Dunning Dares to Take a Chance
When the doctor told him that he would have to stop working, young Charles Dunning tackled a pioneer s job on a Western Canadian farm. When his farmer boss told him he wasn't strong enough to earn ten dollars a month, he took up his own quarter section and did so well that in twenty years he was premier of his province. Now they're wondering what he is going to do at Ottawa.
MOST people who traveled the Canadian West during the past decade became familiar with two prophecies: Everyone agreed that there would be “a good crop next year” and nearly everyone that “Charlie Dunning will end up at Ottawa.” There was not necessarily any connection between the two predictions—one was the expression of a fond hope, the other of an almost universal intuition— but the fates decreed that the two events, so long foretold by prophets in coonskins, should “fall in” within twelvemonths of one another. A favoring Providence last year gave the West n good harvest, and a shrewd wheat pool management secured for the grain a fair
price. And to-day Hon. Charles E. Dunning, sometime Premier of the Province of Saskatchewan, sits in office at Ottawa as one of the most important ministers in the government of the Hon. Mackenzie King. The East was accustomed to shrug its shoulders indulgently every time a big crop was predicted and to murmur “old stuff.” It rather discounted, too, the tales of Dunning’s ability. But the West has had the last laugh.
A Man of Daring Decisions
D UMOR has it that Mr. Dunning did not * ^ come to Ottawa on the first invitation. At least “thrice was he offered a kingly crown and he did thrice refuse.” On the last occasion, if this same rumor be credited, he made his entrance conditional uoon John Brownlee, now Premier of Albeita, and H. J. Symington, of Winnipeg, accepting similar responsibilities. Negotiations at that time failed, and those who do not know the new minister are questioning his judgment in declining the honor when conditions weie more favorable, and in coming to the aid of the Liberal column when it seemed to have fallen into a rear guard action. They think it is a bad time in which to come to Ottawa. His friends have no such misgivings. They point out that he has always been making daring decisions at what seemed to be inopportune times. It was after the doctor had told him that the valves of his heart were badly ruptured and that he was incapacitated for further hard work, that he decided to emigrate and to accept the arduous conditions of settlement on the Canadian prairies. It was after a year of exacting labor and on being told by his employer that he could never become a farmer, that he pre-empted a quarter section, built his
80j u.U^’ cons^ru.cted a bed of poles on the earthen floor and became a blithe homesteader twenty-five miles from the end of steel. And when the farmers in the co-opera tive movement, which he had done much to foster, decided to enter politics, he stoutly withstood them, maintained his party affiliations, engaged in politics on his own account, rose to the highest office in the gift of his Province, and kept his seat securely in the political saddle, when by the logic of events he should have been unhorsed.
Dunning s career, therefoie, must be considered in any speculations regarding the place which he will ultimately occupy in the public life of the Dominion. One does not readily find since eaily confederation days a career quite as spectacular or as full of romance. His very success is a striking contradiction of the theories that lie behind the immigration policies of the Government of which he is a member, and which pre-supposes that only men who have been reared on the land are desirable as settlers. Indeed, by every test of those policies, the new minister should have been an unwelcome immigrant. He was a shop boy, was totally inexperienced, was in broken health and had no money. Yet landing in Canada at seventeen years of age without any adventitious aids he soon became a constructive factor in the life of the West. And in twenty years from the time that he landed at Halifax, a lonely young immigrant, be took the seals of office as Premier of his Province.
Premier at Thirty-Six
HIS elevation to the Prime Ministership of Saskatchewan was not one of those sudden and unexpected turns of the political wheel which have often brought sudden preferment to men of indifferent endowment. It was the logical and inevitable culmination of a series of events which led as surely to the post of first minister in his own province as more recent developments have led to his translation to a wider sphere. He was only thirtysix yeais of age when he became Premier of Saskatchewan. He is now but forty-one. He comes to his new task at a period of life when energy still runs high and the fruits of experience can be most effectively utilized. And all his life he has been quick to profit by experience.
Dunning’s father was a railway signalman at Croft in Leciestershire, England. It helps to visualize the youth of the new minister to recall that in the year in which he was born, Middleton and Otter were leading the 90th of Winnipeg, the Queen’s Own, of Toronto, and other militia corps in an expedition against Louis Riel and his Metis across the very plains which now smile with Saskatchewan homesteads. Dunning quit school at eleven years of age. He served ias an office boy in a patent office till he was fourteen, and then, for a couple of years, as apprentice in an engineering works. An expert swimmer, he held championship honors for several seasons and then, in response to the importunities of his fellow workmen and against the advice of the docto.s, he undertook to defend those honors in the annual aquatic fete. He led the field home, but they dragged him out of the water unconscious. An examination showed that his heart condition was so serious that he had to discontinue work.
It is one of the interesting coincidences in Dunning’s career that he comes to Ottawa as an important factor in solving a political situation of which Sir Clifford Sifton
is supposed to be the super-adjuster. If that report be true there is a singular fitness in it because it was indirectly through Sir Clifford that Dunning came to Canada.
In the winter of 1901-02 Sifton, then Minister of the Interior, sent a number of successful prairie farmers back to the Old Country to do missionary work in inducing likely men to come to Canada. Joe Haggerty, of Belle Plains, Manitoba, was among the number. He opened an office in Thos. Cook and Son’s steamship agency in Leicestershire. Young Dunning eagerly embraced the opportunity of talking to Haggerty.
“I had been reading very considerably about the Canadian West,” he explained some years ago, “but I confess that I got more practical information in half an hour’s talk with Mr. Joseph Haggerty, a farmer of Belle Plains, in what was then the North West Territories, than I got from all the literature.
I certainly think, also, that the best type of immigrant can be more effectively interested by this method than by literature, however well devised. Literature, of course, is necessary, but the effect of it depends a great deal on the viewpoint of the reader. A quiet talk with a man who is actually living and working under conditions that await the intending immigrant conveys a much sounder idea of what to expect.”
Dunning worked for a settler during the first year he was in the West for ten dollars a month. The next year he took up a quarter section of his own and brought out his parents. He and his father began to farm together and they still farm jointly to-day.
The very year that Dunning came to Canada his present colleague, Hon. Mr. Motherwell, and others met at Indian Head to organize the Saskatchewan Grain Growers. At their first annual convention in 1910 the boy delegate represented his own small local of Beaverdale. The little group of farmers there could manage jointly to provide only $17.50 for the expenses of Dunning and his fellow delegates. He gave early evidence of his resourcefulness by making that sum suffice though he had to sleep in the basement of a Regina hotel as one of the economic penalties of his zeal. Hail insurance was being abandoned that year by the government and George Paynter, of Tartallon, was engaged in a desperate effort to arouse the farmers to replace it by co-operative effort. The young English immigrant came to Paynter’s aid in a speech that marked him as a coming man. Co-operative insurance
was adopted. Dunning was elected a director of the Grain Growers and, the next year, vice-president.
The Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company, which recently sold its 450 elevators to the wheat pool, was the next development, and Dunning was one of its most energetic champions. He became in turn a director, secretary-treasurer, and finally, by unanimous vote, general manager. In 1911 the “Co-op” started with forty elevators. The next year it had built or purchased ninety and had a commission and sales department operating out of Winnipeg. Before the wheat barons of the ’Peg were well aware of what the young farmer and his associates were doing, the big movement was away.
From Business to Politics
MEANTIME, Dunning had been enlarging his horizon. In 1913 he served on two commissions, one to investigate agricultural credits and the other to study the grain markets in Europe for the Saskatchewan Government. By 1916 the elevator company’s success was assured. Dunning resigned and entered the Martin G overnment, serving as Provincial Treasurer and in half a dozen other portfolios until at thirty-six years of age he became Premier. Meantime he had been a member of the food board as director of food production for Canada during the war, or the Canadian Council of Agriculture, and had held various other important posts. As a farmer, as a business man,and as a politician, he has been equally successful.
Those who know him best, attribute his success to his ability to surround himself with good men and to exercise absolute control without seeming to domineer, to his vibrant energy, to his prodigious industry, his tenacious memory and his ability to make quick decisions. Irrespective of party affiliations, most Canadians will regard as not unwelcome nor unneeded the transfer of these qualities to the Federal adminisstrative field.
An Ottawa journalist the other day circulated the startling rumor that Dunning had been known to wear a pair of tan shoes with a morning coat. Possibly the charge is correct though it might not have been thought worthy of note except by those who live under the shadow of the Chateau in “The Land of Afternoon.” The present government of Canada compares well with any since Confederation— sartorially. Many people are of the opinion that in some other and more important respects, it will bear reinforcement of the kind that the Westerner brings. Dunning has been too busy with real problems to worry much about the niceties of his personal appearance though even on that score Ottawa society need have no fear. When the warm spring sun brought out the buds on the prairie shrubs and played havoc with the frost bound country roads, the premier never permitted the impassability of the latter to deny him his game of golf. Sometimes his Cabinet waited for half an hour for the arrival of a ruddy and perspiring chief executive, mud to his boot tops, who found no difficulty in quickly transferring his attention from a golfing score to the intricacies of provincial finance. That part of his person concealed below the table might have suggested the ditch-digger; but the part of his organism which functioned above permitted of no such mistake.
On the appeal court of one of the Canadian provinces there is a judge who is most punctilious in regard to the proprieties. The chief of the court is of exactly the opposite temperament and is brusque to the point of rudeness. There is a story that on one occasion an elderly member of the court came into the robing room wearing a pair of light-colored oxfords which obtruded aggressively below the black silk gown and full bottomed wig. His sensitive colleague drew the attention of the chief to the fact that “our brother D—is most improperly garbed; he has on a pair of tan shoes.”
The chief, who valued highly the offending judge for his wisdom, answered the critic in straight flung words and few.
_ “I don’t give a tinker’s damn,” he said, “if D— comes in his bare feet—so long as he comes.”
It is safe betting that the hard-pressed Liberal host on Parliament Hill will similarly welcome Dunning even should he come in Stetson and chaps. And there will be a sentiment elsewhere than in Ottawa that it will do no harm to some of the lily-handed attendants there to have a brief respite from daintier tasks and be brought into more intimate contact with that honest-to-goodness but tenacious gumbo which, though it is not “the stuff that dreams are made of” is largely the material on which our national structure stands.
Learning From the Ox
PERHAPS, Mr. Dunning is less impressed with the difficulties before him because of his knowledge of oxen. He has had much experience with “cattle” —some of them dramatic. Oxen are not only obstinate; they are highly educative. One former cabinet minister drove a yoke of them from old Fort Garry to Edmonton and on the journey acquired a vocabulary as rich and expressive as any the West has produced. His facility in its use gave much colorful but unrecorded emphasis to his sotto voce interruptions in Commons debates. Oxen had a different effect on Dunning. They and he have been through many troubles together. He has thought through many of his early cares to the rhythmic swing of their bodies. The patient animals saw him, a mere lad, turn when on the road to market with his first grain, and start home again
when, on meeting a returning neighbor, he learned of the paltry sum the man had received for his load. On another occasion they saved his life. He had been chopping in the winter woods and the axe, glancing, ! had split his foot. He retained consciousness long enough to rudely bind up the member, stretch himself across the bob ^igh and twist his arm firmly around the landing pole. Then, having started the cattle homeward, he lapsed into unconsciousness. It was thus, some time later, that he arrived back at the settlement. His neighbors with some difficulty freed his arm from its despeiate clutch and carried him into more comfortable quarters. It is perhaps of some political significance that on this as on other occasions the minister attained his objective even though he had become unconscious.
The late President Harding was fond of saying that he and his wife were “just folks.” The new minister and his wife belong to the same category. Mrs. Dunning was an attractive girl living at Northants, Leicestershire, when on week ends the young engineering apprentice used to go to visit his grandparents there. Neighbors then said they were “sweet” on each other. Perhaps it was because the doctor had warned him that his heart was not to be relied on, that the young immigrant did not press his suit any further before he came to Canada. But, years later he returned to England on one j of the commissions investigating markets ) there and revisited Northants. There he found his girl friend. Possibly the best evidence that his heart functions were again restored was the fact that, although he only reached there in June, and had j had no correspondence with the young lady during the intervening years, they were married in July. By a curious coincidence, Mr. Dunning had been obliged by j circumstance to buy two-passagp accommodation for the return trip and this j fortunate fact facilitated the honeymoon arrangement. Perhaps it was not mere j coincidence. Perhaps just the characteristic Dunning farsightedness. A boy and girl in their teens now complete the family group of the new minister.
His Circulating Library
TF MR. DUNNING’S school training A was limited, one would never suspect it by his speech nor by his library. He is a capital speaker, forceful, incisive and with the rare gift which Gladstone possessed in a pre-eminent degree of making a financial statement luminous. His shelves are full of volumes on political, historical and economic subjects. He is a two-party politician, a Liberal of the English school and a disciple of Gladstone, Cobden and Bright and this fact is reflected in the volumes which adorn his office shelves..
It is not his first library. He had accumulated a fine collection of books when the one and only cyclone which ever struck Regina swept through that city one Sunday afternoon some years ago. His house stood in its path and the library was caught up and swept away in the vortex of the cyclone. It is probably going yet. It was the largest and fastest circulating library ever distributed on the plains.
One thing may be taken for granted. On the major problems which confront Canada to-day, notably those involving the railways, immigration and education, Mr. Dunning has clear and definite opinions. Indeed, in connection with none of them are his opinions nebulous or his policies hesitant or uncertain. Three years ago a keen Winnipeg transportation executhe declared that “Charlie Dunning is the only politician in the West who has any nerve.” One may well believe that he has not quit the secure and supreme pc sition which he held in Saskatchewan lightly or without definite purpose. A mere office holder would have felt it was better to be first in a little Iberian village than second in Rome. But after all Rome is Rome and even there one who has Dunning’s qualities may not always be second.