The Inside Agenda Blog

Remembering Larry Grossman

by Steve Paikin Wednesday November 25, 2009

Twenty-four years ago today, Larry Grossman won the leadership of Ontario's Progressive Conservative party.

 

Grossman was a different kind of conservative. For starters, he representated a downtown Toronto riding (St. Andrew-St. Patrick) in the days when the cities of this province weren't a wasteland for Tories.

 

No conservative party has won a seat federally within the 416 boundaries of Toronto since 1988.  And the provincial PC party has been shut out of Toronto since 2003.

 

But Grossman, who inherited the seat from his father (Ontario's first Jewish Conservative cabinet minister), then went on to make his own mark.

 

He was clearly one of the brightest minds Ontario politics had ever seen. And yet, when he died of brain cancer at age 53 in 1997, his funeral was attended by so many of the so-called ordinary Ontarians he represented.

 

Grossman's hero was his father and he once told me that hero-worship may have cost him a chance to become premier. Here's the story.

 

Grossman had been a highly-regarded cabinet minister in William Davis' government. He was bright, but scrappy as hell. In fact, when he was appointed to his first job as consumer minister, he told friends, "the deal is, they put me in cabinet and I put away the knives."

 

He had become a thorn in the side of his own government, because he was protesting the then health minister Frank Miller's decision to shut down Kensington Hospital in Grossman's riding. (Miller's son Norm is the current PC MPP for Parry Sound-Muskoka).

 

Grossman eventually became health minister and treasurer (as the finance portfolio was then called) and was good at both jobs.

 

When Premier Davis retired in 1984, Grossman ran to replace him, but came second to Frank Miller. Miller's tenure was an unhappy one, and half a year after getting the top job, he was turfed out of power by the Liberal-NDP Accord signed by David Peterson and Bob Rae.

 

So the Tories held a second leadership contest, forcing Grossman into a tough decision. The Tories had just finished a 42-year reign that had obviously run out of gas. The Liberals were extremely popular. The wiser political move would have been to sit out the second leadership contest, wait for the political tides to change, then run for the leadership some time down the road.

 

That's exactly what Mike Harris did, and he eventually became premier in 1995.

 

But Grossman wanted his ailing father to see him win the PC Party leadership. And so, against his better political judgment, he ran for the job, won it 24 years ago today, and proceeded to lead the Tories to perhaps their worst ever finish in the 1987 election: 16 out of 130 seats, good for last place, and Grossman lost his own seat, that had been in the family for 32 straight years.

 

He had no choice but to exit politics in 1987. His father died in 1991. 

 

Nothing in post-political life was as interesting for Larry Grossman. His entire life was designed to lead to the premier's office but it never happened. Then, one day while playing baseball, he noticed he was seeing double. It was the first symptom of the brain cancer that tragically cut his life short.

 

A few days before his death, Larry actually invited TVO's cameras into his home so he could record a message for one of our membership campaigns. Frankly, he looked horrible. But it was a huge statement about a man that with, only days to live, was still trying to help an organization that had called on him numerous times to be a guest, because he had so much knowledge about so many facets of government and politics.

 

 

Even today, 12 years after his death, I frequently catch myself saying, "Too bad Larry isn''t still alive. He'd be great on this show."