Wiser for their years
I’d forgotten he was still around. I’d forgotten he was the second-longest-serving premier (14 years) in Ontario history. I’d forgotten he’d won four consecutive elections in the province. And – even though I never agreed with his party’s political philosophy – I’d also forgotten how clear-headed the man could be when it came to considering issues affecting the people. Then, the other day Bill Davis’s perspective came back to me when the Toronto Star quoted him.
“Ontario Place was conceived as a family place, with attractions, entertainment, food services, play and theatre areas all aimed at the family,” Davis told the Star.
At 89 years of age, former premier Davis (1971-1985) has nothing to prove. Even if you didn’t happen to support his position on the political spectrum – and I fully admit I did not when he was in power – you cannot argue with the foresight and effectiveness of the kinds of decisions he and his governments made – creating Ontario’s successful community college system and TV Ontario for example. But for the purposes of this column, I’m remembering that Ontario Place – a theme park for families, with a water park, a children’s play area and amusement rides – opened in the same year Bill Davis became premier of Ontario.
As recently as last week, the new premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, indicated that the now 48-year old site is due for a total makeover.
“Everything (to do with Ontario Place) is on the table,” the Ford government says, “including a casino,” or in its words, “a world-class attraction.”
A casino, where they staged free concerts? A world class attraction, when most people in the downtown area of Toronto are seeking green refuge from the concrete jungle? Well, I for one am inclined to put aside my general dislike for Conservative policies all those years ago, and am prepared to listen to sage Bill Davis. In fact, it brings to mind the recent phrase, “the older I get, the wiser my father becomes,” as coined by author Eugene Fullerton. Maybe it’s time to listen more closely to older members of our community, those who’ve experienced more, invested more, understood more than some of us who’ve come along lately, such as the so-called “for the people” Ford government with so-called quick fixes in their planning.
This week, I made a couple of speaking appearances in the Sarnia area. Over a lunch table on Tuesday, I happened to speak with John McPhedron, 82 (a few years younger than Davis) but equally astute in his assessment of his community. During his career as a market analyst for Manpower and Immigration Canada (analysing the then-burgeoning Sarnia economy of petro-chemical and energy production) back in the 1970s, he accurately predicted the need for Canadian companies (and civil service) to improve salaries and worker benefits – the need to attract more highly skilled professionals from around the globe to bolster both the city’s and Canada’s economies. That’s one of the reasons Sarnia blossomed as a workers’ destination 40 years ago. And when I asked him about the next big issue on the horizon?
“Well, when the federal election rolls around later this year, the hot issues won’t be carbon taxes, or immigration, or even border security,” McPhedron said. “It’ll be pharma-care!”
And I wrote that down for the record. Then, another of my lunch partners piped up. Also in his 80s, Joe Zanek worked for most of his career with Dow Chemical, also in Sarnia. In fact, he told me, in large measure, some of his ideas were responsible for saving the plant. Back in the 1970s, when it looked as if economies of scale would force Dow to relocate its plant from Sarnia to Texas, where energy costs were lower, Joe, an energy engineer, found a way to save the Sarnia plant millions in expenses – by cutting its coal, gas and electrical power bills in half. So, I asked Joe what he saw in our energy future.
“I’m not sold on battery-powered cars,” he said. “When it costs $90,000 to buy an electric car (which most can’t afford) and the battery costs a third of that, ($30,000) I’m not so sure they’re the answer. There’s got to be something better.”
What’s my point? In the span of three days this week, I’ve listened to three elders peer into the future. And while a lot of this youth-focused world isn’t prepared to consider older citizens relevant, nor have an interest in what they have to say, I am and I do!
Case in point – as the new provincial government, claiming to be “For The People” considers all options for Ontario Place, including casinos instead of Cinespheres, I’m inclined to consider the advice from former premier Bill Davis, who was for the people in a lower-case kind of way.
“While any site decades old needs renewal and investment,” Davis said this week, “the core idea … (must remain) genuinely family friendly.”
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