David Peterson

From Academic Kids

David Robert Peterson (born December 28, 1943 in Toronto, Ontario) was the twentieth Premier of the Province of Ontario, Canada, from June 26, 1985 to October 1, 1990. He was the first Liberal premier of Ontario in 42 years.

Peterson is married to actress Shelley Peterson, and is the younger brother of Jim Peterson, currently a federal cabinet minister in the government of Paul Martin. Both his sister-in-law Debbie Matthews and Tim Peterson, a third brother, were elected to the Ontario legislature in the 2003 provincial election.

The Hon. David Peterson
Missing image
David Peterson

Term of Office:June 26, 1985 - October 1, 1990
Predecessor:Frank Miller
Successor:Bob Rae
Date of Birth:1943
Place of Birth:Toronto, Ontario
Spouse:Shelley Peterson
Political Party:Liberal

Peterson earned degrees from the University of Western Ontario (B.A.) and the University of Toronto (LL.B.), and was called to the bar in 1969. Despite his legal background, most of Peterson's early career was spent in the world of private enterprise. He became present of C.M. Peterson Company Limited, a wholesale electronics firm founded by his father, at age twenty-six, and joined the Chamber of Commerce's Young Presidents Club in the same period.

Peterson was first elected as the Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament for London Centre in the 1975 provincial election. Less than one year later, he campaigned for the leadership of the party following Robert Nixon's resignation. Considered by some to be inexperienced, Peterson nevertheless came within 45 votes of defeating Stuart Smith on the third and final ballot of a delegated convention held on January 25, 1976. Smith represented the left-wing of the party, while Peterson was seen as representing its right-wing. Some blamed Peterson's loss on the banal delivery of his convention speech.

Peterson was re-elected in the provincial elections of 1977 and 1981, and ran for the Liberal leadership a second time after Smith's resignation in 1982. Again considered to be on the right of the party, he defeated the more left-leaning Sheila Copps on the second ballot of a convention vote, held on February 21, 1982. One of his most prominent supporters in this period was Keith Davey.

Peterson was not initially regarded as a strong challenger to the Progressive Conservative government of Bill Davis. The Liberals lost two seats in late 1984 by-elections, and another caucus member defected to the Progressive Conservatives that same year, claiming that Peterson was an ineffective leader. Polling in late 1984 showed Peterson's Liberals in third place, behind the Progressive Conservatives and New Democratic Party.

Peterson's fortunes improved when Davis retired as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in early 1985. His successor, Frank Miller, took the party further to the right, and was unable to convince the electorate of his leadership abilities. Though Miller's Tories began the election in 1985 with a significant lead, Peterson's Liberals gradually increased their support throughout the campaign. To the surprise of many, Peterson won a narrow plurality of the popular vote and came within four seats of defeating Miller's government. The Progressive Conservatives won 52 seats and the Liberals 48, leaving the NDP holding the balance of power with 25.

Following the election, NDP leader Bob Rae entered negotiations with both the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, seeking a formal accord in which the NDP would pledge not to defeat the government in return for the passage of certain progressive legislation. Miller's Tories attempted to win the NDP's support, but were unable to agree to Rae's terms. Negotiations with the Liberals were more fruitiful, and the two parties signed an accord allowing the Liberals to govern for a two-year period. (The NDP did not receive any cabinet seats, and the accord was not a formal coalition.)

The Liberals and NDP defeated Miller's government on June 18, 1985 on a motion of non-confidence, and Peterson was sworn in as Premier of Ontario eight days later. After the expiration of the Liberal-NDP Accord in 1987, the Liberals called another provincial election, and were returned with a majority in the legislature, taking 95 seats out of 130.

Peterson's government introduced several pieces of progressive legislation. It eliminated "extra billing" by doctors, brought in pay equity provisions, and reformed the province's rent review and labour negotiation laws. His government also brought in pension reform, expanded housing construction, and resolved a long-standing provincial controversy by extended full funding to Catholic secondary schools. Peterson was also a vocal opponent of free trade with the United States in 1988. His administration was less activist in its later years, though it still introduced progressive measures on environmental protection, eliminated health insurance premiums, and brought in no-fault automobile insurance for the province.

The Peterson administration also developed a reputation for fiscal prudence, under the management of Treasurer Robert Nixon. The Liberal government was able to introduce a balanced budget for 1989-90 following several years of deficit spending in Ontario, at a time when deficit spending was commonplace in most of North America.

Peterson remained personally popular during his time in power, and some spoke of him as a future Prime Minister of Canada. Peterson improved his public speaking abilities in the early 1980s, and projected the image of an active, charismatic figure when in office. Some believed his image was perfectly suited to the young, urban professional demographic of the 1980s.

Both Peterson and his government were still popular at the beginning of 1990. The end of his career in politics came suddenly, and was the result of several factors.

The first was Peterson's prominent role in creating and promoting the "Meech Lake" constitutional accord. While initially popular, this attempt at revising Canada's constitution proved extremely divisive in most of English-speaking Canada. Many believed that it gave too many concessions to Quebec, while others believed that it weakened the federal government's authority in relation to the provinces. Peterson's continued support for the accord, in the face of increased opposition, damaged his personal popularity in Ontario. (The accord was not endorsed by Manitoba and Newfoundland, and did not pass.)

The second reason for Peterson's downfall was the controversy resulting from the Patti Starr scandal. Starr, a prominent Liberal fundraiser, was found to have improperly diverted money from land-development and charitable organizations to the provincial Liberal Party. She was eventually sentenced to six months jail time. Although no-one in Peterson's administration was accused of criminal activity, the scandal eroded public confidence in the integrity of the ministry.

The third reason was the weaking North American economy. Productivity levels were falling throughout the United States and Canada during this period, and were likely worsened in Ontario and other jurisdictions by the recent passage of a Free Trade Accord involving the two countries. While there was little that Peterson, or any other Ontario Premier, could have done to prevent this downturn, it weakened his government's reputation for fiscal competence. (Indeed, the government's projected surplus budget for 1990-91 ultimately yielded a deficit of at least three billion dollars.)

Notwithstanding all of this, Peterson's Liberal Party still retained a comfortable lead over the Progressive Conservatives and NDP in mid-1990 public opinion polls. As a result, Peterson decided to call an early election, less than three years into his mandate. This proved to be his greatest mistake.

Many voters saw the early election as a mark of arrogance, and a sign that Peterson's Liberals had become detached from the electorate. There was no defining issue behind the campaign, and many believed that Peterson was simply trying to win re-election before the economic downturn reached its worst phase. Some Liberal cabinet ministers, most notably Greg Sorbara, were strongly opposed to the early election call. Sean Conway, a member of Peterson's inner circle, would later acknowledge that most backbench MPPs also opposed the timing of the campaign.

The election of 1990 began with the Liberals holding at 50% popular support, and a 54% approval rating for Peterson. However, his luck turned immediately upon calling the election. Disappointed by high expectations, groups representing several interests (such as teachers, doctors, and environmentalists), came out against Peterson on television, radio, in print, and at Liberal campaign events. The public regarded the election call as cynical, and the party appeared desperate when they unexpectedly proposed to cut the provincial sales tax halfway through the campign.

The campaign also took place at a time when the federal New Democratic Party was performing well in the polls. This trend carried over to the provincial level; the provincial NDP under Bob Rae ran a strong campaign, and saw its fortunes gradually increase in the time leading up to election day. Some voters believed that Peterson deserved to be reduced to a minority government, while others believed the NDP should be given a chance to govern. On September 5, 1990, the NDP won one of the greatest upsets in Canadian political history, outpolling the Liberals 38% to 34% and forming a majority government.

David Peterson even lost his own seat, having been resoundingly defeated by NDP candidate Marion Boyd in London Centre. The loss ended Peterson's career as a politician. He announced his resignation as party leader on the night of the election, and formally resigned as premier on October 1, 1990.

In 1992, Peterson endorsed former Minister of Health Murray Elston as the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. Elston was narrowly defeated, in part because many party delegates saw him as a throwback to the Peterson years.

David Peterson was the founding chairman of the Toronto Raptors Basketball Club of the National Basketball Association, and was a member of Toronto's Olympics Bid Committee. Since leaving politics, he has been a professor at York University in Toronto, a senior partner and chairman of the Toronto law firm Cassels, Brock & Blackwell, and has been director or member of several charitable, cultural, and environmental organizations.

In 1999, Peterson found himself at the center of controversy due to his membership on the board of YBM Magnex, a firm which was discovered to have links to the Russian mafia. Peterson maintained that he was unaware of illegal activities at the company, and referred to the accusations against him as "guilt by association". A subsequent investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission found that Peterson's actions met "the legal test of due diligence", but expressed disappointment that he had not shown more leadership on the board.[1] (http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2003/07/02/ybm_030702) A 2004 report from the Globe and Mail newspaper notes that Peterson was chastened by this experience, and has become "a cautious and more conscientious director" since this time.[2] (https://secure.globeadvisor.com/servlet/ArticleNews/story/gam/20040430/RO5MULRON-2)

In May 2005, Peterson helped Belinda Stronach, a federal Conservative MP, to cross the floor to the ruling Liberal Party, days before a crucial confidence motion on the federal budget of Paul Martin's Liberal minority government. The defection proved critical to the survival of Martin's government, with the final outcome of the budget vote 153-152 in favour of the government.

Preceded by:
Frank Miller

Premier of Ontario

Succeeded by:
Bob Rae

Preceded by:
Stuart Smith

Ontario Liberal leaders

Succeeded by:
Robert Nixon


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