ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED | OCTOBER 30, 1919 | THE FARMER'S ADVOCATE
A greater political surprise was never sprung on the Province of Ontario than that of October 20, when a Government was unmistakably defeated, and yet no party gained a victory of ample proportions to place it in command. Prior to the election there were no accusations against the Hearst Government of sufficient seriousness to make its return doubtful, and practically everyone looked for Sir William Hearst to be returned to power, though with a considerably reduced following in the Legislature. Even the leading Liberal daily of the Province complained that the U. F. O. was unkindly favoring the Conservatives by splitting the Grit vote and making the road all the easier for the return of a large Tory representation. Under ordinary circumstances the Conservative Government would have been sustained on its administrative record, particularly as the Premier openly and unequivocally expressed himself as a prohibitionist, while his opponent, Hartley Dewart, was non-committal and did not appeal forcibly to a large element of the Liberal party.
Unprecedented circumstances contributed to the upheaval. The unrest among labor made it possible to elect their candidates, even where it meant the defeat of such an outstanding national figure as Sir Adam Beck, and unalloyed regret is broadly entertained that one who has done so much for public ownership should be thus rewarded.
On the other hand, the farmers of Ontario have acquired during the last five years a wholesome disregard for party traditions, and a lack of confidence in Governments generally. Strictly speaking, the issues acquire on which the U.F. O. based their appeal for support were Dominion as well as Provincial, but the fire which has been smoldering in rural breasts for years broke forth, rendering ineffective the entire political machinery of the past and sweeping the Provincial Government from power. When the U. F. O. first suggested political action such a spontaneous and unanimous response was not predicted, we venture to say, by even the most optimistic, but the flickering flame of discontent in agriculture has been liberally replenished during the last five years with fuel in the form of incessant toil, meagre returns compared with those of other industries, labor difficulties, and a generous amount of undeserved abuse. A contributing factor to the earnestness and determination of the farmer’s party was the Government’s political error in so strongly opposing the farmer candidates in the Manitoulin and North Ontario by-elections. It was easy to see then what the ultimate outcome would be, and in the issue of November 7, 1918, we predicted a rural revolt against the action of a Government that would so energetically strive to keep farmers out of the Legislature. For this we were rebuked by Honorable Mr. Henry, then Minister of Agriculture, and after his open and unwise attacks on the U. F. O, it is one of the most peculiar anomalies of the election that he was returned while more deserving Cabinet Ministers were rejected.
A straight farmers’ group do not find themselves such an important factor at Toronto altogether by their own choosing. Had party machines been so constructed in the past that bonafide farmers could gain recognition in the preliminaries and the nominations, the out-and-out farmer candidate, in defiance of party, would not have become such a necessity.
Viewing the situation from every angle it cannot be denied that the masses have effectively spoken in their own behalf, and that in future Governments must be organized on broad, democratic lines, with a keen appreciation of the fact that Cabinet Ministers and representatives are but servants of the people whose will they must obey, and whose interests they must serve regardless of how it may affect the few. There is a hand writing on the wall which requires no inspiration to interpret. Those who run may read, and other Governments in whom power is now vested should take heed.
What will happen at Queen’s Park, Toronto, it is now difficult to prophesy. A coalition seems the only way to unravel the political skein which has become so badly snarled. With the unrest still unassuaged there is no great inducement for any party to form a Government at this time, particularly if they do not have a healthy working majority. It is not a propitious period during which to test the virtues and wisdom of a farmer Government, for any further increases in living costs, (which are not improbable before spring,) will ire urban folk, while a weakening of the market for farm products without a corresponding reduction all along the line will not meet with favor in rural districts. Practically all these circumstances are beyond the control of the Provincial Government, but a certain measure of blame in any case is likely to be bestowed upon it.
We are, no doubt, heading toward some form of group government, such as they have in England, but just at the present time the party holding the balance of power will be in a much happier position than the party which assumes responsibility. However, the people’s representatives are duty-bound to serve the State to the best of their ability and cannot shun obligations imposed upon them by electors.
A number of by-elections are now a necessity in order to endow the prospective ministers with cabinet rank, and in the minds of many experienced politicians another general election within twelve months is not an improbability. However, we are living in a new era without precedent to guide or law to direct. Proportional representation, which is quite in keeping with the times, necessitates changes in the old order of things, but true democracy submits to change, and a happy solution may be found.