Premier Murray of Nova Scotia
Cape Breton or Pictou are the Stamping Grounds for Leaders of Men
W. A. CRAICK
When the premiers of the nine provinces of the Dominion assemble in interprovincial conference, the prime ministers of Ontario and Quebec may dominate the proceedings as first citizens of the most populous parts of the Canadian Confederation, but to the premier of Nova Scotia must be accorded precedence as the senior minister in point of length of tenure of office. George H. Murray was called on to form an administration seventeen years ago, following the removal of the former premier of the province, the Hon. W. S. Fielding, to Ottawa.
The political pot boils so furiously in the maritime provinces that the writer who attempts to describe the personality of any of the public men in that part of the Dominion has a difficult task to perform. To approximately half the population, members of the Government are always exceptional men, gifted with high qualities and abilities; to the other half they are nothing out of the ordinary and their achievements are very much over-rated. A eulogy infers the partisan and however well-meant is always sure to be discounted by supporters of the opposite party.
Premier Murray does not escape this judgment. He has his admirers and he has his detractors. The former are loud in his praises, the latter no less pronounced in their disparagement While public men in general all over the world are subject to this extremity of opinion, political feeling runs so high in Nova Scotia that the cleavage there is all the more evident. To avoid on the one hand an excess of adulation such as would please his friends and on the other an extreme of criticism calculated to delight his opponents, is a course fraught with difficulty for anyone who attempts to prepare an unbiassed estimate of the career and personality of Premier Murray.
IT is said with some justice that the men who run Nova Scotia come either from Pictou County or Cape Breton Island. The former has enjoyed a wonderful record as a producer of great men and the latter plays a good second to it. George H. Murray is not a Pictonian but was born at Grand Narrows, Cape Breton, the son of hardy Scotch Presbyterian stock. Plis natal day was June 7, in the year 1861, so that he is now fifty-two years of age.
Educated at the common school at Grand Narrows and at Boston University, where he went to take his law course, he was called to the bar in 1883 and took up the practice of law in the town of North Sydney forthwith. In those days Cape Breton Island was ultra tory in its political complexion. The vote was largely under the control
of the mine owners, whose sympathies were naturally with the party which favored protection. The young North Sydney lawyer, who cherished political ambitions, found the field a fairly lucrative one from the professional standpoint, but a mast unpromising one politically.
At the age of twenty-five, when most striplings would lack sufficient audacity to make the attempt, George Murray offered himself as a candidate for the House of Commons. Glad of an opportunity to put forward anyone in the cause of liberalism, the party leaders welcomed his candidacy and did their little best to help him win. But the struggle was too unequal and he was smothered under an avalanche of conservative votes.
However his plucky fight against
heavy odds did not pass unnoticed and was not unappreciated. Premier Melding recognized certain qualities in the * Cape Breton man and, needing representation from that part of the province, invited him in the early part of 1889 to take a seat in the Legislative Council, — the provincial Senate,— Nova Scotia being one of the three Canadian provinces which still retains this upper chamber in its system of government. One usually associates grey hairs and old age with membership in such a body, but George H. Murray had not reached his twentyeighth birthday before he was sitting with the .greybeards in the old Legislative Building in Plalifax.
When Sir John A Macdonald made his last appeal to the country in 1891, the liberals of Cape Breton again pre-
vailed on their former candidate to contest the constituency. Mr. Murray fought his second battle with the same courage and determination, but still he could make no impression in the solid front of the conservative cohorts. He was beaten for the second time and retired to the shelter afforded by his position in the upper chamber at Halifax. Shortly after this defeat, Mr. Fielding appointed him a member of the executive council and from that day to this, Mr. Murray has figured continuously in the provincial government.
Apart from the share he took as a member of the government representing Cape Breton in the formation of the Dominion Coal Company, the future premier passed the year from 1891 to 1896 in comparative seclusion. He was regarded as little more than an unusually bright and active young lawyer, who was building up a good practice in North Sydney and was a useful member of the Fielding administration. Outside his own province he was practically a nonentity.
Then all at once the name of Murray received a nation-wide prominence. In the early part of 1896, David McKeen, M.P., for Cape Breton, resigned his seat to make room for Sir Charles Tupper, who had appeared on the scene to revive the drooping fortunes of the conservative party. A bye-election was announced. All eyes were centred on the easternmost constituency of the Dominion where it was hoped by his friends that the new premier would be returned by acclamation. But such good fortune was not to be. For the third time George H. Murray entered the lists. For the third time he fought a desperate battle against great odds and for the third and final time he went down to defeat.
Mr. Murray’s defeats have always been the precursors of good luck. After his first beating, he was made a legislative councillor. After his second, he became a member of the provincial government. And after the third, he was soon called on to form an administration himself, as premier of the province. The success of the liberals in June, 1896, removed Premier Fielding to Ottawa and on July 17 he was succeeded in office by his lieutenant. Mr. Murray appealed to the people the following April, himself contesting Victoria, and was returned by a large majority. Subsequently he has fought general elections in 1901, 1906 and 1911.
The Murray administration in Nova Scotia, judged by certain standards, has not been distinguished by any spectacular achievements. At the same time, considering the comparatively small population and limited reserves,
the premier has accomplished several worthy objects. Perhaps his most notable contribution to provincial progress has been the support he has given to the cause of technical education, culminating in the establishment a few years ago of the Nova Scotia Technical College in Halifax. This is presumably the first instance of a state of technical education in Canada. His government has also been responsible for the establishment of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College at Truro, the nucleus of agricultural education in the Maritime provinces. Nova Scotia likewise takes precedence of nearly all the provincial governments of Canada in its legislation on workmen’s compensation. In short the Premier has endeavored with sincerity to do the best he could to build up the province. He has sought to encourage immigration, to foster industry and to encourage agriculture. If he and his ministers have failed to make very much progress, the blame does not lie with lack of effort so much as with paucity of material with which to build.
When the late D. C. Fraser was lieutenant-governor of the province, Nova Scotia had the championship team of administrators in the Dominion, for the premier was .but little less in stature and build than the Giant of Guysboro himself. Standing well over the six feet and of strong physique, Premier Murray has always been an impressive figure. The unfortunate and distinguishing loss of a leg a few years ago has marred his bodily perfection to a certain degree, for he is now compelled to hobble along cautiously with the aid of stout cane and an artificial limb, but none the less, when in repose, he is sufficiently stalwart to attract attention.
The amputation of his leg was ren-
dered necessary, not from an accident but as the result of an illness. It seems that a clot of blood became lodged in one of the arteries, stopping circulation, and that to relieve the resulting congestion the only remedy was to remove the limb. This was done just above the knee. Since then he has been fitted with an artificial leg and, while he is able to use it freely, he is rather timid and walks carefully. The only session that he has been absent from the house since he became premier was the one when he was compelled by this illness to recuperate in the south.
Even when he was in the enjoyment of complete bodily health, Nova Scotia’s premier was not addicted to any form of recreation other than walking and now, of course, this is denied him in large measure under the circumstances the automobile has come as a great boon to him. He does not drive his car himself, but he thoroughly enjoys a ride in it and when he is summering in Cape Breton he is constantly on the road, getting into personal touch with his constituents and taking delight in the beautiful scenery of the Island.
The Premier’s never-failing source of pleasure is the companionship of men. He is never happy alone ; in fact, he never is alone. If his friends do not come to him, (and they usually do, swarm about him) he does not hesitate to invite them in. His room at the Halifax Hotel, where he sojourns most of the year, is always the Mecca of a crowd of his supporters and no matter how many may be on hand, there is always room and to spare for another. These gatherings of congenial spirits are frequently prolonged to a late hour ; the Premier hates going to bed, just about as much as it is said, he dislikes rising in the morning.
The inference must not be taken from this that Mr. Murray is intemperate or countenances intemperance. He is not a teetotaller and makes no pretensions in that direction, but he is careful and of late years has been one of the most abstemious of men.
There are those who say they have never seen him with a book in his hand and for that matter he reads very little. He is a student of the living page and from his fellow men he probably learns more than he would from any number of printed volumes. Gifted with an excellent memory, he can recall conversations almost to the letter. He delights to meet with people who are experts in their several callings and to draw them out about their work, until he himself becomes thoroughly posted on the modern developments in which they are interested. This faculty stands him in good stead in many ways, for
it enables him to learn a great deal in a.short time, as well as informing him accurately on popular opinions and prejudices.
He carries his curiosity in men and their work down to the humblest callings. Passing along the street, he is eager to find out why a laborer is digging a ditch and will stop to question him. This is not done in any superior way or to court favor, but simply as man to man.
Those who accept his invitation and come to his room to spend the evening may expect to find the conversation running off in any one of a thousand directions. Naturally politics are his principal concern. He is a born politician and takes a keen interest in every move in the political game. But he can talk of other subjects with equal zest, particularly if they have some bearing on government. He likes to tell about his experiences, political and otherwise, and having a good sense of humor, he can render them highly entertaining.
A favorite story relates to the time, some years since, when his first son was born. He was living in North Sydney and was a regular attendant at the Presbyterian Church. The minister of the church happened to be an out-andout Tory, who was by no means averse to expressing his political opinions in the pulpit. So outspoken did he become that his parishioners of the liberal persuasion, one by one left the church in disgust until Mr. Murray was about the only liberal left. The future premier was rather more amused than offended by the attacks of the true-blue person and stayed on.
When it came time to select a name for the infant, he determined to get even with the minister. In spite of the protestations of his mother, who thought it a grievous thing to give the child anything but an accepted family name, he decided on Wilfrid Laurier, and he still chuckles as he recalls how the tory preacher had to invoke the divine blessing on a Wilfrid Laurier Murray.
Latterly the Premier has introduced bridge into his friendly evening parties, and, while he is not said to be overly proficient at the game, he still derives considerable amusement from it jand is improving in his play. One who is fond of conversation and takes pleasure in a jest can hardly be expected to bestow that amount of concentration in the game _ necessary for its most skilful handling.
However much his political opponents may disagree with his acts as premier, the conservatives of Nova Scotia have very little to say against his personal probity and honor. They may belittle him, accuse him of lack of pro-
gressiv eness and a tendency to vacillate and question the wisdom of certain of his policies, but personally they esteem him. This friendliness towards him as a man dates back many years. He himself tells of the time when he received from the conservative government at Ottawa the intimation of his appointment as a Q.C. So bitter was the partisanship in Cape Breton at the time that his friends, on hearing it, came to him and advised him strongly not to accept it. He was induced to write to Ottawa and ask that the appointment be withdrawn. By return of mail, he received a personal letter from Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper, _ requesting him to reconsider his decision, stating that he had been appointed on his merits and that the Government would be much disappointed if he would not consent. This manifestly friendly attitude of his opponents so appealed to him that he agreed to accept the honor.
On another occasion, after Sir Charles Tupper had defeated him in the very bitter campaign already mentioned he happened to be in Ottawa and much to his surprise Sir Charles invited him to a dinner party, which the then premier had got up expressly for him. After the dinner Sir Charles proposed his health, saying that while the fight had been perhaps the most rancorous he had ever been in. yet he had to admit that Mr. Murray had never said a single disrespectful or injurious word about him and that it was one of his regrets that on so many occasions in his career he had himself been guilty of making severe attacks on his opponents. This tribute from the old campaigner is one of Mr. Murray’s most treasured memories.
It was after the same memorable election in Cape Breton that Mr. Murray was banqueted by the liberals of Nova Scotia in Halifax. Seldom was a more successful gathering held. Representatives assembled from all parts of the province. Though he was not the victor, yet he had given such a good account of himself and had shown himself to be such a capable fighter that his party was kindled with enthusiasm. He was heralded as the coming man in provincial politics and liberals looked to him as a valuable addition to their forces.
The Premier’s personal integrity is attested by many incidents. His seventeen-year record, free so far as one may judge from any suspicion of wrong-doing, is in itself abundant testimony. But one may go back to the Fielding regime, when he took a leading part in putting through the legislation that brought the Dominion Coal Company into existence, and find him rejecting an offer made by the promoters of the company, whereby he might
have acquired a block of stock at the underwriters’ price. This transaction would have put thousands of dollars in his pocket within a few years, but he deemed it incompatible with his position as a member of the government even to consider it. He has carried this principle with him ever since and has been as careful of the provincial finances as of his own personal property.
Some would have it that he is overcareful and that it is hard to persuade him to spend money in ways that would be of undoubted value to the province. He is perhaps somewhat lacking in imagination, there is little of the idealist about him. Schemes of an aesthetic nature rarely appeal_ to him, but to commonsense, practical plans for advancing the interests of Nova Scotia, he lends a ready ear. As a matter of fact he was not very enthusiastic over the celebration of the hundred years of responsible government, though he supported the idea in the end, but he did appreciate the force of the argument for technical education and was willing to spend money freely to establish the provincial technical college.
His fairmindedness is unquestioned. He is not a man who sticks with pigheaded obtuseness to his opinions after they have been shown to be wrong. He will admit his mistakes gracefully. He has also proved himself to be superior to partisanship on several occasions, when important appointments have been made. The establishment of the College of Agriculture necessitated the the selection of a principal. In chosing him, Premier Murray was not guided by political contingencies. He named the best man, notwithstanding the fact that he was a conservative. He likewise bestowed the office of superintendent of education on a conservative and for deputy commissioner of public works and assistant road commissioner chose men of the same political stamp.
There is about the Premier a genuine aversion to personal publicity. It is said that he would rather go to a dentist than experience the ordeal of sitting for his picture. One rarely sees anything in print respecting his personality and, if a writer attempted to pump him for material he would be gently but firmly rebuffed. Not long ago, it was arranged to hang portraits of all the Nova Scotian premiers in the executive council chamber. The zealous official to whom the duty was assi,gned of securing, framing and installing the pictures, included one of Mr. Murray. As soon as the premier saw it. he ordered it to be removed. ‘Wait till I’m dead, before you immortalize me,” was his remark, which illustrates (Continued on page 112.)
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vividly his dislike of posturing or s advertising.
There is this to be said in comm on Premier Murray’s political car« that any estimate of his success m be gauged largely in comparison w the quality and strength of his opp« tion. As a matter of fact he has 1 the smoothest of sailing. Since G federation, Nova Scotia has been g erned continuously by the libe party, with the exception of a fo year period from 1878-1882, when Holmes-Thompson Government was power. Murray succeeded Field! who had held office fourteen ye« There was no opposition to speak of the time and, though since then conservative party has been gradua gaining ground, there has been no in that party as yet to measure up the Murray standard. Whether in face of skilful and determined opp« tion, the Premier would have come as victoriously, is subject of debate.
At any rate, since the last provin« election and the subsequent change Ottawa, the situation has been alter Those in close touch with the Prerr have noticed an increasing activity, had been growing somewhat lethaq as the result of years of security office, but latterly with the knowle« that the next election will be a criti one; he has seemingly awakened to necessity for action.
As a public speaker, Premier M ray appeals to his audience rather the strength of his argument and impression of fairness he conveys t! by any graces of phrase or utteraE He is not an orator. He has a g( voice and speaks strongly and direct without any figures of speech or the i of anecdotes. In the Legislature, as present constituted, he overtops other members as a debater, so that, the saying goes, there is no one who ( put it over him. His admirers even so far as to claim that he is the m convincing man in the province.
It is his human qualities, howev that Premier Murray owes a popular which is not confined to men of ! own party. Big-hearted, genero minded, friendly, no one denies that is a good fellow, however much 1 public may be divided on the questi of his ability. There is no record his having ever done a mean thing; has rarely if ever lost his temper. ] is in short a pretty high type of poli cian, who has given Nova Scotia honest administration for the ps seventeen years.