|Intro||Canadian politician in Ontario|
|A.K.A.||Robert Fletcher Nixon|
|Birth||17 July 1928|
Robert Fletcher Nixon, OOnt (born July 17, 1928) is a Canadian retired politician in the province of Ontario, Canada. The son of former Premier of Ontario Harry Nixon, he was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in a 1962 by-election following his father’s death. Robert Nixon quickly became a leading member of the Ontario Liberal Party, and was elected its leader in 1967. He remained in this position until 1976, when he was replaced by Stuart Smith. Nixon remained a member of the Liberal caucus after standing down as leader, and was a prominent cabinet minister in the government of David Peterson from 1985 to 1990.
Nixon was educated at McMaster University (receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry & Biology in 1950) and the University of Toronto’s Ontario College of Education, and worked as a farmer before entering political life. When his father, who had been a member of the legislature since the 1919 provincial election, died on October 22, 1961, Nixon was chosen to run under the Liberal banner as his replacement. On January 18, 1962, he was elected without difficulty as the member for the rural, southwestern Ontario riding of Brant. He is a Protestant and a Freemason.
At this time, Ontario was dominated by the Progressive Conservative Party, then led by John Robarts. The PC party had won 71 of 98 seats in the previous general election, and had governed the province since 1943. Nixon quickly emerged as a leading figure in the opposition, and was returned easily in the 1963 provincial election.
Notwithstanding his political background, Nixon’s initial selection as Liberal Party leader was largely unplanned. The party had previously chosen Andy Thompson as its leader in September 1964, with the expectation that he would lead the party in the next provincial election. However, Thompson suffered a physical breakdown in late 1966 as a result of his involvement in an automobile accident in which two elderly women were seriously injured, and withdrew from the position on the advice of his doctors. Nixon was chosen as the party’s interim leader on November 16, 1966, and soon declared his candidacy to become the party’s full-time leader. It was initially believed he would be challenged by Charles Templeton, who had earlier ran against Thompson for the leadership, but he declined to run. When no other candidates came forward, Nixon was acclaimed as party leader and Leader of the Opposition on January 7, 1967.
With little experience, Nixon led the Liberal Party into the 1967 provincial election, held in October of that year. His campaign attempted to draw attention to water pollution and the high cost of housing in the province, though his efforts on the latter front were undercut by the federal Liberal government’s decision to increase interest payments on the National Housing Act in mid-campaign. Nixon achieved only modest success, increasing the party’s caucus in the Legislative Assembly from 23 to 28 seats (it may be noted that the total number of MPPs was increased from 108 to 117 in this election, and that the third-place New Democratic Party increased its representation from seven MPPs to twenty).
Though Nixon was a pragmatic and moderate individual, his party was largely rural and conservative, and the Liberals had trouble relating to an increasingly urban population. The party’s direction was seen by many as ambiguous in the 1967–71 parliament, although Nixon took a strong position in favour of extending funding for Catholic Separate schools to grade 13.
John Robarts stepped down as Tory leader and Premier in 1971, and was replaced by William Davis. Davis was able to exploit long-standing sectarian differences in Ontario on the separate school question, and led the Tories to an increased majority in the 1971 provincial election. Nixon’s Liberals were reduced to 20 seats, only one more than the NDP, and the party’s share of the popular vote sank to its lowest level in nearly fifty years. Nixon had previously predicted 40 seats for his party, and decided to step down as leader after the election’s disappointing conclusion. He formally resigned in 1972, remaining as interim leader until a permanent successor could be chosen. After much wrangling, the convention was scheduled for October 1973.
It was in 1972-73, however, that the Liberal Party’s fortunes began to change. The Davis government was weakened by a series of corruption scandals, and Nixon emerged as a powerful critic within the legislature. Buoyed by increased popularity, Nixon changed his mind about retirement and entered the leadership contest to succeed himself. He defeated Norman Cafik on the third ballot, and resumed his official duties as party leader and leader of the opposition.
By the 1975 election, the Tories had been in power for thirty-two years, and many thought they had grown arrogant in power. Nixon and the Liberals, along with Stephen Lewis and the Ontario New Democratic Party, led aggressive campaigns against Davis, with Nixon and Davis personally trading barbs. Polls taken shortly before the election showed the Liberals with a provincial lead, and many predicted that Nixon would emerge as the province’s Premier.
Viewed against these expectations, the results were a disappointment for the Liberal Party. The Tories were reduced to a minority government for the first time since 1945. While the Liberals increased their caucus from 20 to 35 seats, however, the NDP caucus increased from 19 to 38 seats, and became the Official Opposition for the first time since 1951. Due to the almost even split between opposition parties and the fact that both the Liberals and the NDP hoped to win the next election, the two opposition parties were unable and unwilling to form a coalition to replace the Conservatives, and the Davis government was able to survive. For the next two years, the NDP offered unofficial support to the Davis government on several issues.
Many observers felt that the Liberals had narrowly missed an opportunity to win the election outright, and that they had been hurt by three things:
- the dynamic campaign by the NDP and its charismatic leader, Stephen Lewis, led many voters looking for a change to go to the social democratic party instead of the Liberals who still had not overcome their rural image;
- at a time when politics was still rather formal in Ontario, Nixon offended some people during a televised debate by referring to Davis by his first name, Bill, rather than calling him Mr. Davis or Premier; and
- in the midst of the campaign, federal Liberal Finance Minister John Turner resigned from the Trudeau government in protest over its economic policies – reflecting badly on the Ontario Liberals by association.
As against which, it may be noted that the 1975 Ontario election fundamentally changed the position of the Liberal Party in Ontario politics. The party was politically marginalized between 1943 and 1975, and the party caucus did not reach the thirty seat level at any time during this period. Since 1975, the Liberals have never fallen below thirty seats in a provincial election and have consistently been serious contenders for government. While Nixon was unable to lead the party to power, he was credited with strengthening its position, making him one of the more successful Liberal leaders between Mitchell Hepburn and David Peterson.
Having lost official opposition status despite making gains, Nixon resigned as leader for a second time and was replaced by Stuart Smith in 1976.
REMAINING IN POLITICS
Nixon remained in the legislature, however, and while he did not have any official parliamentary duties from 1976 to 1982, he remained a prominent voice within the Liberal Party. When Smith resigned as leader following a poor performance in the 1981 provincial election, Nixon briefly returned as interim leader of the opposition from January 25 to February 21, 1982, when David Peterson was chosen as Smith’s replacement.
There are reports that Nixon wanted to resign from provincial politics in 1984, and that he was actively seeking an appointment to the Canadian Senate. He was eventually talked out of this by Liberal organizer Keith Davey, who emphasized that Peterson needed his experience and argued that the Liberals could win the next provincial election. Nixon remained, and surprised some reporters prior to the 1985 provincial election by openly speculating about a future Liberal-NDP coalition.
The election itself produced no clear winner. The Progressive Conservatives, now under Frank Miller, were again reduced to a minority government, winning 52 seats out of 125. Unlike the situation in 1975, however, the Liberals clearly emerged as the dominant opposition party with 48 seats and a narrow victory over the Tories in the popular vote. Nixon took part in post-election negotiations with the third-place NDP, and helped bring about a two-year accord between the two parties, in which the NDP gave support to the Liberals in return for progressive legislation in certain fields.
The Progressive Conservative government was defeated in the house on June 26, 1985, and Nixon was sworn in as Peterson’s Treasurer, Minister of Economics, Minister of Revenue and Government House Leader in the first Ontario Liberal administration in forty-two years. From June 17, 1986 until the 1987 provincial election, he also served as interim Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet.
The Liberals won a landslide majority in the 1987 election, and Nixon was appointed as Deputy Premier on September 29 of that year, also retaining the positions of Treasure, Minister of Economics and Minister of Financial Institutions. He remained in these positions for the remainder of Peterson’s time in government, earning a reputation for careful fiscal management and cautious social reform. His government produced balanced budgets in 1989 and 1990, although some opposition members later criticized the methodology used to calculate revenues and expenditures in this period. In 1989, Nixon eliminated individual Ontario Health Insurance Plan premium charges.
Some ministers within the Liberal government criticized Nixon for restricting or paring back projects. Environment Minister Jim Bradley, in particular, was often regarded as being constrained by Nixon’s decisions, despite the fact that allocations to the Environment Ministry doubled under Nixon’s watch.
BACK TO OPPOSITION
Nixon’s tenure in office ended with the provincial election of 1990, as Peterson’s Liberals were upset by the NDP under Bob Rae. The Liberals were widely criticized for running a poor campaign, and Nixon was personally criticized for approving the announcement of a 1% sales tax cut in mid-campaign (most political analysts thought the promise was irresponsible, and gave the appearance of desperation). Peterson lost his seat, and Nixon fell below 50% support in his own riding for the only time in his career (he defeated an NDP challenger by about 1,500 votes).
Peterson resigned as Liberal leader immediately after the election, and Nixon once again became his party’s interim leader on September 13, 1990 (he also became leader of the opposition again in November, when parliament returned to sit). There were some calls for him to contest the party’s 1992 leadership race, but he declined.
Nixon resigned from the legislature on July 31, 1991, accepting a federal appointment from the Mulroney government to conduct a review of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (Nixon later served as chair of this crown corporation from 1994 to 2001). He and his father had represented the riding of Brant continuously from 1919 until 1991. In the 1993 federal election, the riding elected Nixon’s daughter, Jane Stewart to the Canadian House of Commons, where she served in the Cabinet of Jean Chrétien.
In 1992 Nixon was appointed Agent-General of Ontario to the United Kingdom. He held this position until the London office, and 18 other offices throughout the world, was closed by Bob Rae’s NDP government as an economy measure in the mid-90s. Nixon was well-liked by the office’s staff, for his openness, pragmatism, and astute business sense. He did much to promote Ontario’s standing in London, and promulgated and initiated the twinning arrangement with the UK Principality of Wales.
Nixon supported Gerard Kennedy for the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party in 1996 and former Ontario New Democratic Party leader and Premier Bob Rae for the federal Liberal leadership in the 2006 leadership race.
In the 2013 Ontario Liberal Party leadership election Nixon endorsed Sandra Pupatello.
In 2015, he was made a member of the Order of Ontario.