From the outset of the contest last October, the polls and the pundits had agreed on the outcome. As Ontario's au tumn deepened into winter,
the anticipated result in the four-way competition to run Canada’s richest and most populous province remained as predictable as the rhythm of the four seasons. In the end, the Ontario Progressive Conservative party cast aside last-minute doubts and narrowly con-
firmed the all-but-preordained coronation of Frank Stuart Miller as the next premier of the province.
The 1,711 delegates were torn between two longtime rivals with different political visions: Miller, who appealed to the right wing of the party, and left-leaning Treasurer Larry Grossman. Grossman had the support of the two other contenders in the race, Agriculture Minister Dennis Timbrell and Attorney General Roy McMurtry, and the backing of most of the party’s elite. As a result, when the early favorite, Miller, finally won by 869 votes to 792, the Tories faced not only the challenge of going into an expected spring election with a new leader but of repairing their own deep divisions. But, declared Miller: “I can
feel the unity in this hall and the new life within the party.... An election is coming and we are going to win.”
The convention showdown took place late Saturday night—after nearly ten dramatic hours, three rounds of balloting and one delaying recount on the way. Then, Miller, 57, emerged as the successor to retiring Premier William Davis, 55, and as the narrowly chosen champion of Tory delegates who are determined to retain the party’s 42-year monopoly of political power in Ontario.
What seemed to sway the majority of
1,661 voting delegates was that they felt most comfortable on the final ballot with Miller as they face an election challenge from the official opposition Liberals under David Peterson, 41, and the provincial New Democratic Party led by Robert Rae, 36. Party members also apparently rated him as the leader most likely to keep the province in step with a national mood of conservatism —notably, with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Conservative federal administration.
Miller demonstrated his combative political capacities in overcoming what developed as the combined opposition of his three rivals. During the protracted balloting, his campaign managers bargained quietly but furiously for votes in
the convention Coliseum, a livestock pavilion on the grounds of the annual Canadian National Exhibition, in Toronto. With strong backing from delegates representing rural, small-town and northern regions, Miller held off a finalballot attempt by Grossman, 41, to become Ontario’s first Jewish premier and a leader who claimed to represent the province’s contemporary character of urban ethnic diversity.
Timbrell, edged out of the contest by Grossman on the second ballot by just six votes, demanded a recount. Key
McMurtry supporters pleaded with Timbrell not to press for the recount or, at least, to try to keep his supporters together as a block so that their support could be thrown to the attorney general’s friend Grossman. But the recount went ahead, and produced the same tally—659 votes for Miller, 514 for Grossman and 508 for Timbrell. Timbrell, who had been rated by polls before the convention as the man most likely to upset Miller, declared his personal support for Grossman but freed delegates to vote as they wished.
The election of the new Tory leader followed a listless three-month campaign that began with the four contenders agreeing not to discuss any sensitive areas of government policy. The infor-
mal peace accord began to break down as the campaign neared the finish line. Both Grossman and McMurtry claimed — without putting forward any proof—that organizers in rival camps were buying votes by offering to pay delegates’ expenses in return for their support. Then McMurtry broke ranks by charging that traditional Tory caution meant that government policy formulation sometimes appeared no more meaningful that “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
As delegates gathered for last week’s convention, Grossman’s contention appeared to gain support from a document leaked from the Miller camp showing that the convention delegates were unrepresentative of the province’s population. They were older (54 per cent were over 40) and richer (60 per cent earned more than $40,000 a year) than the average Ontarian, and 63 per cent of the group had at least one university degree-something that fewer than 10 per cent of Ontario residents have.
In the face of rapid social change, the new Ontario leader may have difficulty ensuring the continuation of a dynasty that was born when George Drew took office as premier in 1943. In the subsequent 42 years of uninterrupted Conservative government, the party has maintained its hold on Canada’s richest province by governing with a judicious blend of conservatism and moderately progressive policies. In the postwar era, the Tories reigned supreme under the successive premierships of Leslie Frost (1949-1961), John Robarts (1961-1971) and Davis. Elected leader by a skimpy 44-vote margin, Davis as premier easily won the provincial election in 1971. But in 1975 an electorate disillusioned by economic ills and persistent hints of scandal reduced the Tories to minority status—and did the same again in 1977. Davis led the party back to majority power in 1981, and by the time he decided to retire last October polls showed that he was more popular than his party and that he would almost certainly have won the next election.
On the eve of the leadership vote, convention delegates assembled for an emotional tribute to Davis, 55, and the vision of the folksy and secure Ontario that he epitomized. Eulogized in film and in speeches, the outgoing premier was, in turn, moved to a rare display of emotion. He lavished carefully neutral praise on all the leadership contenders and told the audience of 5,000 Tories that “I shall miss you—I shall even miss the job some days.” Davis concluded that “it is tougher to retire and leave than it is to assume the leadership.” It was the last public speech as Tory leader and it capped a career that his rivals envied—and that his successor will now strive to emulate.
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