George Drew

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The Hon. George Drew
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George Drew

Term of Office:1943 - 1948
Predecessor:Harry Nixon
Successor:Thomas Kennedy
Date of Birth:1894
Place of Birth:Guelph, Ontario
Political Party:PC

George Alexander Drew PC, CC (May 7, 1894 - January 4, 1973) was a Canadian conservative politician who founded a Progressive Conservative dynasty in Ontario that lasted 42 years. He served as the 14th Premier of Ontario from 1943 to 1948.

George Drew graduated from the University of Toronto and studied law at Osgoode Hall. He served with distinction in World War I as an officer in the Canadian Field Artillery. After the war he became lieutenant-colonel of the 11th Field Brigade and later honorary colonel of the 11th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. As a practising lawyer, in 1931, he was appointed Chairman of the Ontario Securities Commission.

He was elected mayor of the City of Guelph, and became leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario in 1938. At this time, the province was in the firm grip of Liberal Premier Mitch Hepburn.

The Liberal government went through a series of crises during World War II due to Hepburn's feud with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and the federal Liberals. These crises led to Hepburn's resignation.

In the 1943 provincial election, the Tories, now called the "Progressive Conservatives", won a minority government, narrowly beating the social democratic Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) led by Ted Jolliffe. (Jolliffe and Drew had attended the same high school in Guelph, Ontario, the Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute).

Drew won by responding to the mood of the times, and running on a relatively left-wing platform, promising such radical reforms as free dental care and universal health care. Drew himself, however, was somewhat reactionary, and was prone to make anti-Semitic, anti-French-Canadian, and anti-Catholic comments.

While his government did not implement much of its promised platform (including Medicare or denticare), it did establish the basis for the Tory regimes that followed by trying to steer a moderate course. Drew's government also introduced the Drew Regulation in 1944, which made it compulsory for Ontario schools to provide one hour of religious instruction a week.

Drew was strident in his criticism of the federal government of Mackenzie King, attacking its leadership in the Canadian war effort, chastizing it during the Conscription Crisis of 1944 for not instituting full conscription, and accusing it of attempting to centralize power.

The Drew government called an election in 1945 in an attempt to get a majority government. By exploiting increasing Cold War tensions, they were able to defeat Jolliffe's CCF by stoking fears about communism. Jolliffe replied by giving a radio speech (written by Lister Sinclair) that accused Drew of running a political gestapo in Ontario alleging that a secret department of the Ontario Provincial Police was acting as a political police spying on the opposition and the media. This accusation led to a backlash, and loss of support for the CCF (from 34 seats to 8), including the loss of Jolliffe's own seat of York South, and thus probably helped Drew win his majority, though in the 1970s archival evidence was discovered proving the charge.

While the Tories won a majority in the legislature, Drew himself was defeated in the Toronto riding of High Park by CCFer and temperance crusader Rev. William "Bible Bill" Temple who had targeted Drew over his softening of Ontario's liquor laws.

While it would have been easy enough for Drew to re-enter the legislature by running in a by-election, Drew decided to enter federal politics. "Colonel Drew" (as he liked to be called) won the 1948 federal Progressive Conservative leadership convention, defeating John Diefenbaker on the first ballot.

Drew then contested a by-election in Carleton in order to win a seat in the House of Commons. The federal CCF was determined to defeat him, so they ran Eugene Forsey as their candidate. Temple was brought up from Toronto to appear at a political meeting with Drew, and accused the Tory leader of being "a tool of the liquor interests" and also made suggestions about Drew's sobriety. Temple's comments so enraged Drew that he exploded in rage, and had to be restrained from physically attacking his nemesis. However, Drew won the vote and went to Parliament. He ran against Forsey again in the 1949 election, and beat him again.

As leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party and a Member of Parliament, he became Leader of the Opposition.

In the 1949 and 1953 federal elections, Drew's Tories were defeated handily by the Liberals, led by Louis St. Laurent. Drew alienated potential supporters in Quebec when he called French-Canadians a "defeated race". His support for conscription during World War II also hurt his prospects among French-Canadian voters. In declining health, Drew resigned as Progressive Conservative leader in 1956, and was succeeded by John George Diefenbaker. In 1967, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Preceded by:
Harry Nixon

Premier of Ontario

Succeeded by:
Thomas Kennedy


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