Democracy In Ontario
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Apr 1967, p. 352-366
Nixon, Robert F., Speaker
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Item Type
1967 marking 175 years since the beginnings of democracy, British justice and a parliamentary procedure in Ontario. Some history of that beginning era, and of John Graves Simcoe as a political visionary. The development of democracy. The independent voice of William Lyon Mackenzie. Sir John A. Macdonald's leadership and the Fathers of Confederation. The future of the developments of democracy. A speculation as to what life might look like in the future. Some predictions from Nariman Challa. Ontario's programmes of social action. The next epoch of increased leisure time for a good part of the labour force. Thirty years from now. The need for democracy to adjust if it is to survive. Some specific predictions for politics and government. Remarks on the reform of the cabinet, the involvement of the members of the legislature in a much more immediate way and the responsibilities of a democratic government. The many areas for reform. The new world that lies ahead. An emphasis on the importance of the individual, his self-realisation and his position in the community, both economically and in responsibility to his fellow-man.
Date of Original
20 Apr 1967
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Full Text
APRIL 20th, 1967
Democracy In Ontario
CHAIRMAN, The President, R. Bredin Stapells, Q.C.


"Party," said Sir John A. Macdonald at a meeting in Chatham on August 1, 1867, "party is merely a struggle for office, the madness of many for the gain of a few." Those words introduced the Patent Combination, as it was called, or the coalition government of Ontario's first premier, Sandfield Macdonald. It was the design of Sir John A. to keep partisan politics out of this province.

However, George Brown's reformers did not see the future that way and by 1871 the brilliant young Mr. Edward Blake had formed the first Liberal administration, soon to be followed by the lengthy regime of that hero of Ontario Liberals, Sir Oliver Mowat. The people of Ontario are slow in making political changes. But even George Brown's Globe in 1905 said "The barnacles must be removed from the ship of State with an iron hand." And after thirty-four years, the Liberal regime was replaced by Conservative Sir James Whitney.

In 1919 the United Farmers came to power under E. C. Drury in whose government our speaker's father, Harry Nixon, was Provincial secretary. The Conservatives gained leadership again in 1923 and remained until 1934.

It was in that year that an onion farmer became premier of the Province. His name was Mitchell Hepburn. Thus began the most recent period of glory of the Ontario Liberal Party which fell to George Drew's Conservatives in 1942 and we have had them ever since.

This afternoon, there is a smell of spring in the air; also, there seems to be a hint of election. It is proper then that Ontario taxpayers may be reminded somewhat ruefully of the candid words of retired politician Khrushchev:

"Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even when there is no river!"

And Mr. Nixon may well be moved to say a la Harry Truman:

"I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell!"

While I might tell you that Mr. Nixon is the great great grandson of a United Empire Loyalist family, the son of a former premier of Ontario, a farmer, a school teacher, a gifted speaker and a political leader of promise, I will tell you that Robert Nixon is a family man. His daughter Sara, aged 7, wrote an essay for school describing her family in these words:

"All about my family.
I have six in my family,
The names of my family are Robert, Dorothy, John, Jane, Harry and Sara.
I have two brothers and one sister.
The ages of the children are 12, 11, 8 and 7. We live on a farm.
We have one dog.
The dog's name is Cindy. Our house is very big. John and Harry sleep together. Jane and I sleep together. Mother and father sleep together. And with this picture of the ideal family firmly planted in your minds, I have great pleasure in presenting to you Robert F. Nixon, M.P.P., Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition for the Province of Ontario and head of the Ontario Liberal Party, who will address us on Democracy in Ontario--Its Past and Its Future.


Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether to deal with George Brown or Sarah Nixon first, but I would say that Sarah's description of our family life was her observation before I assumed the leadership of the Party.

I spend most of my time in the evenings on the twelfth floor of this building, while my wife looks after the farm and people at home. However, we are subjected to some political turmoil these days and where politicians are always looking for a political peacetime that never comes, I still look forward to those days.

I would begin my remarks again, I suppose, by saying when George Brown was concerned with the barnacles on the Liberal ship of state, his comments would go well today and I suppose that is all I would care to say to this particular group about that matter, but I do thank you for your invitation to be with you today, for your kind hospitality before the luncheon and for your kind reception a few moments ago.

The introduction was most interesting for me. It is true that I am of United Empire Loyalist stock, but somehow we went astray politically. I don't suppose there are too many of us who became Liberals. The Tory background of the United Empire Loyalists was such they could not suffer the tyranny of American republicanism and my forefathers left what is now the State of New York and crossed the river, so they could continue the development of our family under the British Empire system.

I have my suspicions and they were cemented by my grandfather's comments to me, who remembered back a considerable distance, that perhaps one of the attractions was the fact that good, free land was offered in those days and the Nixon fortunes had been something less than glorious and glamorous. So they came up here to carve out a new life for themselves and we have been here for more than five generations and are deeply entrenched in Brant County, farm-wise let us say, because as far as politics are concerned, these things come and go.

But you might be interested, at the last annual meeting of the Progressive Conservative Association in the area, as reported in the newspaper, the headline was "Tories tire of 47 year Nixon reign". So, when I talk about time for a change, I do not mean back in Brant.

Now, we are deeply aware of a century of development of our nation, but those of us in the Province of Ontario are proud of our development even before that time. 1967 marks the 175th anniversary of the beginnings of democracy, British justice and a parliamentary procedure in this area of what was then just a piece of bush in British North America.

It was in the year 1792 that George III advised by his Minister in the Colonial Office sent John Graves Simcoe to this part of the world to bring some British order to the backwoods. Developing chaos had really hinged on the entrance of a large number of United Empire Loyalists who were not prepared to share the responsibilities of government with their French Canadian confreres in what was then a large colony made up of all of British North America.

Well, the United Empire Loyalists had come into this area and they had been accompanied by another important and influential group, those Indians who had fought on the "wrong" side in the Revolutionary War and they were therefore dispossessed and because of a grant made by George III through Governor Haldimand, they too were granted extensive lands in the part of the country from which I come.

As a matter of fact the group of Indians, now a considerable large number, 10,000, are still found in the County of Brant in the largest Indian Reservation in Canada and they trace their antecedents back to the same situation, political and military, that the United Empire Loyalists are still so proud of.

So, in my part of the country there is a concern for the history and the beginnings even before Confederation and we are still interested in what John Graves Simcoe did when he came out to set up a new province that was to influence those people with British tolerance and give them a government of a type that was familiar to them.

John Graves Simcoe was probably the first political visionary that we had here. He proceeded immediately to the capital of the new province which was called Newark, on the site of Niagara-on-the-Lake. He convened the first legislature which had 16 elected members from across the new province, then known as Upper Canada but, of course, he was not prepared to accept much advice from these gentlemen that were elected on a fairly restricted franchise.

He had collected around him, however, his Council, the Governor's Council selected from his friends in the clergy and the military, and to a lesser extent from the business community of the developing province and these were the people, of course, who made the real decisions associated with government here.

The men who were sent to the legislature by the taxpayers were able to simply assist in the development that the Governor saw fit to require of them. Of course, they were all deeply concerned at the republican menace just a few hundred yards over the Niagara River.

So, the Governor set about finding a new capital for the province which would be more remote from the republicans and looking at the map that his surveyors prepared, he saw a beautiful crystal clear stream in the western part of the province which, of course, he named the Thames and he set out a point where the two branches of the river come together and made the decision that would, of course, be typical of him and said, "There is the new capital and we will call it London on the Thames, and gentlemen, accompany me as we proceed to that particular point in our new jurisdiction and make plans for the development of this new capital."

It was, of course, similar to the President of Brazil in more recent history. He went into the jungle and created Brazilia. This man was a visionary and he went by boat to the end of the lake where Dundas now is and went on to the land there and up over the escarpment, blazing a trail, that I suppose people had been that way before, but not in any formal expeditions and this road that goes from Dundas through to London is still called The Governor's Road. It runs within a very few miles of our farm and was one of the important arteries that enabled that part of Ontario to be developed by the settlers who soon came pouring into these fertile lands, particularly from the British Isles.

Governor Simcoe was unsuccessful in establishing London as the capital. I suppose the city is nearer to being the capital of the province now than it was then, but he had to lower his sights somewhat, move away from Niagara on the Lake and find a nice situation between the Humber and the Don and at the Village of York he created a new capital which, he felt, could be defended from the expected onslaught of the Americans which, as you know, eventually did come.

He was in every sense a real visionary. In coming down the St. Lawrence he wrote in his diary some startlingly interesting plans about the development of the waterway which we know has come to pass just in the last few years. He could see, as he went through the bush, what in fact this area could become and has become in the 175 years since he had the responsibility for its government.

The expected war came in 1812. I don't want to bore you with statistics that you are probably very familiar with, but I do want to speak on behalf of my constituents, the Six Nations Indians, who have every right to say to all of us that they saved our country in that particular year.. We are proud of the part played by Sir Isaac Brock and Laura Secord and others. We are interested in some of the battles that were fought but it is the truth that the active participation of the warlike Iroquois, who had not forgotten their great skills in this profession, were brought to the defence of the realm and were, more than any other single factor, the determining cause of the results of the War of 1812, which kept the Americans back across the river and actually was the basis of this fairly undefended boundary that is of such great pride to us these days.

During the years immediately after the War of 1812, these were the years of great settlement in the rural areas surrounding the capital of our province. Many of you here today come from families who went into the woods in those days, buying land either from the Crown or from some individual who had gone and bought a township, let us say, from the Six Nations Indians or some other source and went out there and carved out for themselves a livelihood for their families, remote from medical assistance, education, the Church. Yet they brought with them a fervour and a zeal for those elements of culture that, I believe, have been handed down in the citizens of this province and in many ways account for the great respect we have for these things, even today.

There are many old books in the library of my home, and in other homes in my community, that tell in a very straightforward fashion the difficulties that the early settlers faced.

We often think of them as healthy, ruddy people, not needing the assistance of doctors, and yet the tales are there of how the people in great numbers were wiped out by cholera and influenza; diseases that now we really don't hear about, or if we do we know they are not of a fatal nature. My own great-great grandfather came with his young bride age 18, had two children and they were carried off by the disease cholera. Their gravestones are still sitting there in the cemetery, a little cockeyed, but with the grass well tended around them. The date is 1840. And it is a tremendous thing to realize the difficulties that these people had in carving out for themselves a place in which they could bring up their families and hold their heads up with pride in the community, and this they certainly did. When a travelling minister, often a Methodist on horseback, would come through the area they would go through tremendous hardship so they could go and hear the word of God preached by someone who had been well educated. Nothing was too difficult for them to participate in the practice of their religion, which they did, of course, in their own homes in a very earnest and complete way. And when education in a formal way became available, no sacrifice was too great to make it available to the young people in the family and a book was a treasure and many books would be circulated hand to hand among these people.

I do want to talk about the development of democracy. I know all of us are concerned with getting back to our offices in the next few minutes, but following John Graves Simcoe's example, governor after governor drew around himself those people who were prominent in the clergy, as I say and business and in the military forces and these were people who effectively directed the growth of the province in these early years.

The legislature did expand in size and the independence of its voice, but the real independent voice came with the election of William Lyon Mackenzie, from a constituency here in York. It is interesting to compare this man with another American politician, that you perhaps can think of, because he so offended the Government of the day that he was dismissed from his place in the legislature, I understand, three consecutive times and was immediately re-elected in by-elections by the citizens who were the taxpayers of the day.

It is most interesting to note that William Lyon Mackenzie would probably not have had the impact on the community if it hadn't been for the fact that the young bucks who were supporting what was coming to be called the Family Compact, went into his printing shop and dragged out his presses and dumped them into the bay behind us. Then immediately he became a personage of celebration and the little men all gathered in his support.

Think of the situation then and think of the modem parliament in this regard. Here was William Lyon Mackenzie who became the hero of the little man, the taxpayer--the man who would stand up in the legislature and accuse the Government and the Family Compact of restrictive practices.

Well, now, this became a tremendous issue. He was strongly supported by the rural areas of the province, that even then felt the capital was getting more than its share of the good things of life and the Government of the day was not paying proper attention to the development of the backwoods.

This matter came to a head, of course, when William Lyon Mackenzie realized that the democratic process had not developed far enough to accommodate his demands and what he believed to be the reasonable demands of the people and so he organized a rather fitful rebellion. It isn't the kind of rebellion that makes us rise up and wave flags, because it was basically a group of dissident farmers with their pitchforks over their shoulders who came down Yonge Street and got to Montgomery's Tavern and something impeded their progress and by the time they got underway again, the Governor's men went out to meet them and took a number of prisoners and that was the end of the Rebellion of 1837; except for one particular thing, there was a similar kind of disturbance in the sister province of Lower Canada and this came to the attention of the authorities in Great Britain.

They did have a responsible Government there. The King no longer gave his personal direction to the business of the Empire and those experts in the Colonial Office advised the Prime Minister he should send out another man to this particular part of the country and he sent out a person who was giving him some political difficulties, Lord Durham, and it is a sort of a commentary on how important the Colonial Office considered this particular little difficulty, and that they used it as a solution to a political problem--get this fellow out of the country and let him see what is happening in the colonies.

He did see, and I don't suppose he heard of the term "grass-roots" but he got to the grass-roots as well and he made a grass-roots recommendation that this part of the Empire was ready for responsible government and that the two separate provinces should be put together. This was accomplished, Upper Canada and Lower Canada were joined as the United Province of Canada and the new Government was granted a measure of responsibility that resulted in administrations that had double names; Baldwin-Lafontaine; Macdonald-Cartier and that is, as you know, where the name of the highway came from, not the Cartier mentioned earlier--and Brown-Dorion. These latter two gentlemen didn't have as much to say about the developing nation as they might have, because Macdonald was a master at keeping his hands on the levers of political control.

One thing of interest in this United Province of Canada was that in order to accommodate the division within it the capital was made movable and therefore for a certain term

it would be in Kingston. Then it was moved to Quebec. Then it came to Toronto; then to Montreal and during that stay in the year 1848 they had the Rebellion Losses Act and some of the people who felt very strongly about it burnt the Parliament Buildings down.

The thing that is important today is that the elected officials, the members to the Assembly, who were at this point in a position of some control, particularly of the purse strings, had to come from English, Protestant Ontario all the way to Quebec City, and a year or two later the politicians from the depths of French Catholic Canada came all the way to Toronto and worked with their colleagues from the other part of the colony. When you think of the prejudices that must have been put aside, the language difficulties that must have been overcome in those days, it is a great example for us as we face each continuing problem of Confdderation. In those days when the members of the Assembly had really less access to broadening education and broadening views than we have today, that they were able to achieve a working government. Mind you, they had difficulties, but they were able to achieve a working government. That is an example, as I say, to us even now.

This is, of course, bringing us almost to the point of Confederation, under Macdonald's leadership and the other Fathers of Confederation, we entered into a compact that has been developing economically and politically for 100 years.

We are aware of this development. Your Chairman indicated some of the political happenings of this area of Confederation. He referred to Edward Blake as the first Liberal Premier of Ontario, but he wasn't Premier for long because then most politicians had their eyes set on the Federal administration.

Edward Blake was a member of this legislature and also a member of the Parliament of Canada. The first thing he did as a reformer, was pass a law that said you could only be a member in one House and made his personal decision he wanted to be a member in Ottawa. So, he and Alexander MacKenzie, and they were close friends, wondered who to get for Premier. Mowat was conducting court up the street and they said, "Oliver, or Ollie, do you want to be Premier of Ontario?" He considered it and said, yes, I will. They swore him in as Premier and as your Chairman said he was directing the affairs of the province for 30 years.

I am not going to go through the other political developments. I want to say briefly something about the future of the developments as we see them.

I don't think you are interested, in this particular room and on this occasion in my assessment of the present state of democracy here. We have overcome one family compact, we have developed for a century since then and longer and I do want to say that the years that lie ahead hold equally important developments in our form of government.

I would say then that I have indicated in broad terms the historical development. It is interesting to speculate as to what life and democracy will be like in the future.

The author Nariman Dhalla in his book, "These Canadians" took a look at 1970 and predicted:

"Gone will be the traditional congregation around the kitchen table, with father in his undershirt belching his pre-dinner beer and reading the sports page. The trend of things to come are gourmet foods, vintage wines, soft music in a candle-lit dining room and month-long vacations to distant parts of the world. Indeed, the household will reflect an awareness of taste and gracious living, as well as the resources to pay the tab."

Mr. Dhallas is an advertising executive but his point of view is interesting but his outlook does not reflect my own. I feel that Ontario has gone through an age when the state began to realise that it has responsibilities for the less fortunate in society.

In the years ahead these programmes of social action will move ahead, and indeed, in some cases they must be intensified, but as well, there will be a much greater emphasis on development. The development of the individual and his opportunities and the development of our province's resources.

We will have to make sure that an individual is not only clothed, housed and fed, but also that he can use his mind to its full potential.

This development phase, as I see it, will lead naturally into the next epoch; that of increased leisure time for a good part of the labour force.

In about thirty years from now, in what has been called the "age of leisure"--a term I do not particularly like, because I feel a lot of people are still going to have to work very hard--the state will have to become involved in helping to provide cultural and recreational facilities. I can foresee community cultural centres, large computerised libraries, communities living under plastic domes, more golf courses, parks and art galleries, greatly expanded universities where it will not be thought odd to see a man of 45 or even 70 on the campus, moving highways to ease traffic congestion, and, if Mr. Dhalla gets his way, we may even have municipal yacht clubs.

But how is democracy to adjust to all these specific changes? As Sir Winston Churchill remarked:

"Democracy is the worst possible system of government, except for any other system that has been tried."

But if it is to survive, it will have to adjust; it will surely die if we try to preserve it like some unlikely stuffed beast in the Royal Ontario Museum.

I believe democracy thirty years from now will have incorporated some of these changes. There will be no more Royal Commissions investigating policy matters. Instead, problems which require study will be handed to committees of the legislature, committees which will have the staff and time to research subjects and take appropriate action. The whole committee system will have been expanded and committees studying proposed government legislation, for example, will make a definite effort to hear from specialists from Ontario and other jurisdictions, giving opportunity for the people, and among them those experts in specific fields, to take part in the advice that leads to legislation.

The members of the legislature will be supported by adequate, trained staff and will be able to call on the resources of the computerised library that I mentioned.

In fact, he may have a button on his desk in the legislature and a push on the button will immediately flash on his desk television screen important facts on all sorts of exotic problems. It may be when you need to add a little to the deliberations that a speech will appear before you as mine has appeared before me in a rather involved way right now. Debates in the legislature will be covered live by radio and television--naturally the citizen will have the right to tune it out--and if the quality is high enough, they could be re-broadcast on a province-wide network of educational television.

I see no reason really why we should be restricted in the reviewing of what goes on there. The electronic press, of course, has become more and more important, as you can see this afternoon, and this is a development that is associated with an informed electorate.

The Ombudsman and his staff will have become an intrinsic part of the democratic process.

There may be an almost continuous open federal-provincial conference thirty years from now. Even this year in the last few weeks, we have had federal-provincial meetings on securities legislation and national medicare.

I can see a debate shaping up in the next few years as to whether these conferences almost constitute another level of government; a level that is not directly responsible to the people. These problems must be solved if Canada, in the years ahead, is to make the progress we all want.

I would like to say something about the reform of the cabinet, the involvement of the members of the legislature in a much more immediate way and the responsibilities of a democratic government, but there are many areas for reform. Electoral reform, taxation reform, the reform of the committee system.

All these matters are associated with the developing responsible government that we have been proud of in years gone by and look forward to in the next century.

But we, in this room, have had some experience from our past history. It is the application of those lessons which surely will guide us in our decisions in the future.

I am a relatively young man--under 40--and I have not been called upon to serve Queen and country and to leave these shores in the service and defence of our nation, and yet I am at an age where the experiences of many of you have come home to me. I mourn the loss of a brother in those particular circumstances and yet this is an experience which has not been a part of the background of the new generation; of businessmen, professional people, labourers and even politicians. The same is true of a real economic depression. I can remember it vaguely and have talked to my dad about it. I have read books associated with the tremendous personal dislocations that many of you remember very well from the terrible situation, economically, in the thirties, and I hope these are experiences that will not return to plague us.

The way that lies ahead is really a new world. Hopefully our lessons will permit us to continue solving problems as we have in recent years. Perhaps we will be able to solve them even more effectively.

The importance of the individual, his self-realisation and his position in the community, both economically and in responsibility to his fellow-man, is the emphasis that faces us in the years that remain in this century.

It is a great time, when we look over our history, to have something to do with the development of our community and political life in general. All of us look forward to our second century with confidence.

Thanks of the meeting were expressed by Mr. E. B. Jolliffe, Q.c.

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Democracy In Ontario

1967 marking 175 years since the beginnings of democracy, British justice and a parliamentary procedure in Ontario. Some history of that beginning era, and of John Graves Simcoe as a political visionary. The development of democracy. The independent voice of William Lyon Mackenzie. Sir John A. Macdonald's leadership and the Fathers of Confederation. The future of the developments of democracy. A speculation as to what life might look like in the future. Some predictions from Nariman Challa. Ontario's programmes of social action. The next epoch of increased leisure time for a good part of the labour force. Thirty years from now. The need for democracy to adjust if it is to survive. Some specific predictions for politics and government. Remarks on the reform of the cabinet, the involvement of the members of the legislature in a much more immediate way and the responsibilities of a democratic government. The many areas for reform. The new world that lies ahead. An emphasis on the importance of the individual, his self-realisation and his position in the community, both economically and in responsibility to his fellow-man.