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Johnston, Charles M.

Toronto. University of Toronto Press. c1986. 299pp, cloth. $27.50. ISBN 0-8020-3432-2. (Ontario Historical Studies series). CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Thomas F. Chambers

Volume 15 Number 2
1987 March

This book is the fifth biography of an Ontario premier published in the Ontario Historical Studies series. Ernest Charles Drury was premier from 1919-1923. I must admit that when I started E.C. Drury: Agrarian Idealist, I knew little about Drury. That he had been premier of Ontario, I was aware, but about his accomplishments. I knew nothing. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised by this book. Charles M. Johnston, professor of history at McMaster University has done an excellent job. and written a very interesting book.

What makes Drury an interesting politician is that he was the leader of the United Farmers of Ontario, or UFO. Farmers in Canada became very political in 1918 after Prime Minister Borden, ignoring a 1917 election pledge, decided to conscript the sons of farmers into the armed forces. Canadian casualties in the First World War were high, and Borden believed conscription was essential to keep the troops at the proper level. In Ontario, farmers organized themselves into the UFO. Support grew as former Liberal and Conservative farmers decided to run farm candidates in two Ontario by-elections in 1918. Their candidates won easily and their victories acted as a catalyst, encouraging many more farmers to join the UFO.

With a provincial election expected in 1919, Drury was asked to help prepare a platform for the new party. This document, which attempted to correct the evils of Ontario's political system, was almost laughed at by the Toronto Globe. It did however, stimulate the farmers. The results of the election were a surprise to everyone. The UFO had won forty-five seats, the largest number in the legislature. It was followed by the Liberals with twenty-nine, and the Tories with twenty-five (they had formed the previous government). Even a workers' party, the Labourites, won eleven.

Drury wanted the UFO to "Broaden Out" and attract non-farmers to the party. Other party members believed this would make the UFO like other parties, which were considered corrupt. These members wanted, instead, a new type of legislature based on a system of group government. Groups of people would be elected from occupational or class blocks. This would then weaken the influence of the elite who had dominated the political process in Ontario. The idea was short-lived, because the UFO was soundly trounced in the 1923 election, winning only seventeen seats to the Tories' seventy-five.

Using Drury's memoirs, and the other available primary sources. Johnston has given us a fine biography of a most unusual politician. The Ontario Historical Studies series is to be congratulated for supporting this worthwhile addition to the historical literature of Ontario.

Thomas F. Chambers, Canadore C.C., North Bay, Ont.
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