After the 1923 election, the United Farmers of Ontario made the decision to withdraw from electoral politics and most of its elected members joined with the Progressives, which were led by former United Farmers Attorney-General William Edgar Raney.
Leslie Oke and Beniah Bowman opposed the leadership of Raney since he was not a farmer, and they opposed the new Progressive Party. Both decided to remain as United Farmers of Ontario MPP.
George Howard Ferguson continued to lead the Conservatives and was now looking to win another election and earn a second term. As premier, Ferguson led his party to encourage private investments in industry in Ontario, as well as developing the abundant natural resources of the province.
By this point, Ferguson was very popular in various circles in Ontario. Macleans would write of him quote:
“He is not afraid to talk freely, and to give something to those who see him, while he keeps his own counsel on major affairs. Comparisons are odious, but this Ferguson quality is kindred with Laurier’s and contrastive to that of a former aspirant for the Ontario premiership who habitually gave the impression of concealing his thoughts from his friends, and always wore a poker up his political back.”
At the time, temperance had gone from a relatively popular issue from 1919, to something that many people were against. In 1924, the Ferguson government had run a referendum on whether or not to soften the temperance laws. The hope was that the public would be in favour of this so that the Conservatives could have a new tax revenue stream. The referendum was only defeated by a very slim majority. This would lead Ferguson’s Conservatives to permit the sale of beer as long as it was less than 2.2 per cent. This brew of beer would become known as Fergie’s foam. The anti-temperance stance of the Conservatives would cause issues within the party itself. William Folger Nickle, a prominent minister in the party, would resign and run as an independent.
The Conservatives would run on the campaign of repealing the Ontario Temperance Act and permit the sale of alcohol in government-owned liquor stores.
Ferguson would state quote:
“Now is the Ontario Temperance Act the crystalized judgement of the great mass of Ontario people? I am not attacking the Act. I have stood behind it all the way along.”
He would add in another rally near the day of the election that government control of liquor was better for everyone, stating quote:
“And when I say control, I mean control. Let the offenders beware.”
The Liberals at this point were now led by William Edmund Newton Sinclair. He had come in as the interim leader of the party in 1923 after Wellington Hay resigned following the last election. Highly unusual in politics, Sinclair would serve as the interim leader of the party until 1930. The reason for this was because the party was highly disorganized and could not hold a leadership convention.
Throughout the election, Sinclair attacked Ferguson relentlessly. At one rally in Brantford, attended by many Conservative leaders, he would accuse the premier of crafting his own statements to push his own agenda in the polls. He would say quote:
“He has made a lot of unfair and unjust statements in regard to the young people and he has contradicted his own statements…Premier Ferguson has opposed to holding elections in the late fall of 1925 because of possible handicaps to voters, but in the late fall of 1926, he does not hesitate to hold a general election.”
On the temperance issue, Sinclair would state quote:
“The weight of opinion of most eminent counsel is that once the province engages in the sale of liquor, the province cannot prevent importation by private parties.”
Sinclair would even levy claims of bribery against Ferguson over the liquor issue, stating he was trying to bribe the people of the province with tax cuts. He stated quote:
“It is a sorry day when a premier and cabinet minister stand upon the platform and make vague and indefinite promises in order to influence the vote of the people.”
By this point, the Legislature would have 112 members thanks to a new Act passed in 1925. Sinclair would criticize Ferguson over this Act, stating that it was only done with the intention of introducing the government sale of liquor. He would say quote:
“If the Ferguson proposals were really in aid of temperance, as he suggests, one would have thought that Mr. Ferguson would have courted the greatest vote in support of temperance, that of rural ridings, and would have held the election at a time when such voters could most conveniently get to the polls.”
The Prohibition Union would publish advertisements stating that Emily Murphy, who was the first female magistrate in the British Empire, who praised government control in Alberta, was a cousin of Ferguson. Ferguson would state that this was incorrect and he would threaten legal action against the organization.
In the Dec. 1, 1926 election, the Conservatives once again won a majority, albeit a smaller one than they had in 1923 after they lost three seats to finish with 72. The Liberals, despite how disorganized the party was, would have 14 seats, the exact same amount they had in the previous election. The new Progressive party picked up 10 seats, while the United Farmers of Ontario collapsed.
Ferguson would say upon his victory quote:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity of expressing on behalf of the government, our gratitude for the wonderful achievement today.”
Only Oke would be re-elected from the United Farmers of Ontario, while two new members were elected. The party had fallen a long way from being the ruling party in 1919 to only having three seats by 1926.
The same day, the Ontario Temperance Act was defeated in a vote by Ontario residents.
With the election won, the Conservatives created the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, and the sale of alcohol at those stores began, ending the prohibition era of Ontario.
Ferguson would say in his victory speech quote:
“Will there be any let up in the enforcement of the OTA before the government control policy becomes law? Not in the slightest.”
By this point, Ferguson was becoming popular enough that there was talk that he would become the new leader of the federal Conservative Party after the election loss of Arthur Meighen. As it turned out, Ferguson would have other plans for his career.
The 1920s had seen various changes for Ontario politics. While the United Farmers had started the decade leading the province, the Conservatives came back into power and were now looking for a third consecutive term in 1929.
Still led by George Howard Ferguson, who had served as the leader of the party since 1920 and the province since 1923. The party had created the Liquor Control Board of Ontario in 1927. The relaxed stance on temperance was in sharp contrast to the Liberals who were hard into prohibition until 1930.
Ferguson would call the liquor policy of the Liberals wobbly and state that 10 years of prohibition was a failure, as well as expensive and futile considering bootleggers were able to get rich on selling liquor.
It wouldn’t be all smooth sailing for Ferguson. He would be confined to his home for several days during the campaign as he battled bronchitis.
The Liberals continued to be led by W.E.N. Sinclair, who had served as leader since 1923 but was still the interim leader due to the disorganization of the entire party.
The United Farmers and Progressives, once powerful in the province, were now fading from relevancy and the 1929 election would show that. Six members of the Communist Party would also run on the platform of building a socialist system in the province, calling for unemployment insurance, a seven-hour day, five days a week and a minimum wage of $25 per week.
Liquor was still a major issue in the election, even though it has mostly been resolved in the previous election. The Vancouver Province wrote quote:
“If there is any Ontario election issue at all, it is the liquor question. Although some candidates, running away from it, declare the matter settled.”
This election would have a unique aspect to it in that airplanes would be used for the first time for far north polling divisions around Moose Factory in the hope of boosting returns from the area. The premier and others would also take to the air to reach these areas that were typically inaccessible during an election campaign. In previous campaigns, dog teams were used but that would not longer be the case.
In the October 30, 1929 election, the Conservatives saw their seat count rise by 18 seats to 90, later to increase to 92 due to byelections. This was the highest seat count ever won by a party in Ontario’s history to that point. It would remain the most seats ever won by an Ontario provincial party until 1987 when the Liberals under David Peterson won 95 seats.
The Winnipeg Tribune wrote quote:
“Never in the history of Ontario has a government majority been so dominant. Only in two provincial elections, 1911 and 1914, was there any approach to the situation.”
Ferguson would call it an almost unanimous support of his party. The Winnipeg Tribune continues quote:
“His personal popularity with his opponents as well as his supporters is undeniable, and even those who suffer from his downright and even brutal attacks upon the platform, admit in private life his charm and simplicity.”
The Vancouver Sun wrote quote:
“The high point in Premier Ferguson’s tactics was the adoption of the liquor law as his own natural child. He manipulated the situation to the point where the election of a Conservative Government meant liquor and the election of any other government meant drought.”
The Liberals lost two seats to finish with 13, while the Progressives collapsed. The party lost six seats to finish with just four. As for the United Farmers, once a powerful party in Ontario, they lost two seats to finish with just one seat.
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King would write in his diary quote:
“Tonight we received returns of the Ontario election. Apparent that Liberals have only about 12 seats and Progressive down to two or three. One good may come out of elections to us federally. It may serve to keep Progressives out of federal arena in Ontario.”
After the election, Sinclair decided the time was right to run to be the permanent leader of the Liberal Party. Unfortunately, after two election losses, he had little support and would withdraw from the race before balloting began. He would still remain as the interim leader until just before the 1934 election when a new man took over the party and would lead it back to success.
As for Ferguson, he would leave provincial politics only one month after winning the election so he could become the Canadian High Commissioner in London. He would eventually pass away in 1946, having left a strong mark on Ontario history.
By the time the next election rolled around, Canada was in a very different position from only five years previous. The Great Depression was raging and with little end in sight, voters set the target of their hate on the Conservatives. This mirrored what was happening in federal politics. At the time, the country was led by Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett, who was slow to respond to the crisis that was The Great Depression. In the end, this would sink his party in 1935, launching 22 straight years of Liberal rule over the country.
Both the Liberals and Conservatives now had new leaders.
George S. Henry became the new leader of the Conservatives in 1930, and subsequently became premier as well. As premier, he continued the expansion of the province’s highway system. His government increased the highway system of Ontario from 670 kilometres to 3,888 kilometres. This included the construction of Canada’s first four-lane highway, running from Toronto to Niagara Falls. While this was a big achievement, his government was doing little to help those suffering with unemployment in the cities, or low farm prices on products in the rural areas of the province. His government would also create work camps, like the Bennett government had been doing, which were extremely unpopular. The camps were created not so much to provide welfare to the suffering, but to control radical elements and move them from the city. Many in the work camps would work on the highway system.
The Liberals were now led by a charismatic leader named Mitchell Hepburn. Hepburn had been part of the United Farmers of Canada in the early 1920s but switched the Liberals. In 1926, he would be elected to the House of Commons, serving until 1930 when he became the leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario. As leader, and with The Great Depression starting, he supported farmers and free trade, and with his past with the United Farmers, he was able to attract many rural voters to the party. He was also against prohibition, which broke the Liberal stance that had lasted for over a decade in the province. Extremely quick witted, he knew how to make a speech and lasting mark on the memory of Ontario citizens. This included standing on a pile of manure to make a speech and apologizing for speaking from a Tory platform.
The Toronto Star would write of Hepburn during the campaign quote:
“He had a free and easy platform manner, his customary attitude being hands plunged into side coat pockets, while he wandered about the platform releasing an unflattering flow of barbed-wire eloquence that no other political speaker could patch in rapidity and certainly not in deadliness.”
Hepburn would attack the Conservatives over their toll-gate scheme which alleged that the party was trying to profit from granting licences to sell products to the Liquor Control Board. Hepburn would criticize the Conservatives as being not only corrupt, but a bloated administration. He would pledge to auction off the government limousines as soon as he became premier.
Henry would attack Hepburn, calling him a radical that would prove to be a disastrous leader for the province.
While Henry promised to raise the relief camp wages by 25 cents per hour, Hepburn countered with the statement that the Conservatives were trying to buy the election and that if the workers are worth 25 cents more an hour now, they were worth that two years ago as well. Hepburn would also use the unpopularity of R.B. Bennett against the Conservatives by reading statements made by him during The Great Depression.
On June 13 in Stratford, a debate was held between Hepburn and his riding opponent H.J. Davis. Both were heckled and interrupted in their speeches but Hepburn would win over the crowd and was carried out on the shoulders of supporters while Davis was trying to finish his speech.
Throughout the campaign, Hepburn did not let up with his accusations of corruption among the Conservatives. At one point, he stated that there was a secret pact to divide the profits from the construction of the $4 million east block of the Ontario Legislature. Henry would dispute this, stating the only excess of cost was $185,000 for cutting Canadians stone instead of Indiana limestone.
As things were looking bad for the Conservatives, there were rumours that former Premier Ferguson was going to come to Ontario prior to the election to campaign for the party. This proved to be false. The Ottawa Citizen reported quote:
“The former premier of Ontario said he certainly was not planning a trip to Canada at present, though he might make his customary trip in the Autumn.”
In the June 19, 1934 election, the Conservatives suffered one of the worst collapse in Ontario political history. The party would lose an astounding 73 seats, finishing with just 17. The Conservatives lost four out of every five seats that they had won the previous election. As well, two-thirds of the entire cabinet of the party would lose their seats, eight in total.
The Liberal Party gained 52 seats, and Hepburn became the new premier of Ontario, and the youngest premier in the history of the province at only 37 years old. A group of Liberal-Progressives ran in the election and stated they would support a Hepburn government, and their leader, Harry Nixon, became a minister in Hepburn’s cabinet.
Upon winning, Hepburn stated that he would endeavor to give honest administration to the people of the province who had helped discredit the Henry administration. He would then be part of a victory parade in Toronto that lasted through the night until he finally went to sleep.
William Lyon Mackenzie King, now the Leader of the Opposition, would wire a telegram to Hepburn and state quote:
“You have fought a good fight and the real victory is already yours. Come what may. In following you, I have been living over again some of my former campaigns. You will discover many parallels all along the way and will live to see many more.”
Publicly, King stated quote:
“Too much credit cannot be given Mr. Hepburn for the results which have been achieved by the Liberals in the province of Ontario. More than all else, his fearless, energetic and persistent campaign is responsible for the uprooting of the Tory machine in this province.”
Unfortunately, any friendship between Hepburn and King would disappear by 1940 due to differences over the war effort. It would get to the point that by 1942, Hepburn would support King’s nemesis Arthur Meighen in a by-election in Toronto.
A new party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, ran 37 candidates and won only one seat in the province. The time would come for that party to lead the province, but it wouldn’t happen for another 56 years.
By this point, the United Farmers of Ontario had only one candidate return to the Legislature, while the Labour Party also only had one member return.
With the Liberal Party returned to power in 1934 for the first time since 1902, Ontario was going through several changes as the government tried to handle The Great Depression.
The Liberals had helped the province regain some of the ground it had lost during the early 1930s, with mines, mills, factories and farms starting to produce at higher levels again. Hepburn’s government continued the expansion of highway projects and a focus on increasing the output of the resource industries of the province.
In 1935, Hepburn introduced the Industrial Standards Act, which set minimum wages and working conditions by industry and geographical area. Hepburn also adopted an aggressive approach to the collection of succession duty on large estates which brought in millions of dollars for the government. In 1937, it brought in $16 million to the provincial treasury alone.
Also in 1935, he passed the Power Commission Act, which canceled the contracts that the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario had signed between 1926 and 1930 to delivery electricity from power plants in Quebec. This Act would be ruled a derogation of extra provincial rights by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
Several acts were also passed to help preserve the forests of Ontario, including reducing the holdings of various companies. Great Lakes Paper saw its holdings reduced from 23,000 square kilometres to just 3,600 square kilometres.
Arguably the most famous act of the Hepburn government involved the world famous Dionne Quintuplets. The first known quintuplets known to have survived infancy, they were born in Callander, Ontario. After only four months with their family, they were signed over to the Red Cross. Then, in 1935, the Dionne Quintuplets Guardianship Act was passed by the Ontario government, making them Wards of the Crown until the age of 18. The provincial government, and the people around the children, began to profit by making the Quintuplets a tourist attraction. Hepburn’s claim was that the act would prevent further exploitation of the children.
The Conservatives were now led by William Earl Rowe again, but because he did not have a seat in the Legislature because he was a member of Parliament, the Leader of the Official Opposition was George S. Henry. Rowe was well known in Ontario for his horse racing. The Montreal Gazette would write of him quote:
“Since his early days, Earl Rowe has been a familiar figure at county fairs, where he races his horses. At his large farm at Newton Robinson, he maintains a stable of fast pacers and trotters. He drives and trains his own horses and frequently judges at horse shows.”
Through the election campaign, Hepburn continued to show voters that he was a regular person, rather than a Conservative whom he portrayed to be rich and only concerned with themselves. Hepburn would say at one point quote:
“I am just a human being like yourselves. If I have made mistakes, they have been mistakes of the heart.”
The Liberals would show the success of the Succession Act in an advertisement published on Oct. 4, 1937, days before people would go to the polls. It would state quote:
“Hepburn has already uncovered $28 million, hidden away in inheritance taxes on undervalued estates. Vote to continue the hunt!”
As part of the election campaign, Hepburn attacked the American Congress of Industrial Organizations’ attempt to unionize General Motors. He stated this was a threat to organized labour. Rowe would not take a stand regarding this, stating quote:
“the issue was not law and order but the right of free association.”
The issue of the American unionization would be why Hepburn would call the election early, but most accounts. The Edmonton Journal wrote quote:
“He had won warm praise for his attitude from many who were critical of his previous actions and it appeared to him a good time to utilize this newly acquired popularity.”
Throughout the election, Rowe surprised many with his efforts to get the vote out for the Conservatives. The Saskatoon Star Phoenix would write quote:
“Earl Rowe is proving a more doughty battler than anybody previously gave him credit for.”
The paper would also levy its opinion of Hepburn, which may come down to more the political leanings of the paper than the actual case. It stated quote:
“Mr. Hepburn is not nearly as effective a campaigner when he is on the defensive as when attacking.”
On election day, Rowe would wait at home for the results but was confident in victory, stating he was quote:
“More confident of victory than I have ever been in any election since I entered public office.”
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King would express his hopes for a Liberal victory in the night before the election, stating quote:
“I don’t want to see a Tory government in Toronto.”
In the Oct. 6, 1937 election, Hepburn and the Liberals once again had a majority government but it was reduced by two seats from the 1934 election. The party finished with 63, which was still well above any other party. The Ontario Conservative Party picked up six more seats and finished we 23.
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King would write in his journal of the election quote:
“The election had been conceded for Hepburn by that time 9 o’clock and from then on returns rolled in bringing his representation up almost to where it was after the last general election. I sent off a wire of congratulations and good wishes to him and wires to all the ministers and one or two members.”
Rowe would also congratulate Hepburn, stating quote:
“Heartiest congratulations on your great victory at the polls today.”
Hepburn would respond quote:
“That was the sporting thing for him to do.”
Hepburn would say of his victory itself quote:
“The people of Ontario may rest assured they will have another five years of industrial peace. Ontario has given endorsement to the first jurisdiction that had enough courage openly to defy and resist the threatened Committee for Industrial Organization invasion.”
The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation ran 37 candidates but lost its only seat, resulting in no seats in the Legislature for the party.
The United Famers of Ontario had only one candidate from the previous election. He would leave the party in 1940 and join Hepburn’s cabinet, effectively ending the party for good.
Voting was high for the election, with voters waiting before polls even opened to cast their ballot. By noon, roughly 20 per cent of the vote in places like Sault Ste. Marie had already been cast.
Several cases of irregularities in the vote were also investigated. Deputy Returning Officer for the Toronto Bracondale riding was arrested after complaints were made that he was offering ballots for sale and he had three books of ballot papers, 150 in total, on him. The man elected in that riding was Lionel Conacher, who played for both the Toronto Argonauts and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He had won a Memorial Cup, two Stanley Cups and the Grey Cup. He would serve in the provincial parliament from 1937 to 1943, then in the House of Commons from 1949 to 1954. He was named Canada’s male athlete of the half century in 1950 and is a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame. He would say of the matter related to Conroy that he would pay his bail but this application was refused.
Interestingly, this election was the last to date in which the winning party won an absolute majority of the popular vote.
After his brief time leading the Conservatives, Rowe would continue to serve in Parliament until 1963, including as the Leader of the Opposition for a few months in 1956 between George Drew and John Diefenbaker. In 1963, he became the Lt. Governor of Ontario, serving until 1968.
After several years leading Ontario, years of conflict between Mitchell Hepburn and the federal Liberal Party had weakened the Liberal Party of Ontario during the tumultuous years of the Second World War.
The fight with the CIO from the previous election would not go away and Hepburn, who supported the owners of the plant and General Motors, organized a volunteer police force to put down the strike after Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King refused to send the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in. Known as the Hepburn Hussars, cabinet ministers who disagreed with Hepburn’s decision were forced to resign.
The strikers would hold out though and Hepburn would back down on April 23, 1937.
The strike would cause the deep rift between Hepburn and King, and Hepburn would go on to criticize King’s war effort. This would lead Hepburn to put forward a resolution that accused the federal government of mishandling the war effort. The Conservatives voted for the motion, while the Liberals were split on it. When King chose not to implement conscription at first, Hepburn encouraged men to volunteer.
This would lead to what I mentioned earlier, Hepburn’s support of King’s rival Arthur Meighen in a by-election.
At one point in February 1943, he would even compare King to Adolph Hitler.
Members of the Ontario Liberal Party and its supporters thought that the rift between the federal and provincial party was suicidal for the Ontario Liberal Party and they called for Hepburn to step down.
There were rumours that the mental state of Hepburn was being impacted by a lack of sleep and too much medication.
In October 1942, Hepburn resigned as leader of the party. He was replaced by Gordon Danial Conant, who became the premier of the province.
On April 30, 1943, the Ontario Liberal Party leadership election was held and Harry Nixon won with the overwhelming majority of votes. Nixon was first elected in 1919 with the United Farmers of Ontario, and then served with the Progressives from 1926 to 1934, before joining the Liberals as a Liberal Progressive.
Nixon was described by Macleans as quote:
“A good serviceable grey. Grey-haired, grey-suited, grey-personalitied.”
At the head of the Conservatives was a new man, George Drew. He had been the mayor of Guelph in the 1920s, and was the chairman of the Ontario Securities Commission before he was fired by Hepburn in 1934. In 1938, he became the leader of the Conservatives and one year later, won in a by-election to become an MPP.
In 1943, the Conservatives had become the Progressive Conservatives, as the federal party had also done.
There was some criticism of Nixon over calling an election during the middle of the war. Nixon would back his decision stating that there was always time to practice democracy. He would say quote:
“I would have been untrue to the spirit of democracy if after the resignation of Mr. Hepburn and my choice as Liberal Party leader in Ontario, I had not given the people of this province an opportunity to endorse my government or choose a new one.”
During the campaign, Drew would run on more of a left-wing platform, offering free dental care and universal health care. The Globe and Mail would call the platform the quote:
“finest social document in Ontario’s history, one which should be read, studied and thought upon by every citizen.”
Drew would also focus his attacks not on the Liberals, but on the Canadian Cooperative Federation. At the time, the CCF was surging in popularity. At the beginning of 1942, the membership of the party stood at 2,000. By the end of 1943, it was at 15,000.
Drew would refer to the leaders of the CCF as evil geniuses and that the plea for state ownership and the abolition of monopoly was being used to fool people into the loss of their freedom. He would even invoke comparisons of the CCF to the Nazis and Mussolini during speeches.
He would state quote:
“The appeal of the Socialist Party in Ontario today is a device to mislead the people and to place their business of production under representatives of the party.”
While Drew focused mostly on the CCF, he would still attack the Liberals whenever he could. He would state that the Nixon government had no record upon which to claim the support of the people, and that the Liberals were not ready for the demobilization period after the war. At one point he stated quote:
“In spite of the tremendous events which are shaking the world, in spite of the need for vigorous action to meet the urgent demands of post-war planning…Mr. Nixon leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that those who vote for a Liberal candidate in this election vote for a continuance of the same ineffective sort of government we have been getting.”
The Liberals also attacked the surging CCF heavily. One ad would state quote:
“You give up the title of your farm, your business, your insurance, and you vote away your freedom from the regimentation of your life and that of your children.”
Nixon would also promise a floor on farm products to prevent prices from falling to Depression-era levels. He would state that as long as he was in office, there would be no Depression levels. He would also criticize the policy put forward by Drew that was patterned on the system of England. He would also state that the promise of Drew to reduce school taxes was not within the power of any party to fulfill.
The CCF leader, E.B. Jolliffe, would accuse the Liberals of using a booklet that was called a forgery to back up their claims the CCF was going to nationalize farms.
Jolliffe would write quote:
“They know perfectly well that this is not true and never was true. In the Regina Manifesto of 1933 it was expressly stated that the CCF stands for the maintenance of the family farm and the farmer’s security of tenure.”
For most observers, it was clear that the Liberals were going to have trouble maintaining their hold on the provincial government. Before the election, King would write in his diary quote:
“I do not see how the Liberals could win a majority. A house divided against itself is sure to fall. Hepburn began to divide the house immediately after taking office.”
In the August 4, 1943 election, the Liberals collapsed, losing 48 seats and falling to third-party status with only 15 seats. This was the lowest seat count for the party since the 1929 election when it had only 14.
Nixon, as can be expected, was not happy with the result. He would say on Aug. 5, quote:
“The people have spoken and no one can quarrel with that.”
Hepburn, despite no longer being premier, was one of the few Liberals to be re-elected.
The Co-operative Commonwealth surged ahead in the election, going from zero seats to 34 and becoming the Official Opposition under leader Jolliffe.
The Toronto Daily Star wrote about the surge in popularity, stating it was because quote:
“the determination of the great masses of the people that a better day shall dawn for the common man.”
The Progressive Conservatives raised their seat count by 15 to finish with 38, only four more than the Co-operative Commonwealth, to become a minority government with George Drew as the new Premier of Ontario.
Drew would say the day after the election, highlighting the close nature of the contest, quote:
“The result is close, closer than we expected perhaps. The result is personally very satisfying because we have held Toronto High Park. The most important factor, apart from the Government’s defeat, was the very strong showing of the CCF.”
King would write in his diary quote:
“Results would seem to indicate that large bodies of Liberals had lost confidence in the government. The Conservative-minded had thrown their support to the Conservatives and the radical-minded, their support to the CCF.”
Macleans would see the writing on the wall for the demise of the Liberal Party in the province, writing quote:
“The complete overthrow of the Liberal administration at Queen’s Park has much more than local significance. The vote was a protest vote. A protest against the activities of the federal Liberal party machine, and, we think, a protest against the Ottawa government’s manpower and labour practices.”
This election was notable for the fact that it began 42 years of uninterrupted government for the Progressive Conservatives. It would not be until 1987 that the party would be pushed out of power.
The election also saw two women, including Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to Parliament, elected to the Legislature. The other woman was Rae Luckock.
MacPhail would say that her win was because quote:
“the people have at last realized that the inaction and inefficiency of the two old parties is not what they want from now on.”
In all, six women, one Liberal and two CCFers, ran in the election. Two Communists were also elected, despite the Communist Party of Ontario being banned. To get around this, they ran as Labour candidates.
The election saw 1.19 million people vote, but 800,000 who could vote, did not vote. Maclean’s would write quote:
“Enumeration was bad. So was the weather. A lot of folks were away on vacation and a considerable proportion just wouldn’t make the effort.”
With the CCF announcing they would not work with any other party in a coalition, it would only be a matter of time, less than two years in fact, before Ontario residents were back at the polls.
Over the previous two years, Premier George Drew spent most of his time attacking the federal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King, including his leadership during the war effort, not using full conscription and accusing him of attempting to centralize power in Ottawa. With his minority government and the Second World War going on, Drew did not do much during those first two years beyond prepare for the next election.
As the 1945 election approached, Drew would play to the worry people had over Communism and he would begin to conduct a red-baiting campaign. The main reason for this was to erode the support of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. The Ontario Provincial Police’s Special Operations Branch, specifically Captain William Osbourne-Demspter, was tasked with investigating wartime saboteurs but beginning in November 1943, focused completely on the opposition MPPs of Ontario, especially the CCF MPs.
CCF leader Ted Jolliffe would accuse Drew’s government of these investigations, and Drew would launch an inquiry with a commission report to be released. The commission would begin on June 20, 1945, while the report would be issued on Oct. 11, 1945.
In a radio speech, Jolliffe said quote:
“It is my duty to tell you that Colonel Drew is maintaining in Ontario, at this very minute, a secret political police, a paid government spy organization, a Gestapo to try and keep himself in power.”
To ensure it didn’t impact the election, Drew called an election for June 4. Rather than hurt Drew, the backlash was focused on Jolliffe and the support of the CCF would fall dramatically.
In a radio address during the election campaign, Drew would state he would resign immediately if the charges by Jolliffe were found to be true. He would state quote:
“The inquiry will be conducted by a judge of outstanding ability and imperial judgement. From what I have seen throughout Ontario, I am confident that I will be called upon to form a new government. However, I give my solemn and unqualified undertaking that if Jolliffe’s charges that I set up a political police is proved, I will resign immediately.”
Jolliffe would state that the radio address by Drew was just an attempt to sidetrack from the issue. He would state quote:
“Col. Drew hasn’t even attempted to answer the substance of my charges. He was very silent from the secret police report on a caucus of the official operation.”
The commission would eventually find no wrongdoing but in the 1970s that documented evidence proving the charge of Jolliffe against Drew was found.
The election was called quick enough that there was no time to prepare any election officers overseas, and the regulations for service voting had not even been drawn up. There would be claims that the June 4 election in Ontario was actually illegal based on Ontario’s own election laws. Just prior to the Legislature being dissolved, the government pushed through a bill that abolished the proxy system that soldiers had used to vote in 1943 and it provided new regulations that required the service personnel to vote in their own election. Throughout the campaign, there were calls to postpone the election. The Burlington Town Council, for example, would call for the election to be postponed until after the commissions report was released. These requests would be turned down.
During the election campaign, Drew was accused of operating a system similar to that of the Nazis. This would anger Drew enough that he would launch a $100,000 lawsuit against the Toronto Star accusing them of libel.
After the Liberals saw a total collapse in the previous election, they went back to someone who brought them great success, Mitchell Hepburn. In 1944, the Liberal caucus unanimously asked him to come back as the leader. At this point, Hepburn reversed his criticism of King and would even campaign for them in Ontario during the 1945 federal election. Instead, he focused on the Conservatives, calling them the greatest menace in Canada. Throughout the campaign, Hepburn found he was not as well received as in previous years. In Sudbury, he would say quote:
“I was given a rough ride.”
Throughout the election campaign, Drew exploited the Cold War tensions, and pushed the message of Communists in the Liberal and CCF parties, while downplaying the so-called Gestapo Affair regarding Jolliffe his charges against the government. He would also promise to continue upgrading the highway system, ensuring that it would go to the lowest bidder to save taxpayers money.
Hepburn was confident in the election, expecting to see as many as 56 seats being won by the party. He would also try to use the Gestapo charges against Drew to weaken him, stating quote:
“What we are worrying about is whether we are paying for such a gestapo, and the investigation should be carried out without delay.”
As the election began to wind down, it had become clear that the Progressive Conservatives were heading towards a major win. On the night before the election, Drew would say in a speech quote:
“This election is going to determine whether we are to have a strong democratic government in Ontario or whether, at this critical time, we are to suffer all the evil consequences of the sort of group government which has proved so disastrous wherever it has been tried. Please let us not be in any doubt about the alternatives.”
In the June 4, 1945 election, the Conservatives increased their party seat count by 28, easily giving them a majority in the Legislature.
Drew would state after the election win quote:
“Naturally, I’m happier than I can say to have won my own riding but I am perhaps even more pleased to have this convincing proof that our people in this province are not easily misled.”
Prime Minister King would write in his diary quote:
“Found out that Drew had made all but a complete sweep of the province. Hepburn and Jolliffe had each lost their own seats. I was not surprised that Drew had won. I have felt all along he would. Was disappointed that so very few Liberals were returned.”
Publicly, King would say quote:
“I have no comment. Provincial politics is one thing, and federal politics is another.”
King likely had his mind on the federal election, happening only a week after the Ontario election. In that election, the Liberals would again win, continuing their 22 year dominance from 1935 to 1957 of federal politics.
The Liberal Party would lose one seat, falling from 15 to 14. That one seat was the seat of Hepburn, who because he was aligning with the Labor-Progressives, a renamed Community Party, saw his support evaporate as well. This ended his time in the Legislature, which had begun in 1934.
Hepburn would say quote:
“For the first time in my long political career, I have tasted defeat. But I can take it on the chin and keep on smiling.”
The Montreal Star said quote:
“Mr. Hepburn’s fate should afford a lesson in political manners. You cannot play ducks and drakes with an electorate, as Mr. Hepburn has done, and depend for election upon verbal quips rather than platform.”
By 1953, Hepburn had died of a heart attack at his St. Thomas farm. His funeral was attended by five former premiers.
The CCF collapsed, losing 26 seats to fall to third place. The party now had only eight seats in the Legislature and Jolliffe would lose his own seat in the election but that would not be the end of the road for Jolliffe. The CCF would also receive 82,000 fewer votes than it had in the 1943 election.
The Montreal Star wrote quote:
“Defeat of the CCF is not to be explained by the intervention of Communist and other left wing candidates in the constituencies the CCF won in 1943. The CCF was beaten even in the industrial seats it might have been expected to hold.”
As for the Labor Progressives, they finished with two seats, the same amount they had in the previous election.
The election would see nine of 36 veterans elected to the Legislature, all of which were Progressive Conservatives. All five women who ran in the election, including Agnes Macphail, were defeated.
Despite having a majority government, Premier George Drew would call another election only three years after the last one. Heading into this election, Drew hoped to increase the majority of his government as the province headed into the 1950s.
The Liberal Party was now led by Farquhar Oliver, who had been first elected as a member of the United Farmers of Ontario back in 1926 when he was only 22. After Hepburn resigned from the leadership of the party, Oliver was made the acting leader. In 1947, he was made the permanent leader of the party and he would lead the party for the next 11 years, apart from a gap in 1950, to various levels of success.
The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was still led by Ted Jolliffe, who hoped to rebound from the terrible showing of the last election when the support collapsed over the Gestapo Affair.
The election would see a record 317 candidates looking to win one of the 90 seats in the Legislature. The number of candidates was 27 more than was seen in the 1945 election.
During the election, Drew would be critical of the federal government, then led by the Liberals, and the $30,000,000 in health services grants being offered to the provinces. He would also praise the close relationship between Ontario and Quebec at the time, stating it was the best relationship between the two provinces since Confederation. He would also attack the Liberals over what he saw as their lack of support for rural hydro electricity, citing the party only installed 50 miles of hydro lines in 1943, the last time the party was in power.
The Conservatives would also promise $5 million for rural recreation programs.
Jolliffe would attack the Progressive Conservatives over what he described as election laws that were inadequate and out of date. He would state that thousands of people would find their names off the voter lists due to the out-dated system. He would state quote:
“Apparently, the government prefers the present inefficient, antiquated system.”
Jolliffe would pledge to extend rural hospital and recreation services, as well as low cost auto insurance and a bill of rights to prevent racial or religious discrimination.
The Liberals, for their part, pledged to improve the highways of Ontario which they claimed were in a poor state due to a lack of investment from the Conservatives. His government also pledged food control measures, and to contribute $4 million to dams in the province. The Liberals also stated they would prevent soil erosion and depletion.
Oliver would say quote:
“The Liberal Party is prepared to bring in a land-use policy with the object of protecting and preserving the wealth of Ontario’s soil, agriculture and rural life by a program of proper soil use and economic betterment.”
Oliver would also comment on the Conservatives claim that there would be no investment in hydro stating quote:
“The Liberal party will undertake to remove hydro from politics. Hydro belongs to the people and not to one party. We will ask municipalities to select a representative on the commission board.”
Heading into the election, William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was in his last months of his 21 years as prime minister, would write in his diary quote:
“I shall be surprised if Drew does not have almost the same majority as before. A little less perhaps. This because the CCF and Liberal votes will help to make possible the return of many Conservative candidates by minority vote.”
In the June 7, 1948 election, the Conservatives saw their support fall by 13 seats, but they still maintained their majority in the Legislature.
The Regina Leader-Post reported quote:
“Despite cold, wet weather in most parts of the province, the vote was heavy. It was expected to exceed the 1945 record of 1,765,793.
Most shocking of all was that George Drew lost his own seat despite his party winning a majority in the election. This was one of the few times in Canadian history when that would happen.
Drew lost his seat to William Temple, who was pushing a message of temperance. As for Drew, he would leave provincial politics at this point and would move to the House of Commons where he served as the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1948 to 1956. He would lay the foundation for the resurgence of the Progressive Conservatives, but he would resign due to ill health in 1956. One year later, using the foundation Drew created, John Diefenbaker became the Prime Minister of Canada.
Drew would say he was disappointed that he lost his seat but felt that the results overall were very satisfactory and that he believed the party had won wider representation.
Agnes Macphail would return to the Legislature after losing the last election. She would remain in the Legislature until 1951.
The Liberals picked up 14 seats and lost their position as the Official Opposition.
The Official Opposition role once again fell to Ted Jolliffe and the Co-operative Commonwealth who picked up 13 seats to finish with 21.
William Lyon Mackenzie King would write in his diary after the election, quote:
“My first thought on getting results was to what lengths responsibility rests on Hepburn’s shoulder’s and those who were associated with him for destruction of Liberalism in Ontario. It may lead to, if not the destruction, at least the crippling of Liberalism throughout Canada in the general election. He certainly opened the door to the Tories and now to the CCF to power.”
This would be the last Ontario election that King would write about. By 1950, he had passed away.
After the election, Thomas Laird Kennedy took over as the Premier of Ontario on an interim basis, serving until 1949 until the leadership convention was held and Leslie Frost could come in as the new premier of the province. He had first been elected in 1937 and he would gain the name Old Man Frost, for reasons that we will discover in this episode and the next.
Only three years after the last election, Ontario was once again heading to the polls. After the slight setback of the 1948 election, which saw a reduced majority, the Conservatives were hoping to regain seats and their stranglehold over the Legislature.
Leslie Frost had been leading the Progressive Conservative Party and the province as its premier since 1949. Known as the Silver Fox, he had been in the Legislature since 1937. A veteran of the First World War, his government saw a major expansion of the role of the government that began in 1948. His government also increased public investment in the province’s economy.
The Liberals were now led by a new man as the party went through a revolving door of leaders since the glory days of Mitchell Hepburn. Walter Thompson had only been elected to the Legislature in 1949 and became leader of the party in 1950. Once again, the party was at odds with the ruling federal Liberal Party in Ottawa. In fact, the federal party opposed Thompson being selected as leader. Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent got along much better with Frost and the Conservatives at the time.
Through the election, Frost would play up the split between the federal and provincial Liberals over the leadership of Thomson. In response, Thomson would call St. Laurent one of his closest friends, which was not the case at all.
As soon as he became the leader of the party, the Progressive Conservatives set their sights on Thompson, releasing information that stated he was paid out of the Treasury in legal fees than any other lawyer in Canada, over $300,000.
Thomson for his part started campaigning as soon as he was elected leader. Over the course of 12 months and 12 days before the election, he made 159 political and 97 non-political speeches.
The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was once again led by Ted Jolliffe who hoped to see his party make inroads after doing well in the 1948 election and becoming the Official Opposition for the second time in its history.
The CCF was completely caught off guard by the announcement of the election. At the time, Princess Elizabeth was coming to Canada for her first visit and the party assumed Frost wouldn’t call an election as a result. Frost for his part wanted to take advantage of the atmosphere of the day and not let the Liberals settle under their new leader.
The CCF still had a great deal of support among the unions. The United Auto Workers Union, the largest and most powerful labour union in Canada, put its support behind the CCF.
Frost would accuse the Liberals of threatening to repeal the Charitable Gifts Act, which made it so no charity trust could have more than 10 per cent of any business. Frost cited an article in the Toronto Star for the statement, which would lead the Liberal Party to cut all ties with the Star moving forward.
Thompson would promise to build the best police force in the country, stating quote:
“We will build the best police force in the world here in Ontario. We must pay these men more. WE must pay them for the service we demand of them. These are the men we have engaged to protect us and they must be a well-paid force.”
Frost would also state that 116 of the election promises of Thomson would put a huge burden on the residents of Ontario. He would state quote:
“Taken in all, accountants estimate that Mr. Thomson’s great promises would cost you taxpayers another $100 million a year. Remember, the whole budget for Ontario is now only $250 million.”
Frost was not always incredibly popular through the province. Due to his labour policy, union heavy places like Hamilton were not friendly to the premier. He would be heckled at one campaign stop there. Frost would tell the audience quote:
“I can truthfully say that we have a greater degree of industrial peace in the province than ever before.”
This was met with a response from the crowd that stated quote:
“If you say you’re telling the truth, you’re lying.”
The CCF meanwhile pledged to establish a women’s bureau of the Ontario Labour Department to eliminate discrimination against women in the industry.
The election saw 271 candidates enter the race, well down from the 290 that entered the election in 1948 and way down from the 317 who contested for a seat in 1945. The election would also cost $2.5 million, the most in history to that point. Across the province, there would be 60,000 people working at 12,000 polling stations.
In the November 22, 1951 election, the Progressive Conservatives under Frost had a huge influx of seats, gaining 26 to finish with 79. This was the most seats won by a party in the Legislature since the 92 won by Howard Ferguson and the Progressive Conservatives in 1929.
Frost would state quote:
“The people have given the government a strong mandate to carry on. This carries with it the responsibility to do a good job and to this we shall devote all our efforts.”
George Drew, currently leading the federal Progressive Conservatives, was elated over the election, stating quote:
“This magnificent victory is a well-deserved tribute to Leslie Frost’s good government, his splendid leadership and to the outstanding qualifications of the candidates who supported him in every part of Ontario.”
The Liberal Party lost six seats to finish with 14. Thomson lost his seat in the election, but due to how disorganized the party was at the time, he would remain as leader until 1954.
Thomson would state quote:
“There will always be another day. We’re the opposition and I’m still the leader of the Liberal party. Sure I’m still smiling but there will always be another day.”
Despite the low seat count, the party would once again form the Official Opposition due to the complete collapse of the Co-operative Commonwealth who lost 19 seats to finish with just two. Jolliffe would lose his own seat, ending his time in the provincial legislature, although he would remain as leader of the party until 1953. Having led the party to its greatest success to that point, he would live long enough to see the NDP win the 1990 election.
Jolliffe would state that the election was lost because not enough people came out to exercise the right to vote. He also stated that the election was called at a time that was most advantageous for the Conservatives, hurting the other parties.
Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas, who led the CCF in the province, would say of the results quote:
“From the standpoint of the CCF, the results of the Ontario election are extremely disappointing. Since misery loves company, there is some consolation in the fact that the Liberals didn’t do very well either.”
Future Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, for his part, was elated, stating quote:
“A big Conservative majority was expected but the overwhelming defeat of the CCF was a surprise. The results are very, very encouraging. The Ontario elections and results of the four recent by-elections show a trend toward the Conservative Party that is taking place all across Canada.”
One person who lost her seat was Agnes Macphail, resulting in no women in the Legislature once again.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Ottawa Daily Citizen, Wikipedia, Ontario Legislative Assembly, Elections Ontario, Macleans, Montreal Star, Montreal Gazette, Kingston British Whig, Hamilton Spectator, Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg Tribune, Owen Sound Times, St Catherines Standard, Windsor Star