Now It Can Be Told
In which the scribe behind the scenes spills some of the “inside stuff” of the election campaign just concluding
BY THE date of this issue of MacLean's Demos will have spoken, the shouting and tumult will have died, and the captains and kings will be counting their expenses. It may be worth while, then, to jot down a few notes about how and why and what it was all about. First of all let it be said that while, as always, we were near the "brink of the precipice" and the "nation in deadly peril" and we were settling issues that "might shape our destiny for a century," the majority of us, including the majority of the politicians, were curiously undisturbed by the dragons in such terrifying and perilous array. All through these hot summer days when Mr. King and Mr. Bennett were going up and down the land summoning the clans, the citizens were going out in the afternoons to play golf; others stepped on the gas as usual, and others went to beaches and bathing places and wore panama suits and the newest bathing costumes, and did and said things like a lot who weren't mtich moved, or were too wicked to repent. -
A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK
The politicians, too, seemed strangely unreal. Mr. Bennett and Mr. King talked rather like revivalists. They used the most solemn language, but somehow or other they lacked the iron of some past campaigns; were either too polite or too little in real earnest to say those things which shock the anaemic but actually please many more others and give to an election a certain fighting zest.
Observing the Amenities
THE reason, I think, was that Mr. King and Mr.
Bennett like each other, are curiously alike. Between Mr. Meighen and Mr. King there was a cordial dislike, an antagonism which turned national politics into little more than a private feud and vendetta. Mr. Bennett and Mr. King, on the other hand, seem to engage in a friendly competition over which of them will observe the more meticulously what both are pleased to term “the amenities of public life.” When Mr. Meighen was leading the Opposition, and Mr. King was Prime Minister, there was never any of those secret conferences behind the Speaker’s chair. Mr. Meighen, it is well known, would never accept an undertaking from Mr. King unless and until it was placed.in writing; and this spirit, which gave a certain rancor to the proceedings of parliament, was carried into their controversies on the public platform.
The relations between Mr. Bennett and Mr. King have been strikingly different. Mr..Bennett, for example, was aware that an election was coming a considerable time before Mr. King had communicated that important information to most of the minor members of his cabinet; and when, later on, the election date was announced, Mr. King met Bennett almost daily in his own or the Opposition leader’s office to consult with him and to discuss the most confidential of ministerial secrets, to arrange all major matters pertaining to the election and some of which had to be submitted to parliament. Thus, while the politicians in the House were still squabbling over bills and estimates, and correspondents were sending out dispatches that parliament might continue until June, Mr. Bennett and Mr. King both knew all along that the House would rise. at a certain date and that the election would be hçld on July 28.
This relationship,1 the most intimate that has existed between any two party leaders in our history, not excepting the personal friendship between Laurier and
Borden, appears to have permeated our entire political life, and while it may have made the election considerably more dull, it also has made it less bitter and perhaps a little more dignified.
The Revivalist in Politics
D ETWEEN the two leaders on the platform there has been little to choose.
One notable improvement over the elections of 1925 and 1926 was that both leaders, aided by radio, avoided that senseless policy of covering the entire country, of visiting practically every constituency, of making half a dozen speeches in a day, speeches which the newspapers rarely printed and which the people never read.
In 1925 and 1926 the close of the campaign saw both Mr. Meighen and Mr. King mentally and physically fatigued, with a touch so stale that they had ceased to make converts and were more likely to .make apostates.
In the contest just passing this folly has been avoided. Both leaders have delivered keynote speeches over the radio in the various provinces, thus reaching millions where they formerly reached thousands, and then confined their activities to parts of the battlefield where breastworks were considered weak. Both have improved the character of their speeches as the campaign has proceeded. Mr. Gladstone used to say that he always spoke one hundred per cent better at the close of a session than at its beginning; and it must be that way with Mr. Bennett and Mr. King.
The Conservative leader’s keynote speech, delivered in Winnipeg, was frankly a disappointment to many of his followers. It was too obviously memorized or read, the language was too stilted, it was too restrained, and was lacking in that fire and vigor which are characteristic of Mr. Bennett when he gets upon the hustings. Later on, however, when Mr. Bennett did not need to memorize, and ceased to be terrified by the microphone, the quality of his speeches steadily improved, and some of
his mid-campaign addresses, notably those delivered in Ontario, were masterpieces of popular electioneering appeal. Mr. Bennett has not, and never could have, that biting irony, that sub-acid quality, which Mr. Meighen possessed to an extraordinary degree, but he exhibited something which Mr. Meighen conspicuously lacked: a passion and a fervor which would have made
him something of a Moody or a Sankey had his career taken him to the church. Mr. Bennett, beyond all question, has made many converts for his party.
A Remarkable Performance
KING, too, has been a host in himself. The Prime Minister of 1930 is a far cry from the shy, somewhat pedantic, professorial politician who became his party’s leader in 1919. An extraordinarily skilful politician, subtle in appeal, plausible in persuasion, capable of a certain kind of perfervid eloquence, and with an uncanny sensitiveness for public feeling, Mr. King on the platform is a force to be reckoned with. His energy, too, throughout the whole campaign has been little short of amazing. Thus his first speech, a document of 24,000 words, was entirely written out by his own hand, then dictated to stenographers, and placed into the hands of every newspaper in Canada three days before Mr. King delivered it at Brantford. This speech, all partisanship to the side, was a remarkable performance, a complete summary of the record, activities, policies and promises of the government, providing not merely a keynote but a veritable handbook for all Liberal speakers throughout the remainder of the campaign. Like Mr. Bennett, Mr. King grew in power as the contest progressed. He was not as happy in Ontario as he was in Quebec, but it was in the West, where his party was threatened, and in the Maritimes, where the enemy showed weakness, that Mr. King was at his best. His speeches at Sydney and Halifax, models of electioneering oratory, undoubtedly produced a profound effect.
The two chiefs of staff—Mr. Andrew Haydon for the Liberals and General McRae for the Conservatives— have waged their campaign along entirely different lines. McRae, a born military tactician, centralized everything, controlled everything, directed everything from headquarters at Ottawa. Like a general in the Great War, he remained during most of the contest far back of the firing line, sat in his Ottawa office, and with great electoral maps, and a steady stream of propaganda and a lavish expenditure of the sinews of war, watched and directed the ebb and flow of the battle. No stone was left unturned that might contribute to victory. For more than two months tons of leaflets, pamphlets, handbooks, ready-made speeches and ready-made editorials poured over the nation like a Niagara from the Ottawa Conservative headquarters. Tens of thousands of dollars were expended in postage stamps alone, and not including national radio hookups, which must have involved an expenditure of something like $200,000, the Conservative party must have spent close upon a million dollars for advertising, publicity, propaganda.
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Ferguson vs. Meighen
GENERAL MCRAE, it can be told,
has not been without his difficulties. Political leaders are not infrequently as temperamental as Hollywood stars, and some of the wounds that were opened at that Winnipeg convention have been astonishingly slow to heal. There was the case of the relations between Mr. Bennett and Mr. Meighen, between Mr. Meighen and Mr. Ferguson. There were Conservatives, some of the most influential of them, who felt that Mr. Meighen, the greatest verbal swordsman of them all, should have been invited to take part in the battle as one of Mr. Bennett’s .fighting captains. Meighen, as always, was ready to unsheath his sword. He had no fewer than four invitations to contest constituencies. He was offered unanimous nomination for his old constituency of Portage la Prairie; was invited to fight Hon. T. A. Crerar in Brandon; was urged to contest Long Lake in Saskatchewan; asked to be a candidate in his old natal county of Perth. Mr. Meighen, quite sensibly, declined them all. He felt, and he was right, that his presence in the field, and
later on his presence in the House, might embarrass Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Meighen, to his credit, has consistently held that his successor in the party’s leadership must be given a free hand. But while Mr. Meighen refused to become a candidate, he was willing, if asked, to go upon the platform.
Mr. Meighen was never asked. There is reason for believing that Mr. Bennett desired Mr. Meighen to go upon the hustings upon his behalf, and Mr. Meighen journeyed to Ottawa and conferred with Mr. Bennett with such an arrangement in view. The arrangement, however, was vetoed; and the story in Ottawa, believed by those on the inside, was that the veto was exercised by Hon. Howard Ferguson, the Premier of Ontario. Mr. Ferguson hadnot forgotten that famous episode at the Winnipeg convention; and so Ontario became too small to hold him and Mr. Meighen at the same time, and the Conservative party was deprived of the services of perhaps its most formidable campaigner. The fault, of course, was not Mr. Bennett’s, and it was not General McRae’s. Mr. Bennett had to choose between Ferguson and Meighen, and the whole weight of the Ontario government and the provincial Tory organization weighed in favor of Ferguson. Whether the different choice will make any substantial difference in Ontario’s verdict, it is impossible to tell. Mr. Ferguson, in his own peculiar way, was effective.
Entering the fight as a response to Mr. King’s “not a five-cent piece” speech, he took charge of the Ontario front,
bringing all of his provincial cavalry and organization into action, and unquestionably doing much to shape the course of battle between the Great Lakes and the Ottawa River. Ferguson is the nearest Canadian approach to an AÍ Smith or a Lloyd George, and with that platform humor from which both Mr. King and Mr. Bennett are unhappily free, he has a singular hold upon Ontario audiences. While Mr. King accepted his challenge, and fought back stoutly at times, it is doubtful whether in Ontario his explanations and defense have been adequate to meet the onslaught which Ferguson continued against him. Ferguson, of course, would have entered the fight in any event; but Mr. King’s declaration gave him the excuse he desired, furnished him with a sounding board that was extremely valuable. It was, indeed, a far more valuable sounding board than the additional attack upon Mr. King over the St. Lawrence Waterway; an issue upon which the Prime Minister was able to hold his own.
The Liberal Campaign
MR. ANDREW HAYDON, as usual, directed the Liberal forces with a practised skill. Unlike General McRae, he decentralised everything, left all matters of detail to the ward associations and the constituencies. Where McRae attempted to dictate to ridings regarding their candidates, tactics and expenditures, Haydon pursued the policy of supplying the ammunition of war, arguments, and instructions regarding principles and poli-
cies. Like his rival chief of staff, his war chest was well filled, expended without stint. Haydon, indeed, matched McRae, national hookup for national hookup, hired as many private cars, bought as many pages of advertising and deluged Canada with as many leaflets, handbooks, pamphlets. Where all the funds came from, nobody knows. In 1921, as well as in 1925 and 1926, both the Liberal and the Conservative parties were all but bankrupt for funds. At one juncture in 1926, indeed, Mr. Meighen, supposed to be fighting the battle of the “Big Interests,” had difficulty in keeping his candidates in the field, so barren was the party of money. This year it was different. Whether the parties got their money from the big interests or the little interests, they certainly got it somewhere, r.nd the vanquished cannot reproach themselves with having lost through lack of funds. Mr. Bennett, himself, of course, gave freely of his fortune. There is no precise knowledge of just how far the Conservative leader went toward implementing his Winnipeg pledge to “dedicate my fortune and my talents” to his party’s service, but it is known that he has at least invested $155,000 in a certain well-known newspaper on the prairies, and it is believed that something like $500,000 more has been given to the general cause.
Of the Liberal lieutenants, able and active throughout the campaign, Mr. Dunning attracted most attention. Mr. Lapointe was effective in Quebec, but in Quebec only. Mr. Crerar was heard little outside the prairies; and Col. Ralston confined his attention to the Maritime provinces. The battle, in fact, was between the two leaders and their policies, and most of the minor captains were lost sight of in the struggle. This was as true of the Conservatives as of the Liberals.
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The Part Played by the Press
THE newspapers, strangely enough, played no dominant part in the contest. On the Pacific coast a formerly influential Conservative paper like the Vancouver Province gave Mr. Bennett a languid and sometimes qualified support. With its powerful editor, J. W. Dafoe, absent in England during most of the campaign, the Manitoba Free Press rendered nothing like the formidable support given to Mr. King in the contest of 1926;
while the Winnipeg Tribune, one of the Southam chain of newspapers, seemed at times extremely lukewarm in its support of Mr. Bennett. In the east, in Ontario and Quebec, no startling or striking campaigns were waged by any of the great dailies. In Toronto, the Star and the Globe gave Mr. King orthodox but by no means striking or distinguished support, while the Mail and Empire and the Telegram did little better for Mr. Bennett. The Montreal Gazette was as dignified as usual and seemingly as ineffective; while Lord Atholstan’s Star, finally having made up its mind after a long period of hesitation and doubt, came out on the side of Mr. Bennett, though without its usual enthusiasm.
The Quebec campaign was in fact one of the most extraordinary in the whole history of Confederation. For the first
time in sixty years the Conservative party there all but struck its flag. Mr. Bennett spoke in Montreal, and in half a dozen ridings the party put up real candidates, but for the most part—and this was deliberate strategy—the old party of Macdonald and Cartier which in year? gone by swept over the parishes, and had the allegiance of French Canada’s powerful hierarchy, did little more than put up strong men in the majority of Quebec’s constituencies. It believed, rightly or wrongly, that Quebec could not be won. Its tacticians felt that because of the Klan in Saskatchewan, the repercussions on Quebec would be disastrous for Conservative prospects, and they gambled everything upon sacrificing Quebec and making up for the loss in the West. Whether this strategy was wise or otherwise, the public can judge for itself.
Whether the Klan actually has played a dominant rôle in Saskatchewan is not easy to determine at the time of writing. Mr. Bennett, certainly, made no open alliance with it, and it is a matter of common knowledge that when one of its emissaries came to Ottawa toward the close of last session, the Conservative leader refused to see him. Nor is there any evidence that the Klan put up candidates either openly or secretly, or that they dominated any convention, or contributed any funds, or took anything like the part played by this organization in waging war on AÍ Smith in the United States’ presidential election. It is claimed, of course, that the Klan was a force in the new farmers’ party in Saskatchewan, and that through this organization it will make its influence felt in our politics in days to come. Of this, only time can tell.