David, the Versatile

Doughty debater, hockey fan, patron of the arts, efficient administrator—such is David, of Quebec

LESLIE ROBERTS December 1 1929

David, the Versatile

Doughty debater, hockey fan, patron of the arts, efficient administrator—such is David, of Quebec

LESLIE ROBERTS December 1 1929

David, the Versatile

Doughty debater, hockey fan, patron of the arts, efficient administrator—such is David, of Quebec


IF THERE is one refreshing aspect in which Athanase David differs from some of the gentlemen who storm up and down our land in behalf of this political school or that, it is that he is, before all things, a human being.

The Provincial Secretary from the cliffs of Quebec is many other things as well. As a practising lawyer he is of goodly stature. He is a patron of the fine arts, a lover of belles lettres. He is the president of a big league hockey club and is deeply interested in that democratic pastime known as organized baseball. Socially, his pedigree is impeccable. Though only in his forty-seventh year, he has held elective legislative office for thirteen years, and is known to his colleagues and enemies as a capable administrator, an adroit parliamentary swordsman and a hustings orator of no mean talent. Here, you may say, is a gentleman of some versatility, and in the saying you will be right. Versatility is the essence of Athanase David’s character and the key to his career. He is at once versatile and volatile, and he takes life’s fences at the gallop.

“En Avant les Canadiens!’’

rT"'HE last time that I talked with him we were walking about a stuffy, smoke-filled room in the centre of which was a very ordinary table, painted yellow. In little groups and clumps in corners, on chairs and on benches against the walls, forty or fifty very serious people gloomily puffed smoke clouds drawn from all manner of weeds, from the aristocratic Turkish to le bon tabac canadien. In an adjoining anteroom a dozen young men were

being rubbed and pommelled by trainers, while their manager paced the floor and tried to exhort them to new flights of speed. The scene was the dressing room and club quarters of Les Canadiens, of the National Hockey League. The time was the interim between the second and third periods of a house-packed tussle with their blood enemies, the Montreal Maroons. And Les Canadiens, at that stage of the game, stood a goal to the bad in the records.

The Provincial Secretary was among the smokers in that outer room. Obviously he was keyed to top pitch, every nerve in his body drawn taut to the point of snapping. Eagerly he sought conference, first with this director, then with that one. As the team’s manager, the excitably dour Cecil Hart, came from the inner room, Honorable Athanase engaged him in earnest conversation. Did Cecil think this, or did Cecil think that? And what were the team’s chances to come from behind and win? Then, as the players appeared and filed across that outer sanctum on their way to the ice, the Provincial Secretary bounded forward to clap a young man across the shoulders and bid him score some goals.

“You can do it, Howie! You can do it!” he exhorted the colorful Morenz, almost like an excited schoolboy urging his hero of the playing fields to new achievements or to convince him of the unswerving moral support of his non-combatant brethren. The aspirate of his “Howie!” was almost slurred—certain proof of the excitement that carried him back into the accents of his mother tongue. So I remark again that Athanase David is distinctly a human being, though it must not be inferred that his rôle is that of the lightweight to whom these jousts between well-paid young men are the all-important things of life. On the contrary—but of that more anon.

Sport for Sport’s Sake

T JSUALLY when your man of affairs delves into the realms of money sport, it is because he hopes to coin profit either as operator or as gambler; but this is not the case with the gentleman presently under the

microscope. I doubt even that he considers these things in the light of political expedients or as associations which keep him favorably in the electoral eye, and therefore win David votes on election day. What there could be of vote-catching for him in these sportive matters I fail to see, for the average citizen from the county of Terrebonne is seldom a spectator at hockey or baseball bacchanalia in Montreal. Scarcely ever, in point of fact, do the honest farmers who have made it their habit to send David to the Legislature visit Montreal. Little matters of potatoes to hoe and cordwood to haul see to that. Perhaps there is just a touch of vanity in his rôle of patron of the democratic sports, or a vestige of Mussolini’s flair for mingling with the hoi polloi off parade. But if it be vanity, then I call it pardonable and an added proof of the original contention that when the so great M’sieu Taschereau retained David as his Provincial Secretary, he retained a human being in his cabinet.

Born into Politics

TIKE the prime minister whom ■*“' he serves, Athanase David’s

place in the political sun of Quebec is his by right of family. Of his father, the late Senator L. 0. David, I cannot recall ever having read in the public prints without the reporter drawing attention to the fact that this elder tribune was one of Laurier’s closest friends. Had I as a schoolboy been called on to inform my classmates on the pretensions to fame of Laurent

Olivier David, a senator of Canada, undoubtedly my reply would have been: “He was a friend of Laurier!” After which, schoolboy-

like, I would have resumed my seat for lack of further information to divulge.

L. 0. David it was who contributed an even dozen books in his native tongue to our biographical and historical literature, the best known being, perhaps, his Laurier et Son Temps, a panoramic portrait of the greatest of all Quebec’s sons and his career in the political arena

of his day. L. 0. David it was who sallied forth to do

battle in hopeless ridings in his beloved chief’s behalf and found his ultimate reward in the Red Chamber, being appointed a senator of Canada in the halcyon Liberal days of 1903.

Only natural, therefore, that the only son of this grey gladiator of the constituencies should find himself in youth embarking on the career of practical politician— and this Athanase David in the field of politics has long since proved himself as practical as he is human. Politics was bred in his bone. The atmosphere of his boyhood home was saturated with the tales of the old campaigners. At the David board political opinion was served with the soup, and reminiscences of the hustings drifted through smoke clouds over the chandelier as coffee cups were tilted. Young David, in short, was born into politics.

The Bar—and a Career

V\ 7"HILE still in his early twenties the future legislator had taken to the platforms, there to extol the glories of his Liberal creed and solicit votes for the lions of his party. Meanwhile, in the courts, his name began to be whispered as that of a young attorney with a nose for legal logic and a talent for swaying recalcitrant jurors with his oratory. The son of the senator had begun to arrive, but the manner of his arriving was down the avenues of his native talent and not, as some might suggest, through the channels of family influence. It was a case of “like father, like son,” but there paternal influence ceased.

Ere thirty came he was well along the royal road to political recognition when the Junior Bar of Quebec called him to be its president. Thus, for a decade of youth he argued alternately from the hustings and before the jury box, and rapidly won the favor and esteem of those venerable Solons who say which young man shall aspire to political greatness and which shall be doomed to feel the glowing coals of oratory turn to ashes in his mouth.

Provincial Secretary

^OPPORTUNITY for active service beckoned in the early days of 1916 when David, at thirty-four, was offered

the opportunity to contest the riding of Terrebonne in the Liberal behalf. The young attorney’s fluid accents and Demosthenic gestures caught the fancy of the farmer voters of the countryside, and on May 22, when the polls were closed and the votes tallied, Louis Athanase David was declared the duly elected deputy for the county, and the senator’s son, like his father, had become a lawmaker.

Three years later, David carried Terrebonne again; three years in which he established once for all his reputation as a parliamentary speaker who combined the graceful quality of the diplomat with the zeal of the fighter. Re-elected to the Legislature, scarcely eight weeks passed before he received the invitation of the then Premier, Sir Lomer Gouin, to accept the portfolio of Provincial Secretary, and in August of that year he became Honorable L. A. David with an important government department in his charge. He is still Quebec’s Provincial Secretary and is still the Gentleman from Terrebonne on the lips of every Opposition member who rises in the Taschereau Legislature of today to criticize the estimates of the Secretary’s department. Under his guidance that department has broadened its scope and become a thoroughly modern politico-business institution in every sense of the word, while Terrebonne has developed into that thing beloved of party machines, the “pocket borough” which remains true to its party and its member, no matter which way the voting tempest rages.

A Patron of the Arts

TF THERE is one factor in David’s -*■ political career more than any other which stamps him as the human being more than as the political hack, it is in the encouragement which he has given to the struggling author and to the dabbler in paints through the official medium of government aid. Almost a decade has passed now since the first David prizes were established by Act of the Legislature in Quebec, prizes which take the form of recognition in the only tangible form which enables your average creator of manuscripts and pictures to remain an author or an artist. Through these prizes, now granted annually by Quebec’s Government, the young writer or painter is encouraged to do his best work, and at the same time to bring to his canvas or to the printed page glorious fragments of the color and the lore of life in old Quebec’s highways and byways. For this work alone, if he had done nothing else toward the encouragement of art and letters, David’s name should live in our history and will.

In the fields apart, too, from the rewarding of the writer and painter David has contributed to the cause of artistry. Time and again he has lent his name as patron to this musician and that. Often he has been instrumental in the bringing on and entertaining of artists from abroad, whose voices and instruments might never have been heard in Canada but for him. This man, I repeat, may be politician by business, but that he is human by inclination and habit there can be no doubt.

A Dilettante Zealot

CEE David in verbal action on the floor D of the House or on the hustings and your attention is caught at once, for here is something unusual in the gamut of syllable calisthenics. Here is a boyish Demosthenes with all the rhetoric of the debating societies at the tip of his tongue, all the zeal of the reformer as he extols the expected benefits of David-conceived legislation, and all the suave argument of an effete Bob Rogers. David is clever; damnably clever I have heard him called by his opponents when they were off the parade ground and could speak their minds freely.

He combines the qualities of the dilettante with those of the zealot. His arms flail and his voice crescendoes as he defends his policies. But see him in Saint James Street or walking along Grande Allée and you will be impressed by the finely chiselled, almost effeminate, cut of his features, the immaculate tailoring of his topcoat and by the thought that his gait, to fit his appearance, should be mincing, but isn’t. David strides.

Like his strides and his sentences, his opinions are vehement. He can see nothing that is good in the policies of Conservatism, though off parade he finds many Tories extremely fine fellows, albeit the fact causes him surprise and makes him raise a well-bred brow in wonderment. By the same token, in his democratic hours Les Canadiens appear as the only hockey players worthy of one’s serious consideration, while as for those Maroons . . . Zut! Monsieur David, you will perceive, is passionately devoted to the causes which he has espoused and to the ships on which he has signed articles. He is not of the type which turns back, once affiliations have been chosen.

An Assimilated Hybrid

T-TIS type may be regarded as one of the t outstanding reasons why two races of completely diverse modes of life and thought live side by side in harmony within Quebec’s boundaries. Athanase David is French Canadian to the last drop

of his blood, yet he has chosen to make his home in the heart of Montreal’s English-speaking west end. Educated and trained for the Bar in that transplanted corner of Old France, Laval University, nevertheless his years of practice in the courts have been spent as partner to one of the leading English-speaking counsel, the recently deceased and well loved Harry Elliott. The legislation which he sponsors is scrupulously non-racial in its form. His social and professional lives are spent as much among his English compatriots as among those of his own mother tongue. David, in short, is of French stock and upbringing, but his viewpoint is Canadian in the best and truest sense of that word.

And the Future?

TNTO what paths his footsteps will turn in the days to come, I do not know, for I am no reader of horoscopes. Will he, perhaps, be Quebec’s next premier? I do not think so. Will he leave the provincial pasture for the greener and broader sweep of the federal terrain? I have my doubts. My own fancy is that down the years, just so long and as often as there is a Liberal majority in the seats of the mighty that lie along the street from the Chateau Frontenac, you will find Louis Athanase David bringing down his annual measures for the encouragement of the writer and the dauber, gazing scornfully toward his critics on Mister Speaker’s left as they voice their dislike for his year’s estimates. And between sessions and election campaigns you will still find him absorbed in his law practice in Montreal. He will still be scurrying home to change for dinner and the happy associations of his home where his charming chatelaine, two sons and three daughters grace the family circle. O’ nights he still will be propping chin on palms at rinkside, intently watching every flash of puck and stick as his favorite Canadiens rise to new heights of speed, or reclining in his fauteuil at the opera or applauding the mellow notes of some artist of the keys or bow. Always he will remain versatile, always volatile; always he will take his fences at the gallop.

A Human Politician . . . that is David. I rejoice that this language of ours has decreed that the qualifying adjective must preceed its noun.