Editor’s Note—When a reigning political party in Ontario gets into trouble, the reverberations are likely to extend far beyond the boundaries of the Conservative key province. This article is published so that readers outside of Ontario may have some understanding of a local situation that might possibly affect the Dominion balance of political power.
GEORGE STEWART HENRY, wealthiest Premier Ontario has ever had, faces political extinction because he bought $25,000 worth of bonds and neglected to take a loss.
He still has the bonds, but at any moment he may cease to be Premier.
Four short years ago the Conservatives were returned with a record majority. Now the strongest political machine of the century has sand in its gears.
Premier Henry’s troubles are within. There are murmurs of uprising. There are whispers of a “nest of traitors.” There are shouted demands from trusted supporters that he vacate office and let someone else lead who can win.
He is a Sunday-school teacher, and some of his followers hold that against him. He is a dry, still solidly opposing open beer and wine sale, to the bitter resentment of a wing of his party. He is "Honest George” of the campaign literature, and lets himself get into the position of holding bonds which treble in price after his Government buys the company.
“If I had been a politician 1 would never have got into this position,” the Premier admitted after the bond disclosures. His followers echoed the sentiment and publicly sighed for G. Howard Ferguson, who neither suffered from the title of “Honest Howard," nor ever had his qualifications as a politician questioned.
But Honest George, the rural Sunday-school superintendent, whose honesty even in the face of the bond disclosures is not doubted, faces party revolt not because he held the bonds but because of his political clumsiness in not even attempting to hide their trail.
Outside his own ranks, the Premier’s position has drawn widespread expression of sympathy. There is a feeling that he is about to be cast to the wolves to save the party at the next election. In fact, it is generally believed that he would have been dropped already had there been anything approaching unanimity regarding his successor.
COLONEL the Honorable William H. Price is waiting for a chance to sacrifice himself by accepting the premiership. He would gladly step in and save Conservatism. But there are rumors that his sacrifice would not be acceptable to many in the party and to some in the Cabinet.
For, despite the fact that his church connections are solid, that he even preached a modern crusade of all Christians to stamp out atheism inspired by communists, there are in Ontario some scoffers who regard the Attorney-General’s motives with scepticism. Even more important, there are many Conservatives who think the Government has a better chance of survival under stolid George Henry than under the astute colonel.
Ontario’s Attorney-General years ago burst into politics hiding behind a piano-box—with the highest motives, of course. What he overheard figured in the Gamey revelations, which had a lot to do with turning the Liberals out of power some thirty years ago. But despite services rendered, that piano-box has an unpleasant political way of cropping up.
Then there was the little matter of the brokers’ prosecutions. Toronto brokers still claim that they were sent to the penitentiary for doing what the Attorney-General knew for years they had been doing.
There have been rumors that the Attorney-General’s hand w'as forced; that it was Premier G. Howard Ferguson who demanded the broker round-up. There are stories that even then Colonel Price appeared to be amazingly uninformed as to the backstage activities of a group of Conservatives —said to be among his present advocates —who, by uncannily shrewd manipulation of mining stocks, had milked the investing public of several hundred millions. Those who tell these stories hint that more than one embittered broker who “took the rap" at Kingston might be prevailed on in the heat of an election campaign to become sources of embarrassment. At any rate, w'hen Mr. Ferguson was elevated to a higher position in London, Colonel Price w'as passed over and Farmer Henry succeeded in office.
It was considered that the choice w;as between the two.
It is still so regarded. Hon. Charles McCrea w'as then, and still is the most popular Minister in the Cabinet. His handling of the mines portfolio has been highly successful. There isn’t a mark against him. But membership in the Roman Catholic church is still considered an effective barrier to political leadership in Ontario.
If Mr. Henry should decide that his health could not stand the strain, it would be a simple matter to choose a successor, dissolve the House and count on triumphing over a disintegrated Opposition.
But to throw the Premier out, as the “nest of traitors” threw Mackenzie Bowell out of the Federal premiership, would be to risk a disastrous party split on top of an already precarious situation. And in the mêlée occasioned by forcing resignations, it might be that someone else would rise and once again Ontario might suffer in silence the spectacle of the AttorneyGeneral missing the premiership.
While the Legislature was still in session and before Mr. Henry made his confession of ownership of Ontario Power Service bonds, there were rumors of revolt. For a month before there was any public announcement, it was known that the Premier held bonds in the Abitibi Canyon power development which the Government had taken over with Mr. Henry himself handling the negotiations. It was also known that the bonds had risen from a low of below thirty to a high of nearly ninety.
There were rumors that the Premier would resign at once and that there would be an immediate election under Premier Pricean alliteration that the province may or
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may not experience, for inner circles of the Tory junta are reputed to be grooming Hon. Leopold Macaulay, Minister of Highways, for the job when Honest George quits or is forced out. Macaulay is young and inexperienced. but not politically inept ; and it is known that he enjoys the strong endorsation of Papa Ferguson, who, while out of politics, is not so far out that he is oblivious to political developments in Ontario. It may not be Leopold Macaulay’s turn yet. Perhaps he isn’t sufficiently matured, and perhaps there are other members of the Cabinet more able than he at the intricate and delicate game of “internal party politics." But it is worth keeping his name in mind, for he has many friends.
With Henry's forced admission of ownership of $25,000 worth of Ontario Public Service bonds, and with a defense of his position which was far from brilliant but sounded convincing, he gained strength. The public refused to believe that there was any dishonesty in the transaction. The fact that no move had been made to conceal ownership, that even with the province taking over the project the Premier still suffered a loss on his investment, that the deal itself could be defended as a proper action for Ontario to take which might even save the province millions, helped Mr. Henry survive the shock of disclosure. Talk of immediate mutiny quieted. The party managers sat back to await developments. It was indicated that for the time being the choice of retirement rested with the Premier. An election moved into the background. There may be a contest in the autumn, or it may go over until next June.
Meighen in the Mix-up
IN THE MEANTIME the opposition I switched the attack to the Right Honorable Arthur Meighen, who. besides being Government leader in the Senate, a member of the Bennett Cabinet, a director of many companies, is also an Ontario Hydro commissioner.
Mr. Meighen, it was revealed, held O. P. S. bonds. Furthermore, his investment companies held many thousands of O. P. S. bonds. And the Hydro Commission, of which he is a member, had taken over the O. P. S. development, thereby relieving bondholders of their worries.
Now, what might be condoned as political stupidity on the part of Farmer Henry became a capital charge when levied against the purger of the Senate by an Opposition still smarting under the scathing tongue of a Meighen removing Beauhamois stains.
The oration on Senatorial purity which had marked the Meighen advent to the Upper Chamber provided ammunition for an attack which is still gaining strength. Senator Meighen announced in the Red Chamber that Hydro Commissioner Meighen had no part in the O. P. S. negotiations: that he had nothing to do with fixing the price to be paid for Financier Meighen’s bonds. He was accused of washing his hands in the conscience of Premier Henry, of leaving George to take the blame.
Mr. Meighen has always been unlucky. He was brought in as a pillar of strength to bolster Hydro and has become the centre of attack. So, while the opposition waits to see if Mr. Henry is to be portrayed at the next election as the martyr to rapacious followers or the villain in the piece, it is deemed expedient to keep the fire trained on the Senate leader.
But Mr. Meighen in the Senate is safe from ballots. Elections no longer hold terrors for him. Mr. Henry might be happier if he had so secure a retreat.
According to “Mitch” Hepburn, Ontario Liberal Leader, there are other highly placed gentlemen who shiver whenever the name Abitibi is mentioned. Hepburn has stated publicly that there are approximately $600,000 worth of Abitibi bonds that have not yet been turned in because the owners have no desire to have their identity revealed.
Before Howard Ferguson crossed over to London he prepared for storms. He lengthened the term of office of the Ontario Government from four to five years. The four years have expired. Except for the Ferguson legislation, the Government would be forced to face the electors before another session.
It is an open question whether it will be deemed wise to take advantage of the year of grace and risk the rising taunts of the Opposition. It is understood that Premier Bennett has counselled delay. Ferguson paved the way for the Federal Conservatives at the last election by springing a contest and rolling up the largest majority on record. Mr. Bennett does not relisn the same story in reverse. A bad blow to the provincial machine might have most unfortunate Federal repercussions.
Wine and Beer
IN THE MEANTIME an attack on the I Ontario Premier is developing in another quarter. The beer and wine group would require little encouragement to organize their own party if they fail to induce the Government to change its policy. At the moment it is thought that the easiest way to effect this would be to depose Henry.
Hon. James Lyons of Sault Ste. Marie, the most prominent beer and winer, has already called for the Premier’s deposition. He cited the O. P. S. bond deal as his reason, but the explosion he planned was a dud.
The beer and wine agitation, launched by Home Smith, who has a lot to do with the party treasury, has taken a long time to make headway. The return of nickel beer in the United States has aided the campaign, and in the Ontario cities it would be a popular move.
Though Henry has firmly refused to listen to demands for beer and wine sale in beer parlors and hotel dining rooms, there is a strong possibility that the Government will compromise. Once before in the days of prohibition the strength of legal beer was doubled in a futile attempt to placate the wets. The same thing may be done again. Four-point-four was a failure; eight-point-
eight might do the trick. By amending a phrase in the liquor control bill, 8.8 beer, which is just about the same strength as 3.2 by American standards, could be sold openly. Present restrictions on wines and the heavier beers would be continued.
The plight of the Liberal opposition encourages action along this line by the Government. Very dry and very wet in spots. Liberal candidates have campaigned on both sides of their party’s dry platform. With a dry Conservative Premier, the Liberal board of strategy thought it was a good time to take the plunge and arranged a meeting formally to place the party behind beer and wine. But plans slipped. Instead of adopting a wet plank, the party clung more firmly to its dry stand. Both factions came away angry. With the party divided, it looks as if neither ardent wets nor ardent drys will trust the Liberals at the next election.
Never in the long years since office vanished in 1905, have the chances for the Liberals been so bright. But prospects of success have been almost too much for them. The Government, realizing some of its own weakness, counts on the plight of the Opposition to save the day.
Leadership of the Liberals
"THE CONSERVATIVES still have but I one leader; the Liberals boast two and the threat of further splits. W.. E. N. Sinclair, almost as stolid as Premier Henry but personally more popular, is still House leader after having lost the party leadership to Mitchell Hepburn, the boy wonder from Elgin county. Ever since he was demoted, ; the stock of Sinclair seems to have risen. If his party had left him alone, there seems little doubt that he would have formed the next Ontario Government. Naturally there is no love lost between the House leader and his successor, who still holds his seat at Ottawa.
Mr. Hepburn started his leadership with a handicap. His first photos lent themselves to caricature as a clown. The nickname “Mitch” did not help create the illusion of statesmanship. Mr. Hepburn has a fondness for words, lots of words, sweeping words. He never stops halfway, but so far has avoided the libei laws. He can always get ! an audience cheering.
Opposition to liquor control was believed j to have wrecked Ontario Liberalism; Mitch I moistened the atmosphere. Sinclair had ! been too slow; Mitch was a regular fireeater. The party had been too cautious; caution was dumped overboard.
It is a common story that Hepburn was considered a stop-gap until a permanent leader could be chosen. He was to put new pep into the boys and then retire in favor of a mature leader. If that was the plan Mr. Hepburn had other ideas. He joined hands with Progressive Leader Harry Nixon and, passing Sinclair over completely, made Nixon his deputy in the Ontario House. In his own words, he has “swung to the left ” to collect the support of the independent groups. How well it will work only an election can reveal. It is a sad truth, however, that many Conservatives regard Mr. Hepburn as their greatest asset.
The little remnant of the Progressive party in the Legislature will co-operate with the Liberals in the election. This is now, however, only the ghost of the once powerful farmers’ political machine, and has separated from the U. F. O.—the organization which gave it birth. The C. C. F., with which the U. F. O. is now allied, is unlikely to cut any ice in the provincial campaign. Actually the farmers are licked politically, and there is no chance for a revival of the enthusiasm of 1919. They distrust both old parties.
As the situation stands, the Government has not a chance to win, no matter who is leader. The Opposition, however, is defeated before the campaign starts.
Ontario politics are reversed. The Conservatives will most certainly elect the Liberals unless the Liberals elect the Conservatives. There are more Conservatives to do the trick.