Who’s The Opposition?
Here’s a revealing close-up of Bracken & Co. in action On their shoulders rest Progressive Conservative hopes
Maclean’s Ottawa Editor
IS THERE any alternative to the Mackenzie King Government? Liberals won an election in 1945 because no other party could answer that question with a positive “yes.” The CCF hadn’t a chance, and knew it. Progressive Conservatives, though their talk was braver, were in little better case.
They were led by a man who himself had been counted as a Liberal for 20 years. He had never sat in the House of Commons and might even be beaten in Neepawa, in which case he would certainly be tossed out of party leadership. But John Bracken was the least of Progressive Conservative uncertainties. The really unknown factor in 1945 was the group he would have around him.
At worst, it could be another such pitiful rump as survived 1940—a Tory handful, dominated partly by its own majority of mediocrities, partly by the self-appointed Warwicks of Queen’s Park and Bay Street. At best, it could represent the kind of national party John Bracken was trying to build, in which prairie farmers and Maritimers and a fair sprinkling of French Canadians would leaven the solid loaf of Ontario Toryism.
What actually came out of the 1945 election was a group about halfway between these extremes.
In some ways it was disappointing. Some of its good men had been defeated; practically all of its most lamentable dolts had been re-elected. Its Quebec organization had proved inept and silly, with the result that only one French-Canadian Conservative was returned—Georges Heon, an independent type on whom the party cannot lean very hard. The Maritime delegation was small and ill-distributed, the westerners fewer than Brackenites had hoped for.
John Bracken’s first job was to organize the parliamentary party. It was ticklish work. The group was divided almost equally between newcomers, mostly political greenhorns, and veterans, mostly discredited. Bracken had to do a balancing act. Himself a newcomer without experience in the Commons, he had to pay a decent respect to seniority. On the other hand, he had to break the control of the Old Guard, or everything he’d tried to do since the Winnipeg Convention would have been meaningless.
He succeeded, on the whole, pretty well. Nobody’s feelings have been irreparably hurt—indeed, party morale seems to be higher than it has been since the early days of the Bennett regime. There’s no longer any doubt, as the parliamentary party heads into its third session, that it’s being directed by its best men.
For this Mr. Bracken himself deserves more credit than he usually gets. Because he is an unimpressive public speaker whose footwork is slow, his performance as Opposition Leader on the floor of the House has disappointed a good many observers. But in the behind-the-scenes work of organization he has shown considerable tact and good judgment.
NEXT to the leader, próbably the most important man in the Progressive Conservative group is Gordon Graydon.
“Important” sounds like the wrong word for Graydon, who has as little self-importance as any man in public life. He is a genuinely unassuming
fellow. But in John Bracken’s reorganization, Graydon has been the indispensable link between old and new. He was Leader of the Opposition from R. B. Hanson’s resignation in 1943 to Mr. Bracken’s own election in 1945; thus, from the point of view of seniority, he’s unchallengeable. But since Graydon was one of the tiny handful who rescued the 1940 group from total decrepitude, he is also able to give John Bracken the real benefit of 12 years’ parliamentary experience. He shares a desk with Mr. Bracken in the House, and no adviser’s judgment has greater weight than his.
Graydon can’t remember a time when he wasn’t interested in politics. He was born a little Conservative on a Peel County farm, seven miles north
of Brampton, Ont. His father was chairman of the local Conservative organization, one neighbor was the daughter of the Conservative M.P. for Huron, another neighbor used to instruct young Gordon by talking politics to him by the hour. In 1905, when Gordon was nine, he had pictures of Sir J. P. Whitney’s entire Ontario Cabinet pasted on the wall of his bedroom, as another boy might paste up a hockey team.
Because he was unable to pass the physical, Graydon was rejected for military service in World War I. He tried three times to enlist, then resignedly went to the University of Toronto to major in political science, and on to Osgoode Hall for law. He kept up his amateur political activity at college —became Conservative Party Leader in Victoria College in 1920.
But his first contact with real politics came in 1925, by which time he was practicing law in Toronto and Brampton. He took an active part in the 1925 election campaign, speaking and working for the late Sam Charters, his predecessor as Peel County’s M.P. Once in, he never got out— he was secretary of the Peel County Conservative Association by 1929, its president in 1933, and since 1935 has been member for Peel in the House of Commons.
Graydon says he owes
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everything he has in politics to what he learned in the 1935 campaign. He knew his riding pretty well anyway, having been a fairly steady worker there for 10 years, but when the campaign began he set out to know it completely. He personally called on 6,700 homes and talked to about 18,000 people—an exploit that veteran politicians still hold up as a model and inspiration to novices. As a result, Graydon squeaked to victory by 170 votes in the Liberal landslide of ’35. By 1940 his majority had become comfortable, by 1945 overwhelming—3,000 more than both his opponents combined.
His hard work in that first election brought him to Ottawa already renowned as a master of party organization. It made him one of the secretaries of the Conservative convention of 1938. Still more, it made him national chairman of the party in 1941, when he travelled across Canada pushing doorbells and making friends much as he had done in Peel. And the national chairmanship led to the job of Opposition Leader in 1943.
For the special circumstances of the day, Graydon was the ideal Opposition Leader. He didn’t keep his colleagues from falling into all the pits they digged, but he did come through with his personal stature increased, and without losing a single friendship. Up to the very eve of the election, he looked forward with no dismay to a return to his back bench.
In April, 1945, though, his job as Opposition leader brought him an unexpected dividend, and revealed in him an unsuspected talent. He became one of Canada’s delegation to the San Francisco Conference.
While the professional diplomats of 'he Earl Block pored over documents and qu ¡relied about commes, Gordon
Graydon went around making friends. He got along particularly well with people from the little countries, who were sick of being patronized but hungry for real friendship. By the time he left San Francisco he probably knew more people, and certainly called more of them by their first names, than any other Canadian delegate.
In November, 1945, he went to London as a delegate to the United Nations preparatory commission, and in January, 1946, he was an alternate at the first meeting of the UN General Assembly. He had in London the same success, in the same modest way, as he had had in San Francisco.
It all kindled in Graydon a new ambition.
Graydon’s weakness, as well as his strength, is that he hasn’t an enemy in the world. He has none of the inner hardihood, the touch of ruthlessness that makes for leadership in the tough game of politics, and he knows this perfectly well.
But his contact with international affairs opened a new field for his particular talent. The same quick grin and even temper that win votes in Peel County can do a job in the councils of nations. So Graydon takes very seriously his job as chairman of the Opposition’s External Affairs Committee. If a Bracken Cabinet were to be formed, he would be a leading contender for the portfolio now held by Hon. Louis St. Laurent.
If Graydon is John Bracken’s right bower, the left is James MacKerras Macdonnell, the Toronto businessman who in 1944 threw up one of the bestpaid jobs on King Street to campáign for a back bench in Parliament.
Like Graydon, Macdonnell is a born Conservative. His father nominated Sir John A. Macdonald in Kingston in 1891; his younger brother, at the age of four, when someone asked if their father was a Liberal, replied “No, he’s a good man.” Macdonnell’s Liberal friends, of whom he has hundreds, claim it was only heredity that kept him cut of their party. lie is, they say, just a Liberal g-no inexplicably
wrong—and you can find Tories in Toronto who agree with this judgment.
But the men who know him best say these people are wrong. They call Jim Macdonnell a natural Progressive Conservative. He’s a long way from the typical Toronto Tory, but he has many qualities and convictions—notably a sentimental devotion to the British Empire—to mark him off still farther from the typical Grit.
Macdonnell was 60 years old before he acquired a professional interest in politics. A Rhodes Scholar, he studied law after Oxford and was called to the bar in 1911, but never practiced. He joined the National Trust Company the year he graduated; except for four years overseas in World War I, he stayed there 33 years and became its president.
Never a “Neutral”
But all the while, almost alone among top Canadian businessmen, he kept up an open and active connection with his political party. Macdonnell has no use for the customary cautious “neutrality” of businessmen in politics. He never ran for Parliament or held office in a political association, but he did function as a vigorous party member. He was a delegate to the Conservative Convention at Winnipeg in 1927, when Bennett was chosen leader; he was a delegate in 1938 and again in 1942, when Bracken was chosen. And all through the years, at the back of his mind, he had the idea of some day going into public life as a full-time job.
Mr. Bracken knew when he went into the Progressive Conservative Party that its organization was in pretty bad shape. He wasn’t quite prepared for the utter decomposition that he found, when he toured Canada in the summer of ’43. He saw that he would have to build from the ground up, and he set out to find what help he could muster.
That was a kind of recruiting call to which J. M. Macdonnell couldn’t turn a deaf ear. He had long thought of
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going into public life “some day.” In 1944 he was able to do it, and he knew if he didn’t do it then he never would. So he gave up his job as president of National Trust to become a full-time worker—unpaid—for the Progressive Conservative Party.
The Banker and the Farmer
Most of his work in that first year was simple stumping, in his rural constituency of Muskoka, Ont. Some people shook their heads over his chances—the former head of a trust company campaigning in a farm riding that had gone Grit for two elections running. But. Macdonnell adopted the Graydon method; he rambled quietly from village to village, farm to farm, and wherever he went he made friends. Despite a last-minute withdrawal by the CCF candidate in favor of the Liberal, Macdonnell won by a comfortable 800 votes.
After the election his real work for the party began. He was elected president of the National Progressive Conservative Association, a paylees job that’s just as important as its holder makes it. Macdonnell makes it very important indeed. Between sessions he spends a good deal of his time in travelling around the country, mending political fences with a skill that belies his lack of professional experience.
In Parliament he became, of course, the Opposition’s financial critic, in which capacity he .will be dealing soon with his third federal budget. His debating style is mild-mannered, almost gentle—Macdonnell on an Ilsley budget sounded like the voice of Mr. Ilsley’s own misgivings, pointing out ruefully and sympathetically the probable drawbacks of the fiscal policy. It was not two-fisted opposition, but it did a lot for parliamentary good manners.
For Macdonnell, as for Graydon, opposition is not a natural role. In its present position on the Speaker’s left, the party relies for its trigger work on other men—notably on two veterans of the previous Parliament, Howard Green and John Diefenbaker.
With Gordon Graydon, Diefenbaker and Green carried a huge percentage of the party’s load in the dismal years of wrar. They did more than anyone else to redeem the Conservative name in that Parliament. Now, no longer alone, they’re still in the front rank.
The two men were born the same year, 1895, but Howard Green is the senior in parliamentary experience. A native British Columbian, he has sat for Vancouver South since 1935 and is likely to go on doing so as long as he likes. His majority last time was 14,000 (up from 279 in 1935), he polled more votes than four opponents combined, and all parties now concede he is unbeatable in his riding.
For 10 years Howard Green’s specialty in Parliament was veterans’ affairs. That was his first committee job, the thing of all things he knew most about, and in which he had most interest. R. B. Bennett gave him a free hand to lead Opposition activity in that field from 1936 onward.
During the war he was also the party’s expert on defense. He served on the first War Expenditures Committee, the first committee on defense Regulations. He led the fight in 1942 over the Hong Kong expedition. His present committee job is Reconstruction—one he got into more or less accidentally. He observed, at caucus one day, that C. D. Howe was getting away with murder, and what was the party going to do about it. The party’s response was to create a Reconstruction Committee with Howard Green as chairman.
But Green’s stature in party councils, like that of all Mr. Bracken’s senior counsellors, goes a long way beyond his nominal responsibilities in Parliament. He is the key man of the party organization on the west coast.
Howard Green was one of the five who ran against John Bracken for the party leadership at Winnipeg, but the convention was hardly over before he and Mr. Bracken reached a solid mutual understanding that has never wavered. It has been a relation of loyalty on the one hand, trust on the other, and neither man has been disappointed. Under Green’s leadership theB. C. organization has becomeoneof the best in the Dominion—he was personally instrumental, to a considerable degree, in recruiting such candidatesas Major-General George Pearkes, V.C., Col. Cecil Merritt, V.C., and Edmund Davie Fulton, one of the party’s most promising youngsters.
Green’s position in Parliament is always in line with his own principles, not necessarily with those of his party.
That’s one of the things he has in common with his teammate John Diefenbaker. When the issue of Family Allowances came up three years ago, most of the then parliamentary group were for denouncing the Baby Bonus. Green and Diefenbaker stood almost alone on the other side, but both were unyielding.
The party went through three days in embarrassed silence, then swung around to the side of the embattled pair and Family Allowances were adopted unanimously by the House.
But although circumstances have conspired to bracket Green and Diefenbaker together so often that they sound like Gold Dust Twins, actually they are not a bit alike. Green, in spite of his independence, is the Old Rehable type. Diefenbaker is a brilliant individualist; organization men regard him with suspicion because they are never quite sure what he is going to do.
Not that he hasn’t been a vigorous and devoted party worker. He served 20 years’ apprenticeship in Saskatchewan, where Tories are about as plentiful as date palms. He ran in Prince Albert in 1925, losing to a Liberal named Macdonald, and again in 1926, losing to a Liberal named W. L. Mackenzie King. Undiscouraged he plunged into organization work— went through every office in the Conservative Associations of his region until he became president of the provincial group in 1935, and provincial party leader in 1937.
Came 1938, and a provincial election. The Conservative Party was completely wiped out. Diefenbaker, to his wife’s great joy, declared he was “through with politics.”
This Time He Won
Less than a year later, he was counsel in a court case at Humboldt, Sask., and drove over to look on at a Conservative convention in nearby Lake Centre. Before he got out of the hall he had been nominated federal candidate in that riding—and this time, despite the Liberal landslide of 1940, he won.
Seven years in Parliament have made John Diefenbaker a national figure. He took a leading part in the wartime battles over conscription. Lately he has emerged as a champion of civil liberties—he fought the Emergency Powers Bill in 1945 so effectively that the Government withdrew and rewrote it. Last session he was one of the assailants of the handling of the espionage case. This year, he has sponsored a Bill of Rights for Canada.
Some people in the party think,
though, that too many of his performances have been solo performances. Quebec politicos wrung their hands when he came out to denounce Premier Duplessis’ treatment of Frank Roncarelli. His Bill of Rights may well tread on the toes of colleagues who want Japanese Canadians kept out of B. C. Moreover, even men who respect Diefenbaker’s principles and think the more of him for this kind of independence say he has little talent for teamwork.
With the veterans Green and Diefenbaker, two newcomers have taken a prominent part in the work of opposition.
One is Art Smith of Calgary, a hardbitten, good-natured lawyer with a talent for compromise and no allergy to expediency. He used to be a Liberal —went Union in 1917, was coldshouldered by the Mackenzie King Grits after the war, and swung over to the other side. He didn’t like Mackenzie King, anyway, and he admired Arthur Meighen, so he ran as a Meighen candidate in 1921. He lost, and for 24 years thereafter he never ran for office, but he did remain an active Conservative in a province where active Conservatives are scarce.
It was Art Smith who nominated Murdoch Macpherson for the party leadership at the convention of 1938, and who improvised the makeshift Macpherson campaign that almost beat Manion. At Winnipeg, it was Art Smith who nominated John Bracken. This indicated not so much a change of loyalty as a consistent desire to get a leader who could win.
In Parliament his specialty is labor, presumably because he has been counsel for the United Mine Workers, District 18, for about 20 years. The fact that he has also been counsel for the CPR and the CNR is indicative of another special ability—that of getting along with both sides. In debate he is good-humored, often facetious, doesn’t take either himself or his party too seriously. But he can strike a shrewd blow on occasion.
The other standout among the newcomers is a much younger and very different man, Donald Fleming of Toronto.
Fleming is a 41-year-old lawyer with a record so impeccable it staggers you. He has had seven undefeated years in Toronto municipal politics, first on the Board of Education and then as an alderman. He’s an elder in the Bloor Street United Church and was Sunday school superintendent there for six years. That’s in the winters.
In summers he is chairman of the men’s committee in the Anglican church on Centre Island, where he used to have a cottage; he was also treasurer and is still choir leader. He is president of the North Toronto Y MC A, a member of the “Y” metropolitan board of governors and of its national council. He’s president of the Upper Canada Bible Society, a director of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and a member of the board of Toronto Bible College.
No Door-to-Door Stuff
In politics, he was active in the organizers of the Progressive Conservative Business Men’s Club. He held several offices, ending up as president in 1940 and remaining in that post for five years. He was also, like J. M. Macdonnell, one of the original planners of the Port Hope conference.
When the 1945 election came along, Fleming campaigned in a characteristically ingenious and industrious way. Civic experience had convinced him that in a big city, the door-to-door canvass doesn’t do much good; he dropped it entirely. He had equally
little faith in big public meetings. His method was to organize, in friends’ homes, small semisoçial gatherings where he could meet people and talk to them intimately, answer their questions.
Fleming worked it out that he could take in two or three teas (feminine) in the afternoon, three or four stag gatherings in the evening, meeting anywhere from 10 to 30 people at each. He did this five or six days a week for five weeks. His majority, in a formerly Liberal riding, was just under 8,000.
In Ottawa, Fleming channels all that energy into his work as a Member of Parliament. For instance, he improves his French by having lunch weekly with Liberal M.P.’s from Quebec; he has on three occasions addressed Parliament in French. His specialty is housing and social security, and he has mastered details of Government policy to an extent that keeps civil servants hopping when he asks questions.
Eager and Effective
All this activity has carried Fleming far beyond the station usual to his age and seniority. It has drawn upon him, too, the jealous glances of older and more indolent members, who call Fleming an Eager Beaver. But at least one Liberal Minister describes him as “the most effective man the Opposition has in the House.”
These six men of whom I have been speaking are not the only advisers on whom Mr. Bracken relies. The Opposition is organized into 11 committees, not six, and the other five chairmen are all consulted as well— General Pearkes on Defense, Mark Senn on Agriculture and so on. There are also valued counsellors outside the committee setup altogether; Hon. Grote Stirling, for instance, is the party’s expert on House rules and procedure.
But more important than any of these, in the party councils, is a man who doesn’t sit in Parliament at all— Ivan Sabourin, provincial leader in Quebec.
Sabourin is an English Canadian’s idea of what a French Canadian should look like. He’s dark, handsome, built like a lumberjack or a wrestler. He has a fine voice, a genial personality, an accent just French enough to give spice to his fluent English; his talents are remarkably various, from hockey playing to cooking. Beyond question he is the best man the Progressive Conservatives have in French Canada. But up to a few months ago, he held no party office there at all.
At Winnipeg Sabourin had made a considerable impression as joint chairman of the convention. Perhaps for that reason, the Quebec organization sidetracked him when the convention was over. Other men ran the Quebec end of the 1945 campaign. Not until they had laid their duck egg did Ottawa intervene to clean house, and only then was Sabourin put in charge.
He started with a handicap that has grown no lighter in the meantime. The Pontiac by-election came on almost at once, the Richelieu - Vercheres byelection shortly after. On Sabourin’s advice, the Progressive Conservative Party fought under its own banner in both ridings. Both campaigns were total losses.
Sabourin himself is unshaken by these defeats. He still thinks the only proper course for John Bracken’s party is to campaign as such, make itself known—he says he found voters in the Grit fastnesses of Richelieu who had never even heard John Bracken’s name. But there can be no doubt that two lickings in succession have greatly weakened Sabourin’s case.
The alternative, urged by another
faction within the party, is to stay pretty well out of Quebec, except for “token” candidates here and there. Leave Quebec to Maurice Duplessis and the Social Credit crowd, they say.
This Social Credit angle is the big question mark in the Progressive Conservative future.
On the one hand, Progressive Conservative’s chances of becoming a real national party in Parliament, much less of winning a majority, are nil unless the party can get some kind of support from Quebec. Ivan Sabourin still thinks he can get it, but up until now he hasn’t been able to deliver the votes.
On the other hand, there’s an excellent chance that if Social Credit has a free hand, and the backing of the Duplessis machine, it could cut a healthy swathe in French Canada— maybe even win more seats than the Liberals. If Progressive Conservatives
could hold or increase their strength in Ontario, if they could gain a little more ground on the prairies, then a postelection coalition with the Social Crediters of Quebec and Ontario might put both parties into office.
On the positive side they haven’t much in common. On the negative side they, or factions within them, have one strong bond—they’d like to see Ottawa relatively weak, the provinces relatively strong.
No doubt about it, coalition looks like the easy way for Conservatives to get into office. But as a way of executing the kind of program to which John Bracken and his men have been committed ever since Winnipeg, it doesn’t look so good. Sometime between now and the next general election, the die will have to be cast for one or other of these paths. Then we shall know what, in the long run, is to become of the Progressive Conservative Party, if