GENERAL ARTICLES

Farmer in the Saddle

Grey-haired, loose-jointed, Ontario’s Premier Nixon believes in plain living, plain speech and "common sense" in politics

THELMA LECOCQ June 15 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

Farmer in the Saddle

Grey-haired, loose-jointed, Ontario’s Premier Nixon believes in plain living, plain speech and "common sense" in politics

THELMA LECOCQ June 15 1943

Farmer in the Saddle

Grey-haired, loose-jointed, Ontario’s Premier Nixon believes in plain living, plain speech and "common sense" in politics

THELMA LECOCQ

LAST APRIL the Ontario Liberal Party, feeling itself in need of a new leader, went shopping for something in a good serviceable grey. They found it in greyhaired, grey-suited, grey-personalitied Harry Corwin Nixon.

Lack of color is one of Harry Nixon’s outstanding characteristics, and it becomes him. First impression on meeting him is that here is an honest man. The reason may be that Nixon’s a farmer and, even after 25 years in politics, continues to look and talk like one. He’s a big, loose-jointed man with a face that’s well weathered and wispy grey hair that looks as though it might have been blown sparse by the wind. His grey eyebrows droop over what are probably grey eyes though friends of many years’ standing can’t tell you the color of them. He wears grey suits—city suits that have taken on a country sag. His ties and socks are frequently dark red, a small glow of color that corresponds to the sober glow of humor in Harry Nixon’s own personality.

The choice of Nixon as the new Ontario Premier was a surprise to noone. Dour, durable Farmer Nixon had been with the party since 1932 when he took his Farmer-Progressives to swell the ranks of the Liberal Party. From the first he was known as the wheelhorse of the Liberal Party. As far back as 1935 it was Harry Nixon who was chosen acting premier. It was Harry Nixon who had the first offer of the premiership when Mitch Hepburn tried to unload. It was Harry Nixon who was proclaimed next premier of Ontario by an enthusiastic and prophetic crowd at the King Rally in Massey Hall, Toronto, in 1940.

During the glittering years of the Hepburn regime the Ontario Liberals, whether they knew it or not, had Harry Nixon put by for a rainy day. During those years Harry Nixon knew where he was heading. “In politics,” he believes, “a man either works himself to the top or works himself out.”

At the Liberal Convention last April Harry Nixon found himself at the top by

better than a two-thirds majority. He feels proud but not unworthy.

Although he’s a big man—five feet eleven and 175 lb.—Harry Nixon doesn’t look it. His shoulders are stooped, taking inches off his height. He walks with a slouching, bent-atthe-knees gait. He has the long neck and narrow head of a much thinner man. His chin tends to sink more and more into the wrinkled folds behind it. Only his large flat ears and prominent rugged nose give any impression of bigness.

When he meets people Harry Nixon shakes hands, smiles out of the right side of his mouth and is cordial without being effusive. Formalities over, he sits down, lights his thin-stemmed pipe and begins to talk. He talks about “the wife” and “the kids.” He says “Okay.” On the subject of his political aims he speaks in well-rounded, well-considered sentences. “My aim,” he says, “is to make the Liberal administration so good that people will want it to continue.”

He regards the present position of the Ontario Government, with empty seats and an election overdue, as dangerous. “I want to restore it,” Nixon says, “to a democratic and truly representative basis.”

The main problems facing a Provincial as well as a Federal Government, as Harry Nixon sees them, are postwar plans including reestablishment in civil life of soldiers and munitions workers. “I have in mind the basis of what I want to do,” he says, “and we’ll lay our plans well and adequately.”

As Harry Nixon talks he fidgets, holding up his head with his hand, removing the hand to fiddle with his large nose or long upper lip.

Harry Nixon is a strong supporter and great admirer of Mackenzie King’s “ability, statesmanship and the leadership he’s given this country.” He has supported the King Government since 1921 and is particularly proud of the fact that he was the only minister of the Hepburn Government to attend King’s Toronto rally in the fall of 1940. The cheers of the crowd on that occasion are still ringing in his ears.

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Farmer in the Saddle

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It was this allegiance that caused Harry Nixon’s break with Chief Hepburn, resulting in 1940 in a shortlived resignation, and which led him two years later to make a public stand against the Hepburn-supported Arthur Meighen.

Regarding those years of strife with the Chief to whom he was first lieutenant Harry Nixon says, ‘‘It wasn’t always pleasant.” Pleasant or not, it’s plain that Leader Nixon doesn’t regret a bit of it.

Harry Nixon has always been an outspoken politician. The reason may be that although he talks, thinks and dreams politics he still regards himself as a farmer. If he had to choose between his electorate and his Holsteins he would choose the cows. ‘‘A herd of Holsteins,” he once philosophized, ‘‘is a lot more dependable for a living than a fickle electorate.”

Always Worked Hard

ALTHOUGH Harry Nixonhasbeen - in politics for a quarter of a century and is one of the old-timers at Queen’s Park, politics are a fairly recent flutter in the farming family of Nixons. A hundred years ago the first United Empire Loyalist Nixon took up land in Brant county not far from the town of St. George. When Harry Corwin Nixon was born 52 years ago on April 1 it was on that same farm, in the house his grandfather had built and in which his j own father was born.

Unlike most boys he always liked life on the farm. His father, who called him “Mate” and regarded him as his right-hand man, remembers that he was always a hard worker and a great hand with horses. ‘‘Harry used to get out there under the summer sun,” his father recalls, ‘‘with his sleeves cut off and his shirt open to the waist and go to work with the j best of them.”

Son Harry admits, ‘T guess the ¡ white lights never had the attraction for me they have for some boys.”

To make a better farmer of himself young Harry borrowed from the Massey Fund and went to the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph. While there he met Alice Jackson, graduate of Macdonald Institute at OAC, and demonstrator in flourtesting and baking. He borrowed another $500 and, a year after graduation in 1914, married her. After a year of farming on shares with his father he was able to pay off his debts. One more year and he had saved enough to put $1,500 into implements.

Today they say of Harry Nixon, ‘‘If there’s a livelihood in agriculture, Harry will get it out.”

Of himself he says, ‘‘I’m not a member of the landed gentry. I am a farmer—a dirt farmer. It is my means of livelihood and will be the

means of livelihood of my sons.”

* * *

Although he’s had a suite in Toronto’s Royal York hotel ever since he was made Provincial Sec-

retary and Minister cf Game and Fisheries for the Hepburn Government, the farm at St. George is still home to Nixon, and his closest colleagues are the members of his family. Right now the Nixon family is broken up. Daughter Margaret Farrell has a husband overseas and a job in Toronto. Daughter Kathryne Forbes is an Assistant Section Officer in the RCAF (WD) and her husband is overseas. Elder son Pilot Officer Jackson Nixon, who also went to the Ontario Agricultural College to train as the fourth generation of Nixon farmers, was killed in action Sept. 3, 1941.

That leaves Mrs. Nixon and 14-year-old Bobby to run the farm, with Liberal Leader Nixon going out for week ends and any other time he can get away. Although he’s an enthusiastic hunter and fisherman Nixon’s idea of complete relaxation is to get out to his farm and dig in.

‘‘With a hard day’s work on the farm,” he says, “I get a good night’s sleep and eat three square meals a day, which is more than I can do in town.”

Mrs. Nixon, who’s as scientific a farmer as her husband, frequently accompanies him on fishing trips and on speaking tours. Her husband’s colleagues regard her as a pleasant woman whose most noticeable feature is her smile. Before Harry Nixon makes a decision he talks it over with her and with ‘‘the kids.” His resolve to break with Premier Hepburn was made one Saturday night in the farmhouse kitchen over a family cup of tea.

‘‘Harry would rather be with his own people than be a head table sitter,” a friend has said of him. Besides being known as a family man he is also regarded as a good friend.

‘‘A most congenial man,” is the opinion of a hunting crony of many years standing. ‘‘If there’s ever any unpleasantness on a trip, it’s never with Harry.” Where one man may say, ‘‘Harry is the giving kind,” another will comment, ‘‘Harry is hard.” Probably he is both.

By Rural Route

NIXON, like Mitch Hepburn, travelled to Queen’s Park by the farmroute. When the United Farmers of Ontario movement swept rural Ontario in 1914 he became one of the leading spirits of the Brant County organization. Later he became secretary and county director. In 1919, at the age of 28, Nixon was elected to the provincial house where he was the youngest member by five years. Before he had even taken the oath Nixon was made Provincial Secretary. It is significant, as one newspaper said at the time, that ‘‘onlookers have neither sneered at his youth nor marvelled at his wisdom.”

Most spectacular period of his career was the early ’thirties when, as leader of a Progressive group of four, he set himself up as dogged critic of the Henry Government. By asking an innocent question, which he admits to have been ‘‘a shot in the dark,” he precipated the Abitibi Bond Scandal.

His attitude toward the Henry Government, he used to say, was like that of the man whose motherin-law had died. “Shall we embalm, bury or cremate?” came the query. “Take no chances and do all three,” was his reply.

It was because of what he regarded as “the desperate condition of provincial affairs”that Nixon took his little Progressive troupe over to the Liberal side in 1932. SincetheNixons had always been Conservatives this move provided plenty of ammunition for his opponents who called him a “political hitchhiker” and a “turncoat.”

When he broke with Hepburn over the latter’s alleged association with Conservative George Drew, he wasn’t allowed to forget his own apostasy. But as Conservative, Progressive or Liberal, Harry Nixon has been constant in his championship of his own peoplethe farmers. For 25 years he’s been harping on “rural problems and relief from excessive taxation which is burdening agriculture today.” For the same 25 years he’s been in favor of public development of Ontario Hydro power and hopes to see the day when Hydro will reach every farmhouse.

At the moment the wartime price ceilings are bothering Farmer Nixon.

“Many products are selling at 50% less than what they were in the last war,” he shakes his head. “And today we’re paying double for what we did then for labor.”

He believes increased prices can he achieved without altering the cost of living index seriously.

“Take butter, for example,” says Farmer Nixon. “With the ration of half a pound a week per person, 15 cents could he added to the price of a pound of butter for no more than the cost of a postage stamp a day to any household.”

According to his reckoning this 15 cents should go to the farmer—not to the retailer whom he doesn’t consider entitled to any larger share of the consumer’s dollar.

Election Problem

PREMIER NIXON’S next problem may he an election. So far as his own seat is concerned, “the Farmer from Brant” has never yet been beaten at the polls. Years ago he established himself as a real farmer in a farm county.

“If you’re a farmer, show us your hands,” a heckler once called to him from the hack of the hall.

“Before I came here I cut 150 acres of oats with a tractor-binder,” replied Candidate Nixon. “If my friend is a farmer himself he’ll know the calluses aren’t on my hands.”

Quick retort like that and the unsubtle dash of humor frequently liven up his speeches, which are otherwise plain fare.

“If they want common sense I’ll give it to them,” promises Ontario Premier Nixon. “But they’ll have to look elsewhere for dinner orations that will bring them up from their chairs.”

When Harry Nixon talks like this members of the Ontario Liberal Party nod and smile. They like their new premier.