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Following Richard Hanson, a new man would come into the role of the Leader of Opposition, and like Hanson, he too was not the leader of his party. Gordon Graydon would serve as the leader of the Official Opposition from 1943 to 1945, while at the same time John Bracken was the leader of the party. Bracken did not have a seat in the House of Commons, so he could not attend and therefore, couldn’t lead the party in the house.

As a result of this, from 1941 to 1945, the Progressive of Conservatives essentially had two leaders, one in the House of Commons, and one officially outside of it.

Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King would write of the whole matter on Jan. 27, 1943, quote:

“A temporary leader appointed, and a new leader of the Conservative Party chosen from outside the party altogether, one who has not yet found a seat in the House of Commons. There never was a more complete confounding of the politics of one’s enemies than is exhibited by this debacle of the old Tory Party, which has tried to cover up its disasters by giving itself a new name.”

Today, I’m looking at Graydon the last of the two placeholder leaders during the Second World War for the party.

Born on Dec. 7, 1896, in Snelgrove, Ontario to a family that was rooted in the Orange Order in the region. His distant cousin, William Graydon was one of the staunchest supporters of the Order through the 1870s and 1880s. Graydon’s great-grandfather, William Henry had founded a lodge that would be named in his honour as well. His father was a dairy farmer and Gordon would describe his life in the winter when he would pack two lunches. One for himself and one for his sled dog that took him three kilometres to the schoolhouse and slept beside him during lessons.

Graydon received his education in the County of Peel and attended Brampton High School.

In 1908, Graydon was sitting on a train and according to a story printed in Maclean’s in 1943, he heard two men arguing about who won the riding in the federal election that year. Graydon stood up and walked over to the men and said, quote:

“Excuse me but I can tell you who won that election and how big a majority he had.”

As a young man, the walls of his bedroom had pictures not of generals, or sports stars, but political leaders. He apparently had a picture of the entire Ontario cabinet of Conservative premier J.P. Whitney on his wall. His mother would say later in his life that he never missed an opportunity to go to the train station so he could pick up political gossip. For Graydon, politics was a major hobby and a major interest. His other major interest? Threshing machines.

Conservative politics were all around Graydon as a child. His father was the chairman of the local Conservative organization, and his neighbour was the daughter of the Conservative MP for the area.

He attended the University of Toronto, earning a degree in political science. He attempted to enlist in the First World War but was denied because he could not pass the physical. Nonetheless, he would try two more times.

In 1924, he graduated from the Osgood Hall Law School and became a partner with Justice William Raney, himself a one-time attorney general of Ontario.

In 1925, he made his first political speech, to a farm meeting in the Peel riding. That same year, he would marry Daisy Giffen of Stayner, Ontario. While Graydon was a staunch Conservative, his wife’s family were die-hard Liberals.

Throughout his life, Graydon would live in Brampton with his wife Daisy and would even write a weekly column for the local newspapers of the area.

On April 17, 1933, Graydon became the President of the Peel County Conservative Association. At the age of 36, he was the youngest man to ever hold the position.

He would quickly begin to revitalize the party in Ontario. On Jan. 21, 1934, he formed the Young Conservatives Club to rejuvenate the party. He was elected as its president at the same time. Four years into the reign of R.B. Bennett as prime minister, the party’s very existence was threatened in the province due to the unpopularity of the federal Conservative Party at the time. In Ontario, George Henry was in the last year of a Conservative premier leading the province after the party had dominated provincial politics since 1905. The next year, the Liberals would come into power and remain in power until 1943.

On May 4, 1934, he would urge the older members of the party to take the younger Conservatives into their laps to help bring new life into the party that he felt was growing old and stale. He would state quote:

“When Premier Henry comes back and surely there is no doubt about that, we want you to take the young Conservatives into your lap and encourage us. You will be the stronger and we will be the better for it.”

On Dec. 6, 1934, the Eastern Ontario Progressive Conservatives held their annual meeting, which Graydon would speak at. He would state quote:

“The Conservative Party in Ontario is looking for a new deal.”

He would add that there needed to be greater care in choosing the next leader of the provincial arm of the party, stating quote:

“The man you select will be chosen premier for 15 years.”

With his profile rising, Graydon was chosen to represent Peel on March 24, 1935, in the upcoming general election later that year. He would replace Sam Charters, who had represented Peel in the riding for the previous 17 years and was now retiring.

In that October election, only 35 Conservatives were elected in a landslide victory for the Liberals, and Graydon was one of them. In that election, he defeated his Liberal opponent by only 170 votes in an extremely close race. Never again would he win by less than 900 votes over his next closest opponent. With his election, he joined a long list of Members of the Orange Order in Peel to serve in the House of Commons, going back to John Hillyard Cameron in 1867. He would win that election by making hundreds of personal calls throughout his county. Graydon’s own estimate stated he pushed 7,000 doorbells in Peel County. Later, his campaign would be used as a model for freshmen in the Progressive Conservatives.

In February of 1936, he would speak for the first time in the House of Commons, showing his belief in non-partisan politics. He would say quote:

“I should like to offer the co-operation of one of the humblest private members in the House to the end that something practical may be done and that mere partisanship shall not occupy the attention of the House to the extent that some, who have voiced opinion, suspect has been the case in the past.”

Years later, he would write in a letter, quote:

“Last Thursday’s exhibition of partisanship and party bitterness disgruntled me. It is high time members of Parliament relegated party fortunes and picayune discussion to the past. This war is going to demand the best that all can give, and I sincerely hope that this exhibition is not a measure of what we can do. All parties had better realize that the public wants something better than a disgraceful display of temper at this critical time.”

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he would again try to enlist in the army but was turned down on medical grounds.

By 1940, Graydon was able to increase his total over his opponent from 170 to having 3,000 more than both of his opponents combined.

Hanson would visit Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and speak to him on the matters of his successor. King would write in his diary, quote:

“Graydon, Green, Diefenbaker. I would myself prefer their appointment in that order mentioned. The Tories seldom choose a decent man. They are likely to take Diefenbaker as being the most bitter in his attacks”

On Jan. 26, 1943, Graydon was chosen as the Leader of the Opposition.  

King would write, quote:

“Listened to the news. Word came over the radio that Hanson had definitely retired from the leadership of the party and that Graydon had been appointed to succeed him. I felt greatly relieved and pleased at this word. Tried to get Graydon by phone but could not reach him.”

King would reach Graydon the next day and congratulated him and extended good wishes towards him. King would describe the exchange as pleasant.

One of his first acts as Leader of the Opposition was to arrange a dinner for the Parliamentary Press Gallery in honour of John Bracken. The dinner was described as a happy affair.

Within eight months of becoming the Leader of the Opposition, Graydon made two transcontinental trips of Canada. In his first trip he visited 109 constituencies and talked to an estimated 10,000 people, traveling a distance of over 30,500 kilometres. In Saskatchewan alone he travelled 5,700 kilometres, speaking in small towns and villages for the most part. During the tour he found he was handicapped Quebec because he did not know French. He soon got to work to learn the language.

As Leader of the Opposition, Graydon was well liked in Quebec, admired by Irish voters and farmers who felt that he had their interest at heart. He was believed to be a good organizer, who would help get the party where it needed to be until Bracken could assume power in the House of Commons. Described as having a stocky build, his greying hair well-groomed and glistening, he always wore a brown tweed suit in Parliament. A profile in Maclean’s in 1943 would state, quote:

“He is seldom without a broad grin which breaks into a contagious laugh on the least provocation. He has an unfailing sense of humour. Graydon loves meeting people, ordinary people, and making friends.”

Graydon was also noted for his hatred of reading of speeches in Parliament. His speeches tended to be brief and to the point. He would often stand back, brace himself against the desk behind him and give his speeches in a laid-back manner.

On Feb. 1, 1943, Graydon would give one of his first speeches in the House as Leader of the Opposition. King would write, quote:

“Graydon’s material was, I thought, remarkably good, in his main effort as Leader of the Opposition. I was surprised that it was so long. While he did not read it, he had it apparently all in typed form and spoke, in considerable part, without reference to the typed pages.”

Graydon’s first vote in the House of Commons as leader came in the re-appointment of Chief Justice Duff, which he voted against. Given Graydon’s background in law, King was surprised he voted against it but theorized that he wanted to have younger men on the bench.

Graydon would show a progressive attitude when on Feb. 15, 1944, he asked Defence Minister James Ralston, why women in the Canadian Army were paid less than that of men in the army. He was told by Ralston that women were not adaptable for all forms of service and their pay was 80 per cent that of what was given to male soldiers.

On June 29, 1944, Graydon would be part of history during the debate over the Family Allowances Bill. The bill would allow for the payment of five dollars for children up to six years old and eight dollars for children between 13 and 16, giving families much more money. The Canadian Press would report, quote:

“The House was tense with expectancy as the vote was being taken but the tenseness snapped when Gordon Graydon, Progressive Conservative House Leader, stood and voted for the bill. ‘And that goes for John Bracken too,’ said Mr. Graydon, amid applause from all sides. Some had expected his party to split their votes on the issue because some of its members had criticized the bill while others supported it. When 139 voted for the bill and none opposed it, Prime Minister Mackenzie King smiled as seldom before in this session.”

On June 10, 1945, he was succeeded as Leader of the Opposition by newly elected Member of Parliament, and leader of the party, John Bracken. On Sept. 6. when Parliament reconvened, King would walk across the House of Commons aisle and shake hands with Graydon.

Even after he was Leader of the Opposition, Graydon was very well liked. Maclean’s would write in 1947, quote:

“Graydon’s weakness, as well as his strength, is that he hasn’t an enemy in the world. He has none of the inner hardihood the touch of ruthlessness that makes for leadership in the tough game of politics and he knows this perfectly well.”

Graydon would soon sit next to Bracken, his right-hand man in the House of Commons.

In 1945, he was a delegate at the San Francisco World Conference and delegate in London. He also represented Canada on the Preparatory Committee of the United Nations. While the delegates were pouring over documents, Graydon went around making friends, getting along well with people from smaller countries.

After the war, he was in Berlin with other Canadian MPs when he went to the Reich Chancellery for a tour but was told he could not enter. Graydon then took out a Canadian cigar and offered it to the Russian guard, who took it and gave the Canadians a personal tour of the building.

As the vice-chairman of the House External Affairs committee, he was respected, and he would hold the position until August of 1953.

He was Canada’s Alternative Delegate at the First General Assembly of the United Nations in 1946, the Parliamentary Advisor to the Canadian Delegate at the United Nations General Assembly in 1950 and filled that same role in 1952. Graydon for his part considered himself to be the representative of the ordinary person with the United Nations.

Upon King’s retirement from politics, Graydon would rise to speak in the House of Commons, praising King for his many years in public life and expressing his good wishes towards King, which King also returned.

On Aug. 17, 1953, one week after the 1953 General Election, he would enter the hospital surgery in his abdomen, and he would rapidly see his health fall from that point. He had been ill during the election campaign, but he kept his speaking engagements, touring Ontario as one of the Progressive Conservative’s six main speakers.

Graydon would pass away on Sept. 19, 1953, at the age of only 56, while serving in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent would say quote:

“Mr. Graydon was not only successful at the polls in his own riding from the first occasion on which he stood for election, but he always took an active part in national political affairs.”

St. Laurent, after praising the foreign affairs work of Graydon, would state, quote:

“Gordon Graydon had a host of friends and ever since I have been in public life, I have considered it a privilege to be counted amongst them. All of us who had the good fortune to know him will miss his cheerful personality and all in Parliament will mourn a friend.”

John Bracken, his friend and successor in the House of Commons echoed a similar sentiment, stating quote:

“Peel County has lost its best-loved son and Canada one of her best-loved public servants. Gordon Graydon was one of nature’s gentlemen. I favoured over many years in having him as my closest friend. It can properly be said of him that he was one of the greatest commoners of his generation. The nation is better for his having lived.”

George Drew, the current leader of the Progressive Conservatives would say, quote:

“He was truly a great Canadian and our country has lost one of its most devoted and unselfish public servants. Few men have given so much of their life to the advancement of their own community and their country as a whole.”

Graydon was buried in Brampton, Ontario on Sept. 21. Former Ontario premier T.L. Kennedy served as a pallbearer. Honorary pallbearers included George Drew, leader of the Progressive Conservatives, Premier Frost of Ontario, John Bracken, Lester B. Pearson and Paul Martin Sr.

A high school in Mississauga is named for him, as is a junior high school in Brampton.

A column in the Edmonton Journal a few days after his death would say of Graydon, and which I will use to close out this episode, quote:

“Graydon was a man of many talents. A tireless and successful political campaigner of the old personal contact school and an expert debater and parliamentary strategist. Through hard study he made himself one of the best-informed men in the House of Commons…He will be probably remembered longest at Ottawa for his warm human friendliness and kindness, which made no distinction of party or section. He was one of the most universally esteemed men in Canadian public life.”

Information from Brampton Guardian, Canadian Press, The Minute Book, Wikipedia, Library and Archives Canada, From the Boyne to Brampton, Windsor Star, The Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Macleans, Edmonton Journal

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