Sarah Polley fondly recalls meeting Bill Davis, late Ontario premier from Brampton

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Published August 11, 2021 at 3:24 am

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Bill Davis famously never lost an election, and filmmaker Sarah Polley may have won the internet with her recollection of a chance encounter with ‘Brampton Billy.’

In a Twitter thread on Wednesday, Polley, the Toronto-born director of acclaimed films such as “Away From Her,” “Take This Waltz” and “Stories We Tell” recounted meeting the universally respected former Ontario premier. Davis, who represented Brampton, Peel, and North Peel in the Ontario legislature for 26 years and was premier of the province from 1971 to ’85, died on Sunday at age 92. 

Polley said that she and Davis were seated close together on a plane flight from Los Angeles to Toronto about 15 years ago. 

“I was struggling to get my bag into a crowded overhead bin,” she wrote. “An old man offered to move his suitcase into a different position so I could fit mine in.”

Polley said the pair — based on her timeline, Davis would have been in his mid-70s and she would have been in her late 20s — ended up “talking for hours about Canadian film and art. He was an encyclopedia when it came to these things.”

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After a spell, Polley wrote, Davis “pointed to a photo of a Conservative cabinet minister on the front page of the Globe and asked me what I thought of him.

” ‘Not much,’ I said,” Polley recounted. “He asked why. I said I didn’t know where to start. For one thing — Conservatives didn’t support the arts which he was clearly so passionate about.

” ‘Well,’ he said, ‘there is actually a long conservative tradition of supporting the arts.’ I laughed. I said ‘Look, I grew up under Mike Harris (Ontario premier from 1995 to 2003, when Polley would have high school and university-aged). For me, conservatives do not support the arts. They hack away at social programs and the arts and everything else that matters to me.”

Polley said that Davis took in her statement and “looked off, thoughtfully.” Prior to becoming premier, Davis was Ontario’s minister of education. Under his leadership, Brock University in St. Catharines and Trent University in Peterborough were created, and both the community-college system and TV Ontario were founded. During Davis’s time as premier, the Catholic public education system also received full funding.

The Xennial-aged creative said, at that point, she needed to “clarify” her opinion to the former premier who helped create many Ontario institutions that served Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers.

” ‘Maybe it’s a generational thing,” I said,” Polley wrote. ” ‘There haven’t really been Red Tories in my time. I’d never be conservative but maybe if I’d grown up under Bill Davis I would think that Conservatives had some connection to the arts. Maybe I’d think a bit differently.’ “

And, at that point, Davis broke out what screenwriters such as Polley refer to as a reveal.

She said Davis said that was a “lovely thing to say … because I’m Bill Davis.”

Steve Paikin, the host of TVOntario’s “The Agenda” who was also Davis’s biographer and friend, gave Polley a stick-tap for the threaded tribute.

“She shoots, she scores,” he wrote.

Prior to becoming a director, Polley came to prominence in front of the camera, starring in the 1990s CBC series “Road To Avonlea.” She made her first short film in 1999.

Her work as a filmmaker often explores feminist themes; in 2017, she wrote an essay for The New York Times where she said movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was later imprisoned for sexual assault, personified a larger problem of misogyny and sexism in the entertainment industry.

Polley’s current project is a film called “Women Talking,” which adapted from a novel of the same name by Manitoba-born author Miriam Toews.

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