The House That Bill Built

The enduring legacy of the Conservative who really wasn’t

For those who remember his time as premier, either vividly or loosely, William Grenville “Bill” Davis remains a unique political figure. A left-leaning Red Tory in Ontario’s Big Blue Machine, the former premier—his tenure (1971 to 1985) was the second longest in the province’s history—is certainly out of step with modern conservative thinking. He is an Edmund Burke or Benjamin Disraeli in a political world of William F. Buckleys and Ronald Reagans. Now 87, he is remembered most of all as an affable individual who took principled positions on taxes, social services and the size of government, and famously quipped that in politics, “bland works.”

But is that all there really is to Davis? Not according to Steve Paikin’s fascinating new book, Bill Davis: Nation Builder, and Not So Bland After All. The distinguished journalist and author believes his subject’s steady hand, moderate views and...