Some Things About the Farmers’ Faction—and Other Political Points

J. K. MUNRO August 1 1919


Some Things About the Farmers’ Faction—and Other Political Points

J. K. MUNRO August 1 1919


Some Things About the Farmers’ Faction—and Other Political Points


Who Wrote “The New Book” “The Power of the West”, etc.

SIR ROBERT BORDEN, the Budget and heat like unto that of dog days descended on Parliament in solid formation. Up to that time everything had been lovely. The Westerners had caucused, everybody had talked and “a very pleasant time was had by one and all.” Nobody got angry for long; nobody looked serious for more than a few moments at a time, and even the ministers mixed their wails anent being overworked with an occasional trip to the Country Club, which is the one oasis in an arid land. It was as happy-go-lucky a gathering of statesmen as ever got together under the big top.

But Borden, Budget and torrid heat are irritating influences taken separately and individually. Formed up in a solid phalanx they promise the same kind of joy a Hun regiment brought to a Belgian village. But they brought long-waited-for results.

First Hon. J. A. Crerar slipped his cable and, careening before the Western breeze, drifted into the cross benches. Now everybody had known for months that the Minister of Agriculture had only been awaiting the Premier’s return to get out of the Cabinet. They knew and they knew that he knew that he didn’t belong—that he was in the Cabinet but not of it. But in this little Ottawa world, where the political atmosphere is so thick you can saw it off in square blocks with a handsaw, it is one thing to know that a Cabinet Minister is going out and quite another to see him get out.

As you are probably aware everybody in Ottawa considers politics either the main business of life or a valuable sideline. In other words, everybody is more or less in politics and has ambitions. Those ambitions eentre in the Cabinet. If you wade back through Canadian political history you will be struck by the small number of Canadian statesmen who have relinquished portfolios. To be sure a number of great Canadians have, one time or other, put in their resignations. But the resignations have been largely of

the “sign here” variety, with the Premier indicating the place and talking in sweetly persuasive tones. Even Hon. Bob Rogers who went out amid a bit of a pyrotechnic display might have carried yet a little longer had not Sir Clifford Sifton been close to the Borden elbow urging the necessity of Union Government and exerting a sort of benign influence over the Borden end of the correspondence.

The Cabinet Was Shocked


^A. Crerar, resisting all appeals to stay on the job—and it is no secret that Sir Robert Borden was sincerely sorry to lose him—pulled his soft hat firmly down over his eyes and walked out without fuss or feathers, all Ottawa was shocked. It was shocked because it knew that a Western farmer had done something it really

couldn t do itself, because—well, it isn’t done, you know.

'Also certain of Mr. Crerar’s colleagues were shocked. Hon. J. A. Calder naturally thought a man’s duty lay where the loaves and fishes were thickest. He didn’t say so in so many words, but you could gather from his remarks that no man can be truly patriotic who doesn’t hold office just as long as a grateful people will let him. Hon. Wesley Rowell was also furiously indignant. In his anguish he cried that as all the Cabinet had been willing to stay on the job if the tariff were left untouched for another year, Mr. Crerar should all the more hâve stayed put while the Western farmer was being coaxed and pitied and hand-fed with a few sops that savored of freer trade.

It was hinted that Mr. Rowell was letting out Cabinet secrets in making statements like the above. But this brought further indignation from the meek and lowly Wesley, also vehement denials. And everybody knows that while G. Washington may have made an occasional slip in veracity, Hon. Wesley really couldn’t.

Anyway with Mr. Crerar safely seated where he could look the Speaker squarely in the eyes it was a case of “bring on your budget.” So Sir Thomas brought it—brought it with much care and possibly some prayer. So careful was he that, in violation of the rules of the House, he read his speech, thereby making his speech lose much of its force even Jf it did prevent him repeating himself quite as much as usual. As you have all thoroughly digested that budget by this time, there is no need to dismiss it here. But it may be remarked in passing that it carried all the earmarks of Union Government. It met all issues by dodging them and it never lost an opportunity to pass the buck.

Wooing the West

A/T ORE OVER, the debate that followed was unique in A’,‘“‘ the annals of Parliament. It has been said of it that though the Government’s last trade mandate from the people was loudly and clearly protectionist, only two protectionist speeches were made during the nine days’ conversation. One of these was made by W. F. Cockshutt of Brantford, and the other by D.D. McKenzie, House leader of His Majesty’s loyal Opposition. All the other orators on both sides were in a “wooing the West” competition. Men who had sworn by the National Policy on a thousand platforms stood up in their places and told the Prairie farmers that they had given them more free trade in a few minutes than the Grits had in as many years, and that if they would only be good, they’d give them more, and more and more. Staid old Grits who had fed the West with unfulfilled promises, crossed their hearts and swore that this time they’d be true. The Western tail was not wagging the Canadian dog but it was waving in the centre of the Commons chamber and scarce a hand

but was stretched forth to try to influence its gentle motions. And all the time Hon. T. A. Crerar sat with his hat pulled down over his eyes and the same old boyish smile beaming at intervals over his face. Of course he took early occasion to state his position. And if he didn’t add one to the list of great orations he gave his declaration of faith in good clear language that all could understand. Also he showed that his experience in farmers’ clubs had accustomed him to the rough and tumble style of argument. Half-a-dozen times some critical Government supporter tried to tangle him with a question and he eased each of them back into his seat with a smiling word or two that brought more amusement to the House than comfort to the questioner. And when he was through the general trend of comment might be summed up:

“Well, I didn’t agree with Crerar—but I believe he is honest.”

Whereat the country marvelled. For an honest man may be the noblest work of God, but an honest politician surely is the rarest.

Government Forces Take Heart npHEN the tariff war was on in earnest and the question that stood out bright and clear on each morning’s horizon was: “How many Grain Growers

will follow Crerar and how many wTill stick to the Government and brave their constituents’ scorn? A rumor crept softly around that if the Government wasn’t sustained by a good majority it would bring on a general election. Report also had it that Sir Robert Borden was tired and would welcome a chance to change the robes of office for the dressing-gown and slippers, and that Sir Thomas White was preparing to step out of the Finance Department into the presidency of a bank or insurance company. Those were gloomy days for the great masses of members on both sides of the House. Where they had expected to see three years of increased indemnities they looked into a cloud that threatened an early and expensive appeal to hostile electors.

But it soon became apparent that, if Sir Robert was tired, he still had enough energy left to get out and make a fight for his political life; that the dignified knight who was wont to pass the humble back bencher with the slightest of nods was mingling freely with the common or farmer variety of member and wearing a smile that almost matched the matchless curl of his beautiful hair. Thereupon the Government forces took heart and got busy. The vacant portfolio of Agriculture was dangled before various eyes but kept more especially in the vicinity of Henders, the President of the Manitoba Grain Growers.

Then Senatorships are always good bait, though unfortunately there are no vacancies in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Still they were freely offered. In this

connection it is told of the veteran Tom McNutt, of Salt-coats, that, when offered one of those $2,500 sinecures, he went out and looked the Saskatchewan Senators over and that, after doing some figuring with a short lead pencil, he decided that all of them were likely to live longer than the Union Government. Anyway, he came back into the House, declared for free trade, voted against the Government and selected a seat for himself on the cross benches.

Dr. Michael Clark spoke early in the debate and was as eloquent and interesting as always. But after he was all through the guessing started as to which way he would vote. One day it was claimed that he had a farmer nomination in his pocket and would vote as he usually preached. But on the next it would be pointed out that Red Michael as an independent drew no applause with his eloquence. Consequently it was figured that he would rather die a political death than live through three years of applauseless speeches. This would put him back on the Government side. Finally, however, he took the bit in his teeth and bolted to his brother farmers.

A Memorable Night in Parliament

DAY by day the fight went on. Orators banged their desks and told how they loved their country. But that was only camouflage. The real force of the Government offensive was thrown into flank movements, tending to cut down the score of Western Unionists who threatened to desert to the half-way house and cut the nominal Government majority of 70 to an actual something under thirty. And as the constant dropping wears away the stone, so that twenty dwindled till when the vote came only a faithful dozen, Crerar included, voted the way the West has wanted.

It was a memorable night in Parliament when the division on the budget took place—when the Union Government took off nicely and leaping high and clear went over the first jump and landed clearly with a nice lead of fifty votes. Not that there was any fear of the Government’s defeat. It is hard to turn out a Government when it wants to stay in office, and the Opposition doesn’t want it to get out. As it was, just to provide against any eventualities, an even score of French members found it advisable to give more attention to the Quebec elections than to the budget. Of course, the Whips got together and, by scientific pairing, covered them up. But there are those who declare that, if it had been necessary to keep the Government not only in power, but also in good humor, every Frenchman in the House would have found a meeting to address in his native province.

Still there was jubilation when the end approached. The debate lasted well into the small hours, but at midnight the Union Whip announced that the Government was safe by from 25 to 30 majority and the snatches of song coming from upstair rooms grew more joyful and increased in volume. Finally the elevators vomited a hilarious crowd into the main corridor and marching in procession they sang: “It’s

a Long Long Trail.” They sang at the chamber doors till the sergeant-at-arms rattled his sword -and all reasoned with them. Then they went into executive session in good old Room 16 and had reached that stage of musicality in which “mother” is wont to be extolled when the division bells rang.

Of the division little need be said. The House had been so carefully canvassed that everybody knew how everybody was going to vote and the half-hundred majority was the only surprise. Then it was that it was discovered that so many Frenchmen were taking more interest in provincial elections than in free trade amendment to the budget. And a suspicion arose that perhaps the ancient province was more protectionist than the Great West would care to see it.

IirlTH the Budget safely on its way,

» ' people began to scan the cross benches to see what manner of men were those who had presumably laid the foundations of a new party. And at first glance their front line trenches looked formidable indeed. For, in addition to the farmers, Hon. W. S. Fielding and Fred Pardee, both elected as Unionists and both drifting towards the big August Convention, had settled on those cross benches and voted for the McMaster amendment and against the Government.

Those two taken with Dr. Michael Clark and Hon. T. A. Crerar made up a quartette that would compare favorably with anything the older parties could produce. But a moment’s reflection told___

you that Fielding and Pardee would soon be moving further along and that their places would have to be filled from among ,.

the plainer farmers sitting a bit further back. Fielding at any rate doesn’t belong there for a minute. He s a fine specimen of that old Liberal type who are the truest Conservatives. For he’s an interesting study, this little grey man who once almost gave reciprocity to Canada. He’s a bunch of contrasts. He’s so big at times that you strain your neck looking up to him; so small at others that you need a microscope to see him. At one moment he :s great Canadian; the next he’s a little colonial such as only the Maritime Province can produce. But he s always one of the most interesting speakers that ever stood on the floor of the House. His language is as smooth as the purring of an automobile and no other member can express his exact shade of meaning with the same ease and courage. And then he always keeps you guessing, for you never can tell from which of his varied altitudes he is viewing the subject under debate. Fielding is a great Canadian, but he will never do for a leader. His following would never know whither they were being led.

Fred Pardee we have often met before and, as he pauses at the cross benches on his way home, he grows more and more like the merry, human Pardee who used to lead Sir Wilfrid Laurier into the Liberal caucus, lead the cheers for the Old Chief and lead him out again. It will be some years before anyone who ever voted Unionist will climb very high in the Grit

ranks_for the spirit of Laurier still leads the “Grand

Old Party”—but Fred Pardee will be one of the first to regain his old ascendency. And with his natural political sagacity he may go a long way.

XJEITHER i s ^ T. A. Crerar a stranger t o these pages. The “Hon.” is left off advisedly. For, though the Grain Grower leader is a fine figure of a man he’s so much of a democrat that most people who don’t call him “A lee k” compromise by making it plain “Crerar.” But prepare to soon meet a different Crerar to the quiet farmer who has so unassumingly administered the affairs of the Agrieulturàl Department.

“Y o u fellows are underesti-

mating this man Crerar,” said a Western Cabinet Minister to a Liberal member a day or two after Crerar had resigned his portfolio. “He’s a big mad. Why, when the Grain Growers were just getting nicely under way they were talking rural credits and the banks got sore and decided to close down on them. Crerar, without saying a word to anyone, jumped on a train, went to New York, came back with an eight million dollar'line of credit and told the bankers to go

to blazes.” , ,, . • „ KU-

From this it may be gathered that Crerar is a bit of a fighter. And, if he is sitting quietly while the Government hacks are pouring a volume of abuse is his direction, it doesn’t mean that he’s a quitter. It means that he is learning to bide his time. * He can afford to wait. For he is the one man in this Parliament who has a great personal following. It will stick because it has found that sticking to Crerar pays. And in due time he will square his accounts and leave some of that “overage” the amateur farmers are raving about at present.

When the Tail Wags the Dog

AT T. A. CRERAR’S left hand sits Dr. Michael Clark. And a more valuable ally the farmer leader could not find anywhere. He has all that Parliamentary experience the new party so sadly lacks. And no man in Canada knows better how to use it. As a Parliamentary debater, Red Michael has no rival in the House. He has a genius for arraying his facts m the best tacticál formation and he drives them «ome with a force peculiarly his own. Every trick of the trade is known to him. So with the industrious farmers to do the work and Michael to pile up that work so that it will do the most good you may expect this little faction to do pretty effective work. Moreover, there is every reason to believe it will grow. Experienced politicians figure, yes even fear, that another election will give T. A. Crerar a following of sixty members. Then will the tail begin to wag the dog in deadly earnest.

W. A. Buchanan of Lethbridge would probably rank next in importance among the cross benches, but for the fact that he seems as yet unable to totally divorce himself from the Unionists. Buchanan is a Lethbridge newspaper proprietor and editor, very well thought of on all sides of the House. He speaks forcibly and well and always gets a good hearing.

Close behind these come Maharg of Maple Creek, Reid of Mackenzie and Davis of Neepawa. The last named is a lawyer, though you’d never guess it. Maharg and Reid are both farmers and both prominent in Grain Growers’ circles. All three look more liable to make good on the farm than in Parliament. But of course that could be said of the great majority of members in the other parties. But on the whole they are well up to if not above the Parliamentary standard—which it has been said before is not very

high just at present.

Continued on page 50

A Party in the Making

Continued from page 30

Levi Thompson of Qu’Appelle and Tom McNutt of Saltcoats have both succeeded in raising luxuriant crops of face foliage in addition to unmentionec bushels of No. 1 Northern. They both belonged under Laurier in more normal days, but will hardly wander back to the McKenzie as their habit is to make known the crying needs of their constituents. And said constituents are prairie farmers.

John Archibald Campbell of Nelson, Man., is younger, abler and more outspoken. He was Commissioner for Northern Manitoba before adopting statesmanship as a trade. He has faith enough in his country to be a firm believer in the Hudson’s Bay Railway and as a consequence should be able to accomplish all things. Anyway he promises to cut some figure in the farmers’ party. Jimmie Douglas of Strathcona is another intelligent little farmer from Frank Oliver’s neighborhood. In spite of his environment, he is able to retain a sunny disposition.

Fred Johnston of Lost Mountain and Robt. Cruise of Dauphin make up the doughty dozen. Both are farmers and both are farmer Liberals. In fact you can look over the whole farmer force without finding anything that savors of former Toryism. But it doesn’t follow that they are on their way to the Grit benches. It may be that they will turn up at the August Convention. But there are many indications that the oldline Laurier Grits will hold sway there even as they did in Toronto where H. Hartley Dewart, who made the last trip with the Plumed Knight, was elected Provincial leader.

Now if there is anything more thoroughly glued to things as they were through Union Government it is the socalled Liberals of Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. They have nothing in common with the farmers from the Prairie and look on the platform of the Council of Agriculture as a heresy to be abhorred. For political purposes they may camouflage their alleged principles for a time. But even farmers are suspicious. They will probably turn up at the August Conven-

tion. But they won’t feel at home. And in the end they’ll come back to Parliament - in a solid block prepared to do their own dickering, .express their own views and fight valiantly for their own share of the loaves and fishes.

NOW the farmers have occupied the major part of this article even as they have taken the lion’s stand of Parliament’s attention. But there are other politics brewing in other quarters. The Unionists have met in caucus and behind closed doors, with the keyhole stuffed, on motions and by standing vote duly christened the new Unionist party. But all is not joy and peace in their ranks. The old Conservatives have suffered long in silence. Now they are muttering that it is a shame to see the party of Sir John Macdonald first apologized for and then committed to the grave at the hands of a bunch of Grit pall-bearers. And sure. it is that those old Tories are far from fond of following in the footsteps of Hon. J. A. Calder, Hon. Wesley Rowell and Hon. F. B. Carvell. Neither do they relish the promised reconstruction of Cabinet which will give them yet more Grits to apologize for. The open revolt is not far off. It may be that even before this is printed a Conservative Convention will have been called in Ontario. In the Maritime Provinces the party lines are still intact and the feeling is none too friendly towards a Government that furnishes a Tory following with Grit Leadership.

With the Cabinet reorganization, adding to the grievances of the Tories; the Unionist following trying to drive the farmers’ party into the Grit ranks; the Grits repelling them by their adherence. to old beliefs and ancient prejudices, the political future is a guessing match. But four factions at least are assured: Tories, Grits, Unionists and Farmers. And these will be just as surely added to, as soon as the Government decides to submit its policies and its personages to what it fondly hopes will be an endorsation by the people.