He Upset B. C. Political Apple-cart
General McRae, whose slogan was "Turn Oliver out and don't let Bowser in," is a vivid and picturesque personality.
IN THE recent provincial elections in British Columbia, the whole political machinery of both parties, well oiled and well tended for decades, was thrown into hopeless confusion, party plans wrecked, and party ambitions defeated through the intrusion in the fight of an aggressive third party led by Gen. A. D. McRae. The smoke of battle has not yet cleared away. After the main action, however, the original battle cry of this militant force “Turn Oliver out and don’t let Bowser in” was seen to have been literally fulfilled so far as the personal fortunes of those two political chiefs were concerned, for the stout old premier went down in a decisive defeat in the Capital city of Victoria, and Mr. Bowser, the experienced and universally victorious candidate in many fights in his own city of Vancouver, was also definitely defeated. On the other hand the Third party leader was returned by a good majority. He had four or five supporters in the legislature, while the government party was so reduced in strength as to be rendered almost incapable of carrying on.
Under the election law of the province, however, there is an aftermath to its political contests in the counting of what is known as the absentee vote. This provision was inserted in the statute to facilitate the exercise of the franchise by those who were unable to get back to their own ridings on polling day. Such are permitted a ballot at any poll where they present themselves and convince the deputy returning officer that they are on the roll in their own riding. These votes are transmitted by mail in envelopes and counted later.
It transpired that in many of the close seats where the Third party candidates, and some of the Conservatives and Independents had been successful that the absentee vote was found to change the count to such a degree as to alter the representation, Under the operation of this law, Gen. McRae was counted out and Mrs. Mary Ellen Smith, in, in Vancouver. The Independent was rejected and the Liberal returned in North Vancouver, and there were some other changes of the same kind. It was shown that the absentee vote varied sharply from the trend of the regular vote in these instances, and there followed the inevitable charges of corruption. In the midst of the investigations, the premier secured a seat in Nelson, by a by-election, one of his own supporters resigning to make his return possible. The election of another member to the rank of Minister threw another riding open, and with recounts, protests and elections proceeding and the House already summoned for business, the political pot in B.C. has not been permitted to settle for a day since the June elections.
McRae’s part in the situation throws his figure into sharp relief. The work of his party, aggressively led by him, has produced the impasse which now exists. Its campaign, described by its friends as vigorous, and by its critics as calumnious, was the spear head of the onslaught on the Oliver government. It elected a few candidates, but it so nearly elected many that its aggregate showing is a formidable one. And in the readjustments which must follow the name of McRae is constantly mentioned, the belief being general that his place in the future life of the province, in spite of a seeming defeat, may yet be a very large one.
A Millionaire in Politics
I_JE DOES not like politics—or did not. Sometimes, -*■ during the campaign, he would express wonder that he had permitted himself to become involved in such a wearying and thankless task. He loves a good horse as ardently as does Sir Adam Beck—a passion shared by his daughters. He enjoys the company of friends, and his mansion on the very edge of Shaughnessy Heights, with its wonderful interior, its velvet lawns, and glorious gardens, permits a prospect of sea, mountains, and city, perhaps surpassed nowhere in the world. He has been a great money maker, and the estate of his wife, with his own, places him beyond the appeal of avarice.
“What kind of a fool am I to be plugging away at this,” he said, impatiently, in one of his early educative tours of B.C., which preceded the fight itself, “when I might be enjoying myself traveling round the world?”
The remark was only half serious. For the battle, against tremendous odds, seemed, as it developed, to grow on him. From an incident it became a passion. It took an effort, at first, to forego the customary week’s end duck shooting on the marshes of Pitt Lake, or a gallop on his favorite mount, for the drudgery of revising campaign literature, checking voters’ lists, or catching trains or small coastal steamers to keep speaking appointments in remote polling places. It took perhaps greater resolution to abandon seemingly necessary journeys to Cuba and other places where his investments were suffering for lack of personal attention. But as he traveled about the province, speaking, as he did, at from three hundred to four hundred points, hearing the story of the settlers’ hardships, getting their confidence, and stimulating in them a belief that his programme held hope for them and their families, the inevitable reaction which all public men experience began to take place. Toward the close of the fight it excluded every other interest. And into his public utterances there came a deeper, vibrant note, a tone of assurance and conviction, showing that the process of education had not been confined to his audiences.
Canada, and British Columbia, are not yet accustomed to the spectacle of men of wealth and leisure deserting their personal indulgences for the public welfare. So there was much speculation regarding McRae’s motives. His opponents suggested that he must have designs on some of the raw resources of the country, and cited his business career as evidence that he was not insensible to opportunity. It kept him quite busy submitting affidavits from people who could speak authoritatively, to prove that he had not made “more than half a million dollars,” indeed not one dollar, out of the sale of the Port Mann townsite. He was obliged to disclose the British and Canadian ownership of his timber companies to meet the charge that American millionaires were using him as a foil behind which to secure control of the timber wealth of the province. There were many other things, touching his religious faith, and a score of lesser matters which had to run the gamut of public scrutiny. McRae showed a patience and good temper under this barrage which indicated that he possessed at least one qualification for public life, namely equanimity under the gaff of criticism.
A Politician Who is Frank
LIE DISARMED this criticism, to a conH siderable extent, by his perfect frankness. If his opponents talked about his big house, and speculated on what it cost to operate, he told them it cost him over $25,000 a year, but added that it was the home of a happy white man, with no Asiatics in his personal employ. If they suggested that some public corporation was financing the campaign of the Provincial Party, of which he was the chairman, he hastened to explain that he had put over $40,000 of his own money into the fight—but that not a cent had come from any corporation doing business with the government. He added that if any one had contributed in the hope that if the party were successful they would thereby profit, he would give them back a cheque to the extent of their contribution, for there would be no patronage to dispense. Taken in conjunction with the charge of the Provincial Party—that the two old parties were mutually benefiting from a fund provided by government contractors—such statements were of unusual public interest.
Popular fancy was also caught by his courage, when attacked by old politicians, in challenging them to public debate. Although a mere tyro in public affairs, he expressed his willingness to meet the veteran chiefs of the opposing parties, and to add piquancy to the event offered to stage a barbecue for the benefit of the thousands who might wish to attend.
Although politically inexperienced, Gen. McRae had the benefit of wide knowledge in large affairs. When timber revenues were under discussion, he was able, as an owner of one of the largest timber mills in the world, to enunciate a policy which he claimed would provide ftinds to retire the provincial debt in twentyfive-years. As one who had helped to open up the great West, he knew by the book how settlers could be attracted, and how retained on the land. It was no ordinary rich man his opponents confronted but one who had made most of his money by a shrewd appreciation of values, by a quick perception, and the long vision to improve it.
McRae started, like every other country boy, on the dreary routine of his father’s farm at Glencoe, Ontario. After school he drove the cows in for milking. He later followed the team, and never lost his love for the society of a good horse. He tilled the soil and cleared the la.nd. But the latter he never liked. It was too slow, too tedious, and too uninteresting.
“I always hated that job,” he said, one day, when passing a fallow on a farm on the lower reaches of the Fraser river where perspiring men and smoking log heaps told of the work of clearing. “I liked to hire other fellows to do that.”
It was that ability to delegate routine to “other fellows” and thus to follow the big adventure, which led him away from the sleepiness of Glencoe, into the whirl of Chicago, then on to Minneapolis, and finally into the enterprise with the late Col. Davidson in western lands.
Good Land Begging at $1 an Acre
THAT was in 1902. The big trek was just starting to the Canadian mid-west. McRae had made some money in Minnesota, where he had a farm and other investments. He had been up through Saskatchewan and could not understand why land there was going begging at $1 an acre when land that looked just like it was selling for thirty times that amount in the neighboring state of Minnesota. He applied the spade test. He drove over great tracts of it, and pushed his spade down through the. tough prairie turf, down and down through the glorious black loam, apparently bottomless, which with moisture and cultivation means a yellow harvest. And when his judgment was satisfied, he set his jaw in a way that a hundred audiences have since come to know, and decided to risk all on his vision.
There was a great stretch of prairie lying between Lumsden and Saskatoon. There was only one settler in all that territory. The land was held by a Winnipeg brokerage firm. They wanted $1 an acre for it. Many people said it was not worth that. McRae and his associates decided to pay the‘price. They arranged an option for thousands of acres and signed the contract in May, 1902. Then they headed for Chicago. There they chartered a train—for which they paid $16,000. They hired the best chefs they could find, and invited one hundred and seventy business men, bankers, grain merchants, and thirty newspaper men to come north as their guests. Inside of thirty days of signing the contract, they were back with this trainload of people.
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To accommodate them while inspecting the country they erected at various points temporary hotels. Here the visitors had free board and lodging. When they started out across the plains to survey the country they traveled in conveyances, and with blankets and food provided by their hosts. They were captivated. They talked about it. The newspaper men wrote about it. Sales went faster than there was land with which to supply the purchasers.
The promoters bought more land from the Canada Northern. They arranged in return for settlement within the different townships to have the right of purchase from the Dominion government of its reserved lands. Before the end of the following year three or four villages with populations of two or three hundred, and with newspapers, hotels, elevators and stores, were all in place, and 10,000 acres under cultivation. The owners put through more than 1,600 homestead entries. In a little more than a year land values had advanced to $5 and the route of the Qu’Appelle, Long Lake, and Saskatchewan Valley railway became one continuous settlement. They ultimately caused the influx of about a quarter of a million people. The territory averaged 25 bushels to the acre last year. During the recent campaign when McRae’s critics declared that it broke their hearts to visit the country where he had sold land, his champions were wont to retort that it should break the heart of any good British Columbian, when he reflected on what similar vigor and foresight might have accomplished in the Pacific province.
His Part in the Great Fray
THEN came the war. In the meantime McRae had shown his usual good judgment by taking up his residence in B.C. and investing much of his wealth in its timber and other industries. When war came he was drafted as remount commissioner, and in that capacity bought a great many of the horses taken from Canada to the front. That he did so efficiently and that he was resolute in checking waste and graft is attested by the Commissioners who made their report after the war.
It was as the head of the commissariat department for the Canadian troops in England, however, that he probably established his principal reputation. He found each regiment buying its own supplies, with consequent waste. These he consolidated under one purchasing department. Then he placed an expert diëtist in charge. This doctor reported that the food calories indicated in War Office standards were excessive and that more nutritious food could be bought for less money. A trial failed to reduce the cost. Gen. McRae protested to his assistant. The latter stubbornly insisted that the fault lay elsewhere than in his system, and suggested the garbage cans.
At daybreak next morning the two men left in a high-powered car for an inspection of the different camps. Some colonels did not know where the garbage cans were. But when the cans were kicked over they were found to contain not only vast amounts of meats, bread, and fats of which there was then a shortage, but belts, canteens, and other equipment. The commanding officers were warned of what would follow if a subsequent inspection disclosed the same conditions. Locks were put on the cans. The head cooks were made responsible. Waste stopped. The army contractors who had paid for the privilege of carting away the refuse, now found it so barren that they declined to haul it away, even if given free. The per capita cost went down, with no loss of efficiency.
Saving a Million on Beans
THEN a cooking school was organized.
The cooks were taught how to prepare the most nourishing and appetizing meals. The front line heard of it and drafted men from the base in England for France.
McRae found that tinned beans were being brought from the United States when space in the cargo ships was at a premium. He promptly stopped the practice, bought beans, and other commodities in bulk, and cooked it under army supervision. The saving in one year is said to have amounted to more than one million dollars.
The British, French, and American armies sent experts to investigate. They reported the success of the plan, and it was adopted in the allied armies.
In this McRae was the driving force. He kept his staff tuned up to the same brimming pitch of energy which marks him to this day. At his mess inHampstead Heath, dinner was followed by a few rubbers of whist and all and sundry had to be tucked in by ten o’clock. An hour’s gallop in the morning was insisted upon, followed by a cold tub, a Hasty breakfast, and a swift ride into headquarters where he and his staff were at work long before the regulation hour. By this Spartan system he kept himself and his staff at concert pitch continually.
It was this experience and this record that made so many people in B.C. favor his conscription for public service there in the recent fight. He is not in the house. He has but a few followers there. But the campaign which he led has been the most revolutionary the province has ever known in its political history. Some of the political craft have been torn from their moorings. Some have lost their skippers. Others are seeking a change of crews. And even those which weathered the gale have been dismasted and are charting new courses, where the public winds and tides may be negotiated with greater safety. Never has the rule of the political strategists been challenged so daringly, so vigorously, or so dramatically. Whether Gen. McRae emerges later as an active factor in personally shaping the legislation of the province or not, he will always be regarded as one who went far to shake the complacency of the standpatters, and to inject vigor and fibre into the political thought of the B. C. electorate.