Has Canada a Political Boss?
Something About Sir Clifford Sifton and His Habit of Swinging Elections
H. F. Gadsby
SIR CLIFFORD SIFTON is fifty-six years of age, as young in mind and body as he is ripe in wisdom and experience, and fit every way. If a great occasion ever calls for a great executive it will find Sir Clifford Sifton in great condition. He is one of the busy rich and his gospel is hard work.
That is the way he keeps fit.
S i r Clifford has two hobbies —horses and the Dominion o f Canada. He rides hard for his body’s health and he thinks hard for his mind’s refreshment. It is not too much to say that Canada is his main interest in life and that the Conservation Commission, of which he is chairman, is the medium of his good will.
Outside of that his chief athletic exercise is swinging elections. He is a giant swinger and, as he does it only once every six years, he has plenty of time to gather strength and make a good job of it
These sextennial appearances and disappearances of Sir Clifford Sifton’s are very disturbing to his enemies. They never know where he is going to turn up next. All they know is that each sixth year he will burst into view like a comet in the sky and that great events will befall and will continue to befall until Sifton hides his light again. The great event that usually happens is a general election and, when the shouting and the tumult dies, it will be found that Sir Clifford had the great event by the tail and was doing about what he liked with it.
One thing certain is that Sifton never interferes in Canada’s affairs save for what he considers Canada’s good, and having done his bit he leaves the glory and the reward to other men. This is the strangest part of Sir Clifford Sifton’s psychology—his avoidance of the harvest. He plants the seed for others to reap. He asses the fruit around but takes not a ite himself. He plucks victory from
defeat and lets others take the credit. Where was ever such another conqueror in history? It is as if Napoleon refused to follow up Austerlitz or Julius Cæsar ran away from the Rubicon.
Sifton is professor emeritus of Cana-
dian politics. His career at Ottawa is well known. From 1896 to 1905 he was Minister of the Interior, during which period by reason of his bold yet sound immigration policies, Canada experienced such a development as she never did before or since. Sifton has been reproached for spending too mtfch money on his settlement enterprises, but no one will gainsay the fact that he put Canada on the map by his colossal endeavors and tuned her up to play the great part in the British Empire which she has sustained from that time forward. Now that Union Government is a reality and we have a cabinet which is seized of the Western spirit—which is the Sifton spirit—which is the spirit of progress—we may assume that the aggressve immigration policy which Mr. Calder promises, and which a brother of Clifford Sifton confirms, is the old Sifton policy valid again.
Clifford Sifton is of Rudyard Kipling’s opinion—that Canada’s future is AngloSaxon and that the home for white men
of the English race is the Canadian North-west and such other vacant spots as the five Eastern provinces may offer. After the war this Canada of ours will fail of the great expectations formed of it if it does not become the substance of things hoped for and put in train by Clifford Sifton when h i s hand was on the helm more than twenty years ago.
It was in 1905 that Clifford Sifton dropped out of the Laurier Cabinet on a question of conscience and from that year dates his everysixth-year appearances which have caused so much comment. In the nine-year period between 1896 and 1905 Sifton had done h i s great work of opening up the North-West. He was now squared away to bestow on his favored domain the ultimate blessing of responsible government. H e took a great interest in the drafting of t h e Automony Bills for Alberta and Saskatchewan, aiming especially to steer clear of the great curse—as he deemed it —of separate schools.
Sifton’s idea was that separatism of education meant separatism of thought and action and did not make for harmonious citizenship or united nationhood. He saw no reason why the new provinces of the West should be saddled with the old feuds of the East, with its heritage of racial and religious strife. What Sifton wanted for the West was a clean page—no blots dating back to Confederation and before. The West had a right to go ahead on its merits with no handicaps passed along from the effete East. Sifton had had experience of separate schools in Manitoba, where he had been Attorney-General in the Greenway administration, and he desired nothing so much for Alberta and Saskatchewan as surcease from the same danger. As a former son of Ontario Sifton had not thought separate schools worked any too well there and one way and another he was determined that Al-
berta and Saskatchewan should start free and unshackled in matters of education.
As he himself put it to a friend at the time, “We must stop raising hell and raise something else. Now’s our chance.”
^ But, if Sifton was determined that the North-west with its seventeen per cent. Roman Catholic population should not be given separate schools, which took thirty per cent, to justify them in Ontario, and forty-five per cent, in the Maritime Provinces, others were quite as determined that the new provinces should enjoy the doubtful boon. Quebec was determined, and so was Laurier. Henri Bourassa was also very much determined and busied himself as a go-between for Monsignor Sbaretti, the papal delegate, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Sir Charles Fitzpatrick, at that time Minister of Justice, was also set on giving the North-west separate schools and is generally regarded as the author of the famous clause on which Sifton broke with the Government. The story runs that Sifton went away for a week’s rest and on his return found that the clause had been slipped in. The general opinion at the time was that “they had put one over on Sifton.”
ÍN the end Sifton went out alone. For 1 a while it was thought that the Ontario Liberals might bolt with him, but they had their own bargain with separate schools to consider so they held steady, though wobbling perceptibly. Sifton never forgave Laurier for the trick played in his absence and then and there began that quarrel between two big men which bore such bitter fruit for Laurier in 1911 and again in 1917. Rumor has it that Laurier repented afterwards, missing, as he did, the keen, practical mind of Sifton from his counsels, and sent messengers of peace to his rebellious colleague. But Sifton was a proud man and would not deal with subordinates. Laurier was just as proud. So these two great men never came together again. It is wagered by some that, if this feud had been adjusted, the Liberal party would be in power yet and Sir Wilfrid Laurier would not now be casting about for a sucessor while the greatest business mind Canada has produced in fifty years is a voluntary exile in England.
The more one reflects on the matter the more one is convinced that the next premier of Canada will come out of the West and it seems a great pity to those who believe in him that Sir Clifford Sifton should not be the man. How the tangled skein of national finance and social economy would unravel before his penetrating shrewdness!
His deafness, which some people make an objection, is a mere trifle. He would guess what the other fellows were saying anyway and an official nudger at his elbow in Parliament could easily
put him wise to such points of the debate as might merit his attention. At all events Sir Clifford wasn’t so deaf in 1917 that he couldn’t hear Union Government coming. Indeed, the current joke at Ottawa anywhere from April last was that Union Government would be a very fine thing because it was strained through Sir Clifford Sifton’s ear trumpet.
Many people will remember what Sir Clifford Sifton did in 1911—he swung the manufacturing East against the agricultural West In 1917 he made the reverse play—he swung the patriotic West against the indifferent East. At least that is what his critics say he did and they think none the more of him for it. Twice in six years Sir Clifford did what his enemies said he could never do again— won an election. At all events that is the charge made against him. Whether it was Sifton’s organizing genius or the luck of circumstance that turned the trick I am not disposed to say, but I do know that in each case Sifton beat the game. Wherever he has interested himself in a general election it has been “heads I win, tails you lose.” There is no need to go into motives here—what we are describing is results.
IT is worth remarking that Sir Clifford’s present frame of mind is to regard Ontario as part of the West and to rely on a rapprochement between the West and its nursing mother—which Ontario really is—to pull Quebec and the Maritime Provinces into the full swirl of national affairs. And now is the time for the rapprochement while the West feels grateful to Ontario for body-checking Quebec while Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia scored the boal. A modus vivendi is Sir Clifford’s constant cry—meaning by that a better understanding between Western enterprise and Eastern Capital. A modus vivendi may also include a sane compromise on the tariff—live and let live instead of take everything and give nothing which is the West’s weakness to-day. The limit of tariff variation in Canada is well known to all publicists. Free Trade under the Liberals means about five per cent.
less tariff than Adequate Protection under the Conservatives. The difference is hardly worth quarreling over if people are prosperous and markets easy. After all it is markets that makes the farmer happy, not tariffs, and markets the farmer has had and will continue to have in plenty. Free cattle he has had for a long time—free wheat is a more recent blessing. Nearly every item on the reciprocity schedules of 1911 is now conceded and what the farmer has to complain about in that direction heaven only knows. He says that agricultural implements cost too much — and perhaps they do — but why worry about the tools of industry when the industry is so enormously fruitful? I might just as well curse this pencil of mine—which earns me a fairly good living—for costing five cents instead of
Many reasons have been suggested why Sir Clifford opposed reciprocity and the best interests of the West in 1911 when his own newspaper, the Manitoba Free Press, took the other side. Sir Clifford invited the resentment of his fellow Westerners by the course he took and the motive-mongers naturally sought for a compelling reason. The first thing that popped into their minds was revenge on Laurier, but those who know Clifford Sifton never believed it The fact of the matter is that Sifton is a staunch Canadian and in opposing reciprocity he simply followed up a fundamental doctrine of his that there are better, more self-respecting ways of making Canada rich than by selling things to the United States.
Let motives be what they may, Sir Clifford Sifton is generally credited with winning the election of 1911 for Hie Borden Government. Up to two weeks of polling day the Liberal campaign had gone with a hurrah. Then came a change in the air, a chill, almost a frost, and the betting—sure sign of the weather—veered to the Conservative side. The story spread that Sifton was managing the strategy for the enemy and the battle was lost right there. Part of the Sifton strategy was to make a dead set on the Laurier cabinet ministers — to shoot down the leaders, so to speak—and this strategy
was so successful that threequarters of them were left on the stricken field. The veteran Minister of Militia went down before a beardless boy in King’s County, Nova Scotia. The rout was complete—but the victor—if Sir Clifford was the man — claimed no spoils. Following his usual practice he disdained the laurels and asked as guerdon the hardest job of work in sight.
' I ' HAT job he got in the
_ shape of the Chairmanship of the Conservation Commission, which is not only the hardest job in Canada, but the most important for the future welfare of the country. It is a happy turn of events that the man with the most constructive intellect for resolute administration is posted, in this time of stress and storm, where those qualities are most needed. In 1911 the Government did not consider the Conservation Commission a big job. It saw. as through a glass darkly, that our natural resources must come to an end—as all things do — if not prudently managed, but it assumed that the end was a long way off and that the old haphazard, wasteful methods had years to go yet Let the next generation worry — that was their cue.
Sifton was the man who saw the danger close at hand and took measures to meet it. His watchwords were “conserve,”
“restore,” but it took a worldwar to bring this doctrine of thrift home to the whole people.
Time has proved that Sifton was right, but his great merit is that he didn’t wait for time to prove it but went ahead with the necessary measures. That the natural resources of Canada are in as good shape as they are is largely due to the far vision and untiring vigilance of Sir Clifford Sifton, who has done sentry-go for the people’s interests for the last six years. The Conservation Commission is known in Ottawa as the one commission that gets things done. It gets things done because it is a projection of Sir Clifford’s personal efficiency, buttressed by capable officials who reflect the Sifton mind and are confident of their chief’s support. This confidence is mutual—Sifton backs his men up and his men do the same by him. All questions of conservation are solved on the simple formula of the greatest and most lasting good for the greatest number.
The Conservation Commission embraces in its purview all the resources of the field, forest, river, lake, sea and mine. Sir Clifford’s last annual address took in such various matters as forest patrol, replanting, briquetting and carbonizing Alberta lignites, prairie fires, white pine blister, the pulpwood industry, illustration farms, rural school gardens, farm accounting, breeders’ clubs, tractor demonstrations, co-operative tillage and marketing, fuel control, wasteful mining, nickel development, electric smelting, the flotation process, steel for shell making, fire losses, town planning, civic improvement and—water powers.
From the space given to water powers
it is clear that Sir Clifford Sifton considers this the greatest question of the day. The bibliography of water power in Canada amounts now to a pile of books six feet high—all of which the Conservation Commission has read and digested. The net result of this research is that the water power of Canada represents one hundred and seventy million tons of coal running to waste every year. In this vast reserve store lies the solution not only of Canada’s power problem, but to a great extent of her heating problem also. If Quebec and Ontario, for example, are ever to be independent of Pennsylvania coal— and we can’t go on begging of the United States much longer—water power must do the business. Wherever black coal is lacking white coal must do the work. When Sir Adam Beck took hold of the Hydro-Electric the most sanguine prophets spoke of ten thousand horsepower as the limit. Hydro-Electric is now distributing two hundred and fifty thousand horsepower and could sell that much more if it had it.
Sir Adam Beck is a sort of river god and Niagara is his special care. He is, I take it, not much interested in other projects, being busy enough with his own. This leaves the St. Lawrence to Sir Clifford who has acted more than once as its tutelary deity. Some years ago Sir Clifford defeated an attempt to steal the St. Lawrence river for a group of gentlemen in New York, who aimed to divide a million dollars a year among them and give Canada nothing for it. This attempt is likely to be renewed this year, but with Sir Clifford on guard the prospect of success is not overwhelming. Canada’s share
of the St. Lawrence is two million horsepower — enough to turn all Eastern Ontario and a good part of Quebec into a hive of manufacturing industry. The policy of the Conservation Commission is to develop this power under a joint international commission of expert engineers, to dispose of Canada’s share in Canada, to keep it under public control, to make no lease to private corporations, and to allow no vested interests to be created either here or in the United States.
The Conservation Commission, given a free hand, may be trusted to handle St. Lawrence power for the benefit of the people concerned in its use. It knows a great deal more about the subject, for instance, than the Committee of Scientific and Technical Research whose first proposal was that the river might be dredged to a navigable depth of thirty feet, not knowing that it would ruin Canada to pay the bill and provide nothing in the way of practical result that the fourteen-foot channel does not furnish already. The Committee of Scientific and Technical Research should devote itself to study and the collection of data on which policies of conservation may be based. Its proper function is deliberative, not executive—to think and perpend, not to do. When it oversteps this mark it only shows what a pottering and futile body it is. Steps should be taken to fit it in where it belongs—a research branch of the Conservation Commission under the guidance and impulse of Sifton’s practical mind.
WHEN Sifton came back to Canada in the spring of 1917 the Union Government idea had sagged considerably. Premier Borden had had bad luck with it. but was still set on forming a trump hand out of two spots and discards from the Liberal party. The Conservative party was sore at its leader for peddling its chances among the little fellows. It looked to Sir Clifford as if Laurier might win and he didn’t favor the prospect because Sir Wilfrid did not seem to be as keen on war matters as he might be. Sir Clifford, who has one son at the front and another invalided home to England, was of the opinion that the war and nothing else in the world mattered. Not only did the safety of democracy and the triumph of Christian civilization depend on its being won, but the honor of Canada was at stake—we must “carry on.” That meant, of course, that Sir Clifford believed in conscription.
Sir Clifford sounded four Liberal members of Parliament on the subject with the result that those four members said Sir Clifford said one thing and Sir Clifford said that he said nothing at all. Nobody lied. The simple explanation is that the four Liberals read opinions into Sir Clifford’s question which Sir Clifford did not hold. When you are quizzing another man on his views you do not stop his flow
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Has Canada a
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of conversation by disagreeing with him. Sir Clifford was a conscriptionist from start to finish.
The vicissitudes of the Union Government idea are well known. Sir Wilfrid was invited into a coalition government whose policy would be compulsory military service and his mind was so open on the subject that he took four weeks to make it up. After turning it over and over the Old Man came to the conclusion that the straight party game—a solid Quebec plus a scattering support in the other provinces—was his best play. He had no objection to winning the war, but he did not believe that conscription—well, let it go at that.
Thwarted there, Sir Clifford looked to the Winnipeg Liberal convention as his next hope. The Winnipeg convention was the last spasm of the old Grit machine in the West. Machinists as hostile as Frank Oliver and Charley Cross got together and put over a hurrah for Laurier that made the welkin ring. As it .turned out it was a false alarm, not the real voice of the West, but it sounded bad enough. Not a word was said about conscription, the camouflage of the occasion being that win-the-war was the purpose of the convention and that the end was what was to be considered, not the means. Turriff, of Assiniboia, who was supposed to be Sifton’s apostle, didn’t get a chance to put his conscription motion before the convention — it never got farther than the committee on resolutions —and as for Dr. Michael Clark he was driven forth into the wilderness by the tongue of a lady delegate. The tempest was considerably helped by the famous Sifton letter which was taken as a warning by the hard-shells that Sifton was trying to swing another election. They swore that he wouldn’t do it again. They swore and they swore, but Sir Clifford did, which goes to show that the Bible is right when it says swear not at all.
A FTER the Winnipeg convention had 1 *done its worst the national conscience began to speak again and Sir Clifford, working under cover now, did much to help it along. It was his idea that Union Government should reach only for the big fellows—that the best in the land were none too good for the big job ahead of Canada during and after the war. It was his idea followed out that made Union Government what it is to-day and it was on his wooing that some of the big fellows finally came in. The negotiations were long and difficult—there were at least two serious set-backs — the great enterprise was within an ace of failure, but Sifton pulled it through. When the whole truth is told Canada will give Sir Clifford Sifton credit not only for making Union Government a life-sized proposition, but also for making it a winner. The West won the election and Sifton, ably assisted by the three Western statesmen who now grace the cabinet, handled the West. There are people down East who would like to think that they rowed the boat and they just let Sifton put an oar in, but Sifton did a great deal more than that. He was the coxswain and he did the steering.
To bring this story to a close Sir Clifford fought—and ran away—from the reward. Or rather his reward was in the
good turn he had done Canada and the good Government he left behind him, pledged to thrift of money, thrift of resources—thrift of everything, except high endeavor. Sir Clifford’s chief interest in
life, as I said before, is the Conservation Commission, and what is Union Government but a Conservation Commission of national proportions—Sir Clifford’s extension movement, as it were?