VIDEO: Tribute to former MPP George McCague
(April 13, 2015) Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson was pleased to pay tribute to his predecessor former MPP George McCague. Click on the link below to watch the video and view Hansard of his remarks.
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
Monday 13 April 2015
GEORGE R. MCCAGUE
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): A point of order from the deputy House leader.
Hon. James J. Bradley: Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find that we have unanimous consent to pay tribute to George McCague, a former member of this Legislature from the then riding of Dufferin–Simcoe, from 1978 to 1987, and the riding of Simcoe West, from 1987 to 1990, with a representative from each caucus speaking up to five minutes in tribute.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The deputy House leader is seeking unanimous consent to pay tribute to a deceased member. Do we agree? Agreed.
It is now time for those tributes.
Mr. John Vanthof: It is an honour to be able to take part in this tribute to George McCague, on behalf of the Ontario New Democrats.
"I think I can say without fear of contradiction from any side of the House that George McCague leaves with the respect of all members of the House from all parties. He is a man who has done his job and done it well. He is a man who has earned our respect." These words were spoken 15 years ago by a member when George announced his retirement from the Legislature
"He is a man who has done his job and done it well. He is a man who has earned our respect." These words were spoken 15 years ago by a member when George announced his retirement from the Legislature, and I think they're very true.
I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. McCague, but on doing the research for this tribute I learned that there were many aspects of his life that I could relate to. George McCague grew up on a dairy farm and not just any dairy farm. He grew up on Glenafton Holsteins. His father, J. J. McCague, founded one of the most prominent herds not only in Ontario but in Canada. It's internationally known.
Mr. John Vanthof: Even years later, dairy farmers, like I used to be, when we see the name Glenafton in the history of a cow family, we take notice.
George graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College and worked on the family farm. He also had a keen personal understanding of the dangers of farming because he fell from a hay mound and broke his back, and he was in a body cast for six months. I think that's also a testament.
In a newspaper article, George related how he enjoyed field work and fondly remembered driving the first Cockshutt tractor that came to replace the horses on the farm. That brought a smile to my face. Although I never worked with horses, I fondly remember the day our Massey-Harris 44 with the trip plow was replaced with a 414 that had a three-point hitch. It was a great day. Progress is kind of a rite of passage on a farm that impacts your whole life, and I think it impacted George's whole life to our betterment.
George built up a real estate business in Alliston and later returned to active agricultural work with the purchase of a sod farm.
At first glance, it may not seem that farmers and politicians have much in common, but a closer look reveals some striking similarities. In both cases, it's not just a job, it's a calling. The hours can be long and the success of your harvest often depends on forces beyond your control, and in both countless hours are spent tending crops to what others feel could just be a barren field. People, outside farming, outside public service, in many cases, don't have a clue of what people actually do.
Citing his father's inspiration for public life, George's public service career began as an Allison councillor in 1960 with stints as reeve, warden and mayor before taking his seat as MPP for Dufferin–Simcoe in 1975. He served five terms before his resignation in 1990, after which his career went full circle as he finished his service in electoral politics as the first mayor of the town of New Tecumseth.
Today, we welcome a number of George's family and friends who have made the trip for this tribute. Those of us who have been blessed with the privilege of serving our communities know that it's often the sacrifices of loved ones that make our work here possible. As we acknowledge George's service to the people of our great province, we also take this opportunity to thank you for the role you have played in establishing his legacy.
Mr. John Vanthof: I would like to close with an excerpt from Hansard from the Standing Committee on Social Development on October 28, 1991, after Mr. McCague's retirement. The Chair had called the meeting to order with the following, and I quote, "I will follow the McCague rule. Apparently former member George McCague, at the appointed hour for starting many meetings, used to look around the room, and even if there was no one there used to say, 'I see a quorum,' and begin the meeting."
Being a man of faith, I am sure he knew the verse, "There is a time to sow and a time to reap," but coming from a farm I am sure he knew that you have to make hay when the sun shines and the rain waits for no man. For that, we are very thankful for his contribution. It's been a privilege to take part on behalf of Ontario New Democrats in a tribute to Mr. George McCague.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Further tribute?
Ms. Ann Hoggarth: Thank you, Speaker. I'm honoured today to rise to recognize the contributions made by a former member of this House, someone who truly dedicated his life to his community and to giving back through public services. I'm pleased to rise today to pay tribute to George McCague.
In preparing for this, I reached out to many of George's friends and former colleagues. During my conversations, one thing became clear: George was deeply loved and admired by his friends and his family. He was a pragmatic person and someone who knew his strengths and helped others realize theirs.
(Ms. Ann Hoggarth)
... friends and his family. He was a pragmatic person and someone who knew his strengths and helped others realize theirs.
One of those close friends I spoke to was Dan Needles. Dan worked for George as his executive assistant for five years until 1981. During our conversation, Dan described George as a man of few words, who thought extremely carefully before saying anything. When solving issues, George would listen to all sides and synthesize complex issues to their simplest elements. That was his gift, bringing people together through consensus and solving those difficult problems.
George was born in Essa township, not far from my home in Barrie. Even from a young age, he was dedicated to his community. He joined the Junior Farmers and, as one friend told me, "He joined every group he could find."
After returning from school in Guelph, he entered public service as a councillor in Alliston in 1960. By 1969, he had served as deputy reeve, reeve, a public school board member, Simcoe county warden, and then as mayor of Alliston. In 1967, he was also appointed as the first chairman of Georgian College in Barrie, and we thank him for that. In 1975, he was elected as a member for Dufferin–Simcoe. He served 15 years here at Queen's Park, holding portfolios in government services, the environment, transportation and communications and chair of the management board of the cabinet.
George brought his judiciousness to Queen's Park as he consistently was a consensus builder. Linda Collins, former mayor of Springwater, told me that George McCague represented his riding well, mindful of all people. He visited farmers at the farm and was very responsive to any questions from his constituents. He served with great distinction and credibility. His long-standing record speaks to the trust bestowed upon him.
He had many friends from all political parties, with one of his closest being Liberal member and agricultural critic, Murray Gaunt. In the Legislature, they passionately debated the issues of the day, but once the House rose, they often went on fishing trips. Dan Needles told me that George once described public service to him as "a long meeting with the odd fishing trip."
George retired from Queen's Park in 1990, but he wasn't done yet. He returned to municipal politics and became the first elected mayor of the newly amalgamated town of New Tecumseth in 1992. I spoke to former New Tecumseth mayor Mike MacEachern about George's local contributions. He described George as a "community builder" and a "champion of the community."
George had a quiet way of commanding a meeting. He would immediately display leadership and was an expert at steering past distractions and diving right into the heart of a matter. Mike also told me that George would also tell him to "never ask a question you already don't know the answer to." I think he said this because he understood the importance of truly understanding all the issues.
After retiring from public service he continued to chair the New Tecumseth Improvement Society. He also loved to give back. He was a driver for cancer patients and continued volunteering into his retirement.
At his funeral last year, the leaflets contained a passage from 1 Peter 4:10-19. It read "Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received." George knew that his gift was the ability to build consensus and solve difficult issues. But he went further than that. He helped others see their gifts, and would consistently remind friends and colleagues of their strengths. George was a remarkable man, who truly made his community, province, and country a better place. Thank you, George.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Further tribute?
Mr. Jim Wilson: I'm privileged to have known George Raymond McCague. He was a great man, a great mentor and a great friend, not only to me but to all those who had the good fortune to be counted among his many friends.
As many of you will know, I worked as George McCague's assistant for about seven years, during my years at university here and for a few years after that. I followed the great playwright and author Dan Needles, as the honourable member for Barrie has just mentioned. A couple of weeks before George passed away, he asked me to be an honorary pallbearer. I thought I better ask him if he wants me to say anything at the funeral. He said, "No, I want somebody to do it right. I've already asked that Needles guy." ...
(Mr. Jim Wilson)
... better ask him if he wants me to say anything at the funeral. He said, "No, I want somebody to do it right. I've already asked that Needles guy." So George Raymond McCague, here goes.
Mr. Speaker, I am reminded of the proverb, "Say not in grief: 'He is no more,' but live in thankfulness that he was." I will be eternally grateful to George for the lasting memories he has given me and for the lessons I learned from him.
No matter what issues George was involved with over the course of 40 years of public service, he always knew the heart of the matter was addressing problems and people with respect. He knew that respect for all people is at the heart of politics.
Although our families have been lifelong friends, I first got to know George when I was a grade 8 student. He was running for re-election in the 1977 provincial campaign and came to my classroom, along with the other candidates, to speak with us. He stood out from the other two candidates because he treated us like young adults. He didn't deliver talking points or carefully crafted campaign slogans. Of course, that was part of George's charm. He never spoke from a prepared text.
My friend Dan Needles, whom George nicknamed McNutt, wrote speeches for him over a seven-year period, as his executive assistant here at Queen's Park. George never delivered a single one of those speeches. But he valued Dan's work and would spend hours going back and forth with him and studying those speeches. Then he would put them back in his pocket and speak from the heart. Dan joked when he gave the eulogy for George that the funeral was the first time anything he wrote for George was actually delivered in ??whole.
Dan no doubt also wrote the speech George never delivered when he showed up at my grade 8 class. George spoke to us with sincerity and treated us with respect. He showed us he was interested in our thoughts even though we were too young to vote.
Of course, two or three days later George showed up at my parents' house. The next thing I knew, I was volunteering on his campaign. George was always pretty crafty, Mr. Speaker, in his own humble way.
He also never forgot the people who helped him and always looked for a chance to help them as well. He gave me my first opportunity to work in a political office when he needed to hire a driver. Actually, George didn't give me any choice. He once again called my mom up and asked what I was doing. She told him, "Well, he's working while trying to finish his degree at St. Michael's College." George then corrected her and said, "No, Theresa. Jim is going to drive for me and work on my correspondence part-time." Later, he encouraged me and supported me in going to work for the Honourable Perrin Beatty in Ottawa.
I credit George with setting me on my career path. Some days, I also blame him for that. But he always had the best of intentions.
George's respect and gratitude for everyone who worked with him inspired loyalty and deep friendship. George always referred to Henry Davis, who couldn't be with us today—Henry was his campaign manager for five campaigns—as a peach of a man. I'm a bit envious of Henry for the glowing praise George always heaped on him when he wasn't in the room.
After George swept all the polls in Alliston that were located near the Catholic church and school in the 1985 election, he went around telling everyone that it was the token dogan on his staff who made it possible. He was referring, of course, I learned many years later, to me, who was studying Catholic theology at St. Mike's.
George's own nickname here at Queen's Park was appropriate to his nature. He was called Quiet George because he never wanted to be, as he put it, a headline hunter, nor did he like to pick fights. He often said that one should never get into a spraying match with a skunk.
George's deep faith in democracy, coupled with his humble ego, made him a perfect fit when he served in the roles of Chairman of the Management Board of Cabinet and Chair of Cabinet concurrently for many, many years in the Bill Davis government. He enjoyed these jobs immensely.
I remember him telling me with a wink that he appreciated that, as chairman, he was the person who got to interpret consensus at each meeting. Of course, I was to find out many years later from Premier Davis that he and George had already decided what that consensus was going to be before the meeting had even started.
George's wit was dry and often unexpected. After my—
... the meeting had even started.
George's wit was dry and often unexpected. After my nomination meeting to run as MPP for Simcoe West after George retired from Queen's Park, his first words to me when I got off the stage at Creemore were, "Don't screw it up, kid." I thought that was rather strange. I thought he would congratulate me for being acclaimed, actually.
It was a few days later before it dawned on me, after a conversation with my father when he reminded me that the rising had been Conservative since Confederation and he didn't want me to be the first one to lose it. In doing so, George gave me the shove I needed rather than the pat on the back I expected, and I'm grateful for that.
Since I was elected, George never once played the armchair quarterback. He was always available for advice any time I called, but he said I had to do my job the way I thought I should.
George Raymond McCague, I will always be grateful for your friendship, mentorship and leading example of integrity. Your memory will always burn brightly and warmly. We miss you very, very much.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I'd like to thank all members for their very heartfelt and kind words. As a tribute to George and to his family and friends, we will make available a hard copy of Hansard and a DVD of these wonderful tributes to a wonderful man. Thank you for being here today. I thank all members for their constant and ever-vigilant respect for former members and I appreciate what was said today.
It is now time for question period.