ROBERT LORNE STANFIELD
Okay, so he’s no swinger. BUT...
DOUGLAS MARSHALL peers beneath the austere, Calvinist, patrician image of Robert Stanfield, and finds an austere, Calvinist patrician
THE SCENE was the opening of yet another new school in Halifax a couple of years ago. This time it was a federal-provincial affair and all the attending dignitaries, the ribbon-cutting concluded, were bunched together over coffee busily congratulating themselves. All but one. Wandering around in the background, completely alone and apparently happy to be that way, was a human masterpiece of understatement.
A casual glance might dismiss him as a shy city alderman ill at ease amid a loftier crowd. A second look would take in the lean and hungry frame, the furry black caterpillars for eyebrows, and ^recognize the self-effacing premier of Nova Scotia. Only a perceptive ' few, guided perhaps by Dalton Camp, might penetrate the wooden mask of Robert Lome Stanfield and see a shrewd political Maritimer waiting patiently for the flood tide that leads on to federal fortune.
The tide flooded for Stanfield at last September’s Progressive Conservative leadership convention. Today he sits in John Diefenbaker’s old office on Parliament Hill, quietly certain he is only a ripple of time away from being the next prime minister of Canada but one.
If Stanfield does win the next election, he will have wooed Canadians into making what amounts to a blind date with their national leader. He is one of the most private and imponderable figures ever to walk out on the public stage. In Nova Scotia, where Stanfield has been an active if enigmatic politician for nearly 20 years, he remains more of a transcendental image than a fleshand-blood personality. When pressed to describe what he is like as a man, Maritimers usually come up with a crop of not very useful analogies.
Just about any Halifax cab driver, for instance, will tell you that Stanfield is merely a low-wattage replica of the late Angus L. Macdonald, the luminescent Liberal chieftain who dominated the province for two decades. Latter-day Liberals see him rather as Mackenzie King, “a man who likes to stay in power.” A newspaperman in Truro, the family seat, says he has “the same slow-speaking dignity as Gary Cooper.” New Democrats compare him to Stanley
Baldwin, posing as an amateur when in fact he is a superb professional.” And a Truro truck driver says quite simply, “He’s like God to folks down here.”
People closer to Stanfield speak of his sympathy and consideration for others and of his warmth as a family man. As premier he was always turning down invitations to social functions, much to the disgust of some Halifax hostesses, because he wanted to take his four children swimming or skating. “He’s always been good with the children,” says his wife Mary. “And he is very much the traditionalist when it comes to family occasions like trimming the Christmas tree. He’s always the one who puts the decorations on the top.”
Somewhere between God, Gary Cooper and the Christmas-tree trimmer lies the real Robert Stanfield. But the mass of Nova Scotians evidently didn’t find him. To them, he was not so much a visible premier as a presiding genius whc kept the provincial house in order. “You can’t get to a Stanfield,” says John Murphy, publisher of the Truro Daily News. “That’s the breed they are.”
So far, Ottawa has changed him little. He still stands apart, as much his own man as ever. “Stanfield seldom shows his emotions even in private,” says his young special assistant, Lowell Murray. “He’s not the sort of man who says T feel’ when he’s talking about people or things.” He continues to discourage familiarity — a move by some matey Tory backbenchers to call him Skipper was quickly quashed — but is unfailingly polite and courteous. He expects the same behavior from his caucus and will tolerate no rowdiness or name-calling. Stanfield belongs to that faintly distant world where manners were important, people had to be properly introduced and nobody was just Smith but always Mister Smith.
Nor is his performance in the House of Commons as Opposition leader likely to yield many outward clues about his ability to run the country. In the first place, although he is a sharp cross-examiner in debate, he is not a natural parliamentary man. (In Halifax he didn’t have to be; the legislature seldom sits for more than six weeks in the year.) In the second place, Maritimes MPs expect that the Stanfield strategy for the Opposition / continued on page 46
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will merely be an extension of the formula behind his own success: sit tight, play it cool, and don’t make any moves that endanger your position. Governments, he believes, are not defeated: they defeat themselves.
Finally, it is doubtful whether even Robert Stanfield is sure what sort of prime minister he would make. "It is pretty difficult,” he confessed during a recent Maclean’s interview, “for anyone to really know what is going on inside himself.”
No man, however, not even a Stanfield, could go through the hectic process of becoming the new top Tory without surrendering something of his privacy. Embarrassing as one side of his nature certainly finds it, people at large — people he hasn’t yet met but who call him Bob — are steadily accumulating more and more information about him.
It is a matter of record, to start with, that he is 54, a former Halifax lawyer and independently well-to-do. (The Truro knitting mill founded by his grandfather made a small fortune clothing cold Canadians in a brand of unshrinkable long johns with a revolutionary trap door.) It’s also fairly common knowledge by now that he is fond of classical music, is a keen cultivator of roses and is regarded by some of his more impressionable followers as the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln. On the negative side, it is evident to anyone who watches television that he is not the reincarnation of Winston Churchill when it comes to public oratory or lightning policy decisions.
“You couldn’t call Stanfield a charismatic figure,” says Nova Scotian Liberal MP John Stewart with Stanfieldlike understatement. “His political success has been achieved in other ways.”
One explanation for his success, and one that Maritimers like to stress, has to do with historical inevitability. If there are such things as irresistible forces in politics, Stanfield is riding one. To begin with, three of the last seven Conservative prime ministers have been Halifax lawyers. Moreover, three generations of political Stanfields have filled just about every available public office — except for the one Stanfield is now aiming at — and in the process they have never lost an election. Stanfield is determined not to spoil the family record. “Once he sets his mind on something,” says a close Halifax friend, ‘T’ve never seen a man so certain about what he is going to do.”
He wasn’t always so eager for office. His entry into politics, he says, was just one of a series of accidents that shaped his life. As a top scholar at Dalhousie University he wanted to become an economist but wound up instead at Harvard Law School. Rejected for military service, he was mobilized by the Wartime Prices and Trade Board as rentals administrator for the eruptive port of Halifax. It was his first close contact with the ugly aspects of life and it taught him how to be tough when he had to be.
After the 1945 provincial election, which wiped out the Conservatives in the legislature, Stanfield and a handful of other party workers decided “there
“He’s a team man who prefers not to thrust himself forward”
were just too damn many Liberals around” and set about resuscitating the Tories. “I took over the leadership in 1948 because it was a choice between that and writing off the investment in time and energy we'd spent rebuilding the party. I didn't think of myself then as a leader. And I don't think anybody else did either.”
During the next few years Stanfield put together a political machine which, for iits efficiency and fund - raising powers, is still regarded grudgingly by Liberals as one of the marvels of the age. One golden asset was the Stanfield name, even though Stanfield's only connection with the family business is via a considerable inheritance from his father. (The Truro mill is one of the largest non-unionized firms in the province. But it commands a loyalty amounting to devotion from its employees. Questioning strangers risk black eyes unless they quickly prove they're not union spies.)
On October 30, 1956, the machine delivered the goods and dished the Grits in an upset victory that surprised everybody but Robert Stanfield. Characteristically, the new premier bowed out of the ensuing celebrations, explaining that tomorrow was Hallowe’en and he’d promised to take his children trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.
In the decade that followed. Stanfield ran Nova Scotia virtually by remote control, earning a reputation for fantastic caution, non-doctrinaire pragmatism and, with those who understood him, political astuteness. If Liberals and New Democrats complained that he was too much of a watcher and waiter, that he was too prudent by half, the vast majority of Nova Scotians didn’t seem to mind. In any case, Stanfield was always politely hovering in the background, leaving most
of the real in-fighting to G.I. Smith, his closest colleague and now the new premier. "He is a team man who prefers never to thrust himself forward,” explains Ike Smith. “This is part of the man's nature; it’s not a ploy.” Stanfield’s pragmatism was clearly responsible for Industrial Estates Lim, ited, a crown corporation set up in
1957 to attract new industry to Nova Scotia. By last year IEL had invested some $74 million in 25 new firms and created nearly 2,300 more jobs in the province. Another 1.800 jobs will open up in IEL-backed plants not yet in production and it is estimated that spin-off industries will provide work for 5,000 more.
IEL is by far and away the crowning achievement of the Stanfield administration. But, as Liberals point out, such a highly socialistic operation is a strange child to be fathered by a man whose avowed principle is that “there are restricted aspects of one’s life that governments can affect directly.” This is especially true in relation to two former IEL operations, a heavy-water plant at Glace Bay and Clairtone Sound Ltd. Both ran into production difficulties and had to be taken over.
“What the Conservative Party is in Nova Scotia, he made it”
at considerable capital expense, by the provincial government.
Says one Stanfield critic, “Nova Scotia is the envy of many a Bolshevik state in that it inadvertently owns its own heavy-water plant, its own color-TV plant and now, with the Dosco crisis, its own steel plant. Since Stanfield is manifestly not a Bolshe-
vik, it must have something to do with mismanagement.”
The other major blemish on Stanfield’s reputation concerns the tricky business of patronage. Antiquated as it may seem to other Canadians, patronage is still a fact of political life in Nova Scotia. Truck drivers on highway contracts have testified that they
are forced to pay weekly contributions to “contact men” to get work, payroll sheets show that road gangs tend to double or triple in size just before elections, and there is the rather startling fact that 50 percent of the provincial government’s purchases are not made through public tender.
The Liberals themselves, of course,
were not paragons of virtue in this respect during the long years they were in power. But today they accuse Stanfield, with a bitterness that suggests more than a trace of sour grapes, of having perfected the patronage system when he should have been doing everything in his power to abolish it. “What the Progressive Conservative Party is in Nova Scotia, Stanfield made it,” says provincial Liberal leader Gerald Reagan. “And I think that it is too preoccupied in matters of patronage.”
There’s no question that the Stanfield machine had things pretty much its own way in Nova Scotia after 1956. The caucus was docile to the point of vapidity. With a few key exceptions, the Tory MLAs seem to be purely front men for another, more powerful apparatus. In last spring’s provincial election all Conservative candidates ran under the province-wide heading: “I’m a Stanfield man.”
The Opposition was consistently weak; the independent TV station in Halifax is run by Finlay MacDonald, one of Stanfield’s top aides; and the two Halifax newspapers are under a single management dedicated to the support of the party in power. The Halifax Chronicle - Herald's parting tribute to Ottawa-bound Stanfield was a cartoon showing him handing over a luxuriant garden, Nova Scotia, to Ike Smith. The caption read: “Well, it should last you for about five years.”
In view of all this, there are some honest doubts about Stanfield’s ability to withstand the heat of battle in a situation where the guns aren’t all firing for his side. Stanfield has only lost his cool three times that anybody knows of — and each occasion was when somebody dared to question his principles.
The first time was when he was 16 and involved in a late-evening argument about global affairs with his sister Kit. As the debate grew more impassioned, Stanfield, anticipating Khrushchov by 30 years, took off his shoes and began banging them on a table to emphasize his points. The performance was so untypical that it is still remembered in the Stanfield family as “the time Bob was noisy.”
The second occasion was in the Nova Scotia legislature a few years ago. A Liberal MLA, Dr. Henry Reardon, made some pointed remarks about the Stanfield government’s ethics in turning over the provincial tourist advertising account to Dalton Camp’s firm. This criticism so incensed Stanfield that he announced he had given “serious consideration” to the idea of introducing a bill that would remove Reardon’s legislative immunity retroactively.
The third time his emotions seem to have got the better of him was perhaps the most significant of all. It occurred in the House of Commons last December, when Stanfield was still a greenhorn in Ottawa. The outburst was directed at Bryce Mackasey, the English-speaking Liberal MP for Verdun. In the course of a speech he never had time to finish, Mackasey noted that Stanfield had twice endorsed the Estates-General of French Canada as serious men tackling a serious problem. He went on to remind the Tory leader that the Estates - General had
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also refused to fly the Canadian flag.
This rather trivial dig apparently infuriated Stanfield. The next day, after thinking about it all night, he read a prepared speech charging Mackasey with having delivered a poisonous, partisan attack and called on the Liberal Party to discipline the Verdun member. A few days later Mackasey took great pleasure in chiding Stanfield for lacking a sense of humor and advising him to become better acquainted with the standards of debate in the House.
That was Stanfield’s second Ottawa embarrassment. A month earlier he had launched a highly publicized motion of nonconfidence in the government, explaining that it was his patriotic duty to send the Liberals packing. When the motion came to a vote, Stanfield sat sheepishly in his seat. It turned out he had disqualified himself from voting on his own motion by naively agreeing to pair with Prime Minister Pearson, then absent in London. “I thought it a proper request to meet,” Stanfield explained. It apparently didn’t occur to him to have one of his backbenchers pair with Pearson.
Camp no grey eminence
Apart from those incidents, Stanfield’s first few months in Ottawa were uneventful. Before taking his seat, he attended a week-long Berlitz crash course to polish up his French and can now perfectly understand Quebec MPs. His own spoken French is not fluent but the accent is better than Diefenbaker’s. By Christmas he had made one bad speech and one moderately good one. He spent most of his time sitting in the House soaking up atmosphere.
Dalton Camp, the national president of the Tories and the man suspected by some of being Stanfield’s policy puppeteer, has deliberately kept himself in the background. “They phone each other a couple of times a month,” says a Stanfield aide. Camp who plans to run in a Toronto riding in the next election, would almost certainly find a place in a Stanfield cabinet. But meanwhile he is far from being a grey eminence. When Camp made a foreign-policy speech before Christmas, suggesting Canada should disengage herself from military commitments, Stanfield issued a gentle repudiation. The Halifax Chronicle Herald ran a cartoon of Stanfield ramming a banana in Camp’s mouth, with the cutline: “Have a banana.”
Any doubts about Stanfield’s ability to hold his own in the Commons and run the policy show alone are not shared by the man himself: “The first thing that struck me about Ottawa was the poor acoustics in the House. It was like speaking into a vacuum. But I’m getting used to it now and don’t find it a difficult forum. I’m not much impressed by the standard of debate I’ve seen. After all, when I first went into the Nova Scotia legislature I was confronted with Angus L. Macdonald. He seemed much more formidable an opponent than anyone I’ve faced here.”
Stanfield deprecates any attempt to compare him with the great Angus L. “I’m not anything like Mr. Macdonald. He was much more a master of words than I am — quite an orator and very
“Politics makes you feel fully tested, fully involved”
emotional. His Scottish tradition meant much more to him than my Anglican background means to me. His warmth of personality made him a far better storyteller and far better company than 1 am.”
Foi a man so frankly aware of his own limitations as a public figure, Stanfield remains amazingly confident. Success in politics, he believes, is not so mach personality as an ability to judge men and get along with men, the ability to see problems and the solutions to those problems: “Admittedly, I’ll also have to generate the confidence of the voters. But I’ll succeed in that as long as I have the help of the right people and the right platform.”
Politics, he says, is a very exasperating life. Its compensations are that it “makes you feel you are being fully tested and fully involved. Fortunately, 1 made enough progress from the start not to be tormented too much by selfdoubt. Since July, however, I’ve had to fight against allowing my vistas to become too narrowly political. Once you put your head to the plow you keep it there.”
Stanfield tends to shy away from questions about patronage in Nova Scotia, except to say there is less of it than there used to be and that it should be eliminated completely. What he considers much more serious in a modern democracy is “the tendency of political parties to buy votes with public funds.” Sensational pause. “I mean with the promises of public funds. Parties make surveys of the prime areas of discontent and then make promises on the basis of those surveys. It makes an auction block of elections.”
But haven’t political parties always done that? “Yes,” concedes Stanfield, his eyes glittering angrily, “but it’s getting worse and these days there are millions of dollars involved. What it boils down to is that a party will promise what the public wants and then worry about the public good afterward.”
What it really boils down to, in fact, is that Stanfield thinks the Nova Scotia Liberals were cheating last spring when they claimed they could finance both educational expansion and Medicare without a budget increase.
Stanfield doesn’t make such statements glibly. If his speeches in the House are seldom inspirational (he usually speaks from notes blocked out in illegible longhand), his on-the-rec-
ord interviews for the press and TV are the quintessence of caution. He seems to measure out each word like a jeweler weighing pieces of platinum. Unfortunately, when the words are strung together the result is sometimes simply platitudinous.
No doubt much of Stanfield's awkwardness and lack of ease in present-
ing himself to people will vanish when he becomes more familiar with his surroundings. As yet, he's hardly had time to settle into his new office and make it his own. The supercharged personality of the previous occupant still seems to dance around the baroque woodwork like St. Elmo’s fire, lighting up framed parchment copies
of the Bill of Rights.
But one thing that will never change is the principle that is at the core of both his personal and political philosophies: “The ability of governments to increase human happiness is quite restricted. External society has changed. The conditions in which we live change. But we are all still private people.”
And it is Robert Stanfield, private person, who will seek the confidence of the people of Canada. ★