Paikin, Davis, who was sitting in the front row with family members, served up a good old-fashioned backhanded compliment to the author and the interviewer: “A lot of it was untrue,” he said. “I really didn’t know it was going to be this way. If I did, I wouldn’t have come. The two of them enjoyed themselves. At least I hope you enjoyed yourselves.”
He then said he didn’t approve the cover, which has him smoking a cigar.
“I gave up the cigar many years ago,” he said. “In fact, I switched from the cigar to a pipe because it was more acceptable to the university community.”
He also took a good-natured shot at Paikin.
“While it was very interesting to listen (to his interpretation of events), there was a degree of exaggeration on the part of the person whom we can see every night at eight o’clock (on TVO).”
He then praised Paikin, saying he appreciated the work he did on the book.
“It was something that was very difficult for me,” he said. “A book about myself was not something I pushed as he (told) you.”
He also took a friendly swipe at Crombie and McCallion pertaining to the formation of the City of Mississauga.
“You two owe me a great debt of gratitude because I persevered in spite of a lot of flak from other people as to the creation of this great municipality where you now have the great pleasure of running the store.”
Photo: Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie interviews TVO broadcaster/author Steve Paikin about his book about Bill Davis who was in the audience providing some interesting anecdotes. Photo courtesy Ed Sajecki, City Of Mississauga.