Official Records for 29 November 1984

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DEATH OF MEMBER FOR RIVERDALE


The House met at 2 p.m.

Prayers.

DEATH OF MEMBER FOR RIVERDALE

Mr. Speaker: I regret to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the membership of the House by reason of the death of James A. Renwick, Esq., member for the electoral district of Riverdale.

Hon. Mr. Welch: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the government and the people of Ontario, I would like to express my own personal sorrow at the passing of our admired and respected friend James Renwick.

Through his 20 years of service in this House -- or assembly, as he preferred to call it -- Jim Renwick established a unique reputation among his colleagues. Deeply committed to the principles of equity and justice, articulate in his defence of the role and the workings of parliamentary institutions and dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, he was beyond doubt one of the most learned persons to occupy a seat in this chamber.

The elder statesman of his caucus, Jim was an active and effective participant in the workings of the assembly and its committees. Equipped with a thorough intellect honed during his years in the practice of corporate law, Jim became a leading spokesman for his party on a number of matters. Indeed, in recent years he assumed responsibility for all legislation and estimates within the Justice policy field. His skills in undertaking these responsibilities were well known and highly regarded.

As the Attorney General (Mr. McMurtry) noted in his statement of yesterday, Jim Renwick always made an effective and eloquent contribution to the consideration of public business. Thoroughly organized and ever in command of his argument, Jim was perhaps the pre-eminent scholar of this chamber. He doubtless utilized the members’ reading room in the legislative library more often than anyone else.

Apart from his many achievements within the assembly, Jim Renwick will be remembered for the civility and the honour he exhibited throughout his life. It was said by some that Jim was too much of a gentleman or too courtly to fit the mould of a successful servant of the public. Perhaps it is the rest of us who were at fault for not endeavouring to be more like him on occasion.

Jim also exhibited an enormous zest for life and derived joy from many activities. He loved good company, good movies and good conversation. We all found him to be an enjoyable and stimulating companion. More than just a pleasant associate, he was a good friend to many of us.

Perhaps his closest friend among us was the member for Scarborough West (Mr. R. F. Johnston), himself the recent victim of ill health, who fortunately has been able to join us today, following a lengthy absence, to pay tribute to our colleague. I know we all join in wishing the member for Scarborough West a quick return to his activities.

On September 10, 1984, the Premier (Mr. Davis) was delighted to write to Jim on the 20th anniversary of his first election to this assembly. At that time, the Premier wrote the following words, which I would repeat to Jim at this point if he were in our midst:

“You have served the people of Riverdale and the people of Ontario with integrity and commitment. Through your affable good humour and your quiet civility, you have contributed effectively to debate in the assembly and you have earned the respect of your associates on both sides of the Speaker.”

I will conclude by extending our sympathies to Jim’s family, to members of the New Democratic Party and to his many friends and admirers in all walks of life.

Mr. Peterson: Mr. Speaker, I would like to associate myself and my colleagues with the words of the Deputy Premier (Mr. Welch). Since Jim’s passing, the praise and the tributes have been fulsome from many quarters and all well deserved. As befits one of the true “legends and titans” in this House, there has not been one unkind word.

We all have personal knowledge of Jim. He touched all our lives in this chamber, and I believe he elevated the tone on many occasions. He also touched the lives not only of his constituents in Riverdale but also of many people who work in this building. Today and yesterday, I noticed a real sense of sadness in this building. I have had the opportunity to chat with a number of people who work here and I would like to tell the members of some of their tributes.

“He always had a friendly word and a smile. It did not matter who it was. He was interested in how my day was going,” said Janet McDonald, the cashier in the cafeteria.

“He was a gentleman everyone liked. He always asked about the staff who were not in or who were sick. He had a genuine interest in other people. He was never too busy to say hello,” said Bonnie Beech, the supervisor in the members’ dining room.

“He was one of the most pleasant people you could ever hope to meet. We are all going to miss him dreadfully,” said John Walls, general services supervisor.

“Jim Renwick always had the greatest respect for the staff who were responsible for administering the Legislature. He took a personal interest in the services provided to members. He never pulled rank. If the guidelines or the regulations made sense, that was enough. He remembered us by name and he was always a gentleman,” said Tom Mitchinson, executive assistant to the director of administration of the Legislature.

“He always had a smile and a joke. He would say things like, ‘If the place is so quiet, why don’t you go to sleep?’ Seeing him always made the day more pleasant,” said Ontario Provincial Police Special Constable Archibald.

“Jim Renwick was held in the highest regard by those who toil for Hansard, to which, over the years, he contributed so many words. He was a prolific speaker on almost every issue in the Legislature. His craftsmanship of a sentence, often 20 lines long, was a model of clear and logical thinking. We will miss no longer putting on the record the words of this master of the language,” said Jack White, Hansard editor.

Jim Renwick will be missed by us all.

2:10 p.m.

Mr. Rae: Mr. Speaker, this is one speech that is going to be extremely difficult for me to make. I hope the members will bear with me.

Jim Renwick was a man of many parts. I do not think any of us can say we knew all about Jim Renwick. By looking back and talking to my colleagues, my wife, many of Jim’s friends and political associates and his earlier colleagues at the bar, I will try to give the House an assessment or a sense of who Jim Renwick was.

His father was an auditor for Canadian National Railways. His family was from Toronto, where he was born in 1917. Today would have been his birthday and he would have been 67. He was one of two sons. He had an elder brother, Jack, who was killed in the war. At one time the Renwick family had lost a son in the Royal Canadian Air Force and had another son, Jim, a prisoner of war for nearly eight months.

He was born in Parkdale and went to school there. Later, he grew up on the Kingsway and went to University of Toronto Schools. Dare I say it, that at one time he was president of the UTS Old Boys’ Association? He went to Trinity College at the University of Toronto in 1935.

I talked to an exact contemporary of his at university, who is also a good friend of my family and was subsequently a colleague of Jim at the bar and in the law firm of Borden, Elliott. He remembered Jim as a great swimmer and a member of the interfaculty football team. He was active in all sorts of university activities. He took the honours law course and in 1940 he was articled to the law firm of Borden, Elliott.

He joined the army in 1940-41 and was an adjutant of the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles which, as events would have it, became a mechanized unit. He became a captain in the tank brigade and served in England until 1944.

A few weeks after D-Day, he landed at Normandy and was captured on August 9, 1944. I discussed the incidents surrounding this event with someone who knew about it. He said it was a battle in a town near Falaise that was once held by the Germans, then by the Canadians, and then the Germans came back. Many Canadians were shot under circumstances that became the subject of a trial after the war. Jim Renwick testified when he came back to Canada after the war and was back at law school. He was subpoenaed to testify at the trial of SS General Kurt Meyer. The young Captain Renwick was involved in that incident and knew a great deal about it.

He was touched and pleased by the decision of the government to include him as a member of the delegation that went over a few months ago to commemorate the landing on D-Day. It is something he never talked about to those of us who are now his contemporaries. It is part and parcel of the man that he was modest and private enough to choose not to make a big fuss about events which in other people’s lives might have been the very centre of the rest of their days.

He came back to Toronto -- he was married by this time -- and was called to the bar in 1947. He went on to become what the Attorney General referred to yesterday in his very generous remarks.

Another contemporary, in a phone conversation yesterday, described Jim Renwick between the years 1947 and 1960 as probably the most distinguished corporate lawyer of his day. He was governor of the Canadian Tax Foundation and was involved with many corporate clients, including the most notable perhaps, Brazilian Traction. He was involved with the World Bank and travelled extensively overseas and to Brazil on behalf of his clients. He was an extremely distinguished corporate counsel.

As he has already been described by the Deputy Premier in his remarks today, Jim Renwick was someone who thought a lot about life, politics and the world. He was an extraordinarily well-read person. His curiosity and interest in the past and in people were enormous.

In discussing with my colleagues what it is that must have moved him to change his life as he did -- and, I think one can say, quite dramatically -- in the years around 1960, we all feel it was no doubt motivated by a good many personal reasons but also by very powerful intellectual reasons. He was somebody who, when obviously feeling he wanted to do something else and something different with his life, looked to the political realm. He did what very few of us do: he actually looked around; he went to different conferences.

He had been actively involved in various Conservative campaigns, and for some reason that had not satisfied his overall intellectual and other concerns. I do not know why, but it did not. I think he expressed those reasons in this House on a number of occasions, and we can always look to his speeches to find the reasons.

He went to a Liberal Party thinkers’ conference. I am sure Jim would not mind my saying that some might think that is almost a contradiction in terms, but nevertheless he went to Kingston in 1960-61 and again he did not find quite the meat he was looking for; so he came to one of our conventions.

Mr. MacDonald, the member for York South for so many years, remembers him sitting in the bleachers of the Palace Pier at the very first biennial convention of the NDP in 1962. Jim was there. He came down after the convention and said, “This is the group I want to join.”

He ran in 1963 in the NDP stronghold of Don Mills and got 35 per cent of the vote, which was a remarkable achievement. He ran against Stanley Randall. Then he ran in what I think it is fair to describe as the famous Riverdale by-election of 1964. The Riverdale by-election is famous for many reasons. It was famous because it ended the very short political career of Mr. Charles Templeton, who went on to do many other different things. I think there are those in this House who are grateful for that particular event.

There were other reasons it was famous for our party. It was the very first time we were able to use the unique features of a door-to-door canvass. Prior to that, members will recall from looking at the history of elections, people would get in cars, use radio, have big parades and so on, but it never had been thought possible that to send people door-to-door, knocking on doors, would get a response. We were able to do this during that by-election. I think it is fair to say that every New Democrat living in Ontario at that time was a canvasser in the Riverdale by-election, and we had four canvasses.

Since I ran a canvass in a very similar kind of by-election in 1978, I know something about the territory and about the win. It was a great win for our party; it was also a great win for Jim Renwick.

As soon as Jim became a member of this House, he became actively involved in many issues. The first major speech he gave -- and I have a copy of it here -- on February 3, 1965, covered many topics. It talked about civil liberties and concern about what was happening and interest in the McRuer commission. It talked about medicare, which was still not a reality in Ontario. But the rest of his speech -- I was not aware of this; this is the first time I have read it -- was about poverty in Ontario, a subject which I dare say he could be speaking about at this very moment and in many of the same terms he used in 1965.

He was preoccupied not simply by legal affairs in their narrow definitions in this House; he was preoccupied by the law as a living reflection of what is good in society. He was determined to give people access to the legal system when they did not have access to it.

When I was first elected, I can remember working in a number of community centres in the east end, and they said, “Oh, Jim Renwick has been here since 1966 or 1967.” He started a community clinic in the WoodGreen Community Centre in the 1960s and was actively involved from that time.

2:20 p.m.

He was preoccupied by the problem of social justice. He saw justice not in narrow corporate terms, but in the broadest social terms. One event that had more impact on him than perhaps any other was the closure of the Dunlop plant in his riding. That occurred in the late 1960s. It is now the site of the Jimmy Simpson Centre.

I can remember that just last year He got a letter from somebody commemorating the anniversary of the closure of the plant. In many conversations we had, when we talked about severance and the problem of insecurity for many industrial workers, he would always go back to that example of what happened to the people in that plant and what the closure of that plant had done to his community.

He was a real constituency person. He was an intellectual, and he would not have been embarrassed to use that term, but he was somebody who loved his riding and loved the people in his riding.

When I canvassed with him in three federal elections and one provincial election, and when Arlene was a canvass organizer for him in 1981, we got to know something of the real Jim Renwick, the campaigner. The Deputy Premier said that somebody as gentle as that might not have been cut out for the political world. However, it was a marvel to see Jim Renwick on the doorstep and to see the tension with which he would address the person to whom he was talking. The time he would spend canvassing on the street and talking door-to-door with people was a marvel.

John Gilbert was my predecessor federally and another very close friend of Jim. When we were canvassing together, as we did briefly before Mr. Gilbert became a judge, for me it was an object lesson in what politics is really about. Politics is about people, it is about friendship, it is about loyalty to the people one has chosen to make one’s cause with and it is about principle. When one puts all those things together, one gets a sense of the kind of person Jim Renwick was and the sort of commitment he had to his community.

He was also preoccupied with the question of the future of this country. Nobody cared more about the economic independence of Canada. Nobody cared more about its Constitution. When I was in Ottawa and he was here and we were dealing with the Constitution, we were on the phone two and three times a week talking about the events, trying to figure out what the issues were and sorting them out in a way that I learned an awful lot from. His intellectual range was enormous, and his willingness to share his advice and his feelings was something I shall never forget.

I have described, in a sense, something of the chronology of Jim Renwick’s life and, I hope, some of his public concerns. I was a friend of Jim Renwick. We knew each other well, we worked together closely and we saw each other socially. He was an enormously private man. He was an enormously complex individual. He was a committed democratic socialist. He was a very dignified, courteous, gentle man.

He had a quality that is very hard to describe in simple words, but it was a sense of -- I used the word “courtliness” yesterday and that is the best word I can think of. There was a decency to him, a concern with the rhythm and dignity of life.

He could lose his temper. We have all had discussions with our brother Renwick in caucus when that was not an unheralded event. It happened from time to time. He was not pace certain people. He was not a saint. He was as subject to the whims and wherefores of human nature as any man.

He was a very good man and he was a very caring person. He was somebody who all his life never stopped trying to learn and never stopped trying to reach out. I saw him the day before he passed away. He was talking entirely about the future. He was talking about by-elections. He was talking about what had happened to the Liberal Party in 1964 and perhaps it might happen again in 1984. He was always talking about the future. He was always talking about the need for change.

All of us of whatever age who knew him, in this caucus and I suspect in this House, regarded him as a contemporary. He had a kind of ageless quality to him that was quite remarkable. He did not seem to be part of any particular generation, and in fact he always made a point of not wanting to be tied down in that way. He simply wanted to be himself, to be in touch, to be always contemporary and to be always current and involved with what was going on in the world. That is a remarkable quality.

I have lost a friend. Many of us here on all sides of the House have lost a very dear friend. We have lost a colleague who educated us and instructed us, who taught us a great deal about the Legislature, about the law and about the political process. I can say I think he taught many of us a great deal about life itself and about how a good life is to be led.

To Margaret Renwick; to his daughters Marilyn, Elizabeth and Margaret, and to Linda Jolley, we extend our heartfelt condolences and our sense of loss. Perhaps all of us can find some solace in the words of Dylan Thomas:

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.

Hon. Mr. Davis: Mr. Speaker, I will not add to what the Deputy Premier has expressed on behalf of the government of this province, other than to add a personal word or two, if I may. I regret that I was not here at the outset to listen to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Peterson) or to the beginning of the remarks by the member for York South (Mr. Rae), but the guest speaker at the luncheon for the Council for Canadian Unity was a shade longer than he should have been.

Nor will I comment on the history of the political decisions of the former member for Riverdale or on the fact that he had his first opportunity with a certain political party, bypassed that, moved on to another and finally, for intellectual reasons, made his final determination. I have never looked at the former member for Riverdale in that somewhat partisan sense.

I can share with members of this House that I recall a quite close relationship between my predecessor in the office of the Premier and the former member for Riverdale. They shared stories together on more than one occasion, and I think there was a genuine measure of respect.

I listened to the member for York South, and it gave me some comfort when he stated how he had re-read some of Jim’s contributions. I guess on occasion when people are constructively critical of the Premier of this province concerning the length of some of my observations, I have discovered something about Jim as well. As the years progressed and as maturity increased, on occasion -- during the evening sessions in particular -- so did the length of his contributions. I take comfort in that because I like to feel I am not unique.

I also will not share with honourable members -- because the Deputy Premier did -- part of the contents of my letter to the former member for Riverdale a few weeks ago. I will keep in confidence, but with some degree of satisfaction, a very warming and rather emotional reply from him to the Premier of this province.

Jim Renwick was regarded by all of us as a very decent human being, leaving out one’s assessment of intellectual capacities, because that is beyond my capacity to judge. I found him sensitive, decent and thoughtful. I found him a partisan but one who was very committed to the process of this House, to the governance of this province and to this country that he so genuinely loved.

2:30 p.m.

Mr. Speaker: I ask all honourable members to rise and join with me in a minute’s silence in tribute to the memory of Mr. Renwick.

The House observed one minute’s silence.

Hon. Mr. Wells: Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding, and I am sure members of the House will want to know this, that there will be a memorial service for Jim Renwick at two o’clock on Saturday afternoon at Riverdale Presbyterian Church.

On motion by Hon. Mr. Wells, the House adjourned at 2:32 p.m.

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