Canada’s Next Premier?

“SCRUTATOR” November 15 1921

Canada’s Next Premier?

“SCRUTATOR” November 15 1921

Canada’s Next Premier?


AS CANADA labors in the throes of an election, and the air is hideous with clash and clamor of conflict, much is heard of principles, platforms and leaders. A Babel of voices perplex and confuse with charges and counter charges of political jobbery and corruption; of vicious machines and political bosses; of shameless patronage systems and perilous policies; and leaders of parties are execrated as traitors by opponents and extolled as saviours by friends.

What is there behind this rhetorical mist of partisan denunciation and applause? What manner of man is Meighen, depicted as cold, unsympathetic, Prussian-like by some, as wise, generous, benevolent by others? Is Mackenzie King statesman or pretender, the tool of political masters or a “Blake” in disguise? Is Crerar a “Red” or the puppet of “Reds,” window-dressing for Wood, of Alberta, or the Prophet of a new order?

In a word, assuming that either Meighen, King or Crerar is triumphant in this election, what, manner of Prime Minister will govern Canada after December 6.

Mr. Meighen—to begin an answer with the present Premier—owes his political pre-eminence mainly to three thingsto courage, industry and eloquence. He entered the House of Commons in 1908 utterly without promise. His party, out of office for twelve years, was still groping in the wilderness; he came from a province where Toryism was dying and where Liberalism was on the wing; he was a briefless, obscure lawyer. To most men such obstacles would have prohibited success. To Arthur Meighen, ambitious, audacious, tireless, they were but incentives to greater effort. Soon Parliament was to realize that a new force was within it.

Meighen’s first important speech assured his political fortune A feeble Opposition attack upon the Ministry had disastrously collapsed. Pilloried by the brilliant debaters who sat around Sir Wilfrid, the once militant party of Macdonald were cowed, beaten, chastened. Demoralized enfeebled, they lacked almost the instinct of retaliation. Suddenly, from among this dreary host of the rout ed a young man, a back-bencher, almost unknown to the House, took the floor. Aggressive, defiant, sure of himself, and with a tone and temper that at once arrested attention, he delivered a speech of biting insolence and invective. It was not a great speech, nor eloquent. But it acted upon the depressed ranks like a tonic. “All is not lost—the unconquerable will and study of revenge.” They were a party yet. They sat up, they laughed, they pounded their desks, they cheered. A leader was calling them back from flight. A new star was emerging from the gloom. And Arthur Meighen, still in his early thirties sat down with his political fortune made.

From that day onward Mr. Meighen became the spearhead of Opposition attacks. He had not only the eye for big occasions and the courage to rise to them; he had the instinct for the big foe. He was the hunter of great game. “Don’t waste

your powder and shot on small animals,” said Disraeli, and he hung on to the flank of Peel.

“Go for the lion,” was Randolph Churchill’s maxim, and he gave Gladstone no rest. Mr.

Meighen’s eye, ranging

over the Government's benches, saw one figure worth fighting, and he

leaped at that figure with concentrated passion. Sir Wilfrid was at the pinnacle of his powers. Incomparable as a parliamentary orator, a •

strategist of con summate skill, and with a compact, loyal and fighting party behind him, it

required courage to break a lance with him, but Mr. Meighen never hesitated. The greater the antagonist the greater the victory. And

“We roared ‘Hurrah!’ and so “The little Revenge ran on right into the heart of the foe”. . ran on and lashed itself to the great San Philip of Quebec, and emerged from the “battle-smoke, if not victorious at least with the tribute of the “Old Chief” that he was “among the most brilliant minds that Canadian Conservatism has produced.”

His Early Prowess

AFTER 19I1, when his party had reached the Promised Land, youth and geography kept Meighen out of the Ministry. But nothing could stay his march toward the

summit of political fame. In a party led by a cabinet of dullards he became a refuge in times of stress. When Mr. Pugsley hecame a Canadian Parnell and held up naval legislation, Meighen beat him with closure. When Mr. Bennett and Mr. Nickle shook the Government with assaults upon its C.N.R. legislation, Meighen was put up to reply. When the Opposition launched its determined attack upon the Lynch-Staunton-Gutelius report, his was the principal defence. He became, indeed, a special pleader, a defender of forlorn hopes. No cause was too desperate for him to defend, no problem too complicated for him to explain. With Butler’s Hudibras—

“He could distinguish and divide “A hair ’twixt south and south-west side;

“On either which he would dispute,

“Confute, change hands, and still confute.”

It was but inevitable that such service should be recognized; and after 1914, Mr. Meighen’s career became a procession of dazzling advances, culminating at the highest goal.

Today, broader in outlook, mellowed slightly, and with a year of the Premiership behind him, he stands as a salient personality upon the Canadian and Imperial stage. His is incomparably the most powerful intellect in the House of Commons—not the finest, nor the most spacious, nor the most attractive, but the most effective. It has not the spaciousness nor the breadth of the mind of Mr. Fielding, none of the attractiveness nor the moral elevation of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It is hard and dry, lacks color and emotion; but it has weight, keenness, power. It is a piece of faultless mechanism. It functions with the exactness of mathematics, with the precision and the certainty of a machine-like force.

If the object of controversy is to clear up obscure points, he is undoubtedly the most powerful debater of his time. But he is no orator. He creates confidence and carries conviction, but be does not inspire men with passions. It has been written of Mr. Asquith that his eloquence “assured victory, but denied adventure.” And so with Mr. Meighen. He is not a rhetorician. Cautious, analytical, practical, he scorns the oratory of exhortation: lacks a sense of humor; refuses to adjective minor questions into a Thermopylae and never puts imagery before fact. Yet despite his fidelity to logic he is not without beauty in expression. The gift of style is his, acquired by ardent study of the Masters of English literature. And while there are neither pomp nor purple patches in his passages, there is a fine diction and a compelling lucidity and simplicity. It is the eloquence of the newer school.

Potent to Persuade

MR. MEIGHEN is handicapped by the apparent chill of his spirit. It gives him a sense of remoteness and hardness which those who know him best know to be unjust to the real man. Behind that exterior of frigidity there are the shy virtues of geniality and even tenderness, and in personal contact you are impressed not merely by his clear grasp of affairs, but by his kindliness, his courtesy and consideration. Nor is he the Puritan, the stern unbending Calvinist that his earnestness suggests. But a popular figure he is not, perhaps does not seek to be. He comes to the front, not by his power to please, but by his power to persuade; his appeal is to the sense and never to the touch.

If it be asked what are his convictions and passions, the answer is not hard. A moderate Conservative, it has been written of him, and not without truth, that he has the outlook of a Roosevelt with something of the temper of a Wilson. In international affairs, as his attitude at the Imperial Conference plainly showed, he is a Liberal in his tendencies. A democrat of the democrats, he is progressive, but would safeguard his advances with caution. He does not believe that economic and political laws are unchangeable, that vested rights are sacred things and all else in the State subsidiary. But he believes that progress, whether political or economic, should be orderly and evolutionary, achieved by sane, constitutional methods. In a word, he is a Liberal-Conservative.

If twenty-five of his most intimate friends were asked to name his chief defect, twenty-four of them would reply that it was his inability to judge of men. For in this, unquestionably, lies the outstanding disability of Mr. Meighen. Acute in his perception of events, unerring in his mastery of facts, there is something curious about his propensity to misread men. It is a considerable handicap, and both Mr. Meighen and his party have felt its effects. It was responsible, for example, for the retention in the cabinet of men whose disloyalty to the Ministry and its policies was notorious; it surrounded the Premier with advisers who were frequently schemers or selfseekers; and it promoted shallow careerists at the expense of useful men. There were in the late cabinet at least two men who were disloyal to Meighen. Their hostility was obvious, but although it was one of the scandals of Ottawa, within the knowledge of most everv-

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Canada’s Next Premier

Continued from page 26

body, the Prime Minister remained blissfully ignorant. The conspirators, instead of being administered their just deserts, were trusted, advanced, even eulogized.

Yet taken by and all, Mr. Meighen has not brought and will never bring discredit upon his office. As Premier he is not inferior to a great lineage. He does not at present catch the imagination of the people as Sir John Macdonald caught it; nor does he inspire the reverence and affection that was Laurier's. But he commands in a rare degree the confidence of his party, and his talents, marked to the point of brilliance, have won universal admiration. If he is triumphant on December 6, the destinies of the nation will be entrusted to steady hands.


MR. MACKENZIE KING shares with William Jennings Bryan the distinction of achieving a party leadership by the force of a single speech.

It is at the National Liberal Convention of 1919. The old leader, victor of a thousand fights, is no more, and Liberalism, its ranks decimated by the politics of war, is met to choose a successor. For more than three hours, and far into the night, the Convention has listened to the turgid orations of aspirants for the honor. It has heard the veteran Fielding, returned to the fold and the choice of the older heads. It has sat patiently through George P. Graham’s depressing tale of how in the dark days of 1917, he stood by the “Old Chief.” It has submitted to the hoary witticisms of D. D. Mackenzie, the party’s temporal^, but would-be permanent, head. It is weary, silent, depressed.

Then comes Mr. King. Younger in years and in party service than his rivals, he is the “dark horse” of the Convention. True he was “with Laurier” in ’17, which endears him to Quebec, but youth and inexperience weigh against him; everything is in the lap of his appeal. One moving passage, one touch of the right chord, and the great prize may be his. One failure, one faltering step, and all may be lost. And so the delegates sit in critical

silence as the young orator launches into his speech. Pale, nervous, as if overwhelmed by the occasion, he begins in hesitating, halting style, and for a time awakens no response. But as he catches the spirit of his subject he becomes more eloquent, more passionate, more master of his crowd. Skilfully, and with wellrounded periods that tell of the midnight oil, he marshals the old war-cries of Liberalism, vehemently he summons the ancient shibboleths that have stirred the party in the past; and the old militant spirit is aroused.

It is not a great speech, nor convincing. It is not an appeal to the mind. But there is about it something of the exhortation of the revivalist, something of the elemental appeal to prejudice and passion, something which, at the psychological moment, stampedes the crowd; its success is abundantly assured. And then comes the climax, the triumph of the night. At the back of the platform hangs a great life-size portrait of Laurier. Mr. King, at the crest of his peroration, suddenly wheels, and with finger pointed upwards to the picture of the departed chieftain, dramatically concludes:

“And so, my fellow-Liberals, thinking of him now that he is gone; thinking of the place he has left in the memory, not only of his friends and of his country, but of the world, well may we say of him, as Tennyson said of the Duke of Welb'ngton, —here was a man

Who never sold the truth to serve the

Nor paltered with Eternal God for power;

Who let the turbid streams of rumor

Thro' either babbling world of high and low;

Whose life was work, whose language

With rugged maxims hewn from life.”

The Convention goes wild with acclaim. Men and women leap upon their chairs in frenzied cheers, Nova Scotia, with its love of the old oratory, breaks into tumultuous applause; Quebec, thrilled by the tribute to Laurier, cries out “here is

our man." Mr. King takes his seat witli the mantle of Laurier assured.

Premier King? Who Knows?

ÎF YOU examine that speech today you 1 will find the structure faulty, the eloquence thin and vapid. It depended for its success on the circumstances in which it was delivered—the spirit of a party still smarting under defeat and eager to avenge its vanished chieftain. But it would be a mistake to attribute Mr. King’s success to chance. He did the right thing for the occasion because he knew what the right thing was and had the nerve to do it. He would have emerged sooner or later in any case in some other career, for he has, beyond question, combinations of qualities which are assured of success. True, his leadership of the Opposition has been challenged. It is said that he lacks personal magnetism; that he is faulty in judgment and tactics; that he fails to inspire loyalty from his followers; that his eyes are so fastened on the horizon he is blind to the ground before his feet. But such things have been said about other leaders before.

They were said of Laurier before ’96; they were said of Borden before 1911 In 1907-8-9 Sir Robert Borden barely held on to his leadership. His party mistrusted and openly scoffed at him. They said he was weak, inefficient and timid; they secretly planned his defeat. Yet Sir Robert remained to triumph, live long enough to witness those who sought to encompass his downfall hail him as the new Macdonald and crave favors from his hands. In politics, as in other spheres, nothing succeeds like success. Mr. King may live to attest to that adage.

It is not that he lacks grave defects. He would be a better leader, for example, if he could occasionally forget his own career. Mr. King dwells in a house of mirrors. Wherever he has turned he has met the dazzling vision of himself. Varsity, whence he was graduated, was but the setting for one magical figure, Parliament the stege for one inimitable actor, the Rockefeller Foundation but the background for a saviour who strode the industrial stage.

G. K. Chesterton is author of the jolly maxim that aman should be able to laugh at himself, poke fun at himself, enjoy his own absurdity. It is, he holds, an excellent test of mental health. Man is a tragi-comedian. He should see himself the quaint “forked radish” that he is, fantastic as well as wonderful. He should see his mind ready to do battle and die, if need be, for an idea, but equally ready to get into a passion because his egg is boiled too hard. He should, in a word, see himself not as a hero, but as a man of strange virtues and stranger follies, a figure to move him to alternate admiration and laughter. Mr. King has never laughed at himself. He has only admired. And from this immense seriousness, this absence of the faculty of wholesome selfridicule and self-criticism issue most of those mistakes which promote his unpopularity.

No Open Door for the Press

* I 'HE exaggerated sense of one’s own A place in the scheme of things involves depreciation of the place of others. Mr. King has steadily underrated the ability of the men behind him. He has kept young and promising men like Euler, of Waterloo, in the background while he himself monopolized the spotlight. He has declined to see or to take counsel with the brightest of his party. His door is seldom open to even the Liberal press. Schism, discontent, absence of loyalty are an inevitable result.

Yet coupled with this exalted view of himself Mr. King has energy and industry and equipment for political work. No party leader of our time, indeed, has had better or fuller training for parliamentary life. His early education took him through Universities of Toronto and Chicago, he studied political economy at Harvard, where he won a travelling fellowship for Europe; he took economics under famous masters in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland; he has lived at the famous Hull House Social Settlement in Chicago and at the equally celebrated Passmore Edward Settlement in London; served successively as deputyminister and as minister of labor; was a member of the Laurier cabinet, and dealt with industrial problems for the Rockefeller Foundation.

The results of the latter phase of his industrial activity are revealed in his book,

“Industry and Humanity.” It is not a ■ great book, nor original. It blazes no new trail, unfolds no new discovery, offers no new plan; yet it shows a mind more elevated than is usual in the politics of our^day.

Efficient, not Brilliant

TN THE House of Commons, Mr, King . is efficient, but not brilliant. His mind is less acute and nimble than Mr. Meighen’s. “I sail from headland to. headland,” said Bright, “while Gladstone navigates every creek and inlet.” And so it is with the Prime Minister and Mr. King. Mr. Meighen will analyse and dissect an argument with remorseless logic. He will quote fractions and decimals until his foes retire in dismay. He wants details, illustrations, facts. Mr. King hates details and mixes facts. Instead of grappling with realities, he talks of the “larger liberty”, of the “new freedom” and of abstract principles that have served for Liberalism since the days of the Manchester School.

His intellect is bold, rather than subtle, masculine rather than meticulous. His eyes range over great horizons and see the landscape in the large. His weapon is not the rapier, but the hammer of Thor. He is elemental and not “precious,” If Mr. King had not been a politician he would have made a great revivalist. His qualities as a statesman have yet to be proved; his friends do not seriously doubt them. But his qualities as a preacher are indisputable. He is, before all else, the gospeller of political righteousness. His appeal is always to the national conscience. In all of his orations there is the unmistakable smack of the pulpit.

Of his future, it is not easy to speak. For the present he is the leader of his party, but if the Liberal barque should come into port on December 6 will he remain in command? There are those who hold that his mental processes are too elementary for the practical engineering work of politics; that there will be need for more acute, more scientific minds to plan the structure of the future. We shall see.


A PLAIN unvarnished man, large of frame and soft of voice, hesitating in opinion, honest and unimaginative, loyal in friendship, fond of fun and devilment, but with a deep religious strain— such is Mr. T. A. Crerar, who guides the Agrarian storm.

It is these homely qualities that make Mr. Crerar so pleasant a figure to dwell upon. In politics, as in other spheres, character is of more consequence than intellect. And it is, unhappily, more rare. It is certainly more rare on front benches. It is the agile, subtle, often the intriguing mind that arrives there, the mind that uses public causes as instruments of personal advancement, that directs its course, not by fixed stars but by the weather vane, and drops a principle as lightly as the mariner drops ballast from the hold.

Now Mr. Crerar has never dropped anything that he believed in, nor adopted anything that he did not believe in. He is, taken in the gross, an entirely honest man, whose thoughts “lie clear as pebbles in a brook.” He does not try to deceive either himself or the public, and his motives are as transparent as his utterances. The scope of his mind is limited it is true. It is a bucolic, unimaginative mind. But within its scope, it is singularly sincere and public-spirited. It is motived not by [¡ersonal considerations of his own class, but by real devotion to his country, to this conception however wrong it may be of justice and duty, to his sense of what is right.

Perhaps there are incidents which qualify this view. There is, for example, his well-known refusal to make a pronouncement in Parliament last year either for or against the eight-hour day; a hit of seeming opportunism which injured him with farmer and laborer alike. There is his recently developed tendency to "hedge” on the tariff.

Yet one must pardon much to an election campaign. It was Mr. Roosevelt. I think, who said that there were three

occasions in men's lives when they were incapable of telling the truth. The first was after a golf game; the second after a fishing trip and the third during an election And so perhaps Mr. Crerar’s venial sins may be pardoned to a great temptation. It is in the gross, not in cotnpari-on with perfection, but in con

trast with other leaders and other men, that he must be judged.

A Much Misunderstood Man

NO MAN of his time has been more misunderstood. We are told, for example, he is a visionary and a radioal, that he is a fanatic who believes in class, that he is a socialist, preaching a dangerous revolution and seeking to tear up cherish-r ed institutions under the guise and in the name of reform. There could be no greater caricature of the real man. For Mr. Crerar is not a revolutionist. He is not a revolutionist to the extent that Joseph Chamberlain was when he burst into the smug Victorian parlor and smashed its idols. His radicalism is not half so fierce as was the radicalism of Mr. Lloyd George when, to the cry “the Land! the Land!” he preached his blazing crusade against the Dukes. Compared with Mr. Robert Smillie, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald and other leaders of Radicalism in England today, he is obscurantist in reactionary views.

The truth is that Mr. Crerar is a moderate Liberal of‘the old-fashioned British school. True, his economic views, as well as the platform of his party, show traces of thinking that incline more toward collectivism and state socialism than toward the individualism of the Liberal school, but these are but the influences of his party and of his times. _ In all essentials, as well as in most of his policies and in his speeches, it is the old English Liberal note that is uppermost, the old Manchester doctrines, “peace, retrenchment, reform.” . _

If Mr. Crerar had his way in Canada today, it is not the Agrarian party, but a sanctified Liberal party, that he would lead. He does not believe in the domination of a class. He knows that triumph will be denied to a class-conscious group. But for the moment he is powerless to stay the western tide. His present taskhow he fulfills it the coming months will tell—is to manipulate the storm, to give it purpose and direction. When he left the Union Ministry in 1919, it was not to promote a Farmers’ Party. _ His real purpose, the ideal which he cherished, was the rejuvenation of the old Liberal party under new leadership and with new ideals.

But it was too late. The uprising in the West, which Mr. Fielding and Sir Wilfrid Laurier had foreseen ten years before, had gained too much momentum; the official Liberalism of Ottawa was in eclipse on the plains; and Mr. Crerar, much against his desires, had to shun the Liberal convention. But his views have not changed. Today, as much as ever, he believes in Liberal principles, in the transformation of the Agrarian uprising into a Liberal party, regenerated and penitept and freed of the many evils that dimmed it in the past. In office, Mr. Crerar would be a moderate. There is müch, perhaps, that he would change, but there would be no revolution. He would prune the tree: he would never tear it up by

the roots.

Meighen’s Opposite

IN Parliament Mr. Crerar is anything but formidable. His temperament is as remote from that of Mr. Meighen as one temperament can be from another. Nature made him an amiable gentleman, naturally considerate of the feelings of others, entirely without venom, _ overly anxious not to stoop below a certain level of “good form” and decorum. Mr. Meighen’s mind is as swift as cavalry. He will pierce a fbeman’s armor with therapidity of lightning and he will disputea point to the last ditch.

“He’d undertake to prove by force “Of argument, a man’s no horse.” Mr. Crerar’s intellectual equipment isless sharp. His mind is clear and honest, but it is slow and elemental, and his voiceentirely lacks that sharp, incisive quality that makes Mr. Meighen’s verbal thrusts stab like a stiletto.

It is in his private life, in his association with his friends, that Mr. Crerar is seen at his best. He has none of the stern, unbending puritanism that one instinctively associates with radicals. He lovesgood living. It was said of the late Keir Hardie that he hated the palace because he remembered the pit. Mr. Crerar does not hate the Rideau Club because heremembers the farm. He likes luxury and comfort, enjoys a good dinner, smokes a thick black cigar, and is fussy about his clothes.

His winsome ways are perhaps his great-

est asset. In the Press Gallery, where he , often drops in for a chat, his friends are legion, and he is never happier than when, | leaving the Commons behind him, he romps off with his journalistic friend, the incorrigibly iconoclastic J. K. Munro, for a round of the Rivermead links.

Mr. Crerar’s success, in fact is comforting to the plain man, for it is the success of his own russet-coated virtues. It is the success of one like himself—of a plain man without a touch of genius, almost without a touch of brilliancy, but with many of the qualities of the average man in perfect equilibrium.

Mr. Crerar is not without culture, loves painting, tells a good story, enjoys a good book. But he is essentially the ordinary man, his mind full of daylight, the range of his thought limited by the daylight vision, his instinct for justice sound, his spirit strong for the things he deems best for his comntry and his race. He is not one of those who bring new light into the thought of men or add to the sum of human effort. He is the type of the practical man who does his task honestly, firmly, and good-humoredly. He will never shine in an office that demands rare qualities. He will succeed in a task that demands common qualities in a rare decree.