A Day With Canada's Premier

G. B. VAN BLARICOM June 1 1909

A Day With Canada's Premier

G. B. VAN BLARICOM June 1 1909

A Day With Canada's Premier


THE easiest public man in Canada to see and the most difficult to interview. This is the opinion of visitors to the Capital of the Dominion. If their mission is a legitimate one they do not have to go through any formalities or red tape procedure to obtain an audience with the Premier, but the foreign, or even local newspaper, correspondent, who thinks that he will find bright, readable copy by inducing him to talk on some national or fiscal question, will come away disappointed. The Canadian First Minister never grants an interview. He has a decided aversion to being quoted promiscuously in the public prints. Not that he is diffident in the matter of proclaiming his views or declaring his attitude, but he has his own way of doing it. The medium that he invariably selects is the House of Commons or the public platform, yet no one is more considerate or courteous to press representatives than the commander-in-chief of the Liberal forces.

If Sir Wilfrid Laurier retired from politics to-morrow he would probably devote the remainder of his days to serving as a member of the Ottawa Improvement Commission,

in the work of which he takes a lively interest, and in writing a history of Canada or of the Liberal party.

Although occupying the highest position in the gift of the Canadian people, bearing all the responsibilities of office and burdens of state, Sir Wilfrid manages to crowd more work into a day than even his most intimate friends imagine. Yet the Prime Minister is never in a rush or unduly demonstrative. The only time that he evidences unseemly haste is, when, nearing the corner of Elgin and Sparks Streets, in the Capital, and observing the approach of a Bank Street car, which passes his home on Laurier Avenue Fast, he has been known to break into a sprint to board the vanishing trolley. The chief of the Liberal party is a democrat to the hilt. He loves the common people and, like Abraham Lincoln, of whom he is an ardent admirer, thinks the Lord must love them too, for He made a great many of them.

If you visit the Capital and have legitimate business with the Premier he is more get-at-able, so to speak,

than any member of his cabinet.

There is no outside guard or inside tyler at his door in the East Block. You simply walk into the outer office where his private secretary is at work and, announcing your name, if “the chief.” as he is familiarly known, is not engaged, you are ushered into his presence. Of course a great deal of discrimination must be, and is, exercised by his private secre tary, as to who should or should not see the Premier. For instance, a total stranger to Sir Wilfrid, or his secretary, would, of necessity, have

to confide to the latter the nature of his business. But for all this it is said to be easier to see the Canadian First Minister than any of his colleagues and even some of the higher officials of the administration. There is no stiffness or formality about his welcome. He extends a warm hand of greeting and you are made to feel at home. It is, of course, presumed that any caller, possessing good judgment and average thoughtfulness, will communicate the object of

his mission in as few words as pos20

sible, as the First Minister is a busv man and the time which he can give to scores of visitors is limited. The entrance room is generally filled with politicians, members of parliament and deputations seeking him on one pretext or another, lie has been known to see as many as one hundred different persons in a day which, of itself, is no light task. He accords a kindly hearing to all and. even persons whose requests are denied, often come out smiling. \\ hen asked if they secured favorable consideration, they remark, “Xo! we did not. but he refused in such a gracious way that we are almost as pleased as if he granted what we were after.” This is where the sunny ways of Sir Wilfrid are so prominently brought into play. I lis tact, diplomacy and suavity are always in evidence.

How does he manage to accomplish so much in a day? What does lie do from early morn until late at night? are questions often asked. The older he grows the more he undertakes and, notwithstanding constantly increasing demands on bis time and attention, he rarely looks worried. Although in his sixty-eighth year, he enjoys better health and gets through more work than when first elevated to power thirteen years ago, or elected leader of the Opposition away back in 1887. Thirty-five years as a member of the 1 Tonse of Commons is a long period. There are few men in public life to-day when the youthful and eloquent French-Canadian advocate and newspaperman first entered legislative halls as the member of Drummond and Arthabaska in 1874.

One of the strongest characteristics possessed by the Premier is his ability to remember names and faces. When the eleventh parliament assembled in January last there were over seventy new members—onethird of the total number of the popular chamber. On the occasion

of the first division the assistant clerk naturally had some difficulty in calling the roll. So many fresh faces and so much shifting of seats resulted in more or less confusion. The only man in the House who could have correctlv named al1

pass through (lalt a company of some 15 local supporters went to the station to shake hands with him. The distinguished visitor was introduced to them and. after ten minutes’ conversation, just as the train was about to start, he said good-

the representatives and their constituencies was the head of the Government. Many years, ago, when Sir Wilfrid was leader of the Opposition, he was making a campaign tour through Western Ontario. As he and his nartv were to

bye to them individually, calling each one correctly by name. Many similar incidents might be related. Like his predecessor. Sir John A. Macdonald, he has a genius for never forgetting friends and supporters. O11 the other hand, he has

not the same facility with figures. Intricate financial calculations will occasion him as many worries as Napoleon encountered in his famous retreat from Moscow amid the depths of a Russian winter. A student of history, biography and responsible government, be leaves topics of tariff and trade returns to his trusted lieutenant, Hon. W. S. Fielding, who, in the sphere of statistics, is always at home.

It matters not when Sir Wilfrid retires, whether at midnight or three in the morning, owing to a late sitting of the legislators, lie invariably rises at the same hour—eight o’clock—every morning. Of the 22L members in the House he is the most regular attendant and is constantly in his place except when the Commons is in Committee of Sup? ply. He shaves himself and no resident of the Capital is more attentive with respect to personal appearance. At 8.30 he breakfasts, but he eats sparingly and lives the simple life day in and day out. He takes no form of exercise other than walking, of which he is fond. Indigestion is an old enemy and scrupulous care has to be observed in the matter of diet. His morning meal usually consists ol a poached egg or a baked apple, a cup of tea and plain bread. Occasionally lie partakes of toast. At luncheon and dinner he is equally abstemious.

At nine o'clock his private secretary, Mr. E. J. Lemaire, who has already scanned each letter, separating the wheat from the chaff, calls at his house. Together they go through the over-night correspondence, which is very heavy, particularly during a session of Parliament. Every epistle is dealt with promptly; there is never an accumulation of unanswered mail matter. The Premier reads each letter, and as he finishes turns the sheets face down upon the table. When he has concluded perusing 1he last missive he picks up the pile—several inches

high—and indicates the nature of the replies. In the course of a day he has to sign many communications, yet he does so faithfully and expeditiously. He would scorn the use of a rubber stamp. Of course, there are some letters that do not get to Sir Wilfrid. Certain pro forma or routine matters, which can be attended to by a department official, would needlessly occupy bis time. To enumerate a few remarkable requests that daily reach him would furnish a column of humorous reading. Many are frivolous in character, others pathetic, some importunate, a few impudent, and still others, penned out of idle curiosity. There are tiny toddlers all over Canada, whose Christian names are “Wilfrid Laurier” Brown. Green, Blue, White or Black. When a birthday rolls around they write the Premier reminding him of the fact. Sometimes, in the case of old personal friends, the Liberal chieftain sends an acknowledgment or memento of the anniversary. The recipient is so delighted at a reply that the fact is probably announced in a local paper and the news spreads. Immediately nearly every child in the neighborhood, whose father is a Liberal, will write in the hope of receiving some similar token. There has to be a line drawn somewhere. The first citizen of a great country like Canada cannot spend hours answering all the letters which come to him from juveniles who happen to boast of the name of “Wilfrid.” He would have no time left for affairs of state.

By half past ten the mass of correspondence is generally disposed of and the First Minister leaves his house for his office. If the weather is fine he walks, the distance being about a mile. If the elements are unpropitious, or he is in a hurry, he summons a cab ; now and then he uses a street car. Arriving at the buildings, which he generally reacn-

es by eleven o’clock, and occasionally earlier, there are always a large number of persons waiting to see him on various matters. He receives them in turn, and thus the forenoon hours are fully occupied until one o'clock and after. He then partakes of a light lunch in his office During session a Council meeting* is held every day at two o’clock, attended by all the members of the Cabinet. The sitting generallv lasts until about five minutes to three and then the ministers have to make their way to the House, which opens at three o'clock. At six o’clock when the Commons rises for dinner, the Premier may see a few parliamentarians in his private apartments, which are located at the north-west corner of the new addition. There are always M.Ps. or prominent politicians desirous of consulting* him, and he is always ready to grant a minute or two to as manv as he pos-

sibly can, consistent with the demands made upon him in leading the Government, shaping legislation and presiding at Cabinet Councils. About fifteen minutes after six he drives to his residence for dinner. He is always back on the hill ready to resume work when the Speaker takes the chair at eight o'clock, and generally stays until the House adjourns, whether the hour is twelve o'clock or two in the morning. Even after adjournment he is accessible to members if their business is pressing. When the Premier returns home he frequently reads an hour or two before retiring*. If there is no night session he spends the evening with Lady Laurier and counts a night not broken by some social obligation. dinner party or reception as pure gold. Never is he happier than when allowed to spend a few uninterrupted hours in his library. He is an industrious reader. Not

only is he a deep student of history but he reads the quarterly reviews, the leading monthlies, the daily papers, and the more serious comments and subjects of the day. He never scans anything trashy or ephemeral. He is as familiar with the deeds and achievements of the Emperor Napoleon 1. as any lecturer on modern history. With the greatest of English historians, Edward Gibbon, and his “Decline and Ball of the Roman Empire” he finds mental relaxation and inspiration, lie revels in Abraham Lincoln and has probably a score of biographies of the great American statesman and emancipator. Sir Wilfrid’s library is not as large as that of man}public men, but the volumes are comprehensive and bear evidence of frequent consultation, lie supplements it by works of reference from the

parliamentary library. Possessing 24

a retentive memory, he absorbs arid assimilates what he reads. It becomes part of his mental equipment. No detail, point or feature worth remembering escapes his attention. In his daily work, if he has cause to refer to something that may have occurred months ago, he will tell his secretary to look under such and such a date and there he will find a communication dealing with the subject in hand. In a few words Sir Wilfrid will indicate the character of the correspondence. lie has a wonderful grasp of all the business which he daily directs.

When Parliament is not sitting the Premier passes the day in much the same manner as he does in the midst of the most important ami exacting session. lie finds more opportunity. however, for reading. He comes home at mid-day for a light luncheon instead of snatching only a

few minutes during office hours for a repast. He spends the afternoons at his apartments in the East Block. There are frequent meetings of Council, and many matters continually cropping up require his attention. Paradoxical as it may appear, he gradually grows more conservative—not in a political sense, but in practice and precept. He is known as the statesman who practically never takes a holiday. Xow and then he manages to seize a few days of leisure and while them away at his former home in Arthabaskaville. Que., where, amid the picturesque surroundings of that delightful retreat he escapes—temporarily at least—the daily grind and ordeal of public life, but, of late years when visiting the quaint village, he has not been able to separate himself entirely from affairs of State, and has been accompanied

even on private pilgrimages by his secretary.

When at Arthabaskaville he loves to view the distant mountains, dearly delights in driving around the country, takes many a walk in the company of a few select friends who, as his guests, share his well-earned rest, but ever and again returning to his dearest recreation, the reading of his favorite authors.

A lover of good music. Sir \\ ilfrid is generous in his praise of the stirring selections of the Scotch, but his favorite is Strauss’ Blue Danube, a soothing, dreamy waltz. 11c is an admirer—one might almost say worshipper—of Italian operas by \ erdi, Rossini and other brilliant composers of the land of antiquity and art. Rarely does he go to the theatre to hear modern musical productions that the populace rave so much over to-dav. When the

House is not in session he prefers spending his evenings at home. He often enjoys a quiet rubber or two of bridge with Lady Laurier and any friends who mav be spending a few days under their hospitable roof. But his favorite spot is his librar}'. There he will spend hours pouring over his favorite volumes, attired in a dressing gown and halfensconced in an easy chair before a roaring grate fire—for Sir Wilfrid loves heat. A temperature of 85 or 9o degrees is not too warm for him. On his ideal home life, his constant companionshin and counsel with Lad}' Laurier, it is not necessary to dwell beyond saving that his domestic relations are of the happiest and pleasantest character. Nothing rubles Sir Wilfrid and he has been well termed "patience personified.” He is alwavs

the embodiment of sunshine and 26

good humor. Should any disappointment arise he simply smiles and with imperturbable serenity remarks to his devoted wife "Never mind ; it will be all right. There is no cause for worry." On Sundays—which is practically the only free day that the Premier has—Lady Laurier and he generali}' have a number of guests and the most charming and entertaining of the assembled company is the host himself. Members of Parliament and their wives, who remain over the week-end in Ottawa, frequently dine at his home. He knows how to pay compliments but lie does so in no set. meaningless i hrascs. I lis words of appreciation are confiai and sincere and not indiscriminately given. bond of travel and sight-seeing, when occasion permits, he considers Lake Geneva, famed for its great natural

beauty and historical associations, the loveliest resting' place in Europe. While sojourning there after the Colonial Conference in London in 1907, he took many long walks with his party of tourists. On his return he would again take up his favorite books.

If in search of a holiday— not necessarily one of rest—he would prefer Rome of all the Old World capitals. The Eternal Citv, celebrated for its antiquities and ancient memories, appeals strongly to his studious, thoughtful nature. One great ambition of his is to again visit Geneva and Rome and there spend many weeks. Sir Wilfrid is a good traveler by land but not by sea—billow and brine he cannot breast.

The rooms of his residence contain manv evidences of honors and gifts that have been showered on him and Ladv Laurier by friends and admirers at home and abroad—from life-size portraits in oil to the golden snuff-box encrusted with gems presented to the Premier on the occasion of the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Canada in 1901, the silver casket presented by the city of Edinburgh in 1902, and the gold caskets presented by the cities of London, Bristol and Manchester in 1907, along with the freedom of these cities, on the occasion of the Colonial Conference of that’ year. Numerous elaborate and handsomely engrossed addresses hang from the walls while others are carefully stored away— for their number runs into the hundreds—but the sentiments conveyed

are not forgotten. Sir Wilfrid Laurier lives the busiest of lives, crowding as much reading and business into a single day as many another man does in a week. He is an ardent worshipper of nature and art. "1 he very temperament and dignified air of the First Minister proclaim that. “A picture gallery all by himself” is the way a leading Senator recently described him.

Pomp and pretence, decoration and display do not appeal to this eminent Canadian, who is the final court of appeal for so many knotty problems. He has no use for the sycophant, the bore or the grafter. “Titles and badges,” he once declared, “do not make the man. I myself would prefer to be called Wilfrid Laurier. I commenced my political career under plain Alexander Mackenzie, who began life as a stonecutter and lived and died plain Alexander Mackenzie, and one could not well better his example.”

In an address before a Western Ontario audience during the campaign of 1908 he made use of these words: “My days cannot be very long now. But whether they are long or short, I shall always treasure as the most holy thing in life—if I may say so—the confidence which has been placed in me by men who are not of my own kith and kin. When my life does come to an end, if my eyes close upon a Canada more united than when I found it ovei twenty years ago, when I assumed the leadership of the Liberal party, I shall not have lived in vain and 1 will die in peace and happiness.”