GENERAL ARTICLES

GEORGE DREW

PIERRE BERTON October 1 1948
GENERAL ARTICLES

GEORGE DREW

PIERRE BERTON October 1 1948

GEORGE DREW

GENERAL ARTICLES

PIERRE BERTON

IN WHAT are known as “Ontario political circles,” there is a slowly congealing belief that George Alexander Drew, leader of the only Conservative government in Canada, is being groomed as a sort of North American Churchill.

Drew’s repeated attacks on Communism, his warnings of the dangers of war and his demands for preparedness at home have a Churchillian flavor. If a radio contest were held to determine the greatest living defender of the British Empire, the judges would be hard put whether to award the prize to Churchill or Drew. Not long ago Drew told an interviewer that, politically speaking, he thought Churchill the greatest living human.

There is, however, a greater clincher to the argument than this: it has been discovered that

Drew, the ex-legal eagle, ex-hell-raising journalist ex-artillery officer and ex-boy mayor, is an amateur painter in water colors and oils. Proponents of the Churchill theory think this fills in an important piece in the pattern.

If Drew should succeed in becoming Prime Minister of Canada the pattern may be completed.

This month, should he choose to take it, he can rise another step in the political ladder by going before the Progressive Conservative convention as a candidate for party leader. As this is being written, he is odds-on favorite to capture the job.

There are no unbiased opinions about Lt.-Col. George A. Drew, K.C., Premier of Ontario. He has hc^n caHed conceited, arrogant, aloof, humorless, lovable, inspiring, dynamic, and bashful. His critics say he has difficulty unbending, yet he can stand around the piano at a military slag and roar out “Cathusalem, the Harlol of -Jerusalem” with the best of them.

When the largely anti-Drew Ottawa press gallery

threw a party for provincial premiers at the 1945 Dominion-provincial conference, Drew astonished and endeared himself to the newsmen by arriving first, drinking his share, leaving last, and singing what he called his theme song: “Silver Will Not Buy My Heart.”

Drew supporters, who admit their leader hasn’t got the human touch Mitch Hepburn had as Ontario’s Premier, say he is making a conscious effort to unhend, and insist that a good deal of the famous Drew abruptness and aloofness is due to shyness. Certainly he blushes easily: When

he first met Maurice Duplessis on the eve of the L945 conference he Continued on page 64

Continued from page 7

reddened to the roots of his hair when the ebullient Maurice advanced shouting, “George Drew—the other bad boy!”

Despite this, there is something about Drew’s personal charm which makes some men his lifelong devotees just as easily as his political battles have made others his lifelong enemies. During his first political joust (at the South Wellington provincial by-election of 1937), some 30 old army comrades traveled from as far as Montreal and Kingston to Guelph with cars to put at the disposal of the new candidate. According to friends. Drew was moved to tears by this display of affection.

His physical stature and good looks have never been a political asset (though his physical stamina has been). Mitch Hepburn, Drew’s Liberal predecessor, used to taunt him by calling him “The Miss Canada of the legislature.” Early in his political career, a Drew organizer remarked ruefully that “it was too bad George hadn’t been kicked in the face by a horse when he was young.” At 54 he is the handsomest man in Canadian politics.

His chesty, bayonet-straight, sixfoot, 185-pound frame pours easily into the grey and blue double-breasted suits he wears. He keeps it in top shape: last winter when he began to

grow pudgy, he dieted 15 pounds away. During the famous Bren gun probe in Ottawa he rose regularly at 6.30 a.m., donned turtle-neck sweater and old pants, and trotted miles through the capital’s swank RockclifFe residential sect ion.

Drew pays a soldier’s homage to neatness and efficiency. His 1937 assessment of Russia (“Stalin’s home front is hopelessly weak”) was based partially upon the fact that he found Moscow citizens sloppily dressed and Soviet soldiers slouching and smoking cigarettes while on duty. Drew himself has the well-scrubbed look of the barrack room.

Although he violently attacked Axis dictators before the war. Drew couldn't help paying some tribute to German efficiency and to the fact that Mussolini’s trains ran on time. ' Efficiency is a Drew catchword. During a 1937 provincial by-election he advocated a strong central government, with the

provinces handling problems of only a purely local nature—in the interests of greater efficiency. In his 1945 submissions to the Dominion-provincial conference he attacked centralization on the grounds that local governments were more efficient. He feels that his most important accomplishment has been in increasing the efficiency of the Ontario governmental machinery. His cabinet meets weekly and during legislative sessions there’s a daily cabinet meeting and a party caucus twice a week.

Drew is politically and physically brave. He once saved a man from drowning in Lake Ontario. An hour before appearing in court on a charge of infringing section 39B of the Defense of Canada Regulations, he slipped and broke his war-shattered left arm. He appeared in court with the arm unset and unattended, spoke in his own defense for some 20 minutes.

He has flung himself joyously into more head-on political collisions than any contemporary. Ex-soldier Drew believes in the frontal attack, spurns the Mackenzie King side step. He once openly invited a libel suit, proclaimed himself delighted when it followed, handled his own defense, won easily. Although his career as a political battering-ram has made him enemies, there is no evidence that it has done anything but advance him in the course he has charted for himself.

Man of Strong Beliefs

Whether you agree with him or not, it is impossible to doubt his sincerity. He has always been convinced of the rightness of his causes. George Drew sees no varying shades of grey in political opinion. To him there are simply blacks and white. Rights and Wrongs. “You can’t disagree with George or you’re a blackguard at once.’ a Drew intimate said the other day. For this reason, Drew’s attacks on Communists have sometimes covered a good deal of territory: he once called Senator Arthur Roebuck, then Hepburn’s Attorney-General, “Canada’s No. 1 Red.”

, When the Right people do the Wrong things. Drew is puzzled. Drew once listened to a radio talk by Lewis Duncan, his CCF opponent in Toronto’s High Park riding in 1945. At the end of the speech Drew seemed astonished. Finally he turned to a companion and burst out: “I can’t

understand that man! That man was an officer in the artillery and he belonged to a club of mine in London!”

Drew’s devotion to the British Empire and Commonwealth is a matter of lengthy record. In Drew speeches (he has made more than 100 in a year) the word “Britain” has a stature similar to the word “God” in an evangelist’s sermon. A favorite Drew expression during his embattled period in the ’30’s was “this strikes at the very foundation of British institutions.”

In his election campaigns he has urged that labor, housing, the civil service and rearmament all be carried out along British lines. He attacked the CIO in 1937 as “U. S. exploitation of Canadian labor . . . and undermining of British institutions.” (Said Drew: “Canadian labor is sound;

Canadian labor is British.”) When he threw his hat into the ring for the Ontario Conservative leadership in 1936 he promised to re-establish “a British system of justice” and said there would be “no more dangerous attempts to introduce theories borrowed from the United States or Russia.”

When he wanted to be really vicious in his attacks on his old enemies Hepburn and Roebuck he called Hepburn “anti-British” and said that Roebuck was “an insult to the British flag.” His literary epit hets are British, taken often from Dickens, which he has read thoroughly, or from Gilbert and Sullivan— his favorites in the musical world. (Canada’s railway policy was “Micawberlike”; Roebuck was the “Uriah Heep of the Legislature”; the prewar Canadian militia was a “Gilbert and Sullivan organization”; Hepburn was “the little Pooh-Bah of Queen’s Park.”)

He has described Ontario to the British immigrants, whom he is bringing in by the thousands, as “traditionally British by ancestry and inclination.” If this definition is correct, then Drew himself is completely typical of the province he governs. At any rate, he is certainly a typical Ontario Tory. As such, he is the product of his environment and background. His concepts of honor, duty and tradition and his passionate belief in the established order of things, the inviolability of the British Empire and the mission of the army, all spring from the deepest roots of the Drew family t ree.

Born to Politics

His forebears were United Empire Loyalists from Boston. They settled in Guelph, a town planned for and inhabited by early immigrants from the British Isles. His grandfather was a Queen's counsel and a Conservative who became a member of John A. Macdonald’s Confederation Cabinet. His father was a prominent Guelph lawyer and president of the South Wellington Conservative Association. Both had been members of the militia. Drew grew up in an atmosphere of law, Conservative politics, the army and imperialism.

By the time he was 10 his father was driving him in a buggy to Conservative meetings about the country. As a youngster his favorite reading was 0. A. Henty, the Boy’s Own Paper and Horatio Alger. It was natural he should go to Upper Canada College in Toronto (he later became a governor of the school), natural he should join the militia at 16, natural that he should rush to t he colors at the drop of a sabre in 1914. (Drew’s C.O. was another Guelph native son — John McRae, who wrote “In Flanders Fields.”)

Overseas Lieut. Drew was a courageous and efficient artillery subaltern.

Early in 1. î a stray piece of tapnel shattered left arm near the wrist, hospitalizing him for almost three years and necessitating 13 bone grafts. The arm today is virtually useless. At war’s end, Drew—still a subaltern—joined the militia and took over command of Guelph’s 16th battery where he won a reputation for superefficiency thatresulted in his being given command, in 1929, of the crack 11th Field Brigade (hence his title lieutenant-colonel). For the next three years the brigade won the Shaughnessy Cup for military efficiency against all other units in Canada.

When the Toronto Globe and Mail threw its support to Drew after the 1943 election, orders went out that reporters would henceforth call him “Mr. Drew.” The Globe’s politically wise publisher, George McCullagh, realized a military title could be a liability to a man in politics. Drew himself says he’d rather he called plain “Mr.” But the Drew-baiting Toronto Star still calls him “Col. Drew” or sometimes simply “Drew.”

In 1922, young George Drew became a Guelph alderman. In 1925, at the age of 31, he became mayor, the youngest in Canada. The next year he became an assistant master of the Supreme Court of Ontario and in 1929, master-in-chambers, youngest in the province’s history. The job, which involved hearing minor cases and screening cases for Supreme Court hearings, could have taken him to the Bench. But he had other notions. In 1931 he was appointed provincial commissioner to administer the Ontario securities and frauds act. From there he bounded into politics.

Who Won the War?

But, meanwhile, the shy young lawyer had been leading a Spartan and somewhat lonely existence. His father had died young and it became George’s duty to aid in the support of his mother, three sisters and younger brother. He applied himself vigorously to law and military duties. He drove from Toronto to Guelph once a week to be on parade with his unit. He made no romantic entanglements, comparatively few social engagements. He had little small talk: on evenings out he

discussed the state of the world, reiterated his faith in the Empire, defended the Treaty of Versailles. He lived what one friend has called “a monastic life” in Toronto’s Military Institute, where the neatness and sparseness of his room —there wasn’t a tie or a slipper out of place—were in keeping with the parade-square atmosphere. Even as securities commissioner he had no private phone.

In 1928, while he was still a Supreme Court Master, George Drew became a journalist. It was the period of the “we-won-the-war” attitude of the U. S. A group of angry young members of the Toronto Racquet and Tennis Club, on an outing to London, wanted to know why some Canadian didn’t answer the chest-beating that was going on in American magazines. George Drew, who was along, was promptly drafted. The result was his “The Truth About the War” which quickly sold out the July 1, 1928, issue of Maclean’s in which it appeared, and caused half a million reprints to he snapped up in the months that followed.

With Drew it was a crusade. It was his belief that Canadian schoolboys weren’t getting a true or complete picture of Canada’s and Britain’s part in the war. A wave of antiwar feeling was sweeping the country, but Drew felt if shouldn’t be used to depreciate the deeds of war heroes. He wrote

I his « brad “Canada’s Fight» c Airmen,” v, iiich <. ppeared serially ire Maclean’s, purely as educational fodder for the growing generation. “George believed that every schoolboy should have the same sort of upbringing he had,” a friend recalled recently.

By this time Drew was in demand I as a luncheon-dub speaker. The demand has never slackened and, as a result, Drew has probably eaten more breaded veal cutlets than any man in public life. In the late ’20’s his major theme was: put more war

history in the schoolbooks. Today Drew is Minister of Fducation as well as Prime Minister of Ontario.

Booted into Politics

His journalistic stock went up with his series on armament profiteers in Maclean’s, spearheaded by his article, “Salesmen of Death,” which was translated into many foreign languages and girdled the globe. As a result of these articles, so many letters were received by the League of Nations secretariat in Geneva that secretaries referred to the mail as “today’s attack of Drewitis.”

By the mid-’30’s, Drew no longer needed to support his family. At the same time, in 1934, the new Hepburn Government, booted him out of his securities commissioner job. Result: George Drew took a crack at the leadership of the Conservative Party and got married.

Drew’s reaction to Hepburn's kick in the pants is a good example of what historian Arthur Toynbee calls “challenge and response.” Drew responded to the Hepburn challenge with a marathon series of luncheon addresses that lasted almost two years. By this time he was in politics for good. Hepburn said the Drew ousting was “economy”: Roebuck, then the attorney-general, blamed Drew’s “inefficiency”; Drew hinted that powerful Bay Street interests were behind the whole (hing. When Hush, the weekly tabloid which had been hard-pressed by Drew for publishing of mining tips, jubilantly wrote an editorial headed, “The Fnd of Col. Drew,” Drew cried out in a speech, “No! It is not the end of George A. Drew!”

It wasn’t.

He became a rallying point for young Conservatives, openly attacked his party’s machine and the Old Guard, made a strong bid for the provincial Conservative leadership in 1936 but was defeated by Hon. Earl Rowe. Shortly afterward he married handsome, dark-haired Fiorenza d’Arneiro •Johnson, whose Canadian father runs New York’s Metropolitan Opera and whose mother was a Portuguese countess. Drew proposed in Guelph after one of his first political speeches made from his father’s house.

The Bren Gun Case

“Fiorenza,” said a Toronto Conservative not long ago, “is one of the best things that happened to George.” She now stumps the country with him, clings cosily to the microphone and chats pleasantly in French. Italian and English to the voters. (“I don’t go into the issues of the election. I let George do that.”)

Rowe made Drew party organizer hut the combination, in the words of a strong Conservative, was “like trying to team a race horse with a plow' horse.” Drew, it turned out, was in greater demand as a speaker than Rowe. He bolted the party, ostensibly because i he agreed with Hepburn that the CIO should be kept out of Ontario, but actually because he and Rowe couldn’t see eye to eye over a number of issues,

notably Drew’s belief that coalition with Hepburn would make for better government and greater efficiency. (A year later he repudiated coalition: “I will form no coalition with a man who sought to destroy in this province respect for the British Commonwealth.”)

Drew ran as Independent Conservative in Guelph and was beaten. But at the next convention in the fall of 1938, riding on the wings of the now famous Bren gun investigation, he won easily as party leader.

Drew's article for Maclean’s which examined a contract between the Dominion Government and the John Inglis Co. for 7,000 Bren guns now represents an important chapter in Canadian contemporary history. When Maclean’s editors first obtained a copy of the contract and found it wanting fall payments were to be made on an extreme cost-plus basis and no tenders had been called for), they asked Drew to analyze it. The resulting article (Sept. 1, 1938) caused a national uproar and precipitated a Royal Commission. Defense Minister Ian Mackenzie called Drew’s statements “wild and irresponsible,” hut couldn’t point out one inaccuracy on the witness stand. The Commission recommended that, arms purchases be taken out of the hands of the Defense Department and turned over to a Defense Purchasing Board manned by experts. The contract was drastically revised to limit profits. When war broke out, Mackenzie lost, his job and was shuffled into the relatively innocuous Pensions portfolio. The Defense Purchasing Board became a new government department: the Department of Munitions and Supply, now the Department of Reconstruction and Supply.

As opposition leader in the legisla-

ure, Drew was less vocal. His most rehement verbal attacks were reserved for the Mackenzie King Government, irst over lack of war preparedness, hen over the sending of (Drew' jaimed) untrained soldiers to Hong Kong.

This resulted in another Royal Commission, but publication of Drew’s ¡vidence was suppressed because of ecurity regulations. Though security ias ended, the famous “Drew letter” o Mackenzie King, reviewing his estimony, well-known in every Canalian newspaper office, has yet to be abled in the House of Commons.

Drew became so vocal over the long Kong affair that Louis St. Laurent, then Justice Minister (whom Drew' may one day face across the Commons floor) had him haled into :ourt for allegedly injuring recruiting. The public and press outcry was overvhelmingly pro-Drew and the charge vas dropped.

Drew and the Press

Drew’s stock rose and in 1943 he mme leader of a minority governnent in Ontario on a 22-point platform, he first plank of which promised to ‘maintain British institutions and strengthen British partnership.” One of his first actions was to reopen Ontario House in London. On moving into Hepburn’s office, he had several overstuffed chairs replaced by harder, more businesslike ones. Since then he has weathered two more elections to remain Premier, although he lost his High Park seat last June to Bill Temple, a GCF temperance td vocate.

Drew is enthusiastically backed by he Globe and Mail, which was once ¡ust as enthusiastically pro-Hepburn.

He gets grudging support from tito Toronto Telegram, which is Conservative but not necessarily Drew Conservative.

The long feud between the late Joe Atkinson’s Toronto Star and Drew is bitter and unrelenting. The Star does its best to blame Drew for everything (“DREW TALKS BILLIONS AS THIEVES GRAB $30.”) Drew has replied by calling the Star a “vile sheet” and a “villainous publication.” A libel suit between Drew and the Star has been dragging on its weary way for almost three years. (Drew claims the Star linked his name with Himmler’s while charging he ran his own personal Gestapo.) Drew lost his original suit but won an appeal for a new trial. The Star is appealing this appeal.

In his dealings with the press Drew isn’t always too shrewd. After his 1943 election, for example, when reporters crowded around him at the Albany Club in Toronto, a Conservative stronghold, Drew at first refused to see the Star’s reporter. Other newsmen talked him into it, but Drew then insisted on giving the Star a separate statement attacking the Star’s editorial stand re Drew. His advisers, when they heard about this, were aghast at what the Star could do with this sort of ammunition. “Get that statement back -—no matter how you do it!” Drew was fold. The statement did not appear in the Star.

Drew’s press statements are always meticulously drawn: he dictates every last comma and semicolon. Recently he was asked to comment on the establishment of an Austin motor factory in Hamilton. A few words offhand might have answered. Drew, who liad just stepped off the Montreal plane, sat down at the airport and spent 15 minutes laboriously composing and recomposing a two-paragraph statement.

Drew, who was a competent footballer and trackman as a youth (he won the mile at Upper Canada), still plays squash and tennis and gets around a golf course in under 90. He likes good music, especially military bands and his favorite Gilbert and Sullivan. His reading is wide but his favorite books deal with biography history and military tactics. (He can describe the tactics of any historic battle.)

No gourmet, he is a hearty eater, likes good plain food, revels in loggingcamp meals. His stamina is legendary. He likes to stay up late swapping yams with old army buddies, sometimes keeps it up until 4 a.m., and looks daisy-fresh at 8.30 the following morning.

In a Moscow Jail

He drinks moderately, but quits cold at Lent (he’s an Anglican). His friends say he can’t understand people who oppose his liquor policies any more than he can understand people who can’t drink temperately. His principal hobby is photography: In 1937 he

spent six hours in Moscow’s Lubianka Prison for taking pictures of one of the purge trials. He saved his film from confiscation by turning the roll back to zero to make it look as if he hadn’t taken anything. He carries two cameras on his trips: one for color, the other for black and white.

The Drews live in the posh residential suburb of Forest Hill Village on Dunvegan Road, not far from the John David Eaton mansion. The furniture is formal and not too comfortable. There are two children, Edward, 10, and Sandra, 8, who both play the piano—and two dachshund dogs.

The Drew Government, which has balanced its budget in each of its five

w bears in office, has given Ontario hefty municipal school grants, bigger old-age pensions, more money for health, an eight-hour day, cocktail bars and 25,000 British immigrants. It has been blamed among other things for the province’s desperate Hydro shortage as well as for its stubborn stand on provincial autonomy at the 1945 conference with the Dominion. Labor is suspicious of Drew, especially the CIO which he once attacked bitterly, and the temperance forces are dead set against him.

On this mixture of suspicion, % and idolatry, George Drew thrh ¡ Still a young man politically, he hai already had several careers. Dismissed as “finished” on several occasions, hi has bounded back with the resiliencj of a ping-pong ball. 'Phis month Guelph’s battle-wise ex-artillery officei has his sights set for his most importan! affray yet. Whatever the outcome, hú supporters and critics will agree that as long as dust swirls in the political no-man’s-land, the country will continue to hear from George A. Drew.