Will Next Premier Be a Farmer? The Rise of Lapointe

J. K. MUNRO December 1 1919


Will Next Premier Be a Farmer? The Rise of Lapointe

J. K. MUNRO December 1 1919


Will Next Premier Be a Farmer? The Rise of Lapointe


THE shock of the Ontario elections left the Union Government dazed but undismayed. As the sputtering wires spelled out the story the surprise was succeeded by a sort of stupor. The House adjourned early, partially because the members couldn’t keep their minds on the argument, but more for the reason that the few lonely ministers on the front benches wanted to ask their colleagues who were keeping tab on the returns what it all meant. Hon. J. D. Reid and Hon. C. J. Doherty tarried for a few moments in the corridors. But a few volleys from the telegraph booths drove them into a retirement where their feelings did not have to be masked by smiles. And surely a few of those'volleys were as surprising as the first cloud of German gas at St. Julien. They came something like this: “Tory Toronto elects five

Liberals,” “Sir William Hearst beaten by a Laborite by 1,200 majority,” “Five Tory ministers among the slain”; and the volleys were succeeded by a steady fire of “Farmer candidate defeats Tom MeGarry,” “Farmer wins in Centre Grey,” etc., etc. In fact it seemed to rain farmers.

Do you wonder that the ministers hived by themselves in an upper room while the common every-day members took refuge in Room Sixteen and gazed at each other in a sort of mute consternation? Only the French Canadians were jubilant. They failed to realize the true meaning of it all. They know that Ontario was slipping from the nerveless grasp of a Tory leader and that was enough for them. They shouted for pure joy when it was announced that H. Hartley Dewart, who made the last stand with Sir Wilfrid Laurier, was elected by 7,000 majority. They

could see their ancient enemies being tumbled from power and they failed to realize that there were a few things in connection with the tumbling that did not bode well for their own political future. So they rejoiced and made merry. For a moment they were awed into a strained silence by the news that OrangeTory Toronto had elected John O’Neill, the Roman Catholic Liberal. But Hon. Wesley Rowell sifted through the door and towards the elevator at this time and in a moment Joe Archambault had turned their silence into roars of laughter.

“Did you hear the news?” cried Joseph, as he burst into their midst.

“The barber has just charged Rowell two dollars for a shave. His face is that long.” And, as the ChamblyVerchères humorist credited the uplift leader with a countenance of which the lineal measurement was at least two feet, the joy again was unconfined.

Quebec Began to Worrj-

T T was not till the next morning that the true significanee of the Ontario happenings burst on all and sundry. Then the Ontario members who had been taking part in the campaign began to drop in. Grit and Tory or Unionist each wore the same expression and by no stretch of imagination could it be interpreted to mean inward happiness. With the farmers sweeping both the Lambtons, Fred Pardee confessed that he failed to see anything humorous in the situation. Nor did Duncan Ross, back from Middlesex, where the agriculturists had devastated all three ridings, radiate anything that could be mistaken for good cheer. Then and only then did the French-Canadian statesmen begin to realize that their joy had been premature and possibly misplaced. Further they began to have certain misgivings. For, be it known that a score of these young French-Canadian statesmen are lawyers who have wandered out into the green fields and plucked for themselves daisies in the form of agricultural constituencies. What if this farmer epidemic which claimed Ontario as its own, and which was reported to be raging west of the Great Lakes, should jump the Ottawa River and gather the habitant into its clutches? The very thought was appalling. Nor did they gather comfort from the joker who figured it out: “Last fall it was the ‘Flu’; this year it is

the farmer. Did the ‘Flu’ overlook Quebec?”

And then they began to figure the situation at home. Here’s how one well-posted young Quebec member put that situation: “Gouin is

going out, that’s sure. Hon. L. A. A. Taschereau, who is billed to succeed him, is far from popular. Hon. J. E. Caron, probably the best Minister of Agriculture in all Canada, is able and ambitious. Also he is all for Caron and for Caron all the time. If he should decide to start a farmer movement in Quebec no one can tell what might happen. Nor can anyone tell where we would get off at.”

So, with Quebec faces showing concern and Maritime members worried by reports that the farmer candidate in Carleton-Victoria, N.B., was looming up like a winner, deep gloom pervaded the Opposition benches, replacing permanently the momentary joy that had followed the first reports from Ontario.

Farmers Were After Union Government

QUT, if the Grits were gloomy, the Unionists were vexed and angry.

Every returned warrior from the Ontario front, be he Liberal-Unionist, Conservative-Unionist or straight Tory, brought the same story.

“It’s this outfit in here they’re after,” said one of Hon. Wesley Rowell’s few followers as he nodded towards the holy of holies from which orders-in-council once flowed in such profusion.

“Nothing but daylight-saving and the Board of Commerce counted in my constituency,” reported a Tory of the Tories who represents a dairy constituency.

And so it went all down the line. Summarized, those reports read: “They struck at the Union Gov-

ernment over Hearst’s head.”

And each group of Unionists, who discussed the matter, arrived at the same conclusion : “If we went to

the country to-morrow not a corporal’s guard would return.”

It is hardly surprising, under these circumstances, that the unanimous verdict was to stay where they were till the last possible moment and there were anxious enquiries as to when that moment might occur. It was finally discovered that the writs of the last election were returned January 19th, 1918. Consequently the life of this Parliament will expire on January 19th, 1923. “And on that night,” laughed a Western M.P. who had had more time to realize the significance of the farmer movement and who had become reconciled to his fate, “we can stand up in our places and sing ‘Where do we go from here’?”

Others more optimistic had hopes that the farmer tide would ebb as fast as it had flowed, and that three years hence the agricultural movement would have gone the way of the Populists in the U.S. or the Patrons of Industry in Ontario. The farmers are a suspicious lot, they argued, and the best thing that could have happened to us is that enough of them were elected to make them the dominating faction in the Ontario House. Now watch them quarrel among themselves. By the time the three years’ grace has expired, they’ll be split and torn asunder till you can drive the party wagon anywhere through their ranks. Anyway .they’re not built on a solid foundation. The cancellation of exemptions under the military service order-in-council brought them into existence. The war is over. In three years they’ll have forgotten the M.S.A. and they’ll drift back to their old parties like px-odigals who have tired of the husks of discontent and remember only the delights of getting their legs under dad’s dinner table.

The Country is in a Period of Unrest

\ ND there may be something in this line of argux ment. But it is also well to remember that a great war always carries in its trail an unrest that makes for the betterment of human conditions. No observer of government in Ganada will refuse to admit it is a long time since this colony, or nation, whichever it may be, has had representative government. It voted the Liberals into power and got a Laurier dictatorship. Tiring of that it turned out the Liberals and got a Borden dictatorship in its place. The net result was always the same. The lawyers, the representatives of privilege, were always in command. Each party, under command of its chosen leader, catered to a different group of favorites, but to each the “pee-pul” were a minor consideration.

More than once I have heard a member of the Press Gallery remark as some particularly atrocious measure slipped through the House as if it were greased: “If the

people could sit in this gallery for six weeks and see the meaning of everything that goes on they’d burn the building before going home.”

Now this sounds like Bolshevism. It may even be as bad as that. But is it not a sort of constitutional Bolshevism that is sweeping Canada? The Anglo-Saxon does not try to get his rights by destroying property. The great majority of him owns a little property of his own. And when a man has paid local improvement tax he’s mighty slow about tearing up the street and throwing it into the bay.

But there is no denying the fact that constituted authority is more or less in contempt at the present time. You’ll notice that the Ontario earthquake was a protest not only against the Hearst Government, but against other Governments of a like kind. The people voted for farmers, returned soldiers and labor men. They showed that they were tired of things as they are and were prepared to try something, or anything, else. They proved that they had outgrown the idea that only lawyers can rule. Possibly they had looked at the country as it is after fifty years of lawyer rule and concluded that Governments made up of more common material could not have done much worse. And surely Canada could not have her finances in a more deplorable condition or have a more complicated and expensive railway problem on her hands if she had been ruled by graduates of the work hours rather than by the finished products of the law colleges.

Anyway the first move in a constitutional revolution has been made. Staid old Ontario, the most conservative of all the provinces, has made it and, though surprise is depicted on almost every face, to those who have been watching the trend of public opinion only the expected has happened.

Take Hon. T. A. Crerar, for example. The night before the Ontario election, I asked him how many farmers would make the grade and he answered quite casually, “About forty, I think.” Consequently the news was no surprise to him. Neither did it excite him. When the returns were coming in he was making a speech in the House, placing himself squarely on record as in favor of public ownership. He smiled quietly as, after finishing his speech, he paused for a moment to hear the returns on his way to catch a train. He was even then on his way to attend a meet ing of the farmer members at Toronto. That meeting had been arranged days before the election took place.

Putting Facts Into a Debate yOU may gather from this that the 1 farmers are not going off at halfcock. Also rid your mind of the idea that the farmer with the wisp of hay in his whiskers or his pants tucked into redtopped boots is coming to town. The days of “Sockless Jerry Simpson” are past. The farmer of today is as well educated and well dressed as any other class. He drives an automobile instead of hitching “Old Dobbin to the Shay.”

In the House of Commons he looks as well and talks quite as sensibly as his fellow member. Of course, he is not so glib as trained talkers like the lawyers.

But some of him have a

habit of getting Vat the root of things instead of painting them over with words. Take a recent example. The House was having a nice debate on the Grain Act. It promised to last all afternoon and the Press Gallery adjourned to look for something more interesting?—that is, all except Tom King. Tom stayed and listened. In about half an hour Tom rejoined the crowd.

“How’s the debate, Tom?” queried one of the gang.

“Oh, it was a real nice debate,” Tom drawled, “till that man Crerar spoiled it.”

“What did Crerar do?”

“Why, he got up and told them the facts.” That was the second debate Crerar spoiled the same week and in the same way. He got up in his own quiet way and made a statement of fact that killed discussion. Admittedly he’s no orator. He’s as different from those roaring agitators who headed the Populist movement as day from night. He’s a big, lanky chap who looks as if he might be hard to handle in a fight but he wears a boyish smile that assures you that if there is a fight, it won’t be of his making. He is forty-three years of age and doesn’t look it. Neither does he look like the head of a business that has an annual turnover of a hundred million dollars. But that’s what the United Grain Growers and subsidiary companies have grown to. And T. A. Crerar, school teacher, farmer, etc., has been at their head since the days when he carried their mail to the post office to save the expense of an office boy. Some leader these farmers have got! You don’t wonder that he could shed his portfolio in the Union Cabinet without losing one inch of his political stature. Being Minister of Agriculture was only an incident in a career such as his.

So cheer up. All may not be lost even if the Ontario farmers have come to town. Of course, newspaper cuts are deceptive, but unprejudiced critics who saw the group photo of the elected farmer legislators had no hesitation in stating that they were quite as presentable a lot as either the Unionists or their hated rivals across the floor.

Laurier’s Real Successor is Found J^UT, as your gaze rests on that Opposition, you notice that one man is missing—probably the only man you would really miss in the whole talented outfit. That man is Ernest Lapointe, the big Kamouraska lawyer. That is, he was from Kamouraska when he last sat in the House. When he comes again his address will be Quebec East. He has succeeded to the seat of the late Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Furthermore, he is fast taking the Laurier place in the habitant hearts. When Ernest Lapointe came to Parliament in 1904, he was a big country lawyer who could scarce speak a word of English and who promised to cut as much figure in his country’s history as the average ember who blossoms for a Parliament or two and then vanishes from the political horizon or becomes a decoration of the Red Chamber. Lapointe was young, the picture of smiling good nature, and so generally a pleasant part of the landscape that he grew popular. But his knowledge of the English language grew even faster than his popular-

ity and he plodded along, gaining ground session by session. But it was only recently that it began to dawn on the House that a successor to Laurier was in its midst. By this time Lapointe had not only learnec but mastered the English language. Moreover, he was eloquent, with a sound common sense behind his eloquence, and a knowledge of constitutional govern ment such as is possessed by few men in Canadian public life.

Then came the Grit Convention and, coupled with it. Sir Lomer Gouin’s attempt to hoist Hon. W. S. Fielding into the Liberal Leadership. Now Sir Lomer discovered that Fielding is not popular with the Frenchmen. And here it might be remarked that this little French capitalist, who rules his native province with a rod of iron, is a bit of a fox. So it is charged that he schemed to pull his own province out of the voting. With Quebec out, Fielding would have had a walkover. Anyway, when the Quebec delegates caucused, a passionate and eloquent young Frenchman named David arose and pleaded that, as no Frenchman was to be named for leader, Quebec should hold aloof and iet the delegates from the English Provinces elect whom they pleased. Young Mr. David played his part well—so wrell that for a moment it looked as if he might stampede the caucus. It was Ernest Lapointe who rose to the occasion. Quietly and gently he pointed out the foolishness of Quebec further separating herself from the rest of Canada, and, when the vote wras taken, David stood alone. All the

complished the defeat of Sir Lomer—even if they had to elect W. L. M. King as one of the incidents of that defeat. It might be added as a sequel to the above that Mr. David has since been taken into Sir Lomer Gouin’s Cabinet.

That victory over Gouin caused discerning people to look more closely at this man Lapointe. And the more they looked at him the better they liked him. He made what was easily one of the best speeches in the Peace Treaty debate and did it with a simplicity and lack of affectation that is all too scarce in these days of pedantic orators.

Lapbinte and Crerar May Unite

'“pH EN one day he created a bit of a sensation by' -*■ rising in his place in the House and resigning his safe seat of Kamouraska. There was trouble in Quebec East. A multiplicity of candidates who refused to drop out made it appear that Armand Lavergne, the Nationalist le*ader,had the best chance of election. Hon. Jacques Bureau, Lapointe’s inseparable friend, saw the chance—the double chance, in fact—and grabbed it. Here was the opportunity to establish Ernest Lapointe, not only as the head of the opposition to Gouin, but as the smasher of Nationalism for all time.

Henri Bourassa is in retirement. The only Nationalist leader in sight is La-vergne. The habitant must have a hero to follow else he finds one somewhere else. Lavergne, elected in Laurier’s seat, might well hope to be that hero. So Jacques Bureau slipped down to the ancient capital, the other candidates were induced to withdraw, and Armand Lavergne woke up one morning to find himself faced by Lapointe—who could make him look foolish on the stump—and sure defeat. Lavergne did the only thing left. He funked the issue— and lost another chance to be a hero.

On the other hand, Lapointe went on and was triumphantly elected. To-day he fills Laurier’s seat;

Continued on page 108 to-morrow he will have Quebec behind him as solidly as it ever was behind the Plumed Knight. There is also further political significance to all this. The farmers are coming down from the West and from Ontario in force after the

Continued from page 25

next election. Strong Unionists even now admit that the next Premier will smell of the new-mown hay. But if Quebec and the Maritime Provinces fail to come under the farmer epidemic they will hardly be strong enough to control the House. They can’t tie up to the Unionists. This year’s budget vote showed that. They can’t cut in with the old line Grits, who are more reactionary than the Unionists. But they may find allies in the Lapointe-Bureau Liberals. You might have noticed that during his recent campaign, Lapointe went out of his way to eulogize Hon. T. A. Crerar. And this, at the time when the old line Liberals had sent McMaster of Brome and Pedlow of Renfrew, away out to Assiniboia to help Motherwell, an old line Grit, lose his deposit to Gould, a Crerar candidate. Just another indication—isn’t it?—that the split in the Quebec Liberals is widening? Just another straw that shows which way the wind blows.

That wind, by the way, so close political observers will tell you, is blowing Hon. T. A. Crerar and Ernest Lapointe closer together every day. That’s the combination that may form the next Federal Government. They’re just about the two biggest men in Parliament. And they both make the kind of appeal that fits the circumstances. Crerar appeals to the farmers. Lapointe is a hero to a people who fall for hero worship even more easily than they become the victims of an epidemic such as is sweeping the rest of rural Canada.

By the way, Sir Henry Drayton, the new Minister of Finance, paid the House a brief visit ere he started out to borrow the money to make his job worth holding. Rather a likely fellow, Sir Henry, if he wouldn’t try to look so blamed amiable. However, that’s a fault peculiar to new politicians. Sir Henry may grow out of it.