The Story of the Man Who May Take Laurier’s Place

J. L. RUTLEDGE February 15 1920


The Story of the Man Who May Take Laurier’s Place

J. L. RUTLEDGE February 15 1920


The Story of the Man Who May Take Laurier’s Place


also the mantle of Elijah that fell from »vent back and stood by the bank of


“And when the sons of the prophets saw him. they said : ‘The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elijah.’

And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.”

THERE is in death a certain ennobling character that cannot but be reckoned with. When death called Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the dawning days of the year 1919, it called him to a higher pinnacle of affection and reverence in the hearts of his own people than, for all his high position, he had ever known.

He died, the champion of a lost cause, the cynosure of a people’s dream, and the more beloved because with him there probably passed the last of the tribunes of the French people in Canada.

It is certain that to-day no Frenchman is looking for a new leader of the Dominion party to be chosen from his people. No Frenchman really wants it to be otherwise.

In so much the dead chieftain stands alone.

Leaders will arise, have indeed arisen, to guide the destinies of the French people.

But the Frenchman is governed by affection as much as logic, and the question remains, will they measure up to the standard set before them? Can any one of them gain and hold the same measure of respect and love that was given so unstintingly to the dead statesman? Will any of them be a leader of the French Liberals as he was?

“I am too old a man,” said one to whom this question was put, “too old, to think that there will be another like him in many generations.” There speaks the voice of a not insignificant number of the French people, who believe the king, though dead, yet liveth, as too shining a mark to be reached by known men.

Yet all the while there has been steadily marching forward a young Frenchman, burly in frame, quick of speech and thought, with a gift of laughter or ready sympathy and kindness, who for all that he is not Laurier, and may not, at least now, be gifted with his powers, is not unworthy of the leader’s mantle. Moreover, with this man there is no thought of grudging him the honor, as there might have been with others. He has not sought it. He has but caught the respect and affections of his people, and they are beginning to seek it for him.

It was J. K. Munro, writing in MacLean’s Magazine, who first called to public attention the growing hold that Ernest Lapointe, member for Kamouraska, was gaining on the Province of Quebec. It was a prophecy made some little time ago that day by day is showing a nearer promise of fulfilment.

How Lapointe was “Found”

JUDGE H. G. CARROLL of the High Court of Quebec ** was for long member for Kamouraska, and for some years practised at Fraserville as Crown Prosecutor. Here he came to know Ernest Lapointe, then just beginning his practice in Fraserville in partnership with Adolphe Stein. Naturally their court work brought them into contact and the Crown Prosecutor was not slow to see the possibilities of this young man and to appreciate his rather marvellous quickness in searching out the vital points in a case, his concise, swift and sure presentation of the case. Perhaps these impressions might never have crystallized into action had it not been for one thing.

In 1902 Judge Carroll was appointed Solicitor-General for Canada. It was no mean honor for Fraserville, and Fraserville felt it as such, and provided a banquet to mark the occasion. In the course of this banquet young Lapointe was called upon to speak. Freed from the trammels of court procedure, he spoke as no one there had known he could speak, with flashes of humor illuminating a clear and forceful thought and with that glow of passion in the words that denotes the orator.

Judge Carroll, listening to that speech, had time to think, “That is a young man to remember.”

And he did remember; for, when in 1904 the added duties of his office compelled him to leave his constitúency, some of his lieutenants coming to him asked: “Whom shall we put in your place?”

The Judge’s mind turning back to ■

that banquet of two years ago, and to the impassioned figure of that young speaker, he replied without hesitation,

“Ernest Lapointe.”

On his recommendation Lapointe was nominated. He carried the election almost without opposition. He carried it first on the word of Judge Carroll, and on a certain popularity of his own, and he has carried it since on the ever growing affections of his own people, and the ever growing feeling that here is a man that is marked for something outside the ordinary. He has carried persistently since then till, within the last year, he went to East Quebec, giving up a sure seat to make that dramatic fight to hold Laurier’s riding against the Nationalists.

J APOINTE was born on a little rock-bound farm in ^ Temiscouata County, near Riviere du Loup. It was a farm which, like other French farms, could provide a subsistence with much hard work, and had little outlook for the future.

It was the priest of a parish whose very name few people have ever heard who first, saw in Ernest Lapointe—a big, shy, silent boy—the gleam of promise. To him it seemed the gleam of a promise of a large activity in the cassock of a priest. But, nevertheless, it was he who gave the encouragement that started the boy on the right road.

Lapointe was quickly to show the justification of this judgment. At Rimouski College he made a name for brilliancy and entered Laval University with the Prince of Wales scholarship. Graduating with further honors he studied law under Chief Justice Lemieux of the Superior

Court. There were two years of practising law for hinseif, with all the vicissitudes that attend the young lawyer breaking into the game. Following these two years he returned to Fraserville, where he has been in active practice ever since.

When Lapointe went to Ottawa as member for Kamouraska in 1904, he was a Frenchman pure and simple, knowing scarcely a word of English. There is little doubt that there were some lonely days, in which he would have been willing to sacrifice the honors of Ottawa for the fleshpots of his own home town. Somewhere at this juncture, however, his path crossed that of another Frenchman, Hon. Jacques Bureau, former Postmaster-General under Sir Wilfrid. The crossing was fortunate for Lapointe, for there sprang up between them an affection that has never wavered. Whether it was real foresight or just the cureless optimism of the man, it is impossible to say, but unquestionably Bureau picked this big, upstanding member from Lower Quebec as a man of promise. And unquestionably Lapointe owes a good deal to this friendship; for the cheery, dynamic, practically minded member for Three Rivers, Jacques Bureau, has done more to make Lapointe a success and to boom his stock than even Lapointe himself.

Making Him Speak English

BUREAU looked back to the days when he had to point to make it known that he wanted a plate of soup, and he realized that the method had its disadvantages. Not much use for a man in politics who couldn’t speak English, he reasoned, so he decided that his new friend had to master English. His methods of bringing this about were characteristic. The two are somewhat generally known in familiar circles at Ottawa as Mutt and Jeff. Lapointe, by reason of his six feet of brawn and muscle, is cast in the part of Mutt. As a matter of fact the roles are really reversed—the aggressive, bludgeoning tactics in this case are the tactics of Jeff. Therefore, having decided that Lapointe should learn English with the greatest possible speed, the Hon. Mr. Jeff—beg pardon, Bureau—did not consult him on the matter, but set about making him do so in the way he thought best. Lapointe was always an omnivorous reader, and hungry for world news.

Craftily Bureau would poach ^ around, abstracting all French

papers and strewing English ones in their place.

“Here,” Bureau would say, “read this,” thrust-

.__ ing an Ottawa evening

paper under his friend’s nose. “See, I’ve marked all the hard words in pencil. Read it over and get the sound, you can get the sense after.”

And Lapointe with the good humor that is characteristic of him, would settle down to read, aloud, the reading interspersed with the caustic comments of his mentor. “No that’s not it. Not ‘dee-ficult.’ Say it like this, ‘diff-i-cult.’ No. No. No. It’s difficult, difficult, difficult,” his voice rising in a steady crescendo to the amazement of the hotel guests.

“Well, that’s better,” he would admit grudgingly, when Lapointe had good-humoredly pronounced the word as he should. And so the reading would go on until the unwary Lapointe would stumble over some such word as “Convention,” and then there would be another storm of picturesque abuse.

After an evening of it, when all the underlined words had been pronounced nearly to his satisfaction, he would order: “Now write them all down, and remember that this is what they mean.” And there was a long list of words with which Lapointe was hurried off to his rooms, with Bureau trailing behind, a dynamo of voluminous suggestions.

“Pin them up over your basin,” he would order; “if you do have to wash it’s no reason why your brain should lie fallow like an ox, is it? Take them to bed with you, but don’t, if you love your great hulking body, dare to say difficult as though it was spelt with a long E ! ”

It was Bureau, too, who would get himself cheerily of bed in the morning, to go wailing across the corridors the hotel for Lapointe to come forth and to prove to and to whatever part of the world was awake, that he not spent his time in slothfulness but was master of other list of words as long as the Bureau arm. So it went on. Jacques Bureau is a cosmopolite, and as happy English society as in French. Lapointe was not; little cared the jaunty Bureau. He segregated him from his kind as though every Frenchman had the plague. They dined with English speakers, and only where menu dropped into friendly French did the struggling member from Kamouraska have any assistance. Bureau was adamant. If he didn’t learn English he could starve and be darned to him. So Lapointe gradually learned English. Bureau sat beside him in the House, and when his glance showed that he had missed the meaning of some English word, Bureau was there with the information; there also with the remorseless pencil, and the word added to the long string for the day’s learning.

By degrees Lapointe got beyond this stage, and came understand. Under the verbal flail of Bureau he began overcome those difficulties of pronunciation that had been his first stumbling block. He knew English well enough to read, and he read everything. There was never quiet moment in the House that he did not have a book with him. If he was at home with his wife he still pursued these studies under her kindly encouragement, Mrs. Lapointe is an excellent English student. If he went fishing it was with a bundle of English books under arm. Lapointe’s fighting spirit was aroused and he set himself to be a master of the English language. The words of Laurier to all young Frenchmen, that they should read Macaulay to find what beauty there was in the English tongue came to his mind, and he read Macaulay mastered him, and went looking for other masters. Two years later Jacques Bureau sat back and looked at him with a certain humorous satisfaction.

“Well Ernest,” he said, “there’s that much done. man living can say you can’t speak English and there aren’t many men in Ottawa who can speak it better. Now go ahead and see what you can do with it.”

> UT it seemed at first as though Lapointe were not going to do much with it. He was not born to the purple, and he had a living to make, and a living in law takes some making. Besides Lapointe was naturally a retiring man, with a profound love for his home and his home life. There was a club in Fraserville where a few convivial souls consorted. Lapointe was a member, but was rarely seen there. He was by nature and inclination a recluse. sides that he was putting about everything he had in way of energy into his law .practice. In the comparatively narrow circle where he was known he was recognized as man of exceptional gifts, and as a result of his appearances before various judges and counsel there grew up a most profound respect for his ability. Speaking of his special qualities in this regard one legal authority said that could in ten or fifteen minutes lay out a case that would take the average lawyer two hours, and that yet in pointe’s presentation there would not be a single thing lacking. These qualities brought him some recognition. He was made a K.C. in 1908, and he became crown torney and prosecutor for the district.

While Ernest Lapointe was quietly forging to the front under the none too gentle tutelage of Jacques Bureau and others of his friends, backed by his own innate ability, his growing power and popularity were largely lost on public. There are men in politics who gain a somewhat doubtful notoriety by reason of their flow of speech. Lapointe wás not of these. A man of few words, probably occupied as few pages of Hansard as any other member of the House. Not unnaturally thè public knew little of him, but the impression steadily grew at Ottawa that here was a man to be reckoned with. Any man who could keep silence as could Lapointe is bound to gain the affections of a House weary of many words, especially when that silent man could at times speak and speak briefly toaforceful and definite point.

Though Lapointe was not widely known outside the House, within its precincts he came gradually to be quite a figure. Business might be droning along to almost empty benches, with the Speaker drowsing pleasantly in his chair, when suddenly the word would go round:

“Lapointe is up.”

Down the unheeding corridors the news would passed, “ Lapointe is up,” and the members would begin to toss away cigars, and drop their papers, and before Lapointe was well started they were filing into the hall.

Lapointe in the Limelight

DUT after all, it was not till the recent Liberal convention that there dawned on the publie, as a whole, any idea of Lapointe as a dominant figure. It was not inspiring sight that Liberal convention—a place of passions thinly veiled, of the old line Liberals with their

hearts set firmly against the Unionists, and of Unionist against old line Liberal. There was not there much hope of unity or common action or of a common ideal. But when after days of debate, of bickerings and cabals, of disagreements and dissensions, when nerves were strained and charity worn thin, Lapointe rose to speak there came a realization that a new spirit had entered that gathering. He spoke of other days, of what they had stood for, what they still stood for. He pleaded for the blotting out of the bitterness and strife that had crept into their midst, for the laying aside of outworn prejudices, for the fostering of a kindlier purpose, and for a nobler outlook that would lift the party above any petty strifes of cliques and class to a real and noble force once more. It was not till then that people began to realize that an Elisha had arisen among them, and swayed by his clear and statesman_

like outlook, swept away by the mighty music of his great voice, they leaped to their feet, stood on tables and chairs, waving hats and arms, and wildly cheering—though they only dimly realized it at the time — the new leader of the French wing of the Liberal party.

So, Ernest Lapointe came into his

They tell of one occasion in the election of 1911 when Bourassa, the Nationalist leader, was making his strong bid to undermine the influence of Laurier in his own province, and to raise the standard of Nationalism as a real force.

It was in a crowded hall and Mr.

Bourassa had made his sectional appeal, swaying his crowd with him.

The Liberal newspapermen sitting there laid aside their pencils. “Well, we’ve lost,” they said.

Then Lapointe arose, facing that audience of flushed faces and hot hearts, with his great body and his ready smile, talking to them quietly, telling a story with a laugh in it, gaining their attention with the clearness of his reasoning, in effect saying, “I want you to listen to me. If I am wrong you will easily find me out. If I am right you are doing yourself an injustice if you do not hear me. I have something to tell you and I want to tell it now.” And the calm music of that voice, with nothing of anger or bitterness, clear ringing, and logical, broke down that barrier of resistance. He ended with a burst of fervid oratory that had them on their feet, the arguments of the Nationalist leader forgotten.

No Hankering for Leadership

A LTHOUGH it was now apparent that Lapointe had been carried by circumstances to a position where he spoke for the Laurier tradition in Quebec Liberalism, it was hard to keep him moving forward.

He had no hankerings for leadership. It needed the urging of his friends to keep him on the upgrade. “ Y ou’ve got to get yourself going on your own steam, Ernest,” wailed Jacques Bureau, with the force and vigor that is the privilege of long friendship. “Who do you think is going to give you a kick from behind when I’m not around.”

It is the figurative kick from behind that up to the present has been an essential part of the development of Ernest Lapointe. He is reticent and prone to hang back and depreciate his own ability. He perhaps has not the

ambition nor as yet the feeling of obligation, either of which may drive a man into active politics. He needs the forward urge, but when he has consented to do a thing he goes jnto it with a will. He has a fighting heart.

The Fight in Quebec

IS definite assumption of a tacit leadership of the Quebec wing came with the recent bye-election in East Quebec. Any student of politics knows of the long feud between the Nationalist idea and the Laurier idea in Quebec Liberalism. It was a bold stroke when, on the death of Laurier, the Nationalists decided to contest the seat in East


Quebec that he had held for so many years. They were so much in earnest thaï Armand Lavergne, who has played Sancho Panza to Bourassa’s Don Quixote for as long as the Nationalist movement has existed as such, went down himself as the Nationalist candidate.

There was anger and consternation at Ottawa when the news came. “We can’t let them steal the Chief’s seat,” said the followers of Laurier, one to another. “And yet-Lavergne is dangerous. He’ll make a good run.”

Jacques Bureau went to Lapointe. “Ernest,” he said, “you’ll have to go into East Quebec.”

Lapointe as usual was hesitant, uneer-tain of his powers, unwilling to pin the responsibility of such a fight to shoulders; that he was not sure were strong enough to carry the fight through successfully. But there was no such hesitancy on Bureau’s part. He knew his man, and he knew that once started on the way, Lapointe would make a fight that nootherFrench-Canadian could

“Ernest,” he said, “if you don’t go, I’ll have to. And you have a far better chance than I have. We can't go back on the Old Man now.”

Lapointe was convinced, finally. It meant giving up his sure seat to make a gallant and dangerous fight in a riding where he was comparatively little known. But he made the stipulation that the consent of his own constituents must first be obtained.

In a packed hall in Fraserville, dimly lighted and acrid with the smell of tobacco, Bureau rosetospeak to an audience whose hearts were set against the thing that he proposed. Old men from the outlying: settlements who loved Lapointe because he had been with Laurier, had stayed with him to the last, because they caught somewhere in the man the same spirit that was in the Old. Chief, were there to hold their member. There were young men also who had fought his early fights with him, had travelled and campaigned with him, and had come under the sway of his chivalrous heart and great laughter. Young and old, Lapointe was their man.

Over the sway of these tangled motives and desires there came to them the voice of Jacques Bureau. “They are running a Nationalist in the place that the Old Man held so long.” The words “Old Man” drop like an evocation nowadays from French lips, and there was a stir over the crowded hall. “They will say that we have turned our backs on him, or that we are with his enemies as they have said that he was with them before. We know that he fought them all his life long, and if we cease to fight them now we are proving traitor to his memory.”

An old man rose in his place. “Say no more, Bureau,”' he cried, “what is it that you want?”

“We want Ernest Lapointe. We want him because he can hold Laurier’s seat, and there is no one else who can.”" In the dim hall there was the sound of old men sobbing: in their seats, andof young men shuffling restlessly. The old shaken voice arose again. “ Say no more — if you need him, he will go.” So Lapointe left his kingdom.

But before he went they gathered around to hold his; hand and hear his steady voice and they asked him, “Whom do you wish in your place?” And when he mentioned the man he believed best fitted, they replied, “Have no fear. We will send him for you.” And they did.

And the sequel to it all is that, when Lapointe cameinto the fight in East Quebec, the Nationalists decided that, the time was not opportune for a testing of strength on the stamping ground of the departed Chief. Lavergnewithdrew and Ernest Lapointe was elected with ease.

The Man Himself

CO much for his career;.now a word as to the man. La^ pointe could number practically all the members of the House as his friends, no matter what their political stripe. Perhaps there are a few who tend yet to speak of him with kindly patronage as a country lawyer. Well, yes, he is a country lawyer. A man named Abraham, Lincoln once travelled the country roads of Illinois on a horse, with his office practically in his saddle bags. They called him a country lawyer then, but now they call him, one of the great ones of the earth. And it is to be remem -bered too, that it was the boundless energy and quick brain of a little Welsh country lawyer that saved Europefrom the iron-shod heel of the Prussian Junker.

As a speaker his figure is a great asset. A man standingwell over six feet, heavy of shoulder, with kindly face and prominent brow, his very presence gains the attention of the crowd. With it all he has the fluent speech, the careful choice of words, and, more than all, he has the knowledge behind it. His is not oratory of the Patrick Henry type, it is not one long parade of the emotions, though theFrench are an emotional people. Lapointe has the gift, of clear thinking and clear talking. He is not always oiv the mountain-top. He takes his hearers with him, by easy paths that they can follow, and then liitA-tffcifl wit h*5#^ mighty flame of passionate utterance. J?e ftnows^fwto

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touch men’s hearts, and so it is that steadily, though only during the last two or three years, his name has become-a thing to conjure with. He is known in the little crossroads schoolhouse in back concessions where bearded habitants have gathered to listen. He has that subtle something that appeals to the French-Canadian. He is allied with no interests. He is not a capitalist’s man, nor yet a capitalist even in a humble way. He is, if anything, a progressive, a progressive with a small p. These things have their appeal for the French farmer. No farmer’s movement is likely to upset his influence. He stands now as the voice of the habitant.

Is there any probability of this feeling for Lapointe that is growing so steadily in Quebec having a larger influence on Dominion politics? It is questionable. Yet surely the bulk of the men who go to Ottawa from the Province of Quebec will go looking to Lapointe as their leader. Beyond that no one can foretell.

Mr. Munro has drawn in a previous article in MacLean’s some interesting deductions that include Lapointe. They were merely deductions and voiced as such. Mr. Munro holds that should the Farmer’s movement actually become a factor in Federal affairs, and should Mr. Crerar become the leader of a Farmer’s party from the West, as Mr. Drury is for Ontario, he would not be content with as uncertain a majority as stands behind the Ontario leader. He would seek out the strongest force he knew, and he would go to Ernest Lapointe and say, “Come, Ernest, let’s get our feet under the table and see what can be done about this.” There you have it, the possibility or probability of French Liberal influence dependent upon the possibility or probability of the Western Farmers’movement. It is a far cry.

But Lapointe is finding his way into the

French-Canadian heart just as Laurier did before him. He has some way to go yet before he is on a firm pedestál, and the future has yet to give a true estimate of the man. If his character is as strong as his mind, and there are few that doubt that it is, he will be a big man. He has not yet faced responsibility and no one can tell what it will do for him, whether it will make or mar the man. All that his friends can point to is the man as they know him, big-hearted and generous, ready and eager to do a kind action for anyone; a man fair in debate, not truckling to anything that would give him an undeserved advantage, a man of keen wit, of originality and sterling common-sense. He has the same quickness to grasp the essence of a situation or an argument that Laurier had, the same breadth of knowledge, not only the knowledge of the schools but of current events. He, like Laurier, is a master of constitutional law and history. He has the ground-work for -leadership. He has as well Laurier’s ability for making inalienable friendships, and for gathering about himself the affections of a people. They achieved the same ends by different roads. Laurier had a knowledge of the human heart, Lapointe has an instinct. He does not know the human heart as Laurier did, but his instinct leads him surely in the same paths as Laurier’s knowledge.

It is not claimed that Lapointe is another Laurier, or that he can take the place that Laurier has made for himself in French hearts. Laurier’s memory in Quebec is beyond the hint of rivalry.

The sons of the prophets when they saw Elisha in Elijah’s mantle did not say, “Behold we have found another Elijah.” But they said: “The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha, And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.”