On a promise of ‘Clean, Uncorrupt, and Incorruptible Government,’ James Pliny Whitney marked the end of an era of Liberal rule that had lasted for over three decades, and introduced to the province a new, ‘progressive’ brand of conservatism.As this lively biography demonstrates, Whitney was a gruff and forceful leader. He had a keen understanding of the social and technological forces that were changing Ontario so dramatically in the early twentieth century; he also understood, better than the Liberals, the political implications of those forces. The policies of his government extended to hydroelectric power, bilingual schools, northern development, automobile regulation, temperance (he dealt with the advocates of prohibition ‘through gritted teeth’), imperial unity, housing, workmen’s compensation, and the suffrage movement. (In a lapse from progressiveness, he argued that women should not be exposed to ‘the unlovely influence of party politics.’) He had a lasting influence on higher education in the province through the establishment of a Board of Governors for the University of Toronto, then unmistakably the provincial university of Ontario, and the provision of tenure for its full professors.Whitney liked to describe himself as ‘bold enough to be honest … honest enough to be bold.’ Humphries concludes that as premier from 1905 to 1914 Whitney lived up to his self-description. The boldness of his legislative programs recognized the evolution of a new industrial society and paved the way for government to intervene in economic and social affairs. The success of his progressive conservatism laid the foundation for decades of Tory success in Ontario.
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‘Honest Enough to Be Bold’ The Life and Times of Sir James Pliny Whitney