We recently got a taste of Ontario’s dynamic political landscape of the 1980s, meeting with former Liberal Premier David Peterson. Elected in 1985, Peterson’s government ended the 42-year reign of the Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario, which some say marked the surprise “comeback” of the Liberal party, and the following trends that ensued across the country. As he greeted the interns on the way in to his law office in downtown Toronto, his assistant asked if he could take a quick call from current Premier Kathleen Wynne – which evidently highlighted his continued support of the party he once lead. Upon returning, he jokingly advised that he had informed the current Premier that the interns snuck out of Queen’s Park and are “playing hooky”. His sense of humour would endure throughout the meeting, where we had quite the engaging discussion, as well as an opportunity to ask him various questions.
He shared a number of lively stories, including how he entered politics, how his party surprisingly won power in the mid eighties, his experience as Premier, and life post-politics. We discussed the significant role he played with his Premier counterparts during Canada’s constitutional talks. In addition, he explained the nature of the accord he signed with NDP leader Bob Rae, at the time, distinguishing its difference from a formal coalition, which would have required the sharing of executive powers in Cabinet. And he enthusiastically shared the numerous opportunities his government embraced, including legislation to protect cultural minorities, give rights to individuals of various sexual orientations, and support women.
There were a few particular moments that stood out. For example, did you know the Peterson government introduced the blue boxes we see all across Ontario as part of our recycling efforts? Also, following politics, Peterson has been contracted by the Canadian government to serve as chief negotiator on the devolution talks with the Northwest Territories. This was particularly interesting, given the interns recently visited Yellowknife in February.
Before concluding the meeting, former Premier Peterson gave the interns some advice. He advised:
- Don’t let your self-esteem depend on people;
- One skill you need to be a politician is: the ability to get elected;
- Read The Economist. It is so important to have a global perspective;
- Victors must be gracious;
- Everyone practices politics – it’s how we get along with people;
And with that, the interns said farewell, and hopped on the TTC back to Queen’s Park. Unfortunately, you just can’t play hooky all day…