Ribbing Up The Liberal Party
A Story of Inside Developments in Canadian National Politics
H. F. Gadsby
Who wrote “The Duff Boom” and other Sketches.
EDITOR'S Note.—.¥r. Gadsby is doing a new series of articles for readers of MacLean’». The first of this series, “The Duff Boom,’’ appeared in the September issue. Herewith he tells the story of “inside” developments in the Liberal party. Iff ext month he will do the same with the Conservative party. The new series, in fact, will cover the political situation in Canada fearlessly and impartially. Mr. Gadsby’^knowledge of the political field is such that he can be depended upon to give a comprehensive view of the situation.
THE trouble with the grand old Liberal Party is ideas. They have broken out in a rash all over the body politic. The more politic the body the rasher the ideas—even the pussyfooters are flirting with socialism. The Liberal party would not feel it so badly if the ideas came one at a time but they have come in a rush like the measles and everybody knows how dangerous measles are to a healthy adult if they strike in.
The Liberals ought to know how to handle ideas because in a normally balanced world ideas are supposed to be their sphere while sentiment is that of the Conservatives. This is not such a wide difference as it appears because sentiments are merely ideas that have become fixed, ideas that have stood the test of time, ideas that represent the survival of the fittest—in short, old ideas which have embedded themselves in the social scheme. Every idea passes through three stages. First it is an ideal, the distant star of a few wistful dreamers. Next it is an idea much discussed and in time achieved. Last of all it is a sentiment too trite and outworn for those who itch for new things and so it becomes the property of the Conservatives whose general attitude toward
human affairs is that the old friends are the best friends. This is how things stand in a general sense.
p ERHAPS I had better restate my hypothesis. The difference between Liberals and Conservatives the earth over is the difference between new ideas and
old ones, between unfamiliar ideas and accepted ones, between untried theories and established conditions. Broadly speaking this difference reacts in the two parties this way — the big minds are on the Liberal side, the big hearts are on the other. The big minds are cold like the interstellar spaces, the big hearts are warm like the universal sunshine. This explains why many a Liberal experiences a change of life at sixty and turns Conservative to take the chill off his old age. It is a commonplace of history that Liberal statesmen have great troublé remaining Liberal as evening falls and the shadows close in. I need not mention Liberal statesmen who were as staunch Conservatives in
their old age, though not labelled so, as certain other Conservative statesmen were staunch Liberals in their youth, though not making that profession. Their names will occur to everyone. Then there is the Whig, who is a Liberal out of office and a Tory in. Him we have with us always to add to the confusion.
Moreover, old Liberals whose opinions have become set to a degree which only dynamite can shake suspect young Liberals of wanting to deprive them of their prejudices at a time of life when their minds are too torpid or too comfortable or too timid to excogitate new ones. How would you like, gentle reader, being, let us say, an old Liberal of sixty-five or thereabouts, with your mind made up on all matters here and hereafter, convinced that things are as they are because that is the best way to have them, anxious for the sake of peace and quiet to go down to the grave with your faith undisturbed—how would you like, I repeat, if a fresh young Liberal came along and regardless of your white hairs, called you “Gaffer! Dotard! Stick-in-the-mud!” and other opprobrious epithets, at the same time hammering you over the head with new theories as hard and spiky as a Fiji war club ? How would yop like to have a cosmos that took you years to build knocked into a cocked hat that way ?
The answer is you would not like it at all and yet that is what, as a member of the Liberal party in good standing, you have a right to expect. What does the Bible say ? He that taketh up the sword shall perish by the sword. It is the same with ideas. As many politicians go out on ideas as get in on them—Witness the reciprocity election of 1911. Moreover Liberals, as belonging to the party of ideas, run special risks because a new idea is always lurking round the corner ready to welcome the coming or wallop the parting guest.
'T'O explain the present condition of A the Liberal party, spotted like a giraffe with new ideas, let us go a long way back to the twilight period of Canadian history. Then, ideas were a habit with the Liberal party and men like William Lyon Mackenzie suffered poverty and exile and men like Baldwin and Lafontaine spoke up bravely and other heroes more obscure tought and bled for the liberties which we now enjoy. Those were strong ideas which went to the making of our democracy, and strong men handled them as strong men should always do; because a big idea in the hands of a little man is like giving the baby a bomb to play with. In those brave days of yore Liberals did not hesitate to follow their ideas to the logical conclusion even if that conclusion was blood and wounds and battlefields. Thus and so did Liberals win our home rule, defeating in open and glorious conflict Family Compacts, Clergy Reserves and many other feudal dragons imported from England with intent to be saddled on this new fine country.
Then came the Union and its problems, the Liberals still fighting for ideas, rep-by-pop and such and the Conservatives as usual backing their sentiments. After that came Confederation by which time the Conservatives had decided that ideas were the proper thing to have and joined in the beneficent conspiracy to make Canada a nation. This was the golden age for ideas, the big fascinating formative ideas which go to make our
political constitution and our social structure. Both parties gloried in^iaving ideas and pushing them along.
So keen were they, in fact, that for a short period preceding that great achievement, Confederation, it might almost be said that none were for a party and all were for the state. The Fathers of Confederation, not always as wise thereafter as history makes them out to be, especially when party passion clouded their judgment, were for the time united. They vied with each other broaching ideas for the common welfare. Thus did they lay the foundations broad and
deep but they used up a prodigious amount of material doing it. After they got through their work it almost seemed as if there was not one big compelling idea for great men to fight for. In the matter of ideas the Fathers
had strained our natural resources to the limit. The Fathers used up ideas as recklessly as the settlers and bushmen used up our standing timber. They left the intellectual field as bare as your hand.
As might be expected, a famine of ideas followed, a * — : long famine lasting forty-four years — that is to say from 1867 to 1911. During this period Canadian statesmen were visited by three great ideas, two of which belonged to the Conservatives and one to the Liberals. Averaged up, this means one idea every fifteen years. Of course, it does not work out as accurately as that because one of the Conservative ideas did service for ten years and another lasted for thirty-three with a further remand and the Liberal idea did not get across at all.
Before I explain what these three ideas were let me say that it was not Sir John A. Macdonald’s fault that ideas were as scarce as hen’s teeth from 1867 to 1896 and for the fifteen Liberal years thereafter. Sir John A. Macdonald was as strong for ideas as any Liberal that ever lived and he calculated to coax a few of them into his party by calling it LiberalConservative. But the ruse failed for two reasons—because the stock of ideas had run out and because both parties felt great shame at having new ones.
This was due to a fourth idea really first in importance which underlay and overpowered any other idea that might crop up—the idea of the Government to stay in and the corelated idea of the Opposition to get in. This selfish and engrossing idea has been the source of all the thimblerigging and corruption which have disgraced our politics for the last forty-nine years. Until five years ago we had no new issue in politics, only the Ins and the Outs. As any other kind of idea was liable to start something both parties avoided the danger by thinking as little as possible. Politics resolved itself into a more or less expensive scheme of business management by one outfit of promise-breakers or the other. The people? Oh the people be damned!
This system killed all initiative, of course. Members of Parliament dared not call their souls their own. If by some mischance a new idea fastened on them they were invited to take it out in the House of Commons backyard and throw it over the cliff. Until five years ago, such was the awe and dread of party discipline that the average legislator would sooner own up to carrying a mortgage or an overdraft at the bank than an
N otwithst anding which, there were, as I said before, three great ideas in fortyfour years. The first of these was the C. P.
R., a prophet—poet— statesman’s idea, linking the nation together with bands of .steel. Sir John Macdonald had it. Idea No. 1. As he conceived it first it was tied up with public ownership which makes him the pioneer in that path. It was the first idea anybody had had in the five years since Confederation and naturally it caused trouble. It exploded in the shape of a scandal which wrecked the Government and sent the Conservative party into retreat for five years. To offset its effects Sir John Macdonald introduced another enlarging idea in 1878—Idea No. 2—The National policy to wit, which meant in plain words protection for our infant industries until they grow whiskers and then some.
On this buoyant idea the Conservative party floated along till 1896 when the Liberals came in, mostly because the country was tired of the other fellows and it was time for a change anyway.
DID the Liberals put Idea No. 2 on shelf? They did not. They had seen the danger of meddling with new ideas and had decided to steer clear. What they did to Idea No. 2 was simply to edit it up to date, shade it about two per cent., give Great Britain just enough preference not to hurt the Canadian manufacturer and call the • mixture Tariff For Revenue Only. As events proved, Idea No. 2 which had worn well for eighteen years was good enough to keep for another fifteen. National Policy, Tariff for Revenue—it did not matter much what you called it. An onion by any other name would smell as sweet.
Thus Idea No. 2 held undisputed sway for thirty-three years and still maintains a feebly contested sovereignty at this moment. Altogether its length of days numbers at this writing thirty-eight years. During this long dry spell many ideas knocked at the door but were discouraged. The Liberals themselves toyed with all the extant ideas in the platform of 1893 but that was as far as the ideas got. Once in office the Liberals took the ground that a platform was something to get in on not to stand on. The platform of 1893, as supreme an achievement in variegated wood work as Leader Rowell’s platform is to-day, was a pretty thing to look at; but no sensible politician ever thought of using it. It contained many novel and interesting ideas, for example, the reform of the Senate. A good joke that! You want the Senate reformed? Very well, we will reform it by filling it with Reformers. Which, with a keen sense of humor, they did and so effectually that the Senate to this day, spite of death and decrepitude and a Conservative Government in power, boasts a Liberal majority of half a dozen. That joke cost the Liberals their grand old alias of Reformers. After they
failed to reform the Senate except in a Pickwickian sense, they did not have the nerve to lay claim to the name any longer. And so it disappeared from Canadian politics.
PLATFORMS, as I said before, are dangerous because they contain ideas, and platforms have a habit of rising up when you step on the loose end of a plank and giving you a black eye. For this reason the Liberals have not built another platform since 1893 with the result that most of the old Liberals have forgotten what the Liberal principles are and most of the young Liberals are unaware that the party ever had any. This, say the wise heads, is the best way to manage it—to treat Liberalism as a frame of mind, an open attitude toward conditions as they arise; a frame of mind being always more flexible than a statement of principles, besides having no come-back to it in the shape of something one thought or said ten years ago.
The only consistency either political party arrives at is consistency with the present and a solidly built platform is
liable to get in the way and obstruct the view. This objection holds good with regard t o slighter platforms, platforms of a temporary character. Let the construction be as knock-down as it may there is always the chance that something will iam before the blamed thing can be folded up and put out of sight. Thus it happens that our modern politicians, though they greet every prettily-spotted o r quaintly - striped idea as it flits by, prefer to speak of the results as collections, not as platforms, a collection being something that is readily dispersed, whereas a platform may be as hard to get rid of as the rock of Gibraltar. This probably explains why the Liberal party has adopted no platform for the general election of 1917—no platform, that is to say, except the All Good which is sufficiently general for practicable purposes.
Thus the Liberal Advisory Committee which met not long ago at Ottawa, brought in a number of inspiring reports in which most of the current theories of regeneration were imbedded like flies in amber, but they adopted no platform. Nor will they. Their desire is to warm their hearts, not to burn their fingers with these new ideas.
“No platforms,” say the wise old boys. “No rafts of any kind. Just hold your breath and get washed ashore.”
TOURING the long reign of Idea number 2, the political leaders on both sides of the House'experienced little difficulty in holding other ideas back. Idea number 2 was so big and selfish that it kept the smaller ideas down. If a member of Parliament suspected that he had an idea about him, he starved it to death by refusing to think about it. He would much rather have a wooden leg or something like that that he could discuss in public. Ideas, especially ideas along economic lines, were barred so that an original thinker like John Charlton, was obliged to take up with moral hobbies. For many years John Charlton entertained himself and the House of Commons, and the people at large with his bill to raise the age of consent from sixteen to sixty or thereabouts. Such was the dearth of ideas that John Charlton’s rather pale little crusade was taken up by the newspapers and solemnly expounded and expanded as an epoch-making movement.
However, ideas will not down no matter how they are bullied. And so after John Charlton, the man of one idea, came W. F. MacLean, the man of many ideas. W. F. had ideas to burn and he burned at least one a week for the good of mankind and the front page of the Toronto World. Sometimes when news was slack, or the occasion seemed to warrant it, W. F. would burn two ideas or even three a week, which caused him to be regarded
W. F.’s ideas were as daz?ling as they were frequent.
with great suspicion by a Parliament that had burned only two ideas in thirtyeight years, and those only slightly charred at that.
It was a cold day when he couldn’t buy the C.P.R. with cigar coupons or something just as easy. Naturally he got himself disliked. Oh, but he was the brighteyed little curse to the dull fellows!
"VT EXT came Dr. Michael Clark, of Red Deer — 1908 was
the year. Red Michael they called him— John-the-Baptising for Free Trade in the wilderness of the House of Commons. Free trade? Where had the Liberal party seen that idea before? Oh, yes, to be sure. It was one of those sweet dreamland faces vanished long ago into the platform of 1893, and never heard of afterwards! A face they had loved long since and lost awhile-—for twenty years! Ah, well, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Red Michael with that old sweetheart of ours! Goodness, how time flies! And a hard time Red Michael had of it. He came into Parliament with a full beard, but he has only a moustache now. He wore his whiskers off talking Free Trade. However, he got results. The Liberal party began to suspect that there might be something in it. It served as a coaxer to Idea number 3. which saw the light in 1911.
Idea number 3—three ideas in fortyfour years—three, count ’em, three—was not exactly Free Trade, but it was the next best thing. Freer Trade, that is to say freer trade with our best customer, the United States, not so free that it would hurt the vested interests, but just enough to alarm them. It is one of the paradoxes of our politics that Freer Trade means considerably less than Free Trade, but it was enough to frighten eighteen Toronto statesmen and one Liberal cabinet minister out of the party. It got off to a bad start, but even at that it was a grand sight. Old hard shell Liberals looked at it, warmed their tired old hearts at it, said, “Now let thy servant depart in peace for mine eyes hath seen thy salvation,” went out and then—didn’t get it. All of which goes to show that ideas are not always good politics. The truth must be toldIdea number 3 was unadulterated trinitrotoluol. It back-fired and blew the Laurier Government into the next concession. Again was the engineer hoist with his own petard. Curse all petards anyway! The trouble with idea number 3 was that it was an idea pure and simple. There was no sentiment in it. In that campaign, I will always hold, all the argument was on the Liberal side and all the sentiment was on the Conservative. And naturally the Conservatives won, because sentiment in the long run rules the world. At any rate the Old Flag was waved briskly and President Taft and Champ Clark did the restThe old flag, as George Cohan says, has saved many a show.
'T'HUS and so was Idea No. 3 defeated by Idea No. 2, which is still going strong, if not stronger, in its thirty-eighth year. The Conservative policy was, if you remember, to let well enough (that is to say, the National Policy) alone. And let it alone they did, until 1914 when the war came along and WELL ENOUGH had to be tightened up seven and a half per centand the British Preference whittled to fit. Incidentally the war stirred men’s minds the world over and Finance Minister White did not escape. Circumstances have obliged him to put a number of ideas on taxation into practice which will cause Canadians to do a certain amount of close thinking on this subject.
Some people will have it that the war is responsible for another great idea—total abstinence from strong drink. But that was not an idea at all. It was a universal emotion, a prevailing mood, all blue. Now that the war is in sight of being won and beefsteaks can still be bought, though at somewhat higher prices, and the people have not had at any time to eat baled hay, things are brighter. Sackcloth and ashes are not being worn to the same extent as they were a year ago. Ontario, for example, being face to face with a long drouth, via a prohibition law on which the people did not vote, begins to lack conviction that our good Canadian flesh should b e mortified for the sins of Europe. Already the statesmen in Queen’s Park are beginning to talk of modified legislation, plebiscites, beer and wine licenses and matters like that. But that, as Kipling would say, is another story.
The shadow of the great war as far back as 1914 and thence on, engendered the idea
of a contribution to Imperial naval defence, the form of which has not yet been settled and cannot be settled now until after the war is over. The controversy and its complications are too familiar to need relating here. Meanwhile Laurier navy or not, Canada has done her share by raising a land army of four hundred thousand with another hundred thousand as a limit.
TO return to my muttons, the Liberal party, which claims to be the party of ideas, is in greater danger of suffering from them than the Conservative party, which is the party of sentiments. Only last session the Liberal party in Parliament, which as I said before, had not had to meet more than three working ideas in forty-nine years, began to show signs that its intellectual heritage was festering. Ideas that had not troubled them for a generation started rankling in their bosoms. “Lemme out,” they said; and kept bumping. The West, for example, previously satisfied to complain about free wheat, grain inspection and other business matters, suddenly developed the idea that it had nothing to do with the bilingual question and voted that way. Quebec developed the idea that certain educational courtesies it enjoyed in Ontario ought to harden into rights, and said so. Ontario said notEvidently the clash of ideas was on. The leaders were put to it to prevent a battle royal. However, they headed it off and the session passed off without further disaster.
But it was only for a time. The battle between the Old Guard and the Band of Hope was bound to come. After the session was over all the ideas were, as the Rev. J. AMacdonald would put it, released. To make matters worse they were released all at once. In fact there was a general jail delivery of ideas, most of them very pale and wan from their long incarceration. Suppose you were an idea and you had been in solitary confinement on bread and water ever since 1893, how would you look? At any rate all the ideas the Liberal party ever ignored, suppressed, denied, stabbed or choked, and quite a few it never had at all, broke out together and began yelling, “Take me up!” And take them up the Liberal Advisory Committee did ; or at least that wing of it which I beg leave to name the Band of Hope.
THE Band of Hope is the Social Service Committee, and there most of the homeless ideas, not all new, but most of them discovered by the committee for the first time and, therefore, as good as new so far as they were concerned, found shelter. The Social Service Committee has nearly all the bugs known to modern science, including eugenics and other means of drowning love in an ocean of prophylactics. It believes particularly in old age pensions, sickness and unemployment insurance, and motherhood insurance, ideas which Lloyd George imported from Germany as being suited to palliate the decay of the English feudal system. Palliatives they are and expensive ones at that for, of course, the state pays the long end of the bill. What place these nostrums have in a new country like Canada which should create opportunities instëad of breeding a pauper, class who will lean on national charity, is hard to tell. Do we confess that our democracy has failed? Besides, where will we get the money for these German frills after we have paid for the railways, discharged the interest on our war debt and met our customary obligations?
However, the Band of Hope seems to think it is all right and that the Lord will provide. Its zeal for uplift is such that it scorns these mercenary considerations. The Band of Hope is so called because it is composed of a little group of Ontario Liberals with Toronto as their headquarters, who have much more to hope than they have so far realized. Any one can see that Ontario Liberalism which can show only fourteen members in the House of Commons at Ottawa and twenty-four in the Legislature in Queen’s Park has got to be strong on hope or go out of business entirely.
The Band of Hope has for its captain Mr. Rowell, with Mr. Joseph E. Atkinson, President of the Toronto Star, as the man behind the gun, and Mr. Stewart Lyon, of the Toronto Globe, as shell passer. I take all my metaphors from the war, but the Band of Hope’s objects are altogether peacefulThey are credited with a design to establish the reign of the saints on earth, to give the children of Zion, via church union plus socialist labor, as conspicuous a part in public affairs as they had in the time of Cromwell, even if they have to steal the Liberal party to do it. When Sir Wilfried Laurier drops out after winning the next general election — if he does win — the Angels will not fear to rush in.
A^LILL the Band of Hope get its way? ’ ’ The Old Guard says no. The Old Guard has no ob’ection to the Band of Hope playing with all the rainbows it likes, but it keeps a firm hand on the organization. It will name the candidates and elect them where possible. The Old Guard is of the opinion that new ideas can best be handled by old heads who will treat them with the proper amount of cynical reserve. Moreover, the Old Guard believes that human nature being what it is, will be mightily glad to get back to the old jog after the war is over and that very few new ideas will go a long way. Some of the old ones brought up to date will serve very well. Not that the Old Guard is deaf to new ideas—not at all. But the newer the idea the greater the need of a cool head behind it.
The Old Guard will look at Uplift only so far as it is practical and thrifty. It will discourage ardent visionaries with expensive plans for introducing the millennium. It will have a judicious respect for vested interests and will not altogether forget expediency and the personal equation. The world has not outlived compromises yet.
The Have Nots will not get what the Haves have and divide it among them, but the Have-Too-Muches will probably be assessed more heavily. The Old Guard will likely direct its chief energies to sound taxation sanely distributed so that the burden will fall on those best able to pay. Moreover, the incidence of taxation may be quite different from what it is now. There is a limit to what can be squeezed out of the tariff.
Personally I am for the Old Guard. I love no government that is too bright and good for human nature’s daily food. When I think of the Old Guard leaders I think of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, that grand old statesman who will presently be seeking the ease and dignity which he has so splendidly earned. I think of George Graham, his possible successor, shrewd, hard-headed, capable, the only charge against whom is that he lends a spice of humor to the dreary declamation of the Green Chamber. I also think of “Ned” Macdonald, the strong man from down by the sea, hard fighter, cool head, firm hand, doesn’t chase butterflies-
And if need is to go outside the House for a leader then there is Mr. Justice Duff, an Old Guard, too, born that way and still a disciple of Baldwin and Lafountaine and their dispassionate, but effective, methods.