GOUIN, THE SAGACIOUS
A brilliant biographical sketch from “ Ottawa in Masquerade,” a book to be published shortly. Other pithy, pungent chapters will follow in succeeding issues of MacLean’s
“THE MAKE-UP MAN”
EARLY in January, 1917, a remarkable dinner was held in Toronto, the first of its kind ever held in that city of Orange Walks. Protestants and Catholics sat side by side. They applauded the same sentiments.
Orator after orator dug into the mines of national idioms. They cracked jokes and told stories and worked up climaxes. The three hundred rose again and again with glasses of orangeade, and Apollinaris, toasting—Quebec, Ontario, and United Canada. They waved napkins and cheered and sang again and again “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”
A Methodist minister sat at the back of the room next a Congregationalist preacher and pretended to unwrap a de luxe cigar. Orangemen sat at the same table with Catholics. Macs hobnobbed with ’eaus. They autographed one another’s menus. The books of songs were bilingual—French and English. “God Save the King” was sung in both languages. “O, Canada” was done in French. Methodist orators vied with French speakers. Col.George Denison sat next Gen. Lessard. They fraternized as soldiers. The Methodist local-preacher Premier of Ontario sat with the Roman Catholic Premier of Quebec. Sentiment ran high.
But no French-Canadian was so emotional as N. W. Rowell, who glorified the heroes of Courcellette, and no Anglo-Canadian was quite so stolid, serious and impressive with homely common sense as Sir Lomer Gouin, the Premier of Quebec. This man spoke slowly, massively, almost gutturally like a Saxon, in fluent but accented English. He was far less excitable than the Premier of Ontario on the same subject: “The Race Unity of Canada Prefigured in the Bonne Entente.”
Three hundred public-spirited men, of whom eighty came from Quebec, were as one family on this occasion.
At one in the morning the concomity broke up. Not a drop of vin or liqueur in any form had been served. The enthusiasm was, therefore, as natural as the tide of the St. Lawrence, which in the form of the Great Lakes and Niagara does its best to get its arms round the neck of Ontario before it cuts through the heart, of Quebec. To the pure imagination it was somewhat as though a procession of St. Jean Baptiste had suddenly dreamed it was an Orange This unusual Entente was held between the rancors of the bilingual dispute of 1916 and the Quebec revolt against conscription in 1917. Those present who doubted the sincerity of passionate speakers anchored a timidly steadfast hope to the practical, broad-angled Premier of Quebec, who, had he sat between Mr. Bourassa and the Premier of Ontario, would have inclined his ear to Ontario.
XJOTHING is more certain than that four FrenchCanadian leaders, had they been given or had they asked for the opportunity and had acted together, could have put a different face on Quebec’s relation to the war. Four men nameable in that capacity are: Sir Lomer Gouin, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Ernest Lapointe and Cardinal Begin. Of these, Gouin was at that time the most able. For ten years he had been uninterruptedly Premier of Quebec with a moral guarantee that he could occupy the premiership by an overwhelming majority until he should be gathered to his fathers.
Again and again rumor slated Sir Lomer Gouin for Ottawa. He wisely declined. He had a peasant’s attachment to le pays and its white villages. In Quebec he was the Chief of Ministers, the little elected father of his country. In Ottawa he would have been
perhaps a grand Minister of Public Works, building docks in Halifax, customs houses in British Columbia, post-offices on the prairies, armories in Ontario and court-houses in Quebec. Yes, there would surely
be armories in Ontario.
I met Sir Lomer but once, in -his office in the Parliament Buildings. There was no particular reason for seeing him, except the pleasure of encountering a descendant of the people who so gallantly fought under Montcalm so that posterity could enjoy a city in part exclusively English and for the most part idiomatically French. A few evenings previous I had talked on ihe Terraco to a glowing Nationalist, a young expert in cynical idealism, who spoke very curtly about the premier. We sipped good ratable Scotch whisky and together gazed out at the bluehazed domes of the noble hills that mark the valley of St. Lawrence. The roofs of Old Ia»wer Town were
sizzling in the heat. Drowsy lumber-laden bateaux and ocean liners crept and smoked about the docks. Beyond the grey scarped citadel the bells of parish after parish clanged a divine discord into the calm of the great river. “What do you think of Gouin?” I asked A cynical smile flickered over the Nationalist’s face. For a moment he did not answer. “Pardonnez moi," I mumbled. “I am ‘Anglo’." “Oh!” he said, sharply, laughing. “Have you seen the Montcalm suite in the Chateau here? Do so. The C.P.R. discovered an old bed and some creaky chairs said to have been used by the great general. They placed them in a suite of rooms which they rent to curiosity-hunting Americans who sentimentalize over history at twenty-five dollars a day. Such is Quebec when she is commercialized into a highway for tourists.”
“But what has that to do with Sir Lomer Gouin?”
“Directly—nothing. Sir Lomer is not even a director of the C.P.R. or of the Bank of Montreal, though one never knows what he may do with his money and his talents when he gets tired of manipulating elections.”
“Oh, you mean that Gouin does not reflect the idealism of Quebec; its love of the land that bore our fathers, its poetic isolation among the provinces-?”
He blew a shaft of cigarette smoke.
“Sir Lomer,” he said, “is chairman of the board of directors of the Province of Quebec. His chief duty is to go about inspecting and improving properties and to sit at directors’ meetings declaring provincial dividends instead of deficits.” •
The Pope and Quebec.
I REMARKED that since Quebec is so prosperous and so large and populous with so many cradles, the Premier need not perhaps vex himself deeply about ideals such as the French language in schools outside the province. “What!” was the reply, as a glass banged upon the table. “Would you cage us in here like Indians on a reservation? Has the French-Canadian nation no rights outside Quebec?” “What would you do?” I asked him. “What could “Secede!" he exclaimed. "Become the Sinn Fein of “What about the Pope of Rome?” “Has as much to ;lo -with Quebec,” he laughed icily, “as the President of France. If the Pope should issue instructions to the bishops of Quebec, asking the clergy to educate the people of Quebec on their duly to go to war or to vide for either of the old line parties, the people would openly disregard them. We would ns much resent the interference of Rome in our affairs as the American ( olonics did the t\runny of George the Third.”
Here was the superb inconsistency of the French mind wedded to a single magnificent idea. Tins nationalist admitting she possibility of secession made sure that it would not he to the United Stale; which puts the French language on a par with Choctaw. When I suggested as a recipe for national unity that French and English be learned by both English and French all over Canada, be flouted the idea of French-C’anadians learning more English thatthey needed in business ami of Knglisli-t’anadinns learning French at all. lie fervently held to the Celtic notion of making a preserve of the Freneh-
Canadian race, language, literature and customs whatever may become of the religion; yet he objected to penning the race into a reservation like the Indians. Jle observed that in lili 1 Ihe Nationalists bucked reciprocity with the United States.
“1 think we should become an independent republic,” he said as he plopped a fresh cigarette. We have the main part of the St. Lawrence. No, you will not fin;l (¡ouin say so. Gouin is a Tory prefect. He plays politics, not nationalism."
I observed that the band was about to play.
••Ha!" he exclaimed, stretching his legs with a yawn. “Ami tinconcert will conclude with that amiable farce O l anada' followed by ‘God Save the King’.”
What Sir homer Is Not.
' PHIS Nationalist interview is given at some length A because it illustrates much of what Sir Lomer Gouin is not, and if he were, would not openly say so, because he stands for a majority the watchword of which is “Stop, Look, Listen.” I went at once to see the Premier. He was closeted with confiding— perhaps confederate—priests, anil with simple habitant folk who stood not in awe but in affection of the premier. He might have been himself a father con-
Talking to him I found Gouin peculiarly on his guard; broad-faced, heavy-jawed, slow of speech, almost devoid of gesticulation, he was as unamiably dispassionate as a bank manager. There was no militant passion of the minority in this man; no heroic tilting against windmills; no expression of ideals. He was amazingly practical, with no inclination to discuss freely the native peculiarities of either race. He understood Ontario—as a politician only; England as a democracy and a form of government. He had no delightful idiosyncrasies and made no attempt to pose or even to be interesting.
I felt that Sir Lomer was asking himself—what did the stranger want? He would have been infinitely more at ease discussing with a bishop how to prevent a strike in a cotton mill; or with a political outposter what to do to keep some seat for the administration. If I had made to him such a statement as once I made with such volcanic results to Bourassa, that ninetenths of the population in a village like Nicolet could speak no Anglais, he would have been eloquent. Had I observed that 70 per cent, of the operatives in a great Quebec industry cannot read and write French, that Ontario has a policy of good roads comparable to that of Quebec, that Orangemen do not dominate Toronto, that the Ontario farmer is a better producer than the habitant, or that Protestant clerics do not interfere in politics, he would have bristled with information to set me profoundly right. But he created no atmosphere of free discussion with a stranger. He was coldly aloof, yet earnestly endeavoring to say something worth while.
What I really wanted to tell Gouin was that he was personally very much like the late great Tory, Sir James Whitney. But he did not warm up to personal comment. The bilingual question was too complicated. The atmosphere of the Bonne Entente was lacking. Gouin and myself were in different envelopes.
He Has No Gallic Sparkle.
E'ROM what is said of him I am sure most of the fault was my own. I did not understand him. He was too much the premier; the master executive. The Nationalist was almost right; Gouin suggested the dividend and the census. He was the chief executive of a province larger than almost any country in Europe but Russia, and with a population about half that of Roumania, of whom about one-sixth are the Anglo-Saxon minority. He seemed to know Quebec from Montreal to the edge of Labrador almost by telegraph poles. You recall that the French in Canada evolved the modern census with its intimate penetration into the affairs of the people, some time before the Germans did it. The premier of Quebec was a handbook encyclopaedia of Quebec. He knew the precise location by the roads of almost any white village, pulp-mill, water-power, mine, timber limit; knew as much as a man can about the number of horses and cattle and cradles to a township; could talk with enthusiasm about the pioneer arts of the habitant—the rugs, the baskets, the furniture, the handmade churns, the open air bake-ovens. He could give the address and the full name of many and many a priest.
But beyond this there is a Quebec which Sir Lomer Gouin did not know, because he himself with his bourgeois excellences and his great good citizenship has not the Gallic sparkle in his mentality. He never
deeply knew the soul of Quebec. He was too much concerned with its practical and useful politics to be conscious of its passions. From the shrug of his shoulder, and a certain twinkle in his eye when he mentioned diplomacy with clerics one surmised that among the clergy he was the master among politicians who must walk warily. Bui he was too stout, too thrifty, too much of a high type of budgeteer to be spiritually informed of the crude but basically beautiful passions that undercurrent all peasant com-
September Issues As Usual
1 yx?E will resume our two issues per
month, beginning with September 1.
I There are two or three features in the
1 September 1 issue which are of extraor
I dinary interest to all readers of MAC¡
I LEAN’S. Ira Stratton, the “Official ¡
1 School Trustee" for Manitoba, who has ¡
I had some amazing experiences in the past
I six years "Canadianiziug ' the children of
1 our foreign population, tells his story. It
I is chock-full of actual incidents which ¡
1 make fascinating reading.
There are two more chapters from f
I “Ottaiva in Masquerade," that book by ¡
I an anonymous author who discusses Can
1 adian public men in a way similar to that §
I done for the statesmen of England by
1 the “Mirrors of Downing Street.” This §
I bonk will be published some time during
1 the autumn, but readers of MACLEAN’S
I are given some of the very best chapters
I in advance. ¡
There will be several short stories and \
I particularly a most laughable one by I
I---“Sapper”—H. C. McNeile—the famous
I b English writer, who entitles 1rs rib-tick¡
I 1er, “Uncle James' Golf Match."
munities. There was no poetry in Gouin. No fire. Little imagination.
“Those Nationalists?” he repeated shrewdly, slowly. “Yes, I know their talk. Oh, they are not so
dangerous, but a troublesome minority. I think--
I know Quebec better than they do. You have, I daresay, Nationalists in Ontario?”
What he perhaps expected was a statement about Orangemen, who of course are nearly all Imperialists. Yet these very Orangemen represent, an intense phase of Canadian life; the backwoods era, the simple industries, the old villages, the quaint settlements of the U. E. Loyalists as picturesque on the upper as the dormer-windowed villages of the French are on the lower St. Lawrence. To these men the Empire was as visual as to the intense. Quebecker it is nebulous. And as the politician in Ontario has ‘o regard carefully the Orange vote, so the Premier of Quebec had to be wary of the franchises of his emotional friends, the Nationalists. He was somewhat afraid of the minority as all masters of majorities are. Clearly—it was Gouin’s main business to continue being elected. Had he gone out on behalf of enlistments, to educate his people, even to speak for France, he would have been in danger of converting Gouin Liberals into Nationalists.
Gouin and Conscription.
/■■^NTARIO cannot fail to make an asset of Gouin’s anti-Nationalism. He was never for any of the violent doctrines propounded by my friend on the Terrace. He would not oppose Quebec going to war. I am sure he God-speeded the 22nd who died at Courcellette. He was the premier of a free province. Those men had freely gone. Others—the majority— had freely stayed. But an election was coming; where everybody would be free to vote.
Then there were the clergy; most of them friends
of Gouin. The Cardinal at Quebec had been interviewed by Sir Sam Hughes on aid to enlistments. Gouin could have told Hughes that he would fail; that Begin, though not a Nationalist, was a reactionary. The bilingual controversy was still acute. Gouin could not have gone out or sent emissaries out, to reason with French-Canadians about marching with a province which had denied the French language rights in contrast to the Government’s own claim that it had given rights to the “Anglo” minority in Quebec.
Conscription was coming. It was a precarious time. The master of Quebec had to move cautiously. His loyalty to Britain was never questioned. His faith in a United Canada was never doubted. Had Quebec been all for Gouin instead of Gouin all for Quebec the premier’s way would have been easier. Better let well enough alone; encourage those to enlist who really wanted to go—because Quebec was a free country.
Then there was the Laurier influence. Had the old man gone in with the Premier to help the Ottawa Government-
Impossible. Neither of them was asked before Coalition came on the heels of conscription. And when conscription came the minority of Nationalists opposed to the war became the majority of Quebeckers who preferred not to comply with the law. From disregarding the law to rebellion, to Nationalism was not far. Gouin had the balance to hold.
The Cardinal’s attitude on conscription made Gouin’s position still more difficult. His letter to the press bluntly put the Roman Catholic Church above temporal law. One heard of no rebuke from the Premier of Quebec to the Cardinal.
Sir Lomer was playing the game of safety when from his own temperament and position and unbacked by other leaders he could do little more. He stood for the law and did not hinder its operation. But if there was a chief executive in Canada who wished the war were righteously over it was Sir Lomer Gouin. No premier had such a predicament; so much in the end to lose; so much at first to have gained— if only he could have foreseen, as nobody did, that conscription was coming and that law would be more awkward than liberty.
The Premier of Quebec had experience in keeping his government immune from agitators. It was not alone the Nationalists who had made him uneasy. On the other extreme there had been for some time one Godefroi Langlois, former editor of “La Patrie” and later founder and editor of “Le Pays,” whose platform was compulsory state education away from control of the clergy and in defiance of the archbishops. Gouin did not endorse Langlois. How could he? “Le Pays" when it condemned clerical schools attacked the administration. Politically Gouin was right in opposing Langlois. Nationally he was playing provincial. Langlois had a mission, in line with a broader, nationalized Canada; the same mission which is now being reflected in the National Council of Education.
GO BETWEEN the reactionism of Bourassa and the ^ radicalism of Langlois, Gouin was the compromise; and Langlois was conveniently given an official post in Europe.
Gouin has compromised his whole political career. With the leverage of enormous success in elections and administrations he never had the vision to declare himself in favor of a bigger Quebec than could be got by extending its boundaries to Ungava.
He was too old to begin. Quebec to him was a vast prefecture to be administered; not a vision to be realized. Ontario—except politically—was almost as far away as British Columbia. He was seldom in Toronto. Montreal was as a rule the Last West for this voyageur. He seldom or never went to the Maritimes. He knew the people down there regarded the “bloc Quebec” as a dénationaliser. He had little or no desire to see the prairies. He wanted Quebec to prosper. He delighted to see pulp mills and cotton factories and power plants and railways and trol-! leys vibrating along the St. Lawrence. He loved to dream of the great unpeopled hinterland—all Quebec; of the other hinterland—all the rest of Canada; of the transcontinentals converging at Montreal; of the steamship lines terminating there; of a land where there are few empty cradles or idle factories or wasting farms.
All these things Gouin, growing stout and somewhat heavy of face, loved to behold; and out of that grew all the vision he seemed to have. In this enormous prefecture within the Empire he beheld a far more comfortable state than the Nationalist dream
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Gouin, the Sagacious
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of a separative Quebec; glad when he could find time to motor grandly and amiably out among the villages and be greeted as le grand seigneur of politics even when he lacked the grand manners of the patrician.
At any conference of premiers in Ottawa he held himself somewhat aloof studying the lot, respecting them all, cordial with all, anxious to do all that constitutionally in him lay to further co-ordination.
But Gouin always sagaciously knew that there was no premier in the pack
who already had so much and so little to ask from federalism as he. Mis was the pivotal province of Confederation, the grand compromise of Old Macdonald with Cartier; the basic (if. members of Parliament, unchangeable except byripping up the B.N.A. Act, an instrument of Empire. He could wink the other eye and reflect that from the political concessions of the Act in official bilingualism and a fixed representation, in the outlet of the St. Lawrence, in the possession of the historie city, in the control of ocean navigation,
I in a solid clergy, in fundamental virtues of thrift and an established peasantry —he and his had more than any of the others could ever ask.
So after all the rumors as to what he would do with himself when retiring from politics, at last Sir Lomer packed his kit bag and went stoutly up to Montreal, to be managing editor of a great Froneh-Canadian daily news-
“Aii!” he said eloquently, with a fine twinkle of his eyes to the interviewer at Quebec, “you have not seen our province? Thon you must come down again, when I am not busy, and let me take you to see—all we have down