M. GRATTAN O’LEARY
The cosmopolite in politics, Hon. Harry Stevens has soldiered in far countries, roughed it in B.C. mining camps, won success as a broker, farmer, parliamentarian. Now he is custodian of Canada's two-billion-dollar foreign trade
WHEN Walter Bagehot wrote his story of Lombard Street he threw off the technicalities of high finance and invested his tale with all the glamor of magic and romance. If Harry Stevens, custodian of Trade and Commerce, magic romance. If Harry Stevens, custodian of Trade and Commerce, does not see and dramatize the romance of Canada’s two-billion dollar trade, reaching over the earth and all the seas, it will not be because there lacks within him the spirit of adventure. For with all of his Saxon hardheadedness, born of a Devonshire ancestry, Stevens is a romantic in politics, one whose career matches in color the tale of a Henty hero.
Forty-three years ago, when he was nine years old, Stevens, son of immigrant parents, had his first glimpse of Canada. His father, Richard Harvey Stevens, came from Cornwall; his mother, Jane Ann, from Devonshire. They were of old English stock, rooted in England’s traditions and with all of that sturdiness of character for which Cornwall and Devonshire are famed. Theirs was the lot, however, of the immigrants of the eighties, and Harry Stevens’s only education was in the public schools of Peterborough. It was sufficient to fit him to teach school, but pedagogy could never hold a nature so adventurous and before his twentieth year Stevens was on the Pacific Coast, penniless and jobless.
In Search of Adventure
C. E. MONTAGUE once wrote that great souls are irresistibly beckoned wherever there is action or peril. Harry Stevens, tired of prospecting and craving something more adventurous than the mining camps of British Columbia, drifted down to Seattle, misrepresented his age, and sailed away with an American contingent to fight in the Philippines. Those were the days when Uncle Sam, disposing of crippled Spain, was confronted with the tougher job of suppressing the Philippino rebel Aguinaldo. Heat, ambushes, fever, long marches, all the hardships of war in the tropics were the young Englishman’s lot. But he never faltered. He fought on through the entire campaign, won promotion; and when the Boxer war broke out in China he sailed away with his brigade, assistant quartermaster of the 9th Infantry. Again he saw real fighting. He was through the siege of Tientsin; was on the long march to Pekin; took part in a number of engagements; secured an honorable discharge.
But Stevens, though he could be an American soldier, could never be an American citizen. There was that ancestry of Devonshire and Cornwall; the spirit of the Englishman. So, weary of China and the Orient, he put off his United States uniform, retraced his steps to the British flag, came back to British Columbia. Once more he took up mining. It was in those days the most stirring of peace callings. From all over Canada and the Continent, strange, colorful characters gravitated to the lure of British Columbia’s gold. Mining towns grew up; prospectors, gamblers, miners, crooks, loose women and looser men swarmed into places like Greenwood, Grand Forks, Lynch Creek.
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For more than a year Harry Stevens sought gold, lived dangerously with rough characters, saw the seamiest side of life, met seared souls and great souls—but never met gold. He returned to Vancouver, determined to become an accountant.
It was then that he first met the redoubtable “Jerry” McGeer. McGeer, son of a Dublin man who had been to Trinity but whose large family had reduced him to penury, was engaged in delivering milk at the store where Stevens was learning accounting. Often, when McGeer awaited collection for his deliveries, the two young men, fated to cross each other in more distinguished spheres in later life, would engage in debates and arguments; and, though they never agreed and have never agreed since, they learned i a wholesome respect for each other’s < intellects:
His First Political Victory
STEVENS, having mastered accounting, didn’t stay at it. He was not the kind ! that is content to keep books; he saw : more opportunity and prospects of action as a broker, dealing in stocks and margins. ¡ It was not that he had the attributes of a i Pierpont Morgan. Stevens, though ambitious to succeed and with a keen mind for business, had that political mind which defeats concentration upon moneymaking, which subordinates mere individual success to a career of public service. Within a year or two he was more concerned with municipal affairs in Vancouver than with his progress as a broker.
Twenty years ago Vancouver wTas far from the thriving, bustling modern city that it is today. It was a wild, unruly, almost pioneer town, suffering from pioneering ailments. Civic conditions were far from wholesome; civic government far from being strong. There were things that were inimical to the public interest. One day a number of citizens banded themselves into a good-government league, seeking to combat by voluntary effort what seemed impossible of suppression by officialdom. Harry Stevens, in his early thirties, was of this group. His task, one of the things to which he turned, was to banish saloons from the residential districts, to fight an alliance between the saloon-keepers and politicians.
It was a hard, desperate fight. The saloon men had more resources than the reformers had counted upon; had money and powerful friends. But though Stevens ! was threatened, and often discouraged and betrayed, and time and again deserted by his associates, he kept up his fight. He brought crookedness to light, drove corrupt politicians and their henchmen from the city hall, and finally won out.
His methods were the methods which have brought him success in the wider field of politics. While others indulged in pious platitudes and passed altruistic resolutions, Stevens dug for facts, investigated, exposed, was merciless in his criticism. He had an uncanny capacity for ferreting out things, for getting down
to realities, for debating and going on with a crusade right through to the truth.
It was this achievement, a successful fight against the power of the saloon in politics, that brought him to the front politically. The Conservatives of Vancouver were casting about for a genuine fighting leader, someone who could fight what seemed a forlorn hope. In 1911, before the tide against reciprocity had set in, the chances of Toryism seemed slim. Vancouver, a seaport city, young, growing and needy, certainly seemed a safe seat for a government which had patronage. Seaport cities are that way.
A Two-Fisted Fighter
T-TARRY STEVENS was then an alderman from his own ward, elected because the residents of Mount Pleasant remembered gratefully his fight for civic regeneration. The Liberal candidate was Harry Senkler, now dead, at one time stroke of the Vancouver four, also a j famous ’Varsity football star, crack cricketer, lawyer and athlete. For a young, obscure alderman, without money or much experience, he was a formidable foe.
But Stevens loved a fight; became Conservative candidate. Senkler at first underestimated his youthful opponent, bantered the little alderman from the hill on his temerity in venturing into fields that he had never explored, and for which, by implication, he was poorly equipped. Came a day when the two men met on the platform. Each doubtless learned a new respect for the other, for it was the last occasion on which they were opponents. In the next campaign Senkler was chairman of Stevens’s Unionist Committee. Further, Vancouver woke up that evening to a realization that the Conservative nominee was a two-fisted fighter; adroit, resourceful, and by no means ungifted in speech. From that hour he was no longer patronized; he was respected and politically feared.
And with good reason. For up until July 28th last, Stevens never lost an election fight. It was not for lack of formidable opponents. In 1922, for instance, he stood against Harry Gale who, in addition to being mayor of the city, was a brilliant organizer and commanded the support of some powerful financial interests. Young, clever, popular, Gale was a formidable figure on the political horizon when Stevens accepted the portfolio of Trade and Commerce and returned to the Coast to prepare for the greatest political battle of his life. Gale, it so happened, was not yet nominated. But he was mayor and was a good enough sport to forget that he was the potential Liberal candidate and to head a large crowd of citizens who welcomed the new Minister home as he stepped from the train. All Vancouver laughed.
The fight which followed was one of the most bitter, colorful and spectacular ! in Vancouver’s history. Commanding all¡ the elaborate machinery of the City ! Hall, and being an aggressive and brilliant I campaigner to boot, Gale marshalled !
every resource at his command to defeat Stevens. At one time he appeared to be riding on the crest of victory, but when the ballots were counted the Conservative candidate was given a decisive triumph. He had vanquished the redoubtable Gale more overwhelmingly than even exGovernor W. W. B. Mclnnes, a seasoned and eloquent campaigner who had fought him in 1917.
Again in 1925 Stevens faced and triumphed over the most formidable opposition, his opponent this time being none other than the friend of his accounting days, the picturesque Jerry McGeer. The odds were all against Stevens. His opponents were in office; he was under the handicap of all opposition candidates, particularly in ports like Vancouver, keen for government aid for the development of their harbor. McGeer, too, was something of a popular idol. He had been the central figure, with John Oliver, in the fight for better freight rates for British Columbia, and Liberal party strategists shrewdly reckoned that McGeer’s selection as standard bearer would permit that well-fostered sentiment to be capitalized in votes.
Out on the Coast, they still talk of the battle which followed. Night after night the tumultuous and often reckless McGeer clashed with the straight and hard-hitting Stevens, to the huge enjoyment of the populace. Again, Stevens won.
It was a curious prank of fate that Stevens, himself an immigrant, should have finally met defeat at the hands of another immigrant, Captain Ian Mackenzie. As in all previous battles, the odds were against him. Vancouver had grown tired of putting its money on the wrong horse, of always backing the man whose party never governed; and this, added to accumulated grievances and a cross current of local issues, finally compelled him to dip his flag. But it was a great tribute to Stevens’s personal standing and political record that on the morrow of his defeat telegrams of regret poured in upon him alike from friend and foe, and that one of the first to express a hope for his return to Parliament was the man who had vanquished him, Captain Ian Mackenzie. And, more revealing even than this, a stronger sidelight upon the place which Stevens had come to occupy in the esteem and regard of his party, was that, although among the fallen, he was the first man to be offered a portfolio in Mr. Bennett’s Ministry.
An Able Debater
AS MINISTER of Trade and Commerce, the third major portfolio in the Cabinet, and as one of the six ablest debaters in public life, Stevens will occupy a commanding position in the new Parliament. Few men in the House have made a more intensive or more intelligent study of important public questions. Not an industrialist and not a trained economist, there are yet those who believe that in the sphere of trade and exchange and practical economics'there are few men in Canada who can give pointers to Harry Stevens. He has made himself master of the subjects by long and painstaking study. Stevens’s exemplar in public life was Arthur Meighen. He has all of Meighen’s terrific industry, has much of his acute power of reasoning, and he has made a close study of Meighen’s style and methods in platform and parliamentary debate. Not a Western man in the strict sense of the term, he long ago made a close examination of the whole problem of marketing grain. The PriceWaterhouse report, with its investigation of the whole elevator system, was the result of his insistence. The exposure of profits made on overages followed, and with it the great improvement of the Canada Grain Act.
Stevens’s persistent demand for a revision of the Bank Act was another consequence of his study of national and world business conditions. Canadian bankers learned to respect the unusual
parliamentarian who showed such an ; extraordinary grasp of the complexities of their business, and it was as a direct result of his suggestions that a number of amendments and improvements were made in the act when last it was revised. Again, it was largely because of the campaign he waged, based on the effects of the falling values in the German mark, which gave German manufacturers an advantage over British exporters, that the tariff was amended to check that abuse. These things help to explain Mr. Stevens’s reputation among business and financial men; help also to explain why both Mr. Meighen and Mr. Bennett selected him for the portfolio of Trade and Commerce.
Stevens has not taken over his department with any new fads or panaceas, or with new-fangled ideas about the theory of trade. He will make less eloquent speeches about it than the country learned to expect from academic politicians like Sir Richard Cartwright and Sir George Foster. But what he will summon to his aid, and to the aid of Canadian industry, will be a strong practical grasp of the realities of trade, an unquenchable industry, a real desire to promote markets both at home and abroad. Nor will he concentrate alone upon the country’s foreign trade. A strong protagonist of the home market as the best market of all, he will devote much of his energy toward the promotion of a Made-in-Canada campaign, will turn that much-shouted but little practised slogan into something of real meaning and benefit for Canadian producers. Already, indeed, Mr. Stevens has conceived and is about to launch a campaign directed to that end. He will be for trade with all the world, but he will be for the Canadian market first.
TN HIS personal and private life, apart
from politics, Stevens is a democratic, lovable, and in many ways winning personality. Having adventured all over the world, met and marched and worked with all sorts in life, there is a man-ofthe-world air about Stevens that is exceedingly captivating.
Nor has he permitted politics to entirely enslave his mind. The man who taught school in his youth, who marched to the wars in the Philippines and in China, who camped and worked with rough adventurers in the mining camps of British Columbia, and who emerged from it all to be broker, farmer, parliamentarian and Minister, has had too many interests, too much of sheer joy in the business of living, to have a singletrack mind.
Not far from Vancouver, today, is a little farm where Harry Stevens spends his days when not attending to Parliament. It is just an ordinary farm, with the usual toil and drudgery, and none connected with it toils harder or longer than this man who is now a powerful Minister of the Crown. For other things, too, for books and companionable associates, for the practical side of church work, for all of the things with the remotest bearing upon civic betterment, he has sustained an intelligent interest. Like his leader, Mr. Bennett, Stevens has little weakness for the ordinary recreations and relaxations of life. Golf has never attracted him—he says that he prefers to dig with a hoe rather than with a mashie—and the card rooms of the House of Commons know him not. Mental relaxation he takes from light reading —he has a great gift of humor—and for his exercise he plows, and pitches hay.
Harry Stevens is in his fifty-second year. His is a busy life of exceedingly hard work, of stirring and joyful adventure, of failure and defeat and triumph. In his new post, the most important to which he has yet been called, he may make mistakes, encounter some failures; but any possible failures will not be because he lacks in industry, in integrity, in high ability, or in determination to serve.