M. GRATTAN O’LEARY
A mathematician and university don who turned farmer at forty and achieved astonishing success, Hon. Robert Weir comes to the Ministry of Agriculture a stram g er to politics but with a wealth of practical experience behind him
A Jipva Scotian with a long and brilliant record as a parliamentarian, one of the greatest Speakers the Commons has seen, until recently premier in his own pro' vince, Hon. Edgar Rhodes will be a tower of strength to the new Government
FOUR months ago Robert Weir was tending his flocks and herds, plowing the broad acres of his Saskatchewan farm, a stranger to politics, without ambition to enter public life. Today he is Minister of Agriculture.
Like Cincinnatus of old, Weir was literally conscripted to national service. His membership in Parliament, his title of Honorable, his portfolio in the Cabinet, all came to him without seeking, against his will. And even now, if he consulted his own wishes, he would resign his seat in the Ministry, turn his back upon Parliament, return to his business of achieving one of the most extraordinary successes in the story of prairie agriculture. For Weir is no hard-bitten politician, no parliamentarian, no public speaker. Up to August of this year he never held a public position other than that of school trustee. Since last May, he confesses, events in his life have marched with such dramatic suddenness as to leave him breathless.
By Popular Request
VWTIEN the general election was announced delegations of overalled farmers from W the Melfort countryside flocked to Piereford Park, Weir’s farm, three miles east of Weldon in Northern Saskatchewan, urged him to run for Parliament. The delegations were so numerous, their petitions so insistent that Weir capitulated. The question of his party politics was scarcely considered. Weir told his petitioners that he was a lifelong Conservative, could only run on the Conservative ticket. When the delegates told him they didn’t care what ticket he ran on so long as he ran, he agreed to be nominated, made a few halting speeches, was elected. No machine candidate, backed by no central organization, he defeated Malcolm McLean, one of Dunning’s stalwarts.
Polling day over, Weir went back to his farm. While Conservative members-elect of reputation packed carpet bags and took trains to Ottawa, to be on hand when Cabinet jobs were going, Weir was behind his plow, tending his thoroughbred horses, his herds of cattle, sheep and swine, his pedigreed Plymouth Rocks. He wasn’t thinking of Ottawa.
Others, however, were thinking of Ottawa—and of Weir. They were thinking of him for the Cabinet. Livestock associations thought about him so much that they called emergency meetings, said he should be Minister of Agriculture, memorialized Mr. Bennett. The Premier-elect, it is told, asked someone, "Who is this man, Weir?” Weir heard of the drive to conscript him from Hereford Park, from his breeding stables, his experiments. For a time he decided to refuse. Like Diocletian, who had resigned the Imperial purple and was besought by Maximilian to resume the reins of government, he did not think he should be urged to relinquish the enjoyment of his farming for the pursuit of power. But one day a wire came to Weldon from Ottawa, and Weir, overwhelmed with the honor and almost timorously afraid, succumbed. Today, looking over the Cabinet and coming to Agriculture, Canadians are asking what the Prime Minister asked. Who, they say, is Weir?
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TWO perfectly good reasons exist for Edgar N. Rhodes being Mr, Bennett’s Minister of Fisheries. The first is that he comes from Nova Scotia, mighty mother of fishermen and fish. The second is that Mr. Rhodes is the author of a celebrated statement that he would rather have been Canada’s greatest angler than Canada’s first commoner. And while this at least unique ambition may never be achieved, he is sufficiently a disciple of Izaak Walton and has lived long enough by the sea to know as much about fish in all their moods and tenses and problems as any man in the land.
But Mr. Rhodes’ summons from the Premiership of Nova Scotia to preside over the department of fisheries can be justified upon other and equally important grounds. There is the justification that he is a successful lawyer, that he was one of Canada’s greatest Speakers, an experienced captain of big business, a brilliant Premier of Nova Scotia, and that as a parliamentarian and organizer and manager of men there are few who are his peers. It is more of justification than can be usually found for the ordinary member of a ministry.
“One of Borden’s Young Men”
TWENTY-TWO years ago, Edgar Rhodes, aged thirty-four, first took his seat in the House of Commons. It was after the general election of 1908, It was an election remarkable in the fact that it brought to the House of Commons three young men, two of whom were destined to become Prime Ministers of Canada and the third to become one of Canada’s greatest Speakers. The third young man was Edgar Rhodes; the other two Arthur Meighen and Mackenzie King.
Rhodes had greater advantages, gave more of promise than either Meighen or King. His father, a wealthy manufacturer, had given him all the education that money could buy. When Arthur Meighen v/as driving a milk wagon in St. Marys to put himself through college and when Mackenzie King was doing odd jobs on the Toronto Globe to secure the same advantage, young Rhodes was a well-to-do student at Amherst Academy, Acadia University, and Halifax’s Dalhousie.
He emerged from them all with creditable honors, with no fewer than eight im" posing letters after his name. Nor was he during those scholastic years the spoiled, delicate son of an indulgent home. On the campus, on the gridiron, on the cricket field and baseball diamond, Rhodes, lithe and strong of limb, excelled. There is a paper in Halifax -which publishes a column called "Thirty Years Ago.” In it, a few years ago, the following appeared: “The Wanderers defeated Dalhousie by a score of 21 to 0. Their score included three goals (15), a penalty goal (3) and one try (3). Although it was very foggy and threatening rain, 2,000 people were present. An enthusiastic delegation of Wanderers who were in a large horse team after the game, drove through the streets counting 21.
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(HON. EDGAR N. RHODES)
Continued from page 19
W. A. Henry was again in his old position at back, and Edgar N. Rhodes, the splendid fullback of the previous year, was again among the forwards.”
It was eleven years after the above athletic triumph that Rhodes, now a full-fledged lawyer and with an already comfortable practice, took his seat in the House. Those were the years when, after a long march in the wilderness, the Tories were striving desperately under the then Mr. Borden to reach the Promised Land.
In this objective Rhodes almost immediately became one of the best of the Tory light skirmishers. He had from the first that rare thing, the parliamentary manner, and this, fortified by an acute mind and a certain nerve and audacity, brought him into the spotlight as one of Borden’s Young Men. There were those who in 1911 thought him more of cabinet timber than many who entered the Borden Ministry; and they were right. But as Borden who took the Premiership was also a Nova Scotian, the chance of geography condemned Rhodes to remain a private in the ranks.
A Great Speaker
'T'HERE he remained until 1916. There ^ are, however, private members who command prestige and authority far greater than are exercised by many men who are ministers, and Edgar Rhodes was one of them. He was one of those fighting, capable, sure-footed lieutenants whose value to a government is in their ability to be “put up” on a critical occasion or to defend a forlorn hope. Rhodes, steadily maturing in power of debate, was very often called upon. He had an unusual capacity for adapting himself to the moods of the House; could woo or cajole or softly persuade, or could, if the situation demanded it, deal in devastating invective or in logic that was remorseless and cold. And added to all of this, he had an extraordinary grasp of the rules and procedure of the House.
It was this knowledge that brought him promotion, made him Deputy-Speaker in 1916. He became one of the best presiding officers that the House had seen. It is upon a Deputy-Speaker, the man who
directs and controls the House when it is in committee, that much of the temper and progress of Parliament depends. Rhodes had the rare capacity of maintaining order without seeming to exert authority; and when, a year later, the speakership itself became vacant, he was the unanimous choice for the post.
He was by common consent a very great Speaker. He had not the pomp and circumstance of Mr. Lemieux, cared less for ceremony and archaic ritual, but without making the House heavy with Blackstone he was a benevolent authoritarian who completely knew the rules.
It was his fortune, or misfortune, to preside over Parliament during those bitter, passionate days of 1917. They were days and nights when passions ran high, when frayed nerves and tempers drove men to say and do things that no Parliament may tolerate. Through all of these stormy sessions Rhodes directed the House with a tact, a dignity, and a good judgment that won him the respect, if not the affection, of all factions and groups. In the previous parliament, the parliament of 1911, the House had more than once got out of hand, given way to scenes of violence, even to physical combat. Through a period of far greater stress, when words were spoken that have seared across a decade, Rhodes maintained order and a respect for parliamentary decorum and tradition with an absolutely firm but impartial hand. No Speaker before him or since had a more profound knowledge of procedure or so completely dominated the House.
In 1921, when the war Parliament was over and new orientations w'ere being made in our politics, Rhodes, not yet in his forty-fifth year, retired from public life. From the dais of the Speakership of the House of Commons he stepped into the presidential chair of a great nickel corporation. And for four years— the years, unfortunately, before the place of nickel in modern industry had brought that commodity such extraordinary prosperity, and Canada knew not the stock market orgy that subsequently came—Rhodes gave of his best to promote the success of his corporation. It was not at best sufficiently powerful to triumph over world and market conditions, and by 1925 he began once more to scan the horizon of politics.
Premier of Nova Scotia
'T'HERE was before him the challenge of his old province, Nova Scotia. For forty years the land of the Bluenoses had been ruled by Liberalism, and Toryism, demoralized and disheartened by prolonged defeat, was seeking a new j Moses. Edgar Rhodes, attempting a task that many believed to be hopeless, j went back to Halifax, took the Conservative leadership. Six months later,
1 the Liberal fortress stormed, he was sworn in as the Premier of Nova Scotia. He had confounded the prophets, broken ’ all traditions, astonished his friends. Not since the collapse of the Ross government in Ontario had such a spectacular revolution occurred in the politics of a Canadian province.
Not surprising was it, therefore, that in 1927, when Dominion Conservatives ¡were seeking a successor to Arthur Meighen, Rhodes’ name stood high on the list of potential leaders. But Rhodes would not leave his province. There was work there for him to finish, hard campaigns still to be fought, dangerous shoals to be avoided; so he was content with the honor of presiding over the convention which finally selected his fellow Maritimer, R. B. Bennett.
Yet Rhodes could never stay permanently in the restricted provincial field. Like Fielding and Blair and Pugsley, Maritimers who came from their respective provinces to rise to eminence in Ottawa, he was distinctly of Dominion calibre, his talents too great to be wasted on minor provincial affairs. He was the second man asked by Mr. Bennett to become a member of his Ministry.
Rated as one of the four strongest men in the cabinet, Rhodes brings to Mr. Bennett long experience, parliamentary and administrative ability, a wide knowledge of public questions, and the highest capacity for debate. The ministerial front benches are not overly burdened with men of much talent in controversy. The Prime Minister is a powerful speaker, Mr. Guthrie is eloquent, Mr. Stevens trenchant, and Mr. Manion tempestuous and aggressive. But apart from these four, there is no one on the Treasury benches capable of coping with an adroit verbal swordsman like Mr. King, with experienced parliamentary tacticians like Mr. Lapointe, or with a master of economics or dialectics like Mr. W. H. Moore. Edgar Rhodes, polished, suave, informed and fluent, wilt be the equal of any or all of them. Not an orator in the accepted sense of that term, he is a master of clear, nervous English, and will be exceedingly effective in debate.
As an administrator, Rhodes, like most of his colleagues, has yet to be tried. He has, however, the advantage of wide experience in dealing with the problems of his own province, and as a Nova Scotian is at least familiar with all matters affecting the fisheries of the country. As much as any lawyer and politician can be, he will be successful with his department.
A Crusading Conservative
T) HO DES, like his leader, Mr. Bennett, is a Conservative, but he is far from being a Tory or a reactionary obscurantist. When he went back to Nova Scotia in 1925, there were those who sneered at him as a “Tory.” Yet one of the first acts of this politician who was a capitalist, who had wealth and education, and who dressed like a dandy, was to engage in rooting out a second chamber, based on the life appointment principle, from the Province of Nova Scotia. Against this institution, one of two remaining legislative councils in Canada, Rhodes fought with all the fervor of a crusading Liberal. The legislative councillors, encouraged by some who called themselves Liberals, fought stoutly for their privileges. Rhodes put a measure abolishing the Upper Chamber through the Lower House. The Upper Chamber threw it out. Undismayed, Rhodes adopted the Asquith policy of appointing a number of coun| eillors pledged to carry his reform. That, i however, was checked by Ottawa; whereiupon Rhodes went to the Privy Council,
fought out the issue there, was victorious. The so-called Tory had sounded the death knell of one of the four last life chambers under the British flag.
Rhodes is a rare example of the civilized mind in politics. He has never been a slave of the caucus, of the whip, or of the wards. He has travelled and read widely; knows and can discuss books; has a flair for jolly society. A fisherman, as already told, he meant it when he said that he would rather be Canada’s first angler than Canada’s first commoner. Nor has he lost his old college days love of sport, or all of his youthful athletic prowess. In pre-war days, when the Press Gallery used to engage the House of Commons in annual games of cricket and baseball—Sir Robert Borden used to play cricket for the Commons—Rhodes invariably went on the mound for the parliamentary baseball nine, and more than one newspaper man learned to respect his drops and curves. And if Rhodes will not be the best administrator in the cabinet, he will certainly be the best golfer. When in Ottawa some years ago, he was as familiar with the art of Bobby Jones as with the passages of Bourinot, and his colleagues tell of him now, with a sort of deferential awe, that he is an eight handicap man. It is only necessary to add to this that in the Rideau Club he has the reputation of being a terror at contract bridge, and that his friends all vow that at a dinner party he is the best of all companions.
The truth is that Rhodes is too full of good humor, has too much of the philosophy of life, and too .great a variety of interest in living to be the orthodox politician. He could always see the humorous side of politics, but he just as keenly perceived its errors and its tragedies. He once gave an address in Ottawa on the need for electoral reform, which was embellished with stories revealing his clear perception of the seamier side of democracy and also the philosophic good humor with which he accepted some of its drolleries.
One of his narratives was of a kirk session which, being short of fifty dollars for a peal of bells, wrote the county member to say that if he furnished the fifty they would furnish their votes and influence at the next time of asking. Another Rhodesian reminiscence was of a preacher who employed a lawyer-legislator on some estate business, and who, receiving a bill in which was an item of thirty dollars for out-of-pocket expenses, wrote the legal M.P. that he thought it was understood that the law’s services would counterbalance the gospel’s support.
Summed up, Rhodes is an unusually brilliant politician, a compelling personality, a keen, upstanding, able Canadian. He may not be a Joseph Howe or a John S. Thompson, or even a W. S. Fielding, but he is the most capable and distinguished man to come to Ottawa from the Maritime Provinces within the last decade.
(HON. ROBERT WEIR'S
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A New Career at Forty
NOT since Sydney Fisher and Martin Burrell has Canada had a Minister of Agriculture with such scholastic, intellectual attainment. Weir is something new, for a decade at least, in the seat of the Minister of Agriculture.
Dr. Tolmie was a rough and ready farmer, inexhaustible in his good nature, with a practical mind, sound business instincts, the art of the raconteur. T. A. Crerar, a product of the business side of agriculture, knew marketing and financing, was a cautious administrator but a stranger to overalls, to calloused hands. Motherwell was a dirt farmer with a strong Methodist, anti-combine complex. Cradled in the atmosphere of the patrons of industry, he devoutly believed in cooperation as the solution of all problems. Yet the last two—Motherwell and Crerar—had their roots deep in Western agriculture; their lives were romances of pioneering progress. One thinks of Motherwell in the ’80’s trekking across the prairies with oxen to seek a homestead, freighting for troops in the Riel rebellion, organizing and launching the first farmers’ movement, fighting the C. P. R. His record as a politician was the final and least arresting phase of a great career. One thinks, too, of Crerar, nurtured in a homesteader’s shanty in Western Manitoba, beyond the end of steel, farming, managing a little country elevator, becoming a charter shareholder of the U. G. G., rising to be its president. These were sons of the farm, architects of Western agriculture, their life span covering almost entirely the development of the prairies.
Robert Weir is different. A newcomer to the prairies, he is the ultra-business man in agriculture. A mathematician, an actuary, a university don, an honors man, he knows his classics as well as his wheat lands, is at home in the mazes of high finance, takes his background not from the homesteader’s sod hut, but from the university campus and class room.
It is not that 'he is a child of luxury, that he was born with the proverbial silver spoon. To gain his education he had to work just as hard, to endure equal privations, to experience discouragements as many as the homestead pioneers.
The Mathematician Farmer
T30BERT WEIR was born in WingTv ham, Huron County, Ont., in 1882. He went to the country school there, then to the high school, finally to a normal
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school. Ambitious, persevering, he determined to put himself through university, set himself to earn money to that ; end. He taught in day schools, taught ! in night schools, secured a poorly paid principalship. And when vacation time came, Weir became a farm hand, a ditch digger, a digger of wells, a sawmill laborer on Cockburn Island. In this way, by hard toil at all sorts of jobs and by saving his pennies, he was able to enter the University of Toronto. He graduated from that seat of learning in 1911 with first-class honors in mathematics, in physics and actuarial science.
In 1912 Weir joined the Confederation Life Insurance company as an actuary, continuing post-graduate work at the same time. He worked so hard that his health broke down: the doctors told him he must make a complete change in his method of life. The following year found him in Regina, teaching mathematics in the Collegiate Institute.
Then came the war. Weir enlisted, wrent overseas as a major, served at the front in Flanders, won the Military Cross, stopped some German shrapnel at Passchendale, was invalided to London. While in hospital he refused to remain idle. Instead, he framed a correspondence course, later became director of a Khaki university which grew out of his original idea, vastly helped his fellow soldiers.
Returning from the war, Weir stood at the crossroads of various beckoning occupations. The Confederation Life wanted him as an efficiency expert: had held the position open for him for two years. Weir, however, turned once more to education, became a school inspector in Saskatchewan, worked largely in non-Englishspeaking areas.
Then came his one and only romance. The Saskatchewan Department of Education employed school nurses who visited rural schools in company with inspectors, reported on the physical condition of pupils. With Weir, on numerous occasions, went a young lady graduate of Regina Hospital. There was a love match, marriage, the blessing of a happy union.
Again in 1921, Weir, overworking, broke down in health. The doctors told him he must give up his white-collar job, get out into the open—farm or ranch. Weir, then forty years of age, abandoned the career for which he had prepared himself, got together $1,300, bought a weedy quarter section in Northern Saskatchewan in the triangle formed by the Saskatchewan and Carrot Rivers, began life anew.
A Successful Agricultural Laboratory
■piGHT years of farming have brought T-' him astonishing success. Today he is a wealthy agriculturist. The original quarter section of 160 acres has grown to Hereford Park, a farm of 1,120 acres, and the Weir stock carries off blue ribbons in Western Canada’s fairs. The Weir horses take down the money on a score of race tracks. Weir applied to agriculture the trained mind of the actuary, of the scientist. By study, by mastery of the science of agriculture and livestock breeding, he turned his acres into a farm laboratory—a laboratory which brings him large dividends in years when farming is unprofitable. Some able men assisted him. There was John Letham, dean of American Hereford breeders, and there was Professor Winters of the Saskatchewan Agricultural College, also Dr. Kirk of Saskatchewan University, an expert on soils. Letham, an old man, actually went to Hereford Park, miles from his home in Wisconsin, to give Weir first hand counsel.
From the outset, Weir went in for pure
bred stock. Agriculture in 1921-22 was passing through one of its worst depressions; pure bred horses, supposed to be giving way on Western farms to combines and tractors, could be bought at bottom prices. Weir bought them, proved that they are as hardy as scrub horses, made them yield him rich profits. Last spring for example, he plowed 230 acres with a pure bred four-horse team, then won blue ribbons with three of them at Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon. In 1922 he bought a pure bred mare for $225. In 1929 her progeny won $3,000 in cash prizes on the fair circuits. Two of Weir’s geldings were unbeaten on the tracks.
His farm is unique—unique for the West. He owns registered Plymouth Rocks, Shropshire sheep, Berkshire swine. They told him that Shropshire sheep would not thrive in Northern Saskatchewan. Weir proved they were wrong. He increased his original flock to 100 head and made them net him a fat dividend cheque annually. And so with Berkshire swine.
Weir has been a breaker of agricultural images, of precedents. He has produced Gopher oats so promising that experts believe it will supplant the well-known Banner variety. He has evolved a yellowflowered alfalfa so hardy and thickcropped that it may end the reign of sweet clover. He is, in short, the sort of successful Western farmer who can make a good profit with wheat at a dollar or less, with beef at six cents; the kind who has won success and held it when the prairies were feeling the hardest pinch within a decade. There are those who point to Hereford Park as a model farm, as the answer to many of the problems which beset Western agriculture today.
What contribution will such a man make to the ills of Canadian agriculture? Thus far, at this time of writing, he has given no statement of policy, revealed no plan of campaign. He has, however, shown something of his vigor. Within a week of accepting office he attacked the problem of opening the British market to Canadian cattle. He went after a $15 ocean rate; is said to have got it. For the first time in three years, at all events, Canadian cattle moved through Atlantic ports for the British markets. Weir aims to ship 15,000 head this year.
His administration opens at a time of crisis in our agricultural life. Canada has had eight years of comparative prosperity. Fortunes have been made, great industries have been launched, water powers have been developed, the frontiers of commerce been extended. But during this period, when urban prosperity marched on, what happened to agriculture?
The answer is disturbing, challenging. In the last decade the average value of farm land in Canada has decreased ten dollars per acre. With 143,000,000 acres under cultivation, the decline in agricultural assets was therefore $1,400,000,000 within ten years. More than this, and almost as startling, the production of farm produce in Canada has actually declined since 1921. Declined, not speaking of the dollar value, but in quality of production. If, as Cartwright once said, the future of Canada lies in the top three inches of our soil, what then of the future?
It is at this stage, under such conditions, that Weir enters the picture. With prices of farm produce sagging, with whispers of sterner world competition destroying rural morale, with the wheat pools staggering and the private grain trade suffering reverses, he is called upon to guide agriculture to a better state. Talking with him, watching him work, one gains in confidence in his success.
One feels about him that he will not be circumscribed by precedent, deadened by routine, overawed by red tape. Already he has given one example of swiftness in reaching a decision. Argentina, a beefexporting country, has been changing from beef to dairy cattle. Not satisfied with Holstein cattle imported from
Holland and England, she approached Canadian Holstein owners asking for a trial shipment. Weir took the matter before the Cabinet, announced within twenty-four hours that the Government would assist in the plan. He wanted, and he got, that Argentina market. Vigorous steps, too, he has taken to remove overlapping between Federal and Provincial departments of agriculture, to improve the blood strain of Canadian livestock, to encourage cheapening of grain feeds.
In his personality, in everything of his physical appearance, Weir inspires confidence. He is a fine figure of a man, tall,
broad-shouldered, with a weather-beaten face, a face of sternness tempered by thoughtful, kindly eyes. Declining to be interviewed, shunning the newspaper headlines, he is acquiring a reputation for reticence, and his statements are models of brevity. He is, as Paul advised, slow to speak, but swift to hear.
How he will discharge his duties in ¡ Parliament, or even as an administrator, j one cannot know. But he unquestionably j brings to the ills of agriculture a fine spirit, a ripe experience, a trained and competent mind, all invaluable assets in an administrator.