Darcy McKeough 1933-2023
When Darcy McKeough, former Treasurer of Ontario, talked to me about helping with his memoirs, he said he’d done some work. You never know what that means: a few scrawled recollections or maybe a stack of newspaper clippings. For McKeough, it was a three-inch-thick binder with 1,200 double-spaced typed pages – 601,189 words in all.
I told McKeough that the average published book had 256 pages and ran to 75,000 words. Moreover, I would be interviewing friends, colleagues, and family for additional information and anecdotes so that more than 90 percent of what he’d written wasn’t going to make it into the final version. I don’t think he believed me. The book, entitled The Duke of Kent, came out in 2016 from ECW Press.
McKeough died two days ago from complications with pneumonia. He was 90.
When McKeough was a child, his parents were curious about his future. His father placed a Bible, a bottle, and a deck of cards on the table in front of him. The idea was that if McKeough picked up the Bible, he’d go into the church; if the bottle, he’d be a drunkard; if the cards, a gambler. When he grabbed all three, his mother shrieked, “My God, he’s going to be a politician.”
In fact, politics was bred in the bone. McKeough’s great-grandfather and grandfather had both been mayors of Chatham. McKeough ran for alderman on Chatham City Council in 1959 and won on his first attempt. He was next drawn to John Robarts, the new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. In 1963 McKeough was elected to the Ontario Legislature and was soon named to cabinet. That most suitable name, the Duke of Kent (after the county he represented) was given to him by Elmer Sopha, a Liberal member of the Legislature.
After the 1967 election, McKeough was named Minister of Municipal Affairs, then later Treasurer. In 1970 when Robarts announced his retirement, McKeough ran for leader. Bill Davis won with McKeough’s support, but McKeough admitted to me that he admired Robarts more. “Maybe it’s because he was my first leader and mentor, but thinking back to the cabinet table, it’s always John Robarts I see in command,” said McKeough. “Davis also performed well, but not with the same gravitas. ‘Bland works,’ Davis once told the Legislature. John Robarts never had a bland moment in his life.”
A 1972 newspaper article claiming McKeough’s ministry had approved a housing project in which he had an interest meant he had to resign from cabinet despite having nothing to do with the project. McKeough was in Europe on government business. Media awaited at the Toronto airport, but staff spirited him to a provincial plane bound for Chatham. Aboard were newspapers containing coverage of his alleged misdeed. “Portions had been already been read to me, but seeing everything in print was far worse,” he told me. “I was appalled. I cried halfway home.”
He resigned from cabinet. But, by 1975, McKeough’s rehabilitation was complete when he was re-appointed Treasurer. It didn’t take long for him to become bored, something that few politicians will ever admit. Said McKeough: “I attended too many meetings where I said to myself, ‘God, I’ve heard all this before.’”
But McKeough still wanted to be premier, so, on August 15, 1978, McKeough met Davis for lunch. Following the soup course, Davis, who new full well what the lunch was all about, said, “I’m not going.” Replied McKeough, “Well, then I am.”
On his last day at Queen’s Park McKeough invited about fifty people for farewell drinks in his seventh-floor office at the south end of the Frost building. The office balcony had a clear view of the annual parade of clowns and floats, marking opening day of the Canadian National Exhibition. As the cavalcade trekked south past the Legislature and then down University Avenue, lawyer Eddie Goodman, a close advisor to Davis, commented, “Leave it to Darcy to arrange a parade on the day of his resignation.” Let the final parade begin.