CBC Digital Archives

Ontario Elections: Who is Mike Harris?

The Ontario Legislature used to be called "the dullest chamber in all of Canada." For 42 years, the Progressive Conservatives and their "Big Blue Machine" ruled the province. But 1985 ushered the PCs out and an age of turbulence in with a Liberal-NDP coalition. In the next three elections, voters handed majorities to all three parties: a sweep for the Liberals, a stunning NDP victory and a sharp right turn with Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution. Dalton McGuinty's Liberals swept the 2003 and 2007 elections and won a third time with a minority in 2011.

media clip
Ontario hardly knew him. In 1995 Progressive Conservative leader Mike Harris woos voters with his "Common Sense Revolution" and becomes the province's next premier. His proposed plan to run Ontario like a business impresses voters so much that he wins a majority government. Harris trades on his simple background: He bills himself as the "everyman's man" from North Bay who managed the family ski resort.

Now Harris will manage the province with such initiatives as "workfare" -- a stipulation requiring welfare recipients to perform work or go to class in order to receive their cheques. As popular as Harris is with voters, he is confronted by demonstrators after the election. In this CBC Television clip, a protester loudly questions Harris about workfare: "What are they going to do? Are they going to be caddies for your golf buddies?" 
• Mike Harris was born in 1945 and raised near Lake Nipissing where his family owned a resort. He was a ski instructor and golf pro before attending North Bay Teachers' College. Harris entered politics in 1975 when he was elected as a trustee to the Nipissing Board of Education. In 1981 he was elected to the provincial legislature and became leader of the Progressive Conservatives in 1990.

• The Tories won 82 seats and the Liberals became the official Opposition with 30 seats in this election. The NDP kept just 17 of the 69 seats it held before election day.
• One independent candidate, former NDP cabinet minister Peter North, was also elected.
• Premier Mike Harris won his seat by a huge margin -- almost 11,000 votes.
• With this election the Tories became the first party to jump from third place to first in the legislature since 1923.

• Shortly after the election was called on April 28, 1995, the provincial Liberals under leader Lyn McLeod held a huge lead. She stepped down as leader soon after the election.
• The NDP's Bob Rae held on to his own seat. After his party's defeat at the polls, he announced he would step down as leader. On election night, he said, "I have won and I have lost, and I would make the rather trite observation that winning is better than losing."

• Harris was quick to bring about the change promised by his Common Sense Revolution. Income taxes were cut, hospitals closed, labour laws repealed, education spending slashed and welfare payments cut by 20 per cent.
• In October 1996, labour leaders organized "Days of Action," a five-day protest against the Harris government. Teachers and public-sector workers in Toronto walked off the job and thousands of people attended a rally at Queen's Park, the Ontario legislature. Service was shut down on the Toronto Transit Commission for a day.

• The Tories also passed the Fewer Politicians Act in 1996, which brought the number of seats in the legislature down to 103 from 130. The new riding names and boundaries matched their federal counterparts.
• In 1999 Harris called another election four years to the week after his 1995 win. The Tories won 59 seats to the Liberals' 35 and the NDP's nine and Mike Harris became the first Ontario premier to win back-to-back majorities since 1967.

• Voter turnout in Ontario provincial elections since 1867 has ranged from a high of 74.4 per cent of eligible voters in 1898 to a low of 58 per cent in 1981.
• In elections since 1985, the highest turnout was 64.4 per cent in 1990. The lowest was 58.3 per cent in 1999.
• Ontario women got the vote in April 1917. Ontario was the fifth province to grant women suffrage, after the four western provinces.
Medium: Television
Program: Prime Time News
Broadcast Date: June 8, 1995
Commentator: Michael Bliss
Host: Alison Smith
Duration: 3:44

Last updated: May 6, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Ontario Elections: 25 Tumultuous Years

The Ontario Legislature used to be called "the dullest chamber in all of Canada." For 42 years...

Robert Bourassa: Political Survivor

Robert Bourassa made history in 1970 by becoming the youngest premier of Quebec, only to suffe...

1995: NHL lockout ends after 103 days

A 103-day lockout ends, and NHL players are back on ice to salvage the season.

Eva Aariak, a closer look

Eva Aariak has a long history of dedication to Nunavut and its educational development.

Nunavut's first female premier

Eva Aariak becomes Nunavut's second premier, and its first female leader.

The coronation of Danny Williams

Premier Williams rides a tidal wave of support to four more years at the helm.