BACKSTAGE

Will the Tories make St. Laurent governor-general to win Quebec? Many Liberals also like the idea

WITH BLAIR FRASER August 17 1957
BACKSTAGE

Will the Tories make St. Laurent governor-general to win Quebec? Many Liberals also like the idea

WITH BLAIR FRASER August 17 1957

Will the Tories make St. Laurent governor-general to win Quebec? Many Liberals also like the idea

BACKSTAGE

AT OTTAWA

WITH BLAIR FRASER

A PROJECT DEAR to some Conservatives (and they swear Hon. John Diefenbaker himself is one of their number) is to offer the post of governor-general to Right Hon. Louis St. Laurent. If the offer were made and accepted Mr. St. Laurent would take office in February when Right Hon. Vincent Massey’s term expires.

The advocates of this plan make a very respectable argument for it. Most people here agree it would be desirable to have a French-Canadian as the next governor-general. Mr. St. Laurent is admirably qualified to be an ornament to Rideau Hall, and Prime Minister Diefenbaker has always held him in very high esteem personally.

But the Conservatives do not pretend that these are their only reasons for thinking of him. They also think how well such an offer would go down with Quebec voters. It's a real problem for the Conservatives to find gestures of good will toward Quebec that cannot be mistaken for overtures to Premier Maurice Duplessis. This offer to Quebec's favorite son Louis St. Laurent would be one. It could do the Tories nothing but good, even if declined.

It might well be declined, too. Mrs. St. Laurent, for one, would not look upon it with any enthusiasm. So far as is known no formal offer has yet been conveyed to the St. Laurents but they have been sounded out unofficially, and the first offhand reaction was somewhat less than favorable.

However, there have been some new developments in Liberal thinking since then. When the unofficial enquiry was

made in June, the assumption was that this promotion of their leader would be a dreadful blow to the Liberal Party; in fact, that was why some Conservatives favored it. Lately, the Liberals have been having second thoughts.

Some of them still believe, and urge upon the former prime minister, that it is his duty to remain party leader until after the runoff election next year. These advisers include a number of Quebec MPs who have a chance of survival under St. Laurent but fear themselves doomed under anyone else.

Outside Quebec, though, some very influential Liberals take a different view. They think a change of leadership is the Liberal Party’s most urgent need, and that it must come before another general election.

"We have a leadership problem worse than any the Conservatives ever had,” said one of them in July.

This attitude is not personal disloyalty—their affection for their old leader is as strong as ever. What worries them is not the kind of man who leads the opposition, but the kind of opposition that emerged from the debacle of June 10.

To a much greater extent than most people realize, the Liberal Party became (in its parliamentary group, at least) a French and Roman Catholic party. Not only does two-thirds of its strength lie in Quebec; not only are its one seat in Manitoba and its one in Alberta held by French-speaking members. Even Protestant Liberals with English or Scottish names were elected, in most cases, by a bloc of Roman Catholic voters, usually French. Ex-

cept in Newfoundland (“which doesn’t count,” as a Newfoundland Liberal ruefully admitted) this was the rule in every province of Canada.

Many Liberals believe it is a matter of overriding importance to remove this label at once by getting an Englishspeaking Protestant leader, and some who hold this view are French-speaking Roman Catholics from Quebec.

“I think it’s a matter of survival for us,” an Ontario Liberal said. “We’ve prided ourselves on being the national party, the party of national unity. If we become the party of one group, we’re nothing at all.”

If these people have their way the Liberals will hold a leadership convention next January or February and will choose Lester B. Pearson as party leader, unopposed or with no more than token opposition. If they don’t have their way, the outlook for the Liberal Party next year is obscure indeed.

Even before election day Pearson had emerged as the obvious successor to the then prime minister. In the dream world of complacency they lived in a year ago, many and perhaps most Liberal MPs would have preferred Walter Harris, some Paul Martin, some other aspirants. But in the election campaign with the wind in their teeth, Liberal candidates were hollering for help, and all outside Quebec were hollering for one man. His ex-rivals hardly moved out of their own ridings, but Pearson was the only man in Canada whose campaign travels came anywhere near John Diefenbaker’s.

Without Pearson, the Liberals would

be in sad shape indeed for a 1958 election. And if they should decide to postpone the leadership convention, they might well find themselves without Pearson by next summer.

He was known to be pretty fed up with politics anyway, by the time the last campaign began. At the end of it he was more so, dead tired, wishing for nothing so much as peace and quiet. In the interval after the election, moreover, he was offered some attractive jobs. He turned them down, but his friends think he did so with reluctance.

These same friends say, with every sign of assurance, that Pearson will stay as long as the party needs him, that he “won’t quit,” that he “won’t let the party down.” But when you ask them whether he would stay on indefinitely as a private member of parliament, even with the understanding that he was to be the favored candidate eventually, then their answer is not so assured. They’re afraid he might just retire, and go to work for a university or the United Nations.

But if the Liberal leadership problem is so acute, why should the Conservatives think of helping them to solve it by making Louis St. Laurent governorgeneral? Why shouldn’t they let the Grits stew in their own juice?

Some, no doubt, would like to do just that. Longer heads realize that both parties have a common problem and to some extent a common interest here.

If the Liberals can’t survive as a French Roman Catholic party, no more in the long run can the Conservatives remain an English Protestant party. No sensible Canadian wants this division to harden. Conservatives must, and they know they must, gain representation in Quebec. Their difficulty is to find candidates who are not extreme right-wing provincialists of the Duplessis type.

In recent years, and particularly during and since the war, the “moderates” in Quebec have tended to be the Liberals. They were the ones who had to support and defend the war effort. They were the ones whose concept of federal-provincial relations gave Duplessis his favorite target, and whom he attacked for encroaching on Quebec’s “autonomy.” Broadly speaking they were the Quebeckers least hostile to Britain and the Commonwealth, least opposed to international co-operation and collective security, least amenable to their own parish clergy, least suspicious of the English Protestant “foreigners” on the other side of the Ottawa River. By the same token the anti-Liberals, who in Quebec seldom called themselves Conservatives but who are now in a good tactical position to capture the Quebec wing of a revived Conservative Party, were the ultra-clericals, the people who called themselves “nationalists” but who in fact were narrow provincialists.

The problem of the Diefenbaker Conservatives is to avoid these wouldbe allies, and try to find instead a group of men who have been independent both of the federal Liberals and of Duplessis. Not many such exist among the well-known public men of Quebec. Even if enough can be found, it will be difficult to get them elected without the support (and perhaps with the active enmity) of the Duplessis machine.

It can only be done by appealing to Quebeckers who up to now have voted Liberal. A friendly gesture to Louis St. Laurent would be a step in that direction, if