Hugh Guthrie

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The Honourable
Hugh Guthrie
PC KC
Hugh Guthrie.png
Personal details
Born (1866-08-13)August 13, 1866
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Died November 3, 1939(1939-11-03) (aged 73)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Political party Liberal
Unionist
Conservative

Liberal-Conservative

Profession Lawyer

Hugh Guthrie, PC, KC (13 August 1866 – 3 November 1939) was a Canadian politician and Cabinet minister in the governments of Sir Robert Borden, Arthur Meighen and R. B. Bennett.

He was born in Guelph, Ontario, the son of Donald Guthrie, and studied there and at Osgoode Hall, becoming a barrister. Guthrie was named a King's Counsel in 1902. He married Maude Henrietta, the daughter of Guelph businessman Thomas H. Scarff.

Guthrie was first elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal in 1900 from the riding of Wellington South. He sat in Wilfrid Laurier's caucus for 17 years, but crossed the floor to join the Unionist government of Robert Borden as a result of the Conscription Crisis of 1917. The former Liberal backbencher became a leading light in his new party, serving as Solicitor General under Borden. With the end of World War I, most Liberal-Unionists either rejoined the Liberal Party or joined the new Progressive Party. Guthrie, however, stayed with the Conservatives, becoming Minister of Defence and running for re-election as a Conservative in the 1921 election. After the election, he joined the Tories on the Opposition benches.

As a result of the 1926 "King-Byng Affair", Meighen's Conservatives formed a government in which Guthrie served as Minister of Justice and Minister of National Defence. This second stint in Cabinet ended with the defeat of the Meighen government in that fall's election. Meighen lost his seat, and Guthrie served as Leader of the Opposition and interim leader of the Conservative Party for a full year.

Guthie sought the party leadership at the leadership convention that the party held in 1927, but was defeated by R.B. Bennett. John George Diefenbaker was a delegate to that convention and he wrote in his memoirs that Guthrie's candidacy was hurt when the former Liberal absent-mindedly declared in his speech to delegates that the Tory meeting was the "greatest Liberal convention in history".

Bennett led the Tories to victory in the 1930 election, and Guthrie was appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General. In 1931, he led the Canadian delegation to the League of Nations. In 1933, he introduced legislation making it illegal to carry a concealed weapon without authorization. In 1935, he clashed with opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Agnes Macphail who demanded an inquiry into inhumane conditions in Canada's prisons such as the whipping of prisoners.

Hugh Guthrie in earlier years

As the Great Depression worsened and millions were unemployed, the government became increasingly concerned about political instability and the growth of radical movements. Guthrie's department was responsible for the persecution of the Communist Party of Canada, and the arrest and incarceration of Communists, including leader Tim Buck, for sedition.

In 1933,Tim Buck was shot at by soldiers in an apparent assassination attempt while he was in his cell during a prison riot. Guthrie was forced to admit that the attack was deliberate, but claimed the intent was only to frighten him; however, the public outcry at this incident lead to Buck being released.

In 1935, unemployed workers in British Columbia's deserted the remote relief camps established by the Bennett government, and began the "On to Ottawa Trek". Thousands of unemployed workers hopped on freight trains heading east intending to converge in Ottawa and press their demands on the government. Bennett's cabinet saw this as an insurrectionary movement and panicked. In the House of Commons, Guthrie charged that the protesters "were a distinct menace to the peace, order and good government of Canada."

As the protesters entered Saskatchewan, Guthrie had the Trek banned, over the objections of Saskatchewan Premier James G. Gardiner. He and Bennett ordered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to use tear gas and revolvers to break up the Trek when it entered Regina. The city was but under siege with hundreds of police officers moved in blocking all exits from the city. On July 1, 1935, the police attacked a meeting attended by 3,000 people resulting in one death, dozens of injuries and national outrage.

Guthrie, now 69, did not run in the 1935 election that routed Bennett's government, preferring to retire from politics. He died four years later.

Electoral record[edit]

Canadian federal election, 1900
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Hugh GUTHRIE 2,755 51.0 2.4
Conservative Christian KLOEPFER 2,649 49.0 -2.4
Total valid votes 5,404 100.0
Canadian federal election, 1904
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Hugh GUTHRIE 3,694 52.7 1.7
Conservative Christian KLOEPFER 3,315 47.3 -1.7
Total valid votes 7,009 100.0
Canadian federal election, 1908
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Hugh GUTHRIE 3,873 55.0 2.3
Conservative John NEWSTEAD 3,172 45.0 -2.3
Total valid votes 7,045 100.0
Canadian federal election, 1911
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Liberal Hugh GUTHRIE 3,368 55.1 0.1
Conservative Arthur Thomas Kelly EVANS 2,744 44.9 -0.1
Total valid votes 6,112 100.0
Canadian federal election, 1917
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Government (Unionist) Hugh GUTHRIE 7,358 77.5
Labour Lorne CUNNINGHAM 2,139 22.5
Total valid votes 9,497 100.0
Canadian federal election, 1921
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Conservative Hugh GUTHRIE 6,208 36.6 -40.9
Labour James SINGER 6,077 35.9 13.4
Liberal Samuel CARTER 4,662 27.5 27.5
Total valid votes 16,947 100.0
Canadian federal election, 1925
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Conservative Hugh GUTHRIE 9,096 52.9 16.3
Liberal Robert William GLADSTONE 8,088 47.1 11.1
Total valid votes 17,184 100.0
Canadian federal election, 1926
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Conservative Hugh GUTHRIE 8,515 53.3 0.4
Liberal William A. BURNETT 7,471 46.7 -0.4
Total valid votes 15,986 100.0
Canadian federal election, 1930
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
Conservative Hugh GUTHRIE 8,887 53.0 -0.3
Liberal John Burr MITCHELL 7,893 47.0 0.3
Total valid votes 16,780 100.0
By-election: On Mr. Guthrie being appointed Minister of Justice, 25 August 1930: Wellington South
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
     Conservative Hugh GUTHRIE acclaimed

References[edit]

  • Canadian Parliamentary Guide (1934), AL Normandin

External links[edit]

Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
Christian Kloepfer
Member of Parliament from Wellington South
1900–1935
Succeeded by
Robert William Gladstone
Political offices
Preceded by
Arthur Meighen (acting)
Solicitor General of Canada
1917–1921
Succeeded by
Guillaume-André Fauteux
Preceded by
James Alexander Calder
Minister of Militia and Defence
1920-1921
Succeeded by
George Perry Graham
Preceded by
Edward Mortimer Macdonald
Minister of National Defence
1926
Succeeded by
James Robb (politician)
Preceded by
Ernest Lapointe
Minister of Justice
1926
Succeeded by
Esioff-Léon Patenaude
Preceded by
Arthur Meighen
Leader of the Opposition
1926-1927
Succeeded by
R.B. Bennett
Preceded by
Ernest Lapointe
Minister of Justice
1930-1935
Succeeded by
George Reginald Geary
Party political offices
Preceded by
Arthur Meighen
Conservative Party Leader
1926–1927
Succeeded by
R. B. Bennett