For the Lewis family 1986 marks the 60th
anniversary of service to the Ontario Legislative Assembly. A.C. Lewis was
Clerk of the House from 1926 to 1954. He was succeeded by his son Roderick who
has held the position ever since. The following article is based on interviews
done for the Research Service of the Ontario Legislative Library supplemented
by a further interview specifically for the Canadian Parliamentary Review in
Would you tell us a bit about your father
and how he came to be Clerk?
My father was not from a well-to-do family.
In fact, after his father died he had to leave school to support the family. He
worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the World and then for seven years as
city editor of the Telegram. His friends used to say he was actually the
political boss of Toronto since he more or less chose the slate the Telegram
would support in local elections. In those days the Telegram was an influential
paper. He later worked for the city of Toronto where he was responsible for
leasing civic properties. A member of the Toronto Board of Education from 1910
to 1914, he served four years with the Canadian forces overseas during the
First World War. He was seriously wounded in a mustard gas attack in 1918 and
it took nearly two years to regain his health. In 1920 he won a seat in the
Ontario Legislative Assembly as the Conservative member for Toronto Northeast.
The Conservatives were in opposition at the time and he quickly gained a
reputation as a procedural authority.
When the Conservatives came to power in
1923, Premier George Ferguson told my father he was going to have to chose
between himself and William Price for a cabinet position. Price was the senior
member and my father deferred to him. Ferguson said there would be other
openings in the near future.
In early 1926 Arthur Sydere, Clerk of the
House for many years, decided to retire. Ferguson called in my father and said
he could choose between the security of the Clerkship or a cabinet position
after the forthcoming election. My father was inclined to go for the cabinet
but he went home to talk it over with my mother. She said, "Look you have
never lost an election but there is always a first time. Why not quit while you
are ahead". He opted for the Clerk's office and never regretted it.
Your father was not a lawyer but he was
made a King's Counsel. How is that possible?
My father used to say how much he regretted
never having had the opportunity to go to law school. He had a fine legal mind and
wrote a book on parliamentary procedure in Ontario. Even lawyers used to come
to him for advice on certain parliamentary matters. It was Premier Mitchell
Hepburn who suggested my father draw up a Bill authorizing the .Law Society of
Upper Canada to admit him as a Barrister and Solicitor. Allan Lamport
introduced the Bill which 'went through the House in March and April 1938.
Shortly thereafter my father received a
letter from the Law Society asking him to remit the proper fees which 'were
more than he could afford. He wrote back notifying them that he had never
intended to actually practice law. Finally things got straightened out and he
received a nice letter from the Treasurer of the Law Society saying they would
be proud to have him as a member and all fees were waived.
In 1939, after his book was published, my
father was made King's Counsel. The only one appointed that year.
Did you always intend to follow your
father's footsteps as Clerk?
No although he wanted me to be a lawyer. He
used to say I'd rather argue than eat. I was much more interested in becoming a
commercial artist. After high school I worked for three years in a commercial
art studio. That was during the depression and artists are among the first to
suffer. It became very hard to get work so I decided maybe I should go to law
school after all.
After graduating in 1939 I got a job with
the Treasury department in the Succession Duty Branch. It was not the most
exciting work in the world and after a couple of years I began looking around
for something else. One day Premier Hepburn called and asked me to come over to
his office. When I arrived I found the Premier with his executive assistant,
the Deputy Treasurer, Dr. Chester Walters and my father. The Premier told me
there was an opening as Assistant Crown Attorney for York. He said my name had
been suggested and asked me if I wanted it. I jumped at the opportunity and
spent the next two years prosecuting in the criminal courts and at the county
The war was on then and I had some health
problems, kidney stones, which kept me out of the service. Eventually, however,
I got medical clearance, joined the Navy did my training in St. John, New
Brunswick. I was looking forward to going to sea, but my law training caught up
to me. I was transferred to Esquimault in British Columbia where I spent the
rest of the war serving on boards of inquiry, court martials and so on. It was
not what I had been expecting but I enjoyed it for the most part.
While in the Navy I developed rheumatoid
arthritis and spent most of 1946 in Christie Street Hospital. Shortly after
being discharged I received quite an attractive offer to go into private
practice with Senator David Croll and his law firm. I hesitated because of the
state of my health. My father was also getting on in years and the provincial
secretary, Roland Michener, was looking for someone to understudy my father.
The provincial secretary had administrative responsibilities for the House in
those days. I told Mr. Michener I would be happy to serve as Assistant Clerk to
my father. I started in 1946 almost twenty years to the day he was first sworn
Shortly after joining the staff you
witnessed a rather extraordinary event the resignation of Speaker Stewart.
Could you tell us about that?
It started very innocently. One day George
Doucett, Minister of Public Works and Highways, asked for seats in the
Speaker's gallery for some visiting officials including at least one federal
minister. Speaker Stewart believed the Speaker's gallery really belonged to the
Speaker and when Doucett's secretary called she was told there were no tickets
Doucett apologized to the visitors who did
not seem too concerned . He then went into the House. When he looked into the
Speaker's gallery it was virtually empty. Doueett brought the matter to the
Speaker's attention in a polite way, but Speaker Stewart just exploded. He told
the Minister to take it up with him in his chambers and when he left the Chair
he told Mr. Doucett to come in. After some time Doucett emerged, returned to
the Chamber and whispered something to Premier George Drew. Mr. Drew looked
very angry. A few minutes later an envelope from the Speaker's office arrived
on the Clerk's table addressed to my father. He did not open it but said to me
I think I've got the Speaker's resignation here but I'm going to give him time
to cool off". He stuck the envelope in his pocket.
A few minutes later a note came down from
the press gallery asking my father if he had the Speaker's resignation. He sent
a note back up saying he had not seen any resignation. This went on all
afternoon but the letter stayed in his pocket. That evening Speaker Stewart
spoke to the press and there was no way out.
In the morning my father called Premier Drew
to tell him he had received the Speaker's resignation and that he would hold an
election for a new Speaker. The Premier decided to nominate James de Congalton
Hepburn and asked Opposition Leader Farquhar Oliver to second the motion.
Oliver said, 'No, no. I think we may have some ideas of our own."
That afternoon, March 24, 1947, my father
informed members of the House of the resignation. Mr. Oliver objected saying
the Speaker had been elected by a vote of the House and the resignation should
be dealt with by resolution of the House. My father ruled this out of order and
advised the House that his opinion was backed up by Arthur Beauchesne, noted
parliamentary expert in Ottawa.
Oliver then moved that the House refuse to
accept the resignation. Again my father said it was out of order. Mr. Oliver
appealed the ruling which was sustained by a vote of 53-17. George Drew then
moved the nomination of Hepburn. Oliver moved an amendment saying the House
still had confidence in Stewart. To avoid dividing on the issue Drew asked if
Mr. Stewart accepted the nomination. Stewart said he did not wish to provoke
controversy and withdrew.
You have served under some 112 different
Speakers. What would you say are some of the most important qualities for a
First, I guess, is a good sense of humour. When
a Speaker takes himself too seriously he is going to have trouble. A good
Speaker will be able to diffuse a tense situation with a quip that lightens the
A good Speaker must also be fair. He must
make the member realize that he is absolutely unbiased in his rulings
regardless of his party affiliation when he was a private member. He must be
firm when necessary but willing to admit that he is human and subject to error.
He must not allow the members to push him around. He must show that he has strength.
I personally think there is much to be said for having a lawyer as Speaker
although we have had only one during my time. A lawyer has an advantage in that
he is used to interpreting law.
One thing a Speaker is not supposed to do is
keep track of how many members are in the House or who votes for or against a
particular motion. The Speaker simply asks if the House agrees to a motion. If
he hears anyone say "no" he calls for the "ayes" and
"nays". He declares the result taking into account the probabilities.
By that I mean if a government has a large majority he will usually say that
the government side has it regardless of the numbers actually present or how
loud they shout. Of course, if five members rise in their place there will be a
Some members seem to have difficulty
understanding this idea. A former member used to think that if there were more
members present on the opposition side the Speaker should give them the nod. He
used to shout can't you count Mr. Speaker" at the top of his lungs.
What would you say are the essential
qualities for a Clerk?
Essentially the same as for the Speaker,
except perhaps without the sense of humour! A number of words come to mind
patience, stamina, trustworthiness, integrity and so on but perhaps the
essential word is tradition. Above all the Clerk must be one who loves the
traditions of Parliament.
Could you give us just a brief comment on
some of the Speakers and Premiers you have worked with?
Aside from Stewart who resigned, Cooke Davis
stands out. He was only the second Speaker to have two full terms. He did such
an excellent job in his first term that Premier Leslie Frost decided to depart
from the usual tradition of changing Speakers after each election.
Fred Cass was a lawyer with a sound grasp of
technical and legal details but he tended to get the backs of the members up.
Wally Downer was just the opposite. An Anglican Clergyman he was very popular.
He had a magnificent voice and a magnificent presence. When he made a ruling it
sounded as though it came down from Mount Olympus. He could get away with
murder in the House because he was so popular.
Jack Stokes had a difficult job since he
presided over a minority Parliament as a member of an opposition party. He had
a bit of a temper which he kept under control although he could get very red in
the face. He had a faculty for making the House laugh.
What about the Premiers?
I've know them all since Drury who led the
United Farmers in 1920. Ferguson was very quick-witted, and a great orator. George
Henry was a sincere, honest gentleman but he was very wealthy and I think that
made it hard for him to understand the common man. Hepburn was brilliant,
mercurial, but very unstable. He fought with his own cabinet and with the
federal Liberals before finally resigning. Frost was the best at getting
legislation through the House. He was patient, well organized and of course,
always had a big majority. He was called "Old Man Ontario" and had no
interest in going on to federal politics. He also ran a one man show, unlike
his successor John Robarts who delegated things to his ministers and acted as
kind of a chairman of the board. I admired Mr. Robarts but he was not the
politician that Frost was. Bill Davis had tremendous recall. You only had to
tell him things once. He was also responsible for bringing the administration
of the Legislature into the 20th century by establishing the Camp Commission
and implementing many of its recommendations.
Ontario politics is sometimes perceived
as rather dull but there must have been some colourful characters in the House
during your time?
I would start with A.A. MacLeod one of two
left-wing members elected after the War. They were actually members of the
Communist Party but it was illegal so they called themselves Labour-Progressives.
He was a very good debater. He and George Drew disliked each other intensely.
When Tom Kennedy replaced Drew as Premier on an interim basis, MacLeod welcomed
him by saying 'when the Great White Chief (Drew) was here the present premier was
number two. As a combination they reminded me of arsenic and old lace. Now that
we have got rid of arsenic we are looking forward to a term of old lace."
After his defeat MacLeod eventually ended up as a speech writer for Premier
Kelso Roberts was a bit of an eccentric. He
loved gadgets. One day he brought in a miniature projector and used it to flash
notes on a little screen which he put on his desk. He married and became a
father rather late in life and used to point out that he became eligible to
receive the old age pension and the baby bonus at the same time. He could be
stubborn and one time he tried to convince me that provincial members should
have the same free railway passes as federal members because when the trains
passed through the province they were under provincial jurisdiction. This was
incorrect but he would not hear anything to the contrary.
Farquhar Oliver was a wonderful orator. He
came from the farm and did not have a lot of formal education. He was elected
at age 22 and served for 40 years before deciding the time had come to quit.
Wally Downer served almost as long
(1937-1971) but he began to take things too much for granted. In 1971 he
expected to take the party nomination by acclamation and instead he lost it.
He loved to play poker and would often
organize a game in one of the back rooms while the House was sitting late into
the night. The room was known as the "Senate" and he would sometimes
say he had to leave the House to go up to the "Senate".
There were many other amusing moments like
the time Fred Edwards was in the Chair during Committee of the Whole. Sometimes
at night sessions he became a bit aggressive telling people to sit down. Donald
MacDonald got up to give a speech and Mr. Edwards said "order,
order". Mr. Macdonald, who was not out of order, demanded to know the
problem. Mr. Edwards looked at me. I said "tell him he's not respecting
Perhaps I should conclude with a story about
a Liberal member elected in 1945. He was very tough and tended to drink rather
heavily. One night George Drew was speaking and referring to the opposition he
said one day you will see the light."
The member jumped up and shouted I see the
light, I see the light". When the House adjourned several hours later he
had to come up with something to tell the press so he said he had been thinking
things over for some time and had come to the conclusion that he was more in
sympathy with the government than with his own party. He even got up in the
House the next day and asked the government if they were willing to take him. A
long silence followed.
But if I remember correctly he actually
started voting with the government and sought election as an independent
Conservative at the next election. He lost.