MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

Pearson can stop Caouette—but only if he finds a fighting Quebecker

Peter C. Newman February 9 1963
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

Pearson can stop Caouette—but only if he finds a fighting Quebecker

Peter C. Newman February 9 1963

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

MACLEAN'S REPORTS

PETER C. NEWMAN

Pearson can stop Caouette—but only if he finds a fighting Quebecker

BY ALL THE RULES of politics. Social Credit is a party that ought to be dead. It sprang from a madcap economic theory during the Depression, has since failed to translate a single principle into law, and in the current parliament has clearly demonstrated its inability to form a responsible opposition, much less to govern the country.

Hut Social Credit isn’t dead, or even dying. In french Canada, in fact, the movement seems to be taking on additional muscle. At the moment it looks as if the Crcditistes might even gain some seats in the next general election. Since the Conservative Party is temporarily defunct in Quebec and the NDP hasn’t even been born yet, only Lester Pearson’s Liberals stand a chance of stopping the Socred drive. Hut Pearson has so far hesitated over the steps within his own party that it will take to launch an effective light against Kcal Caouette and his troupe of monetary mystics.

WHY CAOIJETTE'S STRONGER THAN EVER

Part of the Liberal leader's reluctance probabis flows from the conviction he shares with most Ottawa politicians that Social Credit is a spent force. But during a recent swing through Quebec I discovered that none of the reasons on which this comforting notion is based stand up to on-the-spot examination.

Around Ottawa, the main cause of Social Credit's decline is thought to be the clowning of Réal Caouette. It’s true that his verbal outrages have discredited him in English Canada, but in most of Quebec Caouette and his followers are heroes, because they stood up so vocally for the rights of French Canadians, particularly during the Donald Gordon affair.

At Jonquière, for example, Gilles Grégoire, the local Socred MP. recently called a meeting of people who wanted to become organizers for his next campaign. Twelve hundred volunteers turned up — one for every thirty voters, in a riding that until 1962 always elected Liberals.

While there does exist some resentment

against the Socreds for supporting the Diefenbaker government in the Commons, Caouette won’t lose many votes until another messianic leader moves into the vacuum that allowed him to flourish in the first place. Little disillusionment is evident over Caouette’s failure to pay out the Social Credit "dividends” he pledged in return for ballots. (The Alberta Social Credit Party broke its promise of a $25 credit to all citizens in 1935, and has been getting re-elected ever since.)

It's quite unrealistic to contend, as many federal politicians do, that Jean Lesage’s victory last November indicates an enlightened atmosphere in which the contradictions of Social Credit won't survive. In fact, the provincial election results only added pressure to Caouette's federal ambitions. Had Lesage managed to wipe out the Union Nationale, the Social Credit deputy leader would have been tempted to jump into provincial politics. Hut the Union Nationale received forty-two percent of the popular vote, leaving no room at the moment for another right-wing party.

Caouette continues to preach his gospel over every television station in the province at least once a week. His personal mail in response to these broadcasts is pouring into the parliament buildings at an average of fifty letters a day. The only area where he doesn’t seem to be making much impact is Montreal Island. His Sunday afternoon show on CF:TM-TV is outrated by the howling contests on the city’s other French channel.

The Liberal Party recently began a counteroffensive by sponsoring its own thirteen-week series of political broadcasts. Significantly, the first program featured an interview between Pearson and Lionel Chevrier, the former head of the Seaway Authority, who now sits for the Montreal riding of Laurier. In the ideological spectrum of the Liberal hierarchy, Chevrier is considered a right-winger. (He is not, however, a member of the mossback rump in the Liberal caucus, a group led by Yvon Dupuis, MP for Saint-Jean, who believe that the best way to deal with Caouette is to field even louder demagogues.) Jean Lesage, whose support Pearson will need if he is to form a majority administration after the next election, is understood to feel that he can’t help the federal party in his province, unless it comes under more progressive leadership than that represented by Chevrier.

LIBERAL BETS IN QUEBEC: MARCHAND, SAUVE

One candidate to assume this leadership is Jean Marchand, president of the Federation of National Syndicates, a popular Labor leader who may run for a federal seat in the next campaign, providing all Lesage’s conditions are met. Pearson’s dilemma is how to enlist progressives like Marchand without alienating more conservative elements in English Canada. His Dec. 17 speech in the Commons, warning that Canada was gripped by a crisis of national unity and proposing a federal-provincial commission to deal with the problems of biracialism, was welcomed, but the Liberals still need a Quebec chieftain to say the same thing convincingly in French.

A potential compromise choice for the Quebec leadership may be Maurice Sauvé, the MP for Magdelaine Islands. Sauvé is also a leftwinger — he spent most of the Christmas recess helping organize a collective farm in his constituency — but he’s not as extreme as Marchand, and much more acceptable to English Canada. At thirty-nine Sauvé has an ideal background to become a national politician from Quebec. A thoughtful extrovert whose Gallic charm easily dissolves into belly-pumping laughter, he has a law degree from the University of Montreal and a doctorate in economics earned at the London School of Economics and the Sorbonne. He has worked

both as a union organizer in rural Quebec and as assistant secretary of the Gordon Commission. and he played an important organizational role in Lesage’s two provincial elections.

A transfer of power in the Quebec Liberal command to men like Marchand and Sauvé— if it comes — will signal Pearson’s success in dragging his party into the second half of the twentieth century. And curious as it sounds, this momentous shift will have been made possible by the undiminishing strength of Réal Caouette’s Créditistes.