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Encyclopedia > Mitch Hepburn
The Hon. Mitchell Hepburn
Rank: 11th
First Term: July 10, 1934 - October 21, 1942
Predecessor: George Stewart Henry
Successor: Gordon Daniel Conant
Date of Birth: August 12, 1896
Place of Birth: St. Thomas, Ontario
Profession: Farmer
Political Party: Liberal

Mitchell Frederick Hepburn (August 12, 1896 - January 5, 1953) was Premier of Ontario from 1934 to 1942. He was the youngest Premier in Ontario history, elected at age 38.

Born in St. Thomas, Ontario, Hepburn worked as an onion farmer and also worked for the Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1913 to 1917. He briefly served in the Royal Air Force in World War I before returning to his farm. After the war, Hepburn joined the United Farmers of Ontario but by the mid-1920s he switched to the Liberals. In 1926 he was elected to Parliament as a representative of Elgin West, and was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1930. Later that year he became leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario. His support of farmers and free trade and his former membership in the UFO allowed him to attract Harry Nixon's rump of United Farmers of Ontario MPPs into the Liberal Party (as Liberal-Progressives) and defeat the unpopular premier George Stewart Henry in the 1934 election held in the midst of the Great Depression. His stance as a "wet" on the issue of alcohol allowed him to break the Liberal Party from the militant prohibitionist stance that had helped reduce it to a rural, Protestant south western Ontario rump in the 1920s.

As premier, Hepburn closed the residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and cut back on other government spending in an attempt to alleviate the effects of the Great Depression, which Henry had been unable to solve. Hepburn also cut spending on electric power from Quebec, gave money to mining industries in northern Ontario, and introduced compulsory milk pasteurization.

He was opposed to unions and refused to let the CIO form unions in Ontario. On April 8, 1937, the CIO-backed General Motors plant in Oshawa went on strike, demanding 8-hour workdays, a seniority system, and recognition of their CIO-affiliated United Auto Workers union. The strikers were also supported by the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, Canada's left-wing party at the time. Hepburn, supported by the owners of the plant and General Motors, organized a volunteer police force to help him put down the strike when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King refused to send the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This force was somewhat derisively known as "Hepburn's Hussars," or the "Sons of Mitches." Cabinet ministers who disagreed with Hepburn over the issure were forced to resign. However, the strike held out Hepburn capitulated on April 23.

Hepburn remained a bitter opponent of Mackenzie King after the strike, and harshly criticized King's war effort in 1940 after the outbreak of World War II. He thought Canada should be doing more to support the war, and helped organize the military districts in Ontario, encouraging men to volunteer when Mackenzie King chose not to introduce conscription. Hepburn supported Mackenzie King's opponent Arthur Meighen in a by-election in Toronto in 1942. However, King was politically much stronger than Hepburn and federal Liberal supporters as well as those who thought a rift between the provincial and federal parties was suicidal called for him to step down; Hepburn ultimately resigned as Premier in October 1942. Initially, he remained Liberal leader and appointed an ally, Gordon Daniel Conant as Premier of the province while Hepburn remained Provincial Treasurer leading many to think that Conant was Premier in name only. Senior cabinet ministers such as Provincial Secretary Harry Nixon resigned demanding a leadership convention and due to pressure from both provinical Liberals and the federal wing one was held in May 1943 at which Hepburn finally tendered his resignation as leader (by telegram) and Nixon was elected the new party leader and Premier.

The Liberals under Nixon were routed soon after in the 1943 Ontario election falling to third party status behind the Progressive Conservatives under George Drew and the Ontario CCF under Ted Jolliffe. The Liberal caucus unanimously asked Hepburn to resume the party's leadership in 1944. He formed a Liberal-Labour alliance with the Communist Party of Canada (at the time known as the Labour Progressive Party) for the 1945 Ontario election but lost his seat and retired to his farm in St. Thomas, where he died in 1953.

Preceded by:
George Stewart Henry

Premier of Ontario

Succeeded by:
Gordon Daniel Conant

Ontario Liberal leader
Preceded by:
W.E.N. Sinclair
First leadership (1930-1942) Followed by:
Gordon Daniel Conant
Preceded by:
Harry Nixon
Second leadership (1944-1945) Followed by:
Farquhar Oliver

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