Taschereau Rules in Old Quebec
Louis Alexandre Taschereau is of the political purple—the last surviving aristocrat in Canadian governments.
EVERY Summer thousands of American tourists stream over the border, by motor or train
to Montreal. They nose about the big stores, dine at the luxurious hotels, admire the quaint shops, and marvel at the unaccustomed French inflection and tongue. They stare at the great cathedrals, at the habits of monk and friar, drink without let or hindrance of French wines, chat to the merry French-Canadian tramcar conductors, and go home happy in the knowledge that they have “seen Quebec.”
Montreal is a great metropolitan city, with French characteristics. Bi t it is not Quebec. “It’s just a smaller New York,” they tell you, a night’s run up the fat. Lawrence. And sometimes, they say that it requires more than the blazing cross on Mount Royal to remind its people of the fervid zeal for an ancient faith that caused Maisonneuve to dedicate its original site under the name of Villemarie.
Montreal is great in wealth, in population, in its dominance in the trade of the province and nation. But Quebec City is the Capital of the habitant. Dickens described it as “piece of mediaeval Europe, perched on a rock.” Great modern ships come to its wharves, and a famous hostelry has usurped the ground where stood the Chateau St. Louis, and snuggles under the guns of the ancient Citadel. But these are not of the City. Modernity stands hesitant, hat in hand, at the gate. Phantom walls still enclose its inner life. The clang of a street car gong is an intrusion. Stone buildings, hillside streets, cloisters, the ceaseless call of cross-tipped belfries, church processions, narrow and tortuous lanes, and grass ramparts—all speak of another age and of a period not elsewhere preserved. One would not be start1 ed to see Laval emerge from the Basilica, or Frontenac swagger, sword on hip, out of the outworn bastions that he held so well.
The Habitant Premier
TT IS in this atmosphere that Premier Taschereau rules.
It is from this he derives his inspiration. Quebec, its traditions, its people, its faith are a perfect background for the man.
For Quebec is the Capital of the French-Canadian people; and Taschereau is the premier of the habitants.
He sublimates their virtues; he personifies their ambitions. His relations to them are not those of an English-speaking premier to his supporters. They are not his constituents—not in the English sense. They are his People! He is their Grand Seigneur.
In Quebec, Ministers need not be, and the more successful rarely are, of humble birth and rank. The habitant is, at heart, a Monarchist. Pie loves a great figure. He reveres a great mind. And he accords his confidence generously to the man who knows, and who does. Given assurance on these points, he is not concerned with being consulted about details. Laurier, incomparable psychologist, understood that. He won the support of his English-speaking partisans by his nameless charm. But his fellow countrymen he awed by his superior manner. His memory and his methods inspire his successors. Pictures and casts of Laurier are seen everywhere about the legislative chamber in Quebec. And in the Prime Minister’s room there stands the latest addition to the collection, a wonderful bust in white marble by Andre Yermare, which was exhibited at the French Salon last year, and purchased a few months ago by the Quebec government.
Of the Political Purple
LA. TASCHEREAU is the last surviving aristocrat • in the governments of Canada. He is of the political Purple. His family is one of the oldest in Canada, where it has lived for two centuries. The Taschereau family has given administrative heads to Canadian cities, statesmen to its public life, eminent jurists to its bench, and distinguished Cardinals to the Church. Mr. Taschereau inherits the governing tradition and its attendant obligations and honors. With him politics is not a game. Though stern in appearance it was in a voice, broken with emotion, that he reluctantly accepted from his supporters the task of government on the retirement of Sir Lomer Gouin. His attitude to public life is not deprecatory, and he has none of the cynical attitude so common in public men which discourages high-minded youth from taking its part in public duties and affairs. He calls on the flower of Quebec’s young manhood to give themselves to the state. He wants his own sons to go into politics. He deplores the fact that provincial legislatures are so often recruited from civic politics, with its circumscribed outlook. He would have a political elite.
And he sets an example in public devotion. His is a doctrine of noblesse oblige. More than elsewhere in the Canadian provinces, the premier of Quebec is the source, and director, of policy. He has Ministers, and these discharge the details of their departments. But the central and controlling authority remains in the hands of the head of the government.
To his task Premier Taschereau gives a single-mindedness of service which is inspirational. Five nights of every week see him back at his desk working late into the night. He is not a premier alone, but Minister of Immigration and Attorney-General. He is never away from his office for longer than a week. If dining out, he leaves the company before ten o’clockand atones for his brief dissipation by later labors in his office. Yet he indulges in no self-pity. It is one of his theories that the modern man wears himself out more rapidly through social exactions than by toil. And he respects his own judgment sufficiently in the matter to be guided by it.
Disciple of Izaak Walton
HIS physical well-being seems to justify his judgment.
Though approaching three score years he is tireless whether at work or play. Out at St. Joachim he has a hunting lodge where he loves to take a good bag of ducks and where both a former Governor General and the present one, the Duke of Devonshire and Lord Byng, have been his frequent guests. He casts a great fly and is regarded as one of the best fishermen in the province, having taken twenty-eight salmon on the DeMoisie in one day. His physical resiliency on these trips is the constant envy of the younger men of the party, which is never large, for the premier is a bit of a clansman, and inclines to the company of a small group of friends whose adoption has been tried.
He frequently stalks moose and deer also, though the rod is his favorite recreation. Cards he holds in scorn and
while he likes golf he finds it takes too much of his crowded time. He is somewhat of an expert in billiards, a game in which he often indulges with his sons of whom he makes pals, and the championship of one of these sons in billiards at the university was attributable largely to the tuition he received when measuring skill with his father.
When Hon. Mr. Taschereau came to power he had to fill the difficult role of successor to a popular and able premier, Sir Lomer Gouin. The general opinion is that he has fully vindicated that succession. Quebec is a land of mighty rivers, of extensive forests, of waterfalls, and of heavy snow. It has therefore great reserves of timber wealth and of power. The Taschereau policy of causing the state to impound the water at the head reaches of the principal streams tributary to the St. Lawrence and of selling horsepower to various industries on an insured minimum flow the year round, has had a powerful effect in attracting factories, and giving permanency of employment. The premier is opposed to the export of both pulp and power, believing that these constitute two of the most important factors in attracting industries to the province. And the way in which great institutions like the International Paper Co. and the Singer Sewing Machine Company are moving their big plants into Quebec shows the prescience of his policy.
“Are we going to build up New England, or are we going to build up Quebec?” he says. “If you export power and pulp, you build up factories in the States that would otherwise come here. We have 1,200,000 horse-power now—the largest amount of power in the Dominion. Factories are coming in. Emigration is stopping. Coal and transportation are both getting dearer in the States. It took us three years to build the Gouin dam, the largest empoundage of water in the world. But look what is happening. In fifteen years we will derive enough revenue from the companies which are using our power to pay for the whole investment and give us a clear profit of half a million dollars annually to the bargain.”
This is typical of the large view which the Quebec premier takes of his problems. A system of forest conservation unequalled probably on the continent has been supplemented by forestry schools where the young Quebeckers are being taught themselves to operate pulp mills, to administer logging camps economically and to superintend saw mills. There is a great forward looking to future greatness. In a few years the great pulp and paper mills of the old province will be stopped, not manually alone but technically by the native sons of Quebec.
Our Habitual Bulwark
THIS but reflects the premier’s great confidence in the simple, merry habitant who, he says “is the bulwark of our nationality because he has retained all the ancestral virtues, because the ill winds of unrest, foreign penetrations, modern luxury and bolshevist preaching, pass over his head.” He wants the habitant to learn English, and to learn it while young, so that he may speak it well, for the premier is a great friend of education.
His faith in, and affection for, his countrymen from many of whom he is separated by a wide gulf of culture, and training, is one of the pleasing phases of the premier’s character. In spite of an apparent austerity of manner, he has a delicious sense of humor, with an edge on it so fine as to remind one of that of the better type of English public men. His father, who was a judge, had the reputation of knowing every man on his circuit, and of always stopping at the same hotels. The premier has carried on the family tradition for no habitant requires an appointment with him. His door is always open to his people, and they make frequent and grateful use of the privilege.
It is perhaps the practice of law rather than of politics that has brought him into such close touch with the country folk. He early recognized the incurable penchant of his countrymen for a law suit. “It is his favorite form of dissipation,” he says, “and he has for it all the enthusiasm of a game. A crooked fence, a disputed boundary, or a trespass—anything will serve as a cause so long as he can get into a court room with all the excitement and matching of wits that is his delight.”
The premier is preeminently a lawyer. Two of his three sons are embracing the same profession, and he is credited with the statement that he would rather be remembered as a good attorney-general than even as a good premier. Yet one of his most cherished objects has been to simplify legal administration through a Board of Magistrates and to reduce lawyers’ costs. Although one of the foremost lawyers in the province, he is notoriously Continued on page 52
Continued from page 27
indifferent to acquiring money and modest in exacting fees.
The Ever Busy Stork
LARGE families have long been associated with the country life of Quebec, and Hon. Taschereau gets much amusement out of a condition which has of late given anxious moments to the “gloomy Dean.”
“The girls marry at an early age,” he says, “and make of the stork a very busy bird. The habitant himself is a simple man with an abiding faith and given to large families, an eccentricity which makes many people tired. He marries with much recklessness, judged by the standards of other lands, but with excellent results. He has an abiding faith in God, and for this reason is regarded by the rest of the hemisphere as practically helpless.
“He doesn’t believe the legislature can save his soul and actually puts a reverent faith in the mighty church to which he belongs.”
While the premier himself can boast of but a modestly sized family he recalls with some pride that one of his ancestors had
thirty-six children. Families of from twelve to twenty are frequent. A local youth who married at nineteen managed before he was twenty-six to have acquired by natural increase— single, double and treble—a family of eight.
The late Hon. Honore Mercier, who had great ambitions for his people, gave 100 acres of land to fathers of twelve children. He had to cancel it or the whole of the province would soon have passed in the hands of “these enterprising fathers who,” says the premier “might under other circumstances have been called profiteers.” It is noteworthy that Hon. Honore Mercier’s son is a minister in the Taschereau cabinet, is married to the daughter of the great poet Louis Frechette, and is blessed with a family of ten.
“I remember,” says the premier, “when the Mercier bounty was in force. I got a grant of 100 acres for one of these worthy fathers in Montmagny county. Next year he renewed the application and when I reminded him that he had already received his reward, he promptly handed me the birth certificate of his twentyfourth child.”
No statesman in Canada more insistently affirms the needs of British connec-
tion, and of maintaining Canada’s position within the Empire. He believes in the Privy Council appeal. He strongly supported Canadian participation in the war. He is an ardent champion of the rights of the Protestant minority, and one of his problems is to keep alive Protestant schools where the number of families is insufficient to maintain them. He changed the charter of the City of Quebec to permit of the Protestants electing an alderman at large. It is his great ambition to associate Roman Catholics and Protestants in bonds of goodwill, toleration and respect so that they may hold Canada against the possible disintegrating influence of the foreigner. Canadian nationality, he contends, though a single nationality, is based on two races and two religions.
“The French-Canadian,” he declares, “was the first, as he will be the last Canadian. At the conquest the love of the fields he had cultivated and the lure of the mighty rivers and dense forests was stronger than the appeal of Old France. Having been the first Canadian he wants to remain such. While other Canadians are British by birth, by surroundings or sentiment, he is British by reason and intellect, and in our materialistic age,” the premier adds, “reason and interest is often stronger than sentiment.”
“The French-Canadian dreads annexation because he know French Louisiana lost all he wants to retain when it fell into the American melting pot. He fears independence knowing that the helping hand of England would, if severance came, no longer protect his laws, and some other things he dearly loves.”
A Ready Wit
THE premier is a masterly parliamentarian, strong in debate, of unfailing sang froid, with a quick grasp of the essentials of a subject and always prompt with the apt and witty retort. His ready humor was illustrated recently when at the close of the day’s session in the legislature the members honored his birthday by presenting him with fifty-eight American Beauty roses. His opposition to woman suffrage lent special piquancy to his sly observation “Now that the women know that in the legislature we are counting years, they will, I feel sure, no longer desire admission to this house.”
To those who seek the suffrages for the fair sex he speaks with a bluntness which would wreck a political future in other provinces.
“Not while I am premier,” he says in effect, and reminds the insistent ladies that Latin countries have never taken to the experiment of female suffrage. He thinks that is the Latin contribution to the political life of this continent. He tells the ladies frankly that the vote is not good for them—hence they must not have it.
So his fair compatriots in Quebec will have to wait more favorable circumstances.
As one whose family has played such a large part in religious life of Quebec, the premier is a devout but most unobtrusive churchman. None can come more readily to the defence of the so-called priestridden habitant, while on the other hand none can more firmly resist where he feels the church is encroaching on state rights. His recent failure to be moved by clerical pressure in regard to state inspection of certain church institutions is a good example of this, while his refusal to
attend at the blessing of the Basilica bells, or to have Governor or Minister appear, owing to an attack made on him by a supposedly church organ, showed his mettle.
In this man of pure French extraction there is much that recalls the British type of public man even more than in many who are of British stock. His devotion to duty and his high sense of responsibility are both typical of an Old World rather than a New World school. He has kept his administrations free from scandal. He has established the once popular habit of annual surpluses in government. He watches the conservation of the wealth of the province with scrupulous care. His province does not forget to do honor to its thinkers. Probably the only statue of its kind ih all Canada stands on the lawn of the Quebec legislature—one of the historian Garneau. And he believes and acts as though the moral and religious welfare of her people was of equal importance with their material prosperity.
Habitants as Pioneers
HE RECOGNIZES the diverse elements which constitute Canada— elements of race and religion alone. “Canada,” he says, “is a country of opposites—an old and an altogether new country. For one portion its history began in the sixteenth century, with deeds as chivalrous and inspiring as any in the annals of the Old World. For most of Canada its history has been compressed in the last half century, since Confederation. For the western provinces, their history is, in a large measure, only beginning.”
In the task of opening up the whole Dominion, he believes his fellow countrymen will bear an important part, “for the French Canadian,” he affirms, “has an instinct stronger than his will, that his mission is to open up new lands and always go deeper and deeper into the forests. The new northlands of Ontario and Quebec are to-day furnishing an outlet for this instinct.”
It is because the French-Canadian is so incurably of the soil that Premier Taschereau believes he will be, not the stumbling block to Confederation, as Goldwin Smith predicted, but the very keystone of the structure. The homestead never leaves the French-Canadian family, passing down from generation to generation, while the parents quietly spend the evening of their days on the ancestral acres which they have inherited and which they in turn pass on to posterity. This is an instinct of the race stimulated by the strong admonitions of their leaders who taught as did Cartier:
“French Canadians, do not forget that if we wish to assure ourselves of our national existence we must CLING. It is necessary for each of us to do all in his power to conserve his national patrimony. We must leave to our children, not only the blood and language of our ancestors, but the ownership of the soil as well.
“The giant Antaeus received new strength each time he touched the soil. So shall it be with us.”
So, among this homely folk Premier Taschereau goes about his work, assured, tolerant, keen, giving to other Canadian premiers a constant object lesson of prudence in preserving the people’s domain, and of sagacity in using it to the best advantage.