Henri Bourassa and the Nationalists.

What Laurier's defeat in Quebec means to future Canadian Politics

December 1 1910

Henri Bourassa and the Nationalists.

What Laurier's defeat in Quebec means to future Canadian Politics

December 1 1910

QUEBEC follows a leader, Laurier leads it. But when Laurier is gone who does?

Will it be Honorable George Graham as leader of the Liberal party, successor to Laurier?

Will it be Honorable Richard McBride, said to be the coming leader of the Conservatives?

They are English. Quebec follows a French-Canadian. The question is: Which of the French shall it be. Laurier is near seventy. The new leader must have sprouted his comb by now.

So is it Brodeur, the Minister of Marine and Fisheries? Or Rodolphe Lemieux, the Postmaster-General? Or Gouin, the Premier of Quebec? Or F. D. Monk, M.P., Conservative leader of the French-Canadians in Parliament?

Or, is it Henri Bourassa, the fire-brand, the man who defeated the Premier of Canada in his own home constituency the other day, the man who abetted his “puppet” against the Premier’s “puppet,” his platform of “Nationalism” against the old Premier’s platform of “Liberalism”—and won? Is it he that is to lead Quebec when Laurier is gone?

Brodeur is sick and Gouin likes the ermine of a judge’s cape. Monk, too, is sick, disappointed because he finds that peddling honest ideals to the public is often like trying to sell gold for philosophy. And the ruddy little Postmaster, Rodolphe Lemieux—is Rodolphe Lemieux, and a nice man at that.

But Bourassa, with only one generation between him and the fiery blood of the honorable old rebel—Louis Joseph Papineau, is neither sick nor weary, nor satisfied, and he has one ambition—to lead Quebec. He seems to have made some headway in that direction.

And, then, there is another thing.

If he leads it, where will he lead it? To succor Honorable George Graham, leading the Liberals? Or Richard McBride, of the Conservative camp? Or will he become leader of a third party in Canadian politics—leader of the French? If he does, what must be the price that the parties shall pay him for his aid in the House of Commons when it comes to putting through desirable or undesirable measures? What will he demand for his French support in each piece of legislation that goes through the House? What tinge of what color will he give each development of Canadian Nationalism ?

* * *

THE Naval Policy, to which Laurier is pledged, and on which Bourassa seeks to lead Quebec to condemn him, is neither here nor there in discussing Bourassa. More people than Nationalists disapprove of the Government’s course. The attack upon the new Canadian navy was made the cry in the bye-election in the united counties of Drummond and Arthabaskaville. It was used to stir the voters, one way or another. It was the subject of the despatches to the newspapers. But the real issue was Bourassa. The opposing candidates were the mere puppets of the two French-Canadians, Laurier and Bourassa. When Laurier’s man was defeated, it was not a victory for the Nationalist candidate; it was Bourassa’s personal victory. It is that victory which leads those who consider the man to wonder what more is to come. They have seen him address spellbound audiences of ten or fifteen thousand for two hours at a time; they have seen the mob pour out of Notre Dame church at midnight, at the close of a meeting, and follow him for blocks, to listen to him or to one of his aides address them from a street platform. They have seen him champion losing sides in seemingly hopeless fights and turn the current of defeat into the channels of victory. And now, he threatens to invade Protestant Ontario. He defies the Premier to open the constituency for which the Secretary of State—himself a Roman Catholic—sits. It is, of course, with much skill that he selected that riding for his defiance. He knows the split that took place between two factions of the Liberals before Hon. Air. Murphy was in the consideration at all. It is partly French-Canadian. He knows, no doubt, that it was with difficulty that the successful candidate was persuaded to resign and to allow Hon. Mr. Murphy to run in his place, and no doubt he has long since calculated the advantage which is to be had from a split between two factions and the dissatisfaction of the man who resigned. Such being the case, the opening of this constituency would scarcely be a fair test of Lauriers strength or the popularity of the naval programme. But Bourassa, by thus opposing Laurier, is revealing his intention of becoming the leader of Quebec, if not at once, then surely, when Laurier has quit the stage.

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THERE are four essentials to that leadership: Ability, courage, integrity and ambition. Laurier himself has given testimony to Bourassa's ability. When, as a young man of twenty-eight years, Bourassa entered the House of Commons as the member for Labelle, Laurier singled him out as worthy of honors. He gave him encouragement, advice and opportunities. When the Canadian delegation was appointed to confer at Washington in 1897, concerning the trade relations of the two countries, Bourassa was secretary. It was the Premier’s gift to a man whom he admired.

But after that, Bourassa chose to compel attention, rather than to have it given him. When Laurier sent the Canadian troops to South Africa without first summoning Parliament, Bourassa retired in protest, and the people of his French-Canadian constituency supported his protest by returning him to Parliament on his standing for re-election.

When J. Israel Tarte saw fit to talk Protection in the face of his Free Trade confreres, and left the Cabinet, it was Bourassa who challenged Tarte, the free lance, to oratorical combat, and Bourassa, who defeated Tarte so badly at Laprairie as to give him a push into the outer-darkness of political failure, towards which he had already set out.

When, in 1904, certain political powers plotted to gain control of La Presse and to do certain things which ought not to have been done, it was Bourassa who found it out and gave voice through his little paper, “Le Nationaliste.”

When the autonomy bills were being discussed in the House of Commons and the separate school question was a sore issue, it was Bourassa who took the stump and raised so much noise in Quebec that despite Clifford Sifton’s resigning in protest against the clauses which the Government included in the charters of these new provinces, the situation resulted in a compromise.

And at every appearance in the spot-light Bourassa was a stronger figure. He had but a small following when he protested against the sending of the soldiers to South Africa. After his victory over Tarte it was larger. After his fight in favor of the separate school clauses in the charters of Saskatchewan and Alberta, he had still a greater following. His name spread over the Province of Quebec. It became synonymous with “the rights of the French-Canadian.”

People began to talk of Bourassa’s speeches. He made them on all sorts of topics, without invitation from anyone. But he had always large audiences. Once he talked on “Patriotism” in Le Monument National, in Montreal. There were all sorts of people there, judges and lawyers and priests, on one hand, and on the other, longshoremen and laborers. The address was academic, and yet the attention was tense. The audience was brought to a state where it lay like soft wax in Bourassa’s hands. He had only to speak, to sway it to one thing or another. In the end, he paused, tilted slightly forward on his toes, and addressing the young men in the gallery, he adjured them quietly not to waste their enthusiasm on passing objects, but to cherish it for the occasion when it might serve the country’s good.

That was all. It was very simple, and yet—yet in an electric instant the erstwhile silent, closely critical audience was transformed. Rarely is such a scene as followed, to be witnessed nowadays. It was an ovation—such a yielding to the power of the orator’s spell as one reads of, but sees too seldom.

But there have been other signs of what Bourassa could do.

He took to criticizing provincial affairs in Quebec. He objected to the manner in which Parent, who was then Premier, was disposing of the forest and water-power rights of the province. So he attacked Parent, and Parent fell.

Again, there came a day when a certain Premier offered him a certain position in his Cabinet.

“No,” replied Bourassa, “I do not think that I can accept it, though I thank you for the honor.”

Pressed for a reason, he said that he disapproved of certain men in that Cabinet.

The Premier happened to need Bourassa very much, and hinted that it might be possible to arrange for the disposition of these two gentlemen in some quiet and satisfactory manner.

“No,” said Bourassa, “I cannot accept.”

And with that he set out to bring down for himself the two Cabinet ministers he objected to. He took the stump and demanded the heads of the two upon his salver. He cried that these men be eliminated.

One was. The other, as it happened, challenged Bourassa to contest. He would resign his seat if Bourassa would resign his. Bourassa accepted, and was beaten. The other man was returned to the Provincial Legislature by an enormous majority. People said, “Bourassa is dead.”

His friends thought he was sick. Few knew his whereabouts. But in the general election which followed he emerged from the temporary retirement into which he had gone, stood for election in two constituencies, and won both. People realized then that although he might be beaten sometimes, he was rather inevitable. The one of these seats was Sir Lomer Gouin’s own preserve, St. James, Montreal, where he expected to be secure, and the other was St. Hyacinthe, an old Liberal riding of his grandfather's, but which turned—not tory, but against the Liberals, for the sake of the grandson.

To-day, comes Bourassa with his challenge to Laurier over the naval policy, and into the country which was Laurier’s birthplace, which has had, Laurier for its pride and its glory, he carries the victory.

Surely these things show his ability. His ability as an orator and his ability to defeat strong men, either by that oratory, or his personal charm or “political genius,” or by being wise enough to see when the men were weak and where they were easiest attacked. Whatever the explanation of his victories, their reality remains. As to the depth of the foundation which he has laid for the support of his future operations, we shall take that up farther on.

*  *  *

TWO things have gone to enhance his native ability. His courage and his personal integrity. It is known in certain quarters that Bourassa has had many temptations thrust in his way, not the least among them are said, on good authority, to have been cabinet positions. But he refused them. They would have been the price of his personal political independence.

After his defeat by the politician, whom we have mentioned, but whose name we have not used, he accepted a position in a large financial company in the Province. The remuneration was low, and since Bourassa had no other considerable means, and was a valuable man, the company increased his stipend by a thousand dollars a year.

But it raised discussion. Bourassa’s opponents made capital of it. They said he had been offered this money in order to stay out of politics — that he had been “bought.”

So Bourassa quit the position. He scraped his means together and told the general manager of the firm that he intended going. They protested. They hinted that he was a trifle Quixotic, and that-but he left. He went into a corner and stayed there till he was ready to come out. That was when he ran in the general election and was successful in two seats. He preferred to come out into the open of political battle and face the possibility of defeat again rather than to have people say of him that he was paid to keep out of politics.

These then are instances of his ability, his courage and his integrity. They seem to have been sufficient to have carried him some distance. Not every man defeats Laurier among his own people.

But the question of Bourassa’s ambition is the heart of the whole matter. For if Bourassa is to be the leader of Quebec, now, or when Laurier is gone — and it seems likely—then in what direction is he going to lead it? What is his ambition? Why is it that he leaps into the light every now and then advocating different things? What is the common basis for all his agitations. Suppose that in time he becomes the leader of Quebec what shall be the key in which his song is written?

It is—Quebec. Years ago he told it to a man. He pointed at Quebec on the map, and a picture of Laurier on the wall, and he enunciated his ambition. “When Laurier is gone, who leads us?” he demanded. “Who is to speak for us? Quebec shall be in need of a leader, and it is I that shall try to lead it.”

*   *  *

HE can command no friends among the ardent Imperialists of Canada, nor among the ordinary English Protestants, so far as mere policy is concerned. As a man, as a brave opponent, he is worthy of respect. But in his pro-Catholic tendencies, and his obvious design to foster things French-Canadian, and to uphold the traditions of the French against the wearing effects of Time and the encroachments of the English he is bound to rouse the opposition of many Canadians.

But his “Nationalism” has been grievously misunderstood. Although in the heat of the recent election in Quebec things were said, words and phrases were used, which would seem to show that it is anti-British and ultra-montagne, still from the personal assurances of Bourassa’s own friends, and from a study of Bourassa’s speeches, one is led to the belief that his Nationalism is simply an avowal of faith in the future of Canada as a self-contained nation, one of a group of friendly, and inter-related nations, which compose the British Empire. The difference between Bourassa and the ardent British Canadian is as to the degree to which Canada would participate in the wars and general external relations of England. The Imperialist would have Canada go to war automatically with whatever nation had become a declared enemy of England, while Bourassa would have Canada refrain from all such wars unless the cause of the war were closely connected with the interests of Canada. In this way, while the Imperialist would probably be willing to leave the making of war to England, and to follow her wherever she led, Bourassa would have Canada remember that not all her citizens have the same sentimental interest in a British war and that there would have to be a reason for Canada’s participation before it could command the sympathy of the FrenchCanadian. A discussion of the Imperialist or Nationalist view is not in order in this article. One might leave the subject by saying that the extreme Imperialist would have Canada more or less a colony, while Bourassa would force Canada into a cooperative nationhood within the Empire : in which state England would have to consult her, as well as the other sisters in the Empire before embarking on any warlike venture. His view does not seem far from that of many moderate “Imperialists” in English Canada.

Everything that Bourassa has done has been along this line. He has held up the interest of the French-Canadian. He has pointed out that not all Canada would be sentimentally interested in a British war, although the French-Canadian would support England were she in actual danger of defeat. He has reminded people that the French-Canadian has no desire to go to war for sentimental reasons only. And, after all, the average Canadian, of fair mind, will admit that it is a fairly reasonable stand to take.

Then, suppose that this is Bourassa's stand. What foundations has he laid to support himself on such a platform. In the past years of his activities has he accumulated political strength? We may say that he has personal ability, courage, integrity and ambition, but unless he has been building his ground-work he must be badly off when all the forces of established leadership are brought against him. How deep, therefore, is Bourassa’s strength? Whence come the roots of his political vitality?

When he used, in the Quebec Legislature of a Thursday afternoon, to stand up and speak for hours on uncalled-for topics —what was it that he aimed at, people asked. They saw nothing but a few young priests sitting in the gallery. And yet Bourassa measures the littlest advantage ; each young priest, as he knew, would grow to be an active priest, an influence in a riding some day. He would talk about the speech when he returned to the seminary, and would remember the man, Henri Bourassa, years hence, when he might be tending his little flock of souls in his future parish. With graduation class, after graduation class, of these young priests has Bourassa planted the seed of “Bourassa-ism.”

What is his relation with the young French Catholics of Quebec? They have a strong organization. Not many years ago, this organization agitated for a law compelling the railways to supply timetables printed in French for the districts where only French was spoken. Their agitation seemed in vain until Henri Bourassa passed by, and taking up their cause, carried it to a successful end. There, again, he planted for a future reaping.

He has stood always for the French-Canadian and for the use of the French language. The French clergy firmly believe that the life of their religion depends upon the life of the French tongue in Canada. Consequently, there was almost consternation when at the recent Eucharistics Congress, Archbishop Bourne, speaking in Notre Dame, was held to have suggested that the day of the French language was passing, and that English was taking and to take its place in the Church.

Quick to see an opening, Bourassa, who spoke shortly afterward, took the other side of the question in a speech, which is said by those who heard it, to have completely dominated the nearly fifteen thousand people who were present in the church. Again had he enlisted the friendship of the dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec.

He has his faults, this man. He sometimes repeats conversations which other men would regard as personal and secure against repetition. He goes great lengths in acting upon Cobden’s theory that in agitation it is necessary to move your audience to a high pitch of anger or enthusiasm. But on the whole he is a strong man, a master of oratory and an opponent to be respected, at least. As an orator he is a man of force, and yet of great charm. There is nothing slipshod about his oratory. At a mass meeting he catches his hearers at the very outset. He can be serenely courteous and yet he often pains and surprises people by the use of expressions that are unworthy of him. The best passages of his speeches are all carefully worked out before he delivers them and when there is a repetition of a phrase he delivers it each time with increasing dramatic effect. He speaks rapidly and with vigorous gestures. He uses English well, but French better.

He is the knight of Quebec, impetuous and yet cold ; hasty, yet cautious ; imaginative, yet practical ; he flares into prominence every now and then like a torch, relighted by some mysterious hand at odd intervals. Like a torch, someday, he will set afire the imagination of the people, inspire the engines of their minds and direct the energy of Quebec—one way or another, as he pleases.—B. B.C.