The Hon. W. T. White
A Character Sketch of the Canadian Minister of Finance
An Old Associate
WHEN it was announced that Mr. W. T. White, of Toronto, would be taken into Mr. Borden’s cabinet, as Minister of Finance, some millions of Canadians asked each other “Who’s this fellow, White?” Some scores of them in the city of Toronto held meetings of protest, being exasperated that a Liberal or an ex-Liberal should be given the most important folio in the new Conservative administration. In Ontario it was remembered that Mr. White had stumped several cities against Reciprocity, and that in the big Toronto meeting he was the sole speaker, beside Mr. Borden. , A little further recollection supplied the fact that he was one of the Noble Eighteen Liberals of prominence in Toronto who had broken with their party on the great issue and were working for the defeat of the Laurier government.
There recollection of Mr. White’s public career flagged. A further effort, and Mr. White was identified with the speech of protest made to Sir James Whitney when it was determined to operate the Hydro Electric in competition with the Electrical Development Co. In that speech occurred the phrase “Naboth’s Vineyard,” and it stung. Mr. White had served on the Board of University Governors, and on the Hospital Board. These facts comprised all his public and semi-public career.
Looking over the record it hardly seems in itself justification for Mr. White’s preferment, and in this respect
it might be said that his rapid advance belongs to that numerous class that it is difficult to understand. However, there were in the City of Toronto some hundreds of men and women, and in the Provinces of Ontario and Manitoba some scores to whom Mr. White’s swift rise was no mystery. If he had been called to preside over the destinies of the British Empire, I know men who would say, “Well, it was about time, they found out about Tom White.” These are the men and women who have known the Hon. William Thomas White for some thirty years, some of them longer, for it is likely that the boys who went to school with him felt that he was something out of the ordinary. They are right, too, and the millions are wrong, but they are not likely to be wrong a great while. The Minister of Finance will educate them.
The whole truth about Mr. White is that, to use a slang phrase, he has the “goods.” He has every reason for his success ever a man had. No one could' talk with him for five minutes and not know that he was a clever man, to use no stronger adjective. When you get a clever man who will work, why should he not succeed? Especially if he has youth and health and ambition, and on top of that another layer of ambition, and perhaps even another. I lay emphasis on the ambition. If it is a fault both Caesar and some other great men had it. Mr. White was a financial success because he would allow nothing to staijd in the wav of being a financial success.
He will succeed in politics for the same reason, for he has all the tools in his grip except, perhaps one, and that is the greatest of all. Sir John Macdonald had it; Sir Wilfrid Laurier had it; most
great generals had it, and it is called by different naines. It makes a follower prefer to be in opposition with his leader than in power without him j it makes a
soldier bear hardships for the sake of his general’s smile. It is a quality of the heart, not of the head, and when it is in operation it makes men comrades. The Hon. W. T. White hasn’t it. Fol-
lowers won’t bear hardships for his sake —not twice. To-day he is not a man of intimate friendships. He has admirer«* and many well wishers; but he hasn’t
many friends, for lie has the gift of turning friends into admirers, and of course this costs friends.
As far as the country is concerned, a statesman may be all the better for having few friends. There are the fewer reasons for him sacrificing the public interest on sentimental grounds. Hon. W. T. White will not sacrifice the public interest on grounds of sentiment. He was born in Halton county, but metaphorically speaking he is “from Missouri” and if you want anything from him, you will have to produce reasons why you should get it. The reason that you knew Tom White in the days when he was a Tom White is no reason at all; nor is the fact that you once played pool together, or spouted poetry together. You may have done either or both of these things with the Minister of Finance, but if you think the fact puts you on any footing, you make a mistake. You have come into Mr. White’s presence feeling like a friend; you go out an admirer, and one of the growing throng that understands why this young man has been made a minister.
The Minister of Finance is forty-six years old. He was borne near Bronte, where his father’s cousin, Mr. John White, M.P., was a notable figure a generation ago. Mr. John White was, as many will remember, a great horseman, and carried off some of the earlier Queen’s Plates. When the present minister was a small boy, his father’s cousin was making the name of White famous abroad by sending to the Centenial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876 the only thoroughbred horse entered from Canada. He won first prize with it, and for some years we may well suppose that the triumph was sweet to the White family. Tom’s father who was employed by the cousin, caught a chill and died, leaving the widow with two children to fight the battle of life alone. This she was well qualified to do. There was a considerable connection on both sides of the family, and we recall what Thackeray said about the Irish, namely that you couldn’t find an Irishman so poor that he wasn’t helping some other Irishman poorer than himself. There is nothing but Irish blood in the Hon W. T. White and his Irish kinsmen did not forget
their duty to his mother, suddenly left alone in the world. The boy was taken by first one and then another, and his schooling went steadily forward until he had reached the age of sixteen or seventeen, a tall, lanky, freckle-faced lad with a fondness for poetry and a determination to climb. At that time one of the most flourishing members of the White connection Avas Mr. R. J. Fleming, then alderman for St. David’s Ward, and at present manager of the Toronto Railway Company. Mr. Fleming’s father was a brother of Mrs. White’s mother, and it was natural enough that the ambitious boy should be sent to the city where opportunities were more numerous, and where a cousin of his mother’s was a prominent, figure. So to Toronto Mr. White came, and until the past few weeks in Toronto he has resided ever since.
His first job was a temporary one in the Assessment department, which he secured through the Alderman’s influence. Through Mr. Fleming’s friendship with Mr. John Ross Robertson, proprietor of the Toronto Telegram, and with Mr. John R. Robinson, editor of that paper, Mr. White was taken on as a reporter, and for some years he Avorked for the Telegram. All the time he was studying hard, and worked his way through Toronto University while doing his daily work on the newspaper. It is said that when, about twenty years or so ago, the word “appendicitis” began to fall heavily on the layman’s ear, and when operations on the vermiform appendix began to be performed in the leading hospitals, Mr. White Avas the only Toronto newspaperman Avho was able to promptly discuss the matter as a neAvspaper man should. He Avas always interested in medical literature, and Avhen the first patient was operated on in the General Hospital, he Avas ready to sit down and write a couple of columns about the strange disease, and the remarkable new method of curing it.
Readers of the Telegram are aAvare that that journal makes a feature of reporting the TAvelfth of July Parade each year, and they will be interested to knoAV that Mr. White used to excel in this work. Whether or not he instituted it is uncertain, but certain it is that under the heading of “Orange Lillies” he used to
contribute sonie bright paragraphs and verses, that the delighted Orangemen would peruse in the Exhibition Grounds as they lay panting in the shade after the exertions of the march. One of Mr. White’s contributions to the literature of local Orangeism and only one need be repeated :—
“The Horse that good King Bill bestrode
Had brothers twain beside:
One of them E. P. Roden rode
The other one has died.”
This is not submitted in disparagement of Mr. White’s art, but merely as evidence of his versatility. Mr. White’s connection with the Telegram was not completely severed until he became Manager of the National Trust Co., although for some years before this important event in his career his contributions were only occasional. Frequently he would write editorials, and he used to say that his ambition was to write ten editorials in a column and write a column an hour. His specialty, however, was the editorial paragraph, but his style was so much like that of the present editor that it would be difficult to go back over the files and pick out the White mots from the Robinson epigrams. Even when he wasn’t writing he was often the inspiration for bright paragraphs, and Mr. Robinson used to say that ten minutes talk with Tom White was good for three or four “Ups and Downs” any way. He is a changed man indeed if his speeches in the House do not sparkle occasionally with gems of humor, for he has a keen sense of it. However, if Hon. W. T. White concludes that humor is out of place in a budget speech, you may be sure that you will find none of it there. Not Artemus Ward’s kangaroo or an Irish joke book could bring the slightest responsive gleam to his features, if he thought mirth or levity indecorous. Moreover, lie is not given to laughter. I doubt if anyone has heard him laugh out loud in ten years. Yes, I’ll make it twenty. He smiles freely, gravely and politely, and chuckles sometimes, but roars of jollity do not belong with him. In undergraduate days, Tom White’s chief fame lay
in his extemporaneous speeches. He would harangue his comrades from the top of a barrel, or table in fine classical style, and with a wealth of simile and allusion that aroused the delight of his hearers. In those days he was a good mixer and popular wherever he went.
A favorite quotation of Mr. White’s was Longfellow’s lines:—
“The heights by great men won and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight
But they while their companions slept Were toiling upward through the night.”
He has lived up to it, too; but he was not always a great man. There was a time when he was only a young man, and somewhat given to sport. Twenty years ago there used to be a good deal of pool and billiards played round the Toronto hotels, and usually for money. Mr. White was one of the best cues in the game, and his sport didn’t cost him much. Years later when he had not had a cue in his hands for many months, he was talking to a young man who used to waste considerable time and money in the pool rooms. He fancied that he was something of a player, and when he heard that Mr. White sometimes used to “take a stick” he invited him to play a little game of American billiards. So they adjourned to a room. The youthful sport won the break, and shot, not scoring. Then Mr. White ran out the thirty-six points, while the other waited for the turn that never came. Then they left the billiard hall, the youth with a chastened opinion of his own prowess. His ideas were further reduced by Mr. White remarking that he himself used to think he could play until one Teddy McCormick had played a similar trick on him in the wicked old days of the past.
He related, also, a story about Herbert Spencer who was once accosted by a youth in a hotel and invited to play a game of billiards. The philosopher complied, and the young man proceeded to “trim” him almost as severely as Spencer had “trimmed” Henry George in their debate on economics. Spencer stood first on one foot then on the other,
and then sat down, and still the affable young stranger continued to “pot the red.” Finally he ran out his hundred, the synthetic philosopher not having had a shot. Spencer regarded him gravely as he put up his cue, and then said:— “Young man, while a certain proficiency in games of skill is indicative of a well .bálanced mental equipment, such proficiency as you have displayed is strong presumptive evidence of a mis-spent youth.”
This was rather a favorite story of the Minister of Finance, and he used to complain that sometimes its point would escape the hearer. When this occurred he would add the detail that Spencer walked out of the room without paying for the table, and this post-script never failed to evoke the tardy laugh. It was a sort of test anecdote with him, and he used to divide his friends into the two classes, those, who laughed at the philosopher’s grave rebuke, and those who did not laugh until the picture of the youthful “shark” being stuck for the game was presented to them.
Apart from the game of billiards, in which he was almost uncannily proficient, Mr. White did not devote much time to amusements, although as a young man he was active and had the natural wiriness of the country lad. He was able, however, to show a crowd of admiring city boys how to pitch an. out-curve, at a time when this baseball art was merely a rumor, disputed by as many as averred its truth. Twenty-five years ago, or so, the amateur who could produce even a “roundhouse” out curve was regarded as a wizard, and I have no doubt that there are men to-day whose admiration for Hon. W. T. White was first kindled when they observed^ his long legs and arms and body twining in the convulsions preliminary to the production of a bona fide “out.”
In the meantime the work went steadily forward. One job was never enough to keep the future finance minister busy. Tie was happier when he had two or three on hand. He was a reporter on the Telegram while he was doing work in the Assessment department, and also teaching night school. Later on he became the private tutor to a couple of young men, and T don’t think there could
have been a better one, since he had the curse of affecting everyone in whom he took an interest with his own sense of neglected opportunities. He must have filled his pupils with a desire to succeed, for his favorite conversation related to some of the world’s great men who had proved their quality while they were still young men. In 1896, he displayed his first interest in politics, and it was a personal one due to the fact that Mr. John Ross Robertson was a candidate for Parliament. While Mr. Robertson sat in the house as an independent Conservative. Mr. White’s interest lasted, but apart from the personality of the member for East Toronto his political feeling was weak, and I remember him making the remark then that with the change of government an excellent opportunity was afforded for anyone to begin the studv of Canadian politics. It may have been the strong feeling generated by the “Hands off Manitoba!” campaign, or it may have been the dormant influence of his North of Ireland ancestry that induced Mr. White to become an Orangeman at this time. If “Once a Mason, always a Mason” applies as well to Orangemen, the Minister of Finance, and the Speaker of the House must be recognized as brethren, although it is many years now since he has attended lodge.
A word might be said here about Mr. White’s politics. In a partisan sense he hasn’t any. He never had. He has cast both Liberal and Conservative votes. Ilis earliest tendencies were probably toward the Liberal party, but his personal disposition is not to belong to a party, but to have a party belong to him. When he became interested in Finance, his business instinct warned him against the Hydro-Electric policy of the Ontario government, and speaking for the investors in the Toronto General Electric Light Co., and the Ontario Power Co. he protested strongly against the Whitney-Beck policy of state competition to private enterprise. Hence, the “Naboth’s Vineyard” epistle. It was a sort of semi-secret among Mr. White’s business associates that some five or six years ago, when the anti-private ownership tendency of the Whitney government became apparent, he had the am-
bition of breaking into provincial politics and heading the opposition. If it hadn’t been for Sir James Whitney, however, the chance is that no one would ever have thought of Mr. White as a Liberal. He is at heart a Conservative, and has been for fifteen years. Of course, when he signed the notable manifesto with the “Noble Eighteen” it was good politics for the Conservatives to consider him a “life long Liberal reluctantly breaking the ties of a generation.” This, however, is the politics of campaign managers. It is not Mr. White’s politics. So we may dismiss from our mind the idea that Mr. White was taken into the Borden cabinet as an acknowledgment to the thousands of Liberals who voted against Reciprocity. Mr. White is Minister of Finance because he was the nominee of the financial crowd that knows no politics. Nor is this discreditable to him, for Mr. White was the nominee of that crowd because he had the confidence of every man who had done business with him. In other words he is Minister of Finance because he is well qualified for the job. No one need have a better reason.
Mr. White’s first position of any account was in the Toronto Assessment Department. He got it through the influence of Mr. R. J. Fleming. He held it and improved it through his own ability, and through holding it and improving it he first came under the observation of the men who were later to offer him the Managership of the National Trust Company, and still later to give his name to Mr. R. L. Borden as that of the representative they ^wanted in the government. Those are the steps in the ladder Mr. White has climbed, and set down in this fashion they seem easy steps and close together, but it took a remarkable man to climb them. The tremendous feat was improving the position in the Assessment Department. It was not so difficult to become third in the office staff of the department, at that time presided over by Mr. Nicholas Maughan, for in those days the permanent staff did not include a dozen men .and boys. It was when Mr. White was made assessor, at a salary of something less than $1,500 a year, that he made the stride. He was made assessor a year or two before real estate
began to improve after the boom. The downward tendency had hardly ceased, the fashion was to mark a lot a couple of dollars a foot less than the year before and let it go. Mr. White attracted attention by not falling in with this custom, but by holding the last year’s assessment. Promptly the owners would object and appeal to the Court of Revision. This was Mr. White’s first battlefield, and as much as to any one event in his career he owes his present position to the determined way he would fight for his assessment before the Court of Revision. On one occasion he was defending a considerable down-town assessment against the attack of a prominent real estate agent who represented a number of large property owners. Mr. White had prepared his case with care. He was fortified with statistics regarding rentals, recent offers and sales, and had the whole dossier before him in a pile of foolscap. Turning his head for a few moments, he looked back to find his precious document gone. What became of it no one knows to this day, but the young assessor thought at the time that the real estate agent had appropriated it, in the full expectation that Mr. White without his notes would be at sea. He did not know Mr. White’s methods. Whoever had the document, Mr. White had its contents in his head and he-proceeded to cite figures without a moment’s hesitation, and eventually won his point. It is doubtful if ever there "was an assessor employed by the city whose valuations were as little affected by the Court of Revision or by the County Judge as those of the present Minister of Finance.
“It’s a liberal education to be with Mr. White,” was a remark the late Nicholas Maughan used to make to the assessment clerks chosen to accompany the young assessor on his rounds, and itis no bad sign that some of those clerks and the other office associates in those earlier days are among the ’warmest friends the Hon. W. T. White has today. By the carefulness of his valuations, the genial humor of his manner, and the firm but good natured defence before the Court of Revision of his assessments, Mr. White had made a reputation for himself as far back as twenty years ago. It was a time when reputa-
tions, perhaps, were easily made because so few were trying to make them. Nine out of ten people were “bear” on Toronto’s prospects, and one of the earliest “bulls” was undoubtedly Tom White. He was in a minority for a year or two, and minorities are never popular, especially if the aim of the minority is to increase your taxes, but he was in a position to show reason for the faith that was in him, and, as I have said, his assessments were not often reduced.
The last year that Mr. Maughan was assessment Commissioner was the year Mr. White did his most notable work in the assessment department, and the manner of it throws a strong light on his character. Houses that had stood vacant for years began to fill up, some trading was done in vacant lots, the grumbling about assessement was more perfunctory. Men were working, the depths reached in the collapse of the boom had been reached, and values began to rise. We stood on the theshold of the wonderfully prosperous decade that ushered in the Twentieth Century. For a year or two before, Mr. White had ventured to resist the demands of property owners who wished their assessment reduced. In one or two cases he had even been able to .justify a slight raise, but no general advance had been made.
Now, I do not need to say that the average City Hall emplovee takes his holidays when they are offered to him. With other officials of the same rank, Mr. White was entitled to a fortnight’s holidays in the summer, and like other employees he took them. But he spent them differently. Instead of going fishing or billiard playing, he spent his two weeks in the offices of the real estate dealers and builders who were best informed as regards the property situation in Ward One. Early and late he was there talking, arguing, taking notes and investigating. At the end of that fortnight by studying early and late, he had mastered the general situation as regards property values over the Don. Now it was in this region that the effects of the boom had been most marked. Over the Don yet bore the scars of its exploitation, and winced when they were touched. Nevertheless, the surgeon was
on the job who was about to touch them, and with no velvet hand.
When Mr. White had made his assessment it was found that practically every foot of property had been advanced. Even in his own office there was protest and alarm, and had it not been for the fact that Mr. R. J. Fleming became Assessment Commissioner about midsummer, resigning the Mayor’s chair to do so, it is possible that Mr. White would not have been backed up in his work. As it was his new chief was quite as much an optimist as was Mr. White. The other assessors were infused with their enterprise and courage, and property values all over the city were slowly advanced.
There was some lively battling in the Court of Revision bv the owners of vacant land, men who had hung onto their property in the lean years, in hope that there would be reaction. Now, with the reaction only faintly visible on the horizon they found the assessment department anticipating them. It wás as though Tom White had been at the mast head while they had stood on the deck. They would like to have believed that his report was correct, but for the moment it was more business like to refuse to listen to him, and to save the immediate taxes. But they found that long experience had given the Court of Revision confidence, and the assessment, on the whole was maintained. That voluntary spending of two weeks holidays in preparing himself for his routine work is one of the finest chapters in Hon. Mr. White’s history. It marked the beginning of the reform that Mr. Fleming carried out in the department, which he made the best in the Municipal service.
But even while he was engaged in this work, Mr. White had made up his mind that the City Hall was not big enough for him. Tie had determined to study law, and at an age. as he used to say himself, when most men were contemplating their past life in order to get a line on their future destination. Yes, it is a fact that the Minister of Finance, who now deals solemnly with duties and bounties and other weighty matters used to speak in this flippant strain. You may want to remember it next time you vote.
Mr. White attended no more lectures at Osgoode Hall that he could avoid, for the simple reason that he was doing his work—and much of his clerk’s work—-in the Assessment Department, and writing editorials for the Telegram at the same time. I cannot too strongly emphasize this faculty of his for work. In theory an assessor is supposed to do the intellectual part of the assessment, while his clerk does the purely manual part. Unless he had a clerk who was a wonder at figures, Mr. White preferred to do the clerk’s work too. Ile is a remarkable mathematician, and used to be able to add three columns at once and multiply mentally into the hundreds of thousands. To do this work in July and August, when you were also writing “Orange “Lillies” and “Ups and Downs,” and when another man was paid for doing it, was something not many civic officials then or now would attempt, and to do it with such good humor that the clerk was led to suppose that Mr. White really liked it, was, I think, absolutely unique in the civil service.
The only relaxation from that work, and the only relaxation Mr. White indulged in for years, was conversation. Undoubtedly he loved to talk. He wasn’t so much of a listener, as a monologue artist. He used to lean back in his arm chair, stretch his lank legs in front of him, and with his hands clasped behind his head, and a faint smile on his lips, he would talk by the hour on subjects from assessment to poetry, and from the battle of Waterloo to his friendship with the Rev. Dr. Wild. The value of hard w7ork was a favorite topic. He used to disparge cleverness, not without a tinge of mock modesty, perhaps. “If one man is six times cleverer than another,” he used to say, “and the other is seven times as hard a worker, the other will win out because the ratio in his favor is slightly greater.” He used to profess to believe in Carlyle’s definition of genius as the capacity for taking infinite pains. Nevertheless, his great exemplar was not an illustration of this definition. Mr. White used to study Napoleon, and I suppose at the present moment he could arise before a Military Institute and give an interesting description of the battle of Waterloo. Pitt also
was a favorite, and though Sir William Osier’sfamous apochryphal remark about the chloroform age had not then been made, Mr. White used to think that men who really amounted to anything had nnide their mark before they were thirty. I dare say his opinion has been somewhat modified by events.
In literature his favorites were Stevenson and Kipling. The taste is common enough nowadays, but it was not so common then. Kipling was almost unknown to the general public, and the admiration for Stevenson was just beginning. It was the phrase making of these authors that chiefly attracted him, for with Mr. White in those days the ability to say a thing well was accounted of more importance than the ability of saying it accurately or even of doing it w7ell. He used to roll the morsel “A rag, and a bone, and and a hank of hair” under his tongue as though he were a gourmet sampling some fairy vintage. There was a passage, too, in the “Wrecker” that used to fascinate him. It was where the Chinaman was thrown overboard, and sank in the sea “bubbling strange curses.” The Ancient Mariner he had almost by heart, and could quote you from Milton and Shakespeare with any professor of literature. Speaking of poetry, Mr. White had written—but perhaps this had better not be mentioned under pain of incurring the ill-will of a powerful government. Nevertheless he had written, and I dare say it is at the bottom of an old trunk yet.
But neither his talking nor his writing interfered with his hard study as a student at Osgoode Hall. Sometimes he used to sit with an icy towel around his head as he poured over the law7 books. Nor was there any reason for the cold towel except strenuous w7ork. If he is not a teetotaler he is as abstemious a man as ever studied law7. He was just as cautious in the use of tobacco, and once fearing that he might be tempted to smoke too much, he threw his favorite pipe as far as he could from a back window, tne stem in one direction and the bowl in another. Two days later his wife detected him out searching for the stem, having discovered the bowl. What his excuse w7as I do not remember; but it w7as a good one.
At Osgoode Hall, to use a sporting metaphor he “burned up the track.” He stood first in his class every year, and finally graduated with a gold medal. His intention was to hang out his shingle, and to make a practice in commercial îaw, but I doubt if the shingle ever was painted. Before he could find an office Mr. E. R. Wood found him, and largely on the strength of a recommendation from Mr. R. J. Fleming, he engaged him to become manager of the National Trust, a newly formed company. Mr. Wood was manager of the company at that time, and he held the position strongly against his will. Finally, on the understanding that Mr. Flavelle and Senator Cox and himself should do nothing but hunt for a man to take the job, he occupied it temporarily until he lighted on W. T. White. The salary to Viegin on was not great, something like $2,500, I think, but it was multiplied by six or seven before Mr. White was through with it, and ten or twelve years ago, it was no contemptible stipend, even for a brilliant young man like W. T. White. The young manager had no Draining in business except what he had received in the assessment department, and he wTas fresh from his law books, nut lie accepted the new job as composedly as though he had done nothing but manage trust companies from the cradle. “I can’t do more than lose the’ capital stock of the company the first year,” he remarked, and he set forth to emphasize the humor of his words.
When he entered on his business career, he became too much engrossed to maintain his old acquaintanceships, and most of his friends heard of him thereafter only thiough the newspapers. Two former associates went with him, both graduates of the Assessment Department, Mr. James Breckenridge, and Mr. Frank Boucher, and both are now important men in the National Trust Company. As he climbed steadily to wealth, much of the former genial levity of ' Mr. White was discarded as unbecoming a financier, and he became a grave young man. His salary was multiplied, “tips” on the stock market were put in his way, and he became an insider with the Cox and Flavelle and Wood syndicate. With Mr. Flavelle he
was particularly intimate, and he had a tremendous admiration for the moving spirit of the Davies Backing Co. “He is as remarkable in the mental world,” Mr. White said on one occasion “as a man eight feet high would be in the physical world,” but it is only fair to bear in mind the truth that Mr. White is rather fond of saying things. The old admiration for the makers of phrases stuck to him, and even yet he may not have thrown it off.
W. T. White’s career as manager of the National Trust Company might be summarized in the line from the hymn —“from victory unto victory.” He made a few mistakes and many a bold stroke. The business grew and his fame spread. He had lived for years in a boarding house on Wilton Crescent. Now he built him a fine home in Queen’s Park, and his carpets and table linen were specially woven in the Old Country. His youthful flippancy faded, and its place was taken by a gentle, Christian auster ity more befitting a man of large affairs. Here and there he dipped into pseudo public service, as on the Hospital Board and as a governor of the University. Once he blazed into wrath in behalf of the Electrical Development Company. Otherwise he said little that found its way into the newspapers.
Less than a year ago, he put his “feet up on the desk,” to use his own phrase. He handed over the management of the National Trust Company to another, and became the vice-president of the concern. What his intentions were in so doing is not certain, but his colleagues all had the idea that Mr. White, who had long had an idea about entering politics, was about to seek an opening and devote himself to public life. Then came the Reciprocitv Bill, the revolt of the Noble Eighteen Toronto Liberals, including Mr. White, his choice as the only speaker beside Mr. Borden at the Massey Hall meeting, his speech-making tour, which, it must be confessed did not materially affect the result, the amazing overthrow of the government, the fortnight’s breathless pause, and finally the rumor that Mr. White might be taken into the cabinet as minister of finance.
There can be no doubt that before the issuing of the manifesto by the noble
eighteen that there was an understanding with some one that affected Mr. White. He may not have been specifically named in the protocols; if not the understanding must have been that the revolters, in the event of Conservative success, should have the right of namingone cabinet minister. It may be that Mr. White was then named and the portfolio specified, though later events tend to weaken this theory.
This much is sure—until the day of the election, those who had been most closely associated with Mr. White presumed that his ambition was to secure a seat in the new cabinet. When he ceased to be manager of the National Trust Company, it was understood that he intended to devote his time thereafter to politics, as soon as opportunity offered. What was their amazement when it was suggested to him that he should enter the cabinet and he declared that they must be crazy to suggest such a thing. Did they think that he would go down to Ottawa and work for seven or eight thousand dollars a year? He, a man who had earned several times that amount for years past? The idea was simply a preposterous one, and he would not consider it for a moment. Other messengers were sent to him. One very big man indeed went to see Mr. White and urge him to go down to Ottawa, The very big man was repulsed almost rudely. He came away rubbing his eyes and scratching his head. Mr. White’s intimatas admitted one to the other that they did not know what had come over him. He seemed to have been working for this very thing for months, and then when it was within his grasp, he turned his back on it, and was angry with anyone who said he had ever had his eye on it.
Far be it from the writer to say how the offer was finally presented, but it was suggested to Mr. White that if he meant to refuse the portfolio, he should al least do Mr. Borden the courtesy of seeing him in person and explaining himself. So he went to Ottawa, and before he came back it was settled that Mr. White should be the minister of finance. He said to the writer that the week before this decision was made, was the hardest week in his life. Pressure was exerted from all quarters from men high in the regard of the Canadian people, and let títere be no mistake about it. this pressure was needed. It was the nearest thing in the last day or so whether Mr. White would go back to the National Trust Company or go to Ottawa.
Having gone to Ottawa, Mr. White will make good if a keen mind, a capacity for hard and sustained application, and an absolutely upright character will bring success. Nobody has any string on the Minister of Finance. If the gentlemen who so busied themselves in getting the post for him and then getting him for the post suppose that they_ have a claim on him and that they will be able to influence him, let them take a tip from one who has known Mr. White for thirty years. There is nothing doing. Tie will make his mistakes like other men. The chief of them will be underestimating the intelligence of other men. All the faults that might spring from ruthless ambition may be his. But he is as straight as a string and there will be no “White scandals.” No man or no collection of men will be able to coerce him. He wouldn’t do a dishonest thing for the sake of all Canada. There was never a colder-blooded, or a more honorable man called to his country’s service than William Thomas White, the minister of finance.