PLATFORM

Dalton Camp tells how Robert Stanfield can win the next election

July 1 1969
PLATFORM

Dalton Camp tells how Robert Stanfield can win the next election

July 1 1969

Dalton Camp tells how Robert Stanfield can win the next election

PLATFORM

SO THERE I WAS, surrounded by Toronto’s elite, largely Liberal, most of whom had paid $50 for the pleasure of dining with the Prime Minister of Canada and hearing a speech from him.

Mr. Trudeau’s audience rose to receive him, giving him reassurance with their applause and beaming faces. But when he had completed his address and they struggled to their feet again, it was plainly an exertion; the banquet hall was humid with ennui.

Mr. Trudeau does not communicate with his constituents the way he used to do. He looks the same, sounds the same, but the electric charisma is absent. So having gone to the dinner to concentrate on the Prime Minister, I came away thinking of the Leader of the Opposition, Robert Stanfield.

Mr. Stanfield lost in 1968, partly because of internal machinations among the Tories, but largely he lost to Mr. Trudeau’s incandescence. As a result, he has no mandate to make politics entertaining, or government exciting. Indeed, Stanfield is the only politician in Canada who might be said to have a mandate to lower the temperature of every room in which he speaks.

The outward style of Stanfield is a compound of self-deprecating wit and mischievous irreverence, with a sincerity that is determinedly colorless, matched only by the man’s simplicity: a vegetarian among the gourmets. He takes some getting used to, but once the country gets over its initial discomfiture about Stanfield — the man who first turned them off — it will begin to see his virtues. Meanwhile, the citizens are recovering nicely from the palpitating experience with Trudeau — the man who first turned them on — and beginning to see the flaws. So that by 1972, when the

next general election is due and the war of the parties is resumed, Stanfield will not be disadvantaged by the phenomenon of the Prime Minister’s personality, as he seemed to be in 1968. And the contest between them ought to be more cerebral and less ephemeral.

One can only guess the mood of the country in 1972, but certainly the electorate will be older, wiser, and more skeptical. The young, 1 suspect, will find conservatism more fashionable, liberalism a lot less so. They are less likely to be swept off their feet by the gusts of propaganda that, predictably, will be emitting from the Establishment’s liberal organs of opinion.

But indeed, everyone will be older, including the Prime Minister, who will be into his 50s. And he will be caught between the public memory of him as a young swinger, prince of the psychedeliacs, and the requirement to act his age, a role he has yet to play.

There is no doubt, in my mind at least, the country is going through its most liberal period. It is not unlike the late ’30s when we were so much governed by a laissez-faire state of mind, not only making virtue out of necessity, but imagining that our necessities were virtuous. We are almost as smug and constitutiqnally proper today as we were then; and we are now led by a man remarkably like Mackenzie King.

So while the country remains in this nay-saying mood, its social conscience, which has been occasionally a nagging one, becomes instead a bore. Which is why, surely, the radicals in both parties are having such a bad time and why the radical movement in Canada is being yawned to death.

Yet another reason for the eclipse of radicalism is in the excesses of the pres-

ent-day militant revolutionaries who have preempted the Left of politics and offended all other opinion beyond reason. For a time, it was a part of the Prime Minister’s tactical pluralism to identify with this element in the spectrum (excluding the separatists), just as it was Stanfield’s style to react to them with candor, to put them down. It is clear now that the Prime Minister has no soothing powers to cool the passions of the Left, as it is clear that the more prescient reaction was Stanfield’s, with his unmistakable disdain; you cannot “dialogue” with those whose fundamental purposes are to destroy your position.

I suspect Stanfield will grow on the country, nurtured not only by the natural disenchantment with Trudeau, but as well because of his own qualities. So far, the Leader of the Opposition has been the invisible man of Canadian politics, diligently doing his household chores in parliament — the last man in the public realm to suffer from overexposure.

Each election campaign has its own scenario; it will be in the Liberal script to make the Prime Minister the indispensable man to Confederation, with semantic variations on “One Canada,” and perhaps a new villain found to play the heavy from Quebec. Stanfield, who was almost lost from sight in the last election, ought to have an easier time, if only because the ground will be familiar. Add the fact that John Diefenbaker will not be such a constant consideration and one might say that Stanfield’s next campaign will be a positive joy.

And the shopping plazas will not be the vote-harvesting ground of Mr. Trudeau’s next campaign. The novelty is gone, the crowds will be more critical, and there will be a government’s record to defend.

As for the scenario itself — Confederation, and all that — it will take some deft crisis management to make it a credible issue to Canadians. Politicians have cried “Wolfe!” so often, in Quebec and elsewhere, that we are very nearly weary of it, and due for an election in which the issues will relate to wheat, fish, oil, houses and — maybe, even — taxes. Stanfield, who has been scrupulously responsible and constructive in the Confederation issue, suffers no personal hardship in this area of policy anyway. In the more conventional issues he is as much at home as anyone, and in agriculture and resources, he is conspicuously more at home than Trudeau.

There is a tendency to underrate Robert Stanfield, a feeling influenced by the last election. But for those who are prepared to look ahead to the next election, as one looks to tomorrow’s ball game, it does strike one that Canada’s most underrated public man might well be its next prime minister. Think it over. □

NEXT MONTH: Senator Keith Davey