It’s an accepted convention in journalism that some of the best quotes come after the recorder is turned off.
There is no exception to the rule as Steve Paikin, the veteran journalist who has made himself synonymous with Ontario politics and TVOntario, would attest.
In 30 years as a journalist Paikin, inducted to the Order of Canada late last year, has interviewed nearly a third of all Ontario premiers: the last eight from current Premier Kathleen Wynne to Bill Davis (there have been 25 since Confederation).
It was during an interview with Davis a few years ago that one of those memorable quips landed on Paikin’s lap. Once the cameras were off for the live show and the crew was breaking the lights and other equipment down, Paikin said he remarked to Davis that as a lawyer back in private practice, it must feel like he's in the best job he’s ever had after 14 years under the microscope and in the “eye of the hurricane” as chief magistrate of Canada’s most populous province.
Working normal hours and seeing more of his grandkids than he ever did of his own children and making several times what he did as premier in corporate law, Paikin was sure Davis was living a renaissance.
Not the case.
“He said to me ‘Steven, this job on its most fascinating day can’t touch being premier of Ontario on the dullest day’,” Paikin recalled. “That stuck with me and tells me all I need to know about being premier of Ontario. It’s a hell of a job.”
That was the next question from one of the about 100 people who had the chance to turn the tables on the journalist during breakfast Thursday morning (April 24), guests of the Canadian Club of London and the London Convention Centre.
What would the host of The Agenda and formerly Studio 2, a man with a singular perspective on the experiences of those eight leaders, say to a prospective premier in the way of advice?
Paikin responded it’s an intense responsibility to be the leader of the second largest and second most important government in Canada, a job exceeded in its import and prominence by only the prime minister’s.
Playing off Paikin’s comments about Ontario’s importance to Canada, Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert asked how the province’s role within Confederation has changed during his tenure in the fourth estate.
“Huge,” he said. “Up until 1990 every premier of Ontario saw his job as being an important liaison between the federal government and the rest of the provinces. The premier and the prime minister have to be (relatively close) because with that much political clout it wouldn’t be good for national unity if they are seen to be too far apart.”
To illustrate, Paikin said the headlines might have carried Pierre Trudeau’s name when the Constitution was repatriated in 1982, but Davis played a central role.
“I tell you here today it wouldn’t have happened without Bill Davis,” he said. “He had an instrumental role and (John) Robarts before him at the Confederation Tomorrow conference in Toronto in 1967.”
He said the Charlottetown Accord was a watershed moment for the province.
“Our fiscal position in Confederation has become so precarious … that Ontario has become more Ontario-first and every premier since (Bob Rae), I think, has reflected that.”
He said Wynne is starting to show signs she understands that traditional role for Ontario “and feels a need to do something about that.” And with a new Liberal premier in Quebec, Paikin predicts a warmer dynamic twixt the banks of the Ottawa River in the next decade than there has been in the last.
Whether Wynne is in office long enough for that to happen is very much in the air in this “unprecedented” political climate as Paikin described it, featuring for the first time women leading two of the major parties including our first female premier, and a virtual dead-heat in the polls between all three parties.
But whether the backdoor banners at Queen’s Park remain red or turn blue or orange (all real possibilities), Paikin opined what the legislature needs is more women of all stripes.
Asked if there are enough female political candidates, Paikin knocked the softball question out of the park and said of course not. He said exploring the reasons why more women aren’t running would be a longer exercise, but he's sure it would be a good thing if more of them won.
“I’m convinced, and I hear it from enough people who are in politics, that getting more women in politics would make politics better,” he said. “They obviously bring something different and we need more diversity around the cabinet table, in caucus or at city hall.”