Mitch Hepburn

What's Mitch going to do next? Nobody knows. Perhaps not even himself. But it is sure to be dramatic, startling. And, dollars to doughnuts, it won't be growing onions

THELMA LECOCQ March 15 1943

Mitch Hepburn

What's Mitch going to do next? Nobody knows. Perhaps not even himself. But it is sure to be dramatic, startling. And, dollars to doughnuts, it won't be growing onions

THELMA LECOCQ March 15 1943

Mitch Hepburn

What's Mitch going to do next? Nobody knows. Perhaps not even himself. But it is sure to be dramatic, startling. And, dollars to doughnuts, it won't be growing onions


ALTHOUGH he’s been threatening to do it since 1935, no one quite believes that Mitchell F. Hepburn is about to retire from public life. His plans are to tear down his political platform and build it into cowsheds. To go back to the farm and devote his declining years—he is now approaching the ripe old age of forty-seven— to his Holsteins and Clydesdales, his onions and celery.

It is difficult to imagine Ontario’s most dynamic premier in such a role, in the same way that it would be difficult to picture Niagara Falls settling down to be a millpond. Last August the Fort William Ojibways made Mitchell Hepburn a chief of their tribe. Chief Chebaw-Tik they called him, meaning Chief Turbulent W’aters. Of all the names Mitch Hepburn has been called, this one is most aptly descriptive.

It was his turbulence that rushed him into power

in Ontario in the stagnant year of 1934. That made him a popular hero to the depression-weary people. Later this same turbulence brought against him accusations of treachery, threats of tar and feathers, insinuations of Nazi leanings.

Today, Mitch Hepburn gives the appearance of trying to keep that turbulence tightly buttoned under his double-breasted blue suit. He tries to hold his natural friendliness in check. To replace his amiable smile with a fierce look. He’s not good at it. This is partly because he has the wrong kind of face, with twinkly blue eyes, a short dimpled chin and a pair of large impishly fluted ears. His high forehead, topped by downy thinning hair, is more suggestive of extreme youth than terrifying wisdom.

(Aher handicaps to his new role are that he likes people and he likes to talk. His resolve to be a strong, silent man can be broken down by the

mention of (a) his children and (b) his farm. Anyone ready to hear about both is welcome to stay till the cleaning women come to sweep out his office.

The children are Peter, aged ten, Patsy, eight and Helen, five. There will soon be another. Unlike most fathers Mitch Hepburn knows it will be a boy the Hepburn children are all adopted. His own son and daughter died in infancy, but he doesn’t mention them; he's completely devoted to his adopted family.

“I’ve got to the stage,” he grins, “where I think all badly behaved children belong to the neighbors.”

The children and Mrs. Hepburn live on the farm and father goes home for week ends when he can. Bannockburn Farm, near St. Thomas, Ont., was settled by Hepburn’s grandfather more than a hundred years ago. The wideverandahed white brick house the Hepburns live in is the same house in which he was born. The farm, itself, 1,000 acres, is a veritable industry in itself. It has 100 horses, 170 registered Holstein cows, forty-five brood sows, 1,250 laying hens, and over 100 acres of prize Spanish onions and celery marshland. This hundred acres is Mitchell Hepburn’s own achievement and pride. It was an old lake bed, looked upon as a worthless swamp. For fourteen years he worked at draining it and now it’s the best growing soil in that part of the country.

As a place to live Bannockburn is idyllic with two beautiful acres of lawn and flowers. With a summer lodge built of logs on the edge of a 9-acre artificial lake stocked with trout and bass. With a privately owned horse and dog for each member of the family.

Any man should be happy to retire to such a place. Mitch Hepburn says he will be but says it with more determination than conviction. Asked if he hasn’t enjoyed his seventeen years in politics, he answers with a sharp “No.” Asked if he thinks he’ll lie content to devote his talents to celery and onions, he replies with a guarded, “I hope so.”

Mitch’s Famous .Speeches

AS A FARMER Mitch Hepburn would lack the thing he thrives on—an audience. His most impressive talent is for rousing speeches. This gives him more joy than anything he does and also gets him into more trouble.

“I have never read a platform speech,” he says proudly, “except a budget speech.”

Asked how he prepares a speech, he once replied, “I think of a good joke and build it up from that.” He keeps what he calls a reservoir of jokes; likes to have an audience in front of him so he can feel how he’s doing; speaks so that everyone can hear him, in a slightly nasal Ontario accent. He appears to be carried away on his own rush of words, but that’s an illusion. The first time a radio network

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carried a Hepburn speech he wound up to a dramatic finish three seconds before the sign-off.

The language he chooses is colorful hut never obscure. Premier Hepburn has dismissed an opponent’s criticism as “so much eyewash.” Replied to an attack of a group of clergymen whom he labelled as “sanctimonious psalm-singing preachers completely out of touch with the human problems of the day.” Accused C.I.O.’s John L. Lewis of “waxing fat on the monthly assessments taken from the pay envelopes of Canadian workmen.”

When Mitch Hepburn shouts these imprecations there’s no doubt that he means every word of them but his audience rarely regards him as malicious or vindictive. Thanks to the Hepburn platform manner he puts himself over as a hard fighter hut a merry one. In print such things have a colder look, and it’s a regular thing for him to go to bed a hero and wake up to the morning paper to find he’s just a heel.

“Extemporaneous speaking has been my greatest enemy,” he grieves. He says few if any reporters can take his speeches in shorthand. Their interpretation of what he says, he characterizes as “sometimes very misleading although not deliberately so.”

Mitch Hepburn believes that the public has no interest in hearing a speech read, quite frequently after they’ve had a chance to read an

advance release of it themselves in the daily paper.

“Few public men will risk extemporaneous speaking any more,” he regrets.

Mitch Hepburn’s own interest in politics goes way back. At the age of four he was taken by his mother to a political meeting to hear the late Rt. Hon. George P. Graham. He wanted to know what that man on the platform was doing. His mother explained that he was a politician.

“Mother,” the infant Mitchell forecast his own future, “when I grow up I want to be like Mr. Graham.”

For three years the idea lay dormant. Then, at seven, when his second teeth were coming in, young Mitchell one day in school was proudly displaying pictures of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and George W. Ross. As a penalty his teacher ordered him to make a speech on these two great statesmen. And that was the start of Mitchell’s political career.

By the time he was fifteen he was active in politics, right up on the platform speaking for the Liberal Party.

Ontario’s Youngest Premier

IN 1926, when West Elgin elected him as Liberal Member to Ottawa, Mitchell Frederick Hepburn was the youngest member in the House. In 1934, when the party he headed was returned in Ontario, he was thirty-

seven, the youngest premier the province had ever had. Success at such an early age might be attributed to the fact that Mitch Hepburn didn’t waste the best years of his life in school. An apple which connected with Sir Adam Beck’s plug hat brought his formal schooling to an end in his third year at St. Thomas Collegiate. Young Mitchell Hepburn was accused, was too stubborn to deny it, and was expelled. Today he regards Claude Dunn, who did throw the apple hut was absent when the accusation was made, as one of his best friends. And V. K. Greer who expelled him is Chief Inspector for Public and Separate Schools for Ontario.

At that time Mitch Hepburn’s youthful intention was to go through for law. He still regards it as a good idea.

“Legal training is invaluable to men in public life,” he believes.

The day he left the Collegiate he got a job with the Canadian Bank of Commerce, St. Thomas. In six months he was transferred to Winnipeg and at seventeen was paying teller in the Canadian Bank of Commerce there.

When the war broke out he joined the Fort Garry Horse, was discovered to he under age and was shipped home. The parting between him and Winnipeg seems to have been without pangs on either side. The Winnipeg Free Press, which gives him more editorial space than any paper outside Ontario, has never been tempted to claim him as a local boy.

Mitchell Hepburn’s second attempt to get into the lastwar was equally unsuccessful. Shortly after enlisting in the Air Force he was injured in a motor accident and spent six months in hospital. About the time of the Armistice he was demobilized, married Eva Burton of Fingal and settled down at Bannockburn to become a farmer. As a side line he joined the United Farmers of Ontario and spent three years as secretary of the U.F.O. of East Elgin. To supplement his foreshortened education he became a student by mail and took courses in English, banking, economics and commerce.

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“I’ve never stopped studying,” he says.

His favorite reading is history—he once got 100 per cent on a history paper—and biography. He doesn’t care for fiction and, unlike most great men, abhors detective stories.

Mitch Hepburn’s real genius is for getting elected. When he stood for West Elgin in the Federal election of ’26, he turned a Conservative majority of 1,867 into a Liberal majority of 197. In the Ontario election of ’34 he put the Henry Government to rout. When he went back to the country in October, ’37, in a bitter election arising out of opposition to a C.I.O. strike at Oshawa the voters were with him again, in his own riding of Elgin by a majority of 5,500.

Between the two provincial elections, Premier Hepburn had infuriated enough people to put two other men out of office. He failed to settle the Separate School issue for the Catholics. Sorrowed the temperance advocates by opening the beer parlors. Angered Labor by calling out police against the strikers. Shaken the party by his break with Mackenzie King.

He Makes Politics Exciting

THE popular theory was that he was elected only because the Conservative party lacked the breath of life. Nineteen thirty-seven was the year of the grave robberies in rural Ontario. A favorite story of the time was that the ghouls were Conservatives looking for a leader!

It is more likely that Premier Hepburn got back on the rush of his own exuberance. He made politics exciting. He got things done. If they weren’t always the right things that didn’t matter too much.

Premier Hepburn began his first term, to Ontario’s amazement, by setting out to keep his election promises. His vow had been, “To get rid of those with their heads in the public trough.” On July 11 he took office. One week later, by dismissals and superannuations, he figured he’d saved the province $193,285. By the next day it was $253,800. By July 24 he reckoned the figure had risen to $423,000. By the twenty-seventh $849,000. By August 1 Mr. Hepburn achieved his first million in economies and was going strong. All the way along

the New-Broom Premier kept the electorate posted.

He fired 187 bee inspectors because “there seems to be an inspector for every bee.”

He dismissed an official whom he said got paid $3,000 a year for doing nothing. “Now he’s doing the same thing,” he told the people gleefully, “but he’s not getting paid for it.”

Another promise Mitch Hepburn kept with a flourish was to put up for auction the cars used by the members of the previous Government. He had them simonized so they’d bring a good price. Had a scaffold built in Varsity Arena so that 8,000 people could enjoy the knock down.

The accomplishments at the time were real enough for the “Sunshine Budget” came 25,000,000 dollars closer to being balanced than any Ontario budget for many years. In his first term, aiming to put relief on a pay-as-we-go basis, he introduced the provincial income tax to Ontario. In his second term Premier Hepburn was able to take the stand of no increase in taxation and no new taxes. At the same time he was able to make increased grants to schools and sanitaria.

The fact that some of the extra funds were acquired from levying inheritance taxes on people long since dead disturbed only a few. The thousands saved by closing down Chorley Park, the Lieutenant-Governor’s residence in Toronto, caused more widespread consternation to a U. E. Loyalist Province.

Arousing consternation is another of Mitchell Hepburn’s talents. People were only mildly amazed when it was rumored in 1937, after the C.I.O. strike, that he would form a coalition Government with Conservative Earl Rowe. When he took up with Quebec’s Maurice Duplessis, in 1938, the Dominion was shaken to its roots. A “Quebec - Ontario Axis” was rumored as the basis of a plot to dethrone Mr. Mackenzie King.

Premier Hepburn’s reply that “Mr. Duplessis is a national character— and a personal friend—nothing more,” reassured nobody. Federal Ministers C. D. Howe and Norman Rogers convened at Fort William to “purify (this plot) in the sunlight of publicity” and openly accused Hepburn and Duplessis of forming an alliance to sweep King out of office. The Hon. Arthur Roebuck, Hepburn’s ownAttorney-General.used the word “treachery” to his chief, out loud.

Mitchell Hepburn’s reply was, “I have no intention or desire to go to Ottawa.”

After that, rumors of the Ontario Premier’s alliances with Conservative Col. George Drew (Jan., 1940), Social Credit Aberhart (March, 1941) and with Communist Tim Buck (Oct., 1942) caused scarcely a flutter.

Shouldering all these attacks, the Honorable Mitchell Hepburn showed small sign of being a broken man. He continued to entertain. Sometimes he had as many as 100 at a barbecue at Bannockburn. He was seen at football games and baseball games. Went to the movies to see Bette Davis and Walter Pidgeon. Rushed about the country to fairs and plowing matches. Flew to Florida once on a night flight with Dick Merrill. He made a fast landing from 15,000 feet and saw the sunrise twice in one day, once from the air and later from the ground. Flew 25,000 miles to Alaska, was grounded and unreported for eighteen hours.

Flying is his favorite hobby and while he doesn’t know enough about it to take off or make a landing, he likes to handle the controls while in the air.

“I’m more nervous in a car than I am in a plane,” he says.

While Premier of Ontario his longest trip was to Australia and New Zealand early in 1939. In Melbourne at the Lord Mayor’s reception he made a speech that was reported as “the finest extemporaneous speech in the history of Australia.” That is the handsomest compliment that has ever been paid Mitchell Hepburn.

Some of his trips South were made on account of ill health. In the past he has had severe attacks of bronchitis, and he has only one kidney. What he would be like with perfect health staggers the imagination. What keeps him going is his “sixteencylinder engine.”

Perhaps because of his own illness some of Mitchell Hepburn’s most durable achievements while Premier of Ontario are in the line of Public Health. His drives to clean up communicable disease have been recognized by the British Medical and other authoritative journals as among the most successful anywhere. He instituted travelling clinics and free treatment for all T.B. patients who couldn’t afford to pay. When he visited the Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto and found that many of the cases were bovine tuberculosis, he had a law passed for the pasteurization of all milk sold in the Province of Ontario.

“There is evidence,” he says, “that the disease is being cured and stamped out, and other diseases, too. Ontario has the lowest death rate from T.B. in Canada and it is falling rapidly.”

This achievement is his greatest pride and one that has inspired least public attention.

Catcalls And Threats

AT NO time, though, has Mitch L Hepburn failed to attract notice. * He has been called on different occasions, “A gorilla” . . . “The Huey Long of Canada” . . . “Little Hitler” . . . and “Canada’s Big Bill Thompson.” Other attentions he

has had include the burning of one of his barns, threats to kidnap his children, and the present of a box of bedbugs from an inmate of an Old Folks’ Home.

A great portion of these attentions sprang from Premier Hepburn’s hostile attitude toward the C.I.O. strikers in Oshawa. Results of the j affair on the other side of the ledger were his being named “Canada’s ; Man of the Hour,” by the Boston Transcript—and a suggestion by Sir James Dunn of Algoma Steel that a Hepburn monument be erected j on the international border as a tribute to “a man who met John L. Lewis at the gateway and turned him back.”

The other great commotion caused by Mitchell Hepburn was when he broke from Mackenzie King with the ! public pronouncement, “I am a reformer but not a Mackenzie King Liberal. I will tell the world that and I hope he hears me.”

Mitchell Hepburn’s stand is, “I don’t believe in blind adhesion. ‘My j party right or wrong’ is a stupid attitude.”

To the politically footloose this statement was no crime. Neither were his other criticisms, made at home, of the war effort. His press interview when he jaunted to New York to be initiated to “The Saints and Sinners” was a different matter.

“At Ottawa they don’t consider anything but their political hides,” the Premier of Ontario informed the American press. “In Canada we lack co-ordinated effort—we’re getting nowhere.”

The people of Canada were inclined to regard this not simply as a crack at the King Government, but as a national stab in the back.

Contrary to appearances Mitchell Hepburn’s stand on matters is not always taken in deliberate opposition to Prime Minister King. A full two days before the King Government announced its intention of looking into the Beveridge Plan, Mr. Hepburn stated his disapproval of it to this magazine.

“The Beveridge Plan is a nice sounding theory,” Mr. Hepburn said, ¡ “but I doubt that it’s workable. ! Britain cannot produce her own requirements. In order to survive she must buy raw materials, manufacture and sell on competitive world markets. This and this alone enables her to purchase the materials with which to feed, clothe and shelter her people, j It will be interesting to watch the I new experiment. In my opinion Britons cannot survive under a policy of taking in each others’ washing. Never again will we tolerate want and need but at the same time we cannot make indolence attractive.”

Thinks Socialism Checked


our heavy succession duties and income taxes as sufficient control against the piling up of excessive wealth. As for Socialism he believes we have it now to a certain degree but that we’re heading for less of it rather than more.

“Socialism cannot endure in this nation,” he says. “This country was

built up by individual effort. The Anglo-Saxon will take freedom in preference to regimentation any day. He is determined to have the privilege of private enterprise.”

That the democratic countries are veering away from Socialism and back to the “Anglo-Saxon heritage,” he feels is indicated by the recent U.S, elections.

Of Canada’s economic policy at the moment Mitchell Hepburn is most critical of the Price Control System.

“The present shortages and the worse shortages to come,” he states, “are due partly to the wastage of war but also to the price control method which tends to reduce production.” He is of the opinion that this control is being used in an uneconomic way by placing price ceilings below cost of production.

“It’s bad,” Farmer Hepburn says, “It’s superficial. The control system has not created an additional pound of butter or anything else.”

His solution would be a complete change in the price control attitude toward the farmer, ensuring proper remuneration for farm products. Pie also advocates the freezing of farm labor to avoid a disastrous curtailment of farm operations.

Mitchell Hepburn’s big interest right now is farm problems but he has no intention of launching a farmers’ party.

“I don’t believe in class movements,” he doesn’t want that sort of rumor started. “They alienate the rest of society. It’s the same with Labor. Classes must work together.” How rumors about him get started continues to baffle Mitch Hepburn. One of the more recent was that he would be a prospect at the Conservative convention held in Winnipeg last December. This made Hepburn furious.

“I never had any intention of attending,” he says. “That’s the sort of rumor that gets started by one’s enemies.”

Another recent one was that he might get Tim Buck to move over and share the leadership of the Communist Party with him. This makes Hepburn laugh.

“If you’re mentioning my friends,” he says, “don’t forget Tim Buck.”

One reason that people feel certain Mitch Hepburn has something up his sleeve is that his retiring is an old rumorand one of his own making.

In 1935, when he left for Florida, Premier Hepburn’s last words were, “I will retire from public life. There is no chance of my changing my mind.”

Last October he did resign, but only to become Treasurer Hepburn.

“I will be treasurer for one month only,” he told the press. That was last October.

Mitchell Hepburn is still provincial treasurer. He says his colleagues persuaded him to stay and present another budget. Perhaps he’s waiting till spring comes to Bannockburn. Perhaps he’s revelling in a position of lesser responsibility while Mr. Gordon Conant holds the hot seat.

What’ll Mitch do next? Nobody knows. Sometimes one wonders if Mitch himself knows.

But remember this. He’s impulsive, he has a flair for the dramatic and he likes to think of himself as a crusader.

He’s also a farmer who’s “agin” socialism—and Mackenzie King.

It would not be strange if such a man were to he found somewhere in the neighborhood of another farmer like John Bracken when the next political ruckus starts. Characteristically enough, he has publicly denied anything like that is going to happen.