GENERAL ARTICLES

Pattullo Takes a Poll

After a right-about-face B.C.’s Premier is ready to try his strength

CHARLES L. SHAW October 15 1941
GENERAL ARTICLES

Pattullo Takes a Poll

After a right-about-face B.C.’s Premier is ready to try his strength

CHARLES L. SHAW October 15 1941

Pattullo Takes a Poll

CHARLES L. SHAW

THE SIROIS conference, which Prime Minister Mackenzie King hoped would lead to a new and vastly improved economic deal between the Federal and Provincial Governments, blew up in Ottawa on a chilly day last January.

It blew up because three provincial premiers, among whom was the immaculate and independently-minded Thomas Dufferin Pattullo of British Columbia, picked up their papers and walked out on the meeting. They felt it would be a sheer waste of time to discuss disagreeable proposals for surrendering provincial autonomy to the federal treasury, and said as much. And, for his part, Mr. Pattullo emphasized that British Columbia was in an entirely different category from the other provinces; that British Columbia was doing very well, standing on its own feet, and preferred to stay that way.

Mr. Pattullo’s declaration did not contribute very much toward good feeling between Ottawa and the province beyond the Rockies, but he was prepared to take that chance. Since then he has changed his tactics and he has gambled on another chance—a provincial election set for October 21. Before very long, Canada will know whether British Columbia is to have another four or five years of Pattullo rule, or whether the Conservatives or C.C.F. will take over the job.

Mr. Pattullo has done considerable back-tracking since the ill-fated Ottawa meeting. He returned to his home province from the federal capital to discover public opinion, as reflected in almost every newspaper, bitterly disappointed in his

performance at the Sirois conference. Instead of applauding his course, the newspapers assailed him on several counts.

First of all, Mr. Pattullo was condemned for an attitude that betrayed lack of sympathy for the essential spirit of wartime unity and co-operation. At a time when Canada’s Government was appealing for support of the provinces in discussing a new economic setup Mr. Pattullo had turned his back and said he wasn’t interested.

Furthermore, the newspapers charged, Mr. Pattullo had allied himself with the unspeakable Hepburn and Aberhart, political leaders who, in the eyes of many British Columbians, are chiefly notable for their obstructionism, their espousal of fantastic financial theories and continuing conflict with national policies.

Ever since Aberhart tried his Social Credit experiment in Alberta, British Columbia business and financial leaders, and even Mr. Pattullo himself, had tried their level best to convince the money markets that British Columbia was not in

After a right-about-face B.C.’s Premier is ready to try his strength

the same boat; that British Columbia was a hardmoney province ready at all times to pay its just debts without paring of interest rates. This effort at demonstrating British Columbia’s orthodoxy had won moderate success, too, in spite of the agitation of Gerry McGeer a few years ago when he was mayor of Vancouver. But now, the newspapers claimed, Mr. Pattullo had undone everything by siding with "Funny Money’’ Aberhart and the outspoken advocate of inflation, Mitch Hepburn.

Mr. Pattullo did not take all this criticism sitting down. He scolded right back at the newspapers, declared that he had been grossly misrepresented. But as the weeks passed there was an accumulation of evidence showing that Mr. Pattullo had experienced a chastening of the spirit; that he realized he had misjudged public opinion; that his actions at Ottawa had been ill-timed and politically unwise.

Peace With Ottawa

IF PATTULLO did not realize the mistake at once, his canny Minister of Finance, Jack Hart, did. And Mr. Hart, being an astute politician as well as an adroit custodian of the province’s treasury, took swift steps to set things right.

Mr. Hart did an unprecedented thing. Invariably when the Provincial Government devises a new budget and changes its plan of taxation it maintains the utmost secrecy until the legislature assembles to hear the news. But Mr. Hart, recognizing the necessity of recovering lost ground as quickly as possible, went to work one night in his sanctum in the east wing of Victoria’s parliament buildings and drew up a new series of income and other tax amendments designed to ease the load on provincial taxpayers and clear the way for greatly increased federal levies in British Columbia.

Mr. Hart then presented his premature budget not to the legislature but to the Vancouver Board of Trade! And with the budget Mr. Hart delivered a speech asserting that the Provincial Government was keenly aware of the national emergency; that it was resolved to co-operate with Ottawa and that the tax amendments proved it.

It was a neat repair job, and many businessmen left the Board of Trade meeting feeling that perhaps the Pattullo government meant to do the reasonable thing after all. The new budget was unquestionably a sincere effort by Mr. Hart, with Pattullo’s

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approval, to show that the Government was anxious to face realities; but like many a movie plot that seems convincing enough while it is being reeled off, Hart’s speech had one important flaw. Obviously it couid be little more than a hasty and empty gesture, as a few months later the Federal Government came along and carried out arbitrarily on its own account many of the things Mr. Hart had undertaken to do. It invaded the income-tax field to such an extent that the province had to withdraw from there entirely; it took over the succession duties and requested various other concessions which the Provincial Government, now taking a very different view from that displayed by Prime Minister Pattullo at the Sirois conference, cheerfully surrendered.

It is quite possible that Mr. Hart’s course was dictated in part by the knowledge that he would have to do a great deal of new financing in the near future; that millions of dollars worth of bonds were falling due and that, with London and New York ruled by the war, it was necessary to have friends at Ottawa. The federal finance minister, indeed, had dropped the hint very definitely that in all future provincial financing the terms would have to be okay’d by Ottawa. Obviously there was no other course left to British Columbia than to co-operate.

The reversal in policy which Mr. Hart had started was continued with enthusiasm by Mr. Pattullo who, setting aside the unfortunate experience of the Sirois conference, developed the new theme of British Columbia’s all-out aid to Canada’s war effort. By the end of August Mr. Pattullo felt reasonably sure that he had effected a reconciliation with Ottawa and was back in the good graces of the electorate; that he could make an appeal to the taxpayers for continued support of his government, and so he decided to go to the country.

With many things other than provincial politics on their minds, the voters of British Columbia are not showing conspicuous excitement over the coming test of Mr. Pattullo’s strength. But the political bosses and their side boys are busy going through the familiar motions, and the speeches of the candidates are currently competing for newspaper headlines with communiques from the war front.

Party politics is still a comparatively young phenomenon in British Columbia, dating from the days when Sir Richard McBride outlined his railroad policy for the Conservatives and embarked on the great pre-war expansion era. That was less than forty years ago. When the Great War plunged British Columbia into depression and the Conservatives were caught in the province’s economic wreckage, Sir Richard was shipped off to London as agent-general and the party was left to go down to defeat under Billy Bowser.

The Liberals under Harlan Carey Brewster and the redoubtable Honest John Oliver, last of the political

pioneers, rode in on the crest of the wave that sank the Tory ship, and one of the bright young men who rode in with them was Duff Pattullo from the railway boom town of Prince Rupert. Duff Pattullo has been riding along ever since in fair weather and foul. Alone among all members of the provincial legislature he has never experienced personal defeat.

When time caught up with the Liberals after a sixteen-year stay in office and the revived Conservatives swept the country under the farmerveterinary, Dr Simon Fraser Tolmie, most of the Liberal stalwarts went down to defeat and oblivion, but Prince Rupert was true to Pattullo as it has always been, and during the Liberals’ thankless years of opposition Pattullo played a lone hand in criticizing the works and failures of the Tolmie Tories. He had his reward when the business slump in 1932 bogged the Conservatives down as it had sixteen years before, and he was made premier of a new Liberal administration—one that has held control by a formidable margin ever since.

In the last election, in 1937, the Liberals under Pattullo reasserted their power by electing thirty members, while the Conservatives won only eight seats and the C.C.F., which gained strength in the years of the slump, gained a similar number.

Maitland Leads Tories

FOR THE Conservatives it has been a tough, uphill fight ever since the collapse of the Tolmie ministry. Profiting in some degree by the fact that men of the same political faith hold the reins at Ottawa and to a greater degree by a sustained upturn in British Columbia business and industry, the Liberals have solidified their tenure by the development of a strong party organization. And most sincere critics will agree that, with a few exceptions, the administrative record of the Pattullo group has been reasonably efficient in most departments.

Mr. Pattullo has drawn fire chiefly for his excursions into fields beyond ordinary provincial boundaries; for his leaning toward regimentation of private industry, even before the war made federal regulation fashionable and necessary; for his empirebuilding notions characterized by proposed annexation of the Yukon a dream born in his early Klondike days; for his non co-operative attitude at the Sirois conference.

His political opponents refuse to accept Mr. Pattullo’s “about-face” in his relations with Ottawa; yet he has stated in his official election manifesto that the primary purpose of his latest appeal to the voters is to obtain a mandate so that his government may pass legislation to co-ordinate provincial taxation with Dominion proposals for economic co-operation.

As other objectives Mr. Pattullo has listed completion of the mainhighway system, building of the i

Alaska highway, continuation of the province’s so far fruitless quest for oil in the Peace River country, revival of the Yukon annexation scheme and development of an iron and steel industry.

But all these issues, with the exception of a closer alliance with federal authority, have little or nothing to do with the primary business of winning the war, according to the Conservatives, and it is clear that they will make the most of that sentiment.

Led by the aggressive R. L. “Pat” Maitland, red-haired Vancouver lawyer who served briefly with the Tolmie cabinet, the Conservatives have been harping repeatedly on the “dismal war record of the Liberals,” charging that winning the election means more to the Liberals than winning the war. In support of this contention they recall how the Pattullo government, at the last session of the legislature, in spite of Ottawa’s plea for wartime economy, put through the heaviest appropriations on record, none of them earmarked for war purposes.

Maitland, noted for his sharp and caustic tongue, has been telling the voters how he tried at the outset of the war to shelve party politics; how he was snubbed and ridiculed for his pains; how Liberal patronage and extravagance have left the highway system in a deplorable mess.

If the Conservatives return to power Maitland will be premier, and at his disposal for cabinet material will be men such as Rolf Bruhn, the hard-headed Swede from Salmon Arm, who has won success in mining and lumbering as well as in politics and has for years been one of the most popular members of the house; Herbert Anscomb, former mayor of Victoria, a ruggedly ultra-orthodox Tory; Jack Cornett who, true to his name, plays the cornet for relaxation from his duties as mayor of Vancouver; T. A. Love, yet another mayor from the Grand Forks Doukhobor country; MacGregor Macintosh, who lost an arm in the last war; and A. E. “Johnny” Jukes, another veteran, one of Vancouver’s more successful brokers, who has an abiding faith in the Oxford Group and the future of the country’s mines.

Many of the men active in the present campaign are comparatively unfamiliar figures in politics. Most of the big guns of previous battles have been silenced by death, retirement or advancement to the federal field. Among the missing voices are those of the irrepressible Gerry McGeer and the crusading Dr. Lyle Telford, whose political heart was almost broken when the voters turned against him at the last mayoralty election in Vancouver.

Dr. Telford’s retirement from politics has relieved the C.C.F. of embarrassment. A few years ago he was one of the champions of that party and led its forces in the legislature, but the doctor is an independent spirit who prefers, like a Don Quixote without his Sancho Panza, to ride alone. He broke with the C.C.F., and Harold Winch, lean, black-haired young man from South Vancouver, succeeded him as party chief. But the doctor has always had a large personal following. The fact that he is staying out of the fight this time is expected to solidify the ranks

of the Socialist group; or at least, so the C.C.F. members hope. And the C.C.F.-ers are ever a hopeful crew, as sure of triumph at the polls this tine as they were in the last election.

C.C.F. Is At War Too

THE C.C.F., like the Conservatives, will make the war the major issue of the election, and they have lost no time in issuing a proclamation that Nazism must be defeated; that even in the provincial sphere every effort must be exerted toward that essential end.

'‘Our first need is for the utmost effort to supply all our soldiers with the tools of war,” the C.C.F. assert. “Secondly, if the voluntary system will not supply sufficient men for military service, we may have to resort to conscription. But before we conscript men we must first conscript wealth, industry and finance and mobilize them for war.”

Just how wealth, industry and finance are to be conscripted the proclamation does not say, but the C.C.F. undertakes to put such measures in force. The other parties, they contend, are either unwilling or incapable of performing such a task. “Both Liberals and Conservatives, in office and out, have amply demonstrated that they are incapable of understanding the needs of the times,” the proclamation states, after recalling the “fiasco” of the Tolmie Conservatives in dealing with the problems of the last depression and the “futility” of the Pattullo Liberals in meeting a similar situation.

The C.C.F. have laid emphasis on the problems of depression, for it was in that period the party gained most of its support; back in the days when the unemployed paraded in their thousands through Vancouver’s streets, battling police sometimes in Victory Square and staging sit-down strikes in the post-office.

The test of the C.C.F. today is whether they can stand prosperity as they prospered in depression; for, notwithstanding the ever-present howlers of calamity, British Columbia is enjoying good times today. Bogus good times perhaps—bogus because they are based on the artificial structure of war demand, but very different from the conditions prevailing in those lean early 30’s when Conservatives and Liberals alike were baffled by industrial decline.

While British Columbia may not have won as large a share of war orders as some of the Eastern provinces, all her primary industries —the big payroll maker—have been busy beyond precedent, and shipbuilding, after a quarter century of collapse, is booming again. The sawmills and logging camps, pulpand-paper mills, mines and fisheries are running full blast. The workingman’s dinner pail is full.

But the war and the postwar period will create new problems for British Columbia—problems of a magnitude likely to dwarf those of the past. To meet them there will have to be a new approach, an entirely new technique. The alternative may be a chaos threatening the province’s destiny for the next quarter century. This is a fact of which the rank and file of British Columbians of voting age are becoming increasingly aware. Forwardlooking citizens know that the oldstyle methods simply won’t do.

When they cast their votes British Columbians, if they obey their conscience, will cast their ballots for the party that seems to have the longer vision, the most flexibility to meet the rapidly changing shift of conditions and events, the best chance of making a worth-while contribution to the winning of the war and preparing the country for the shape of things to come.