Nova Scotia's "Angus L."
H. NAPIER MOORE
A premier who is praised by his political foes is worth watching
RANKING with such unassailable phrases as, “Two and two make four” and “Tomorrow is another day,” there is, “They take their politics seriously in Nova Scotia.” They do.
In years past I have sat in village houses along the shore and listened to tightly-packed groups of neighbors sing Hymns of Hate. Under the batoning finger of a perspiring party worker from Halifax, with mimeographed song sheets in their hands and with fascinating fervor, they have beseeched powers on high to devastate the Dirty Grits or the Unspeakable Tories, according to the
occasion. In years past I have sat in the Halifax Club and listened to business and professional men discuss the party they opposed, and I have been affrighted by the din of bursting blood vessels.
Mind you. Nova Scotians are among the kindliest and most gentle folk on earth. They just take their politics seriously, that’s all.
I mention these things so that you may understand the significance of what follows.
I was in Halifax a few weeks ago. Last spring the Liberal Government of Angus L. Macdonald had been returned to power, licking the Conservatives for the second time in four years. I made a list of zealous Tories and went to see them. To each I put the question, “Well, what do you think of Premier Macdonald?” and waited for the apoplectic explosion. There wasn’t any.
The first one said, “Angus L. is all right. He is a fine character. He is doing a good job.”
The second one said,
“Angus L. is a gentleman.
He is giving Nova Scotia good government.”
The third one said, “It would be a good thing for Canada if there were more Angus L’s.”
The others said pretty much the same sort of thing.
Subsequently, in other parts of Nova Scotia, from people of both political faiths, from Protestants and Catholics, from businessmen, workers and farmers, I found the same reaction. It was quite an experience for one who had reached the Maritimes via Ontario and Quebec.
Nova Scotia’s Angus L.—and he seems to be Angus L. to everybody—is worth watching.
An Unusual Premier
T FIRST met Premier Macdonald last summer on a ship
bound for England. I had several long conversations with him then. In Halifax, in October, I spent the better part of a day with him. And my unprejudiced opinion is that Angus Lewis Macdonald is in many ways the most favorably unusual Provincial Premier in the Confederation today.
He is forty-seven; six years older than Ontario’s Mitch Hepburn and four months younger than Quebec’s Duplessis. So he isn’t unusually young. The unusualness lies in his background and what it has produced. The background is academic, military and legal. He took a B.A. degree at St. Francis Xavier University, but he also coached the football team. He took an LL.B. at Dalhousie and an S.J.D. at Harvard. He also went to Columbia University, in New York. He became a college professor, and at first sight he might impress you as a dreamer. Yet his Scots blood makes him intensely practical. He fought in the Great War as a lieutenant with the 25th Battalion and as a captain with the 185th Battalion. He was badly wounded. Those who served under him say he was a fine soldier. Yet his manner is gentle and shy. He has been a professor of law and an Assistant DeputyAttomevGeneral, but while he considers precedent he is no slave to it.
Being a Nova Scotian (he was born at Dunvcgan, Inverness County) he has, since his student days, been interested in politics. Yet the leadership of the Provincial Liberal Party was thrust upon him unexpectedly. He is a Liberal to the core. Yet in the administration of the province’s affairs he judges a man’s ability and not his politics. He is a Catholic, but no Protestant has raised the cry of religious prejudice against him. He is actively interested in the welfare of labor, of the farmer and of the fisherman. But he believes in encouraging decent capitalism. Broadminded, he is no fence-sitter. Convinced he is right, he will go ahead with his jxJicies in spite of friend or foe.
He can tell you more about Joseph Howe (to him the greatest figure in Canadian history) than any man living. He is saturated with the history of his province. But he looks to the future with an intimate knowledge of what is going on in the world of today.
If you don’t consider this composite unusual, then you don’t know a great many politicians.
I went to interview Premier Macdonald in his office in
the graceful, time-worn and historic Legislative Building. It is a very small office. Compared with Premiers’ offices in Central and Western Canada, it wouldn’t please a twenty-third assistant secretary. The furniture is of the type seen in any modest factory office. But that doesn’t bother Premier Macdonald. You can’t be grand and balance budgets. And he can look out of the window at a statue of Joseph Howe.
Promises and Performance
T HAD with me a copy of the pledges made by Angus Macdonald in the election campaign of 1933, the campaign which put him into power. He had stressed economy, promising to do away with waste, extravagance, duplication of services in all Government departments. He had promised to balance Nova Scotia’s budget. He had promised to investigate the basic cause of the province’s failure to keep pace with the rest of Canada in economic progress; to appoint an economic commission to carry on a thorough fact-finding enquiry, in the hope of ascertaining once and for all the means and methods which must be adopted to further Nova Scotia’s position in agriculture, fishing, lumbering and mining. He had promised to relieve unemployment by means of necessary public work.
I asked Premier Macdonald how many of these promises had been fulfilled. This is the record of his Government as he gave it to me.
First, there is the administrative side. There has been set up a Provincial Civil Service, associated with which is a system of contributory pensions for employees of long service. The motive is to put Government jobs beyond the reach of party patronage and to encourage competency by security.
An economic council has been created and is functioning. Its nine members include representatives of the major industries, two professors of economics and a labor man. The council is non-jxjlitical and works on the basis that if a fisheries policy or a lumbering |x>licy is to be devised, the best authorities are those who have been in the fishing or lumbering industries all their business lives.
Also newly established is a Department of Municipal Affairs. It is under the supervision of the AttorneyGeneral, and in turn supervises all municipalities. Its object is to improve municipal government and eliminate duplication.
Second, there is what is commonly known as the field of social services. 1 lere Premier Macdonald considers that the most important achievement has been the inauguration of a system of old-age pensions under which some $3,000,000 will be paid out annually.
Next, he ranks the provision of free schoolbooks for all children in the common school grades—up to Grade VIII. Major changes have also been made in the educational system, not the least of which is that Normal Schools are now giving special attention to the training of teachers as rural community leaders.
Then there is the Provincial Housing Commission, first of its kind in Canada. The Government set aside $200,(XX) to be used to encourage the building of low-cost houses in Nova Scotia. The plan is that the Government will lend approved companies seventy-five per cent of the cost of houses and lots. The company will provide the remaining twenty-five jx-r cent, either in cash or land. The company is given the right to rent or sell the completed house, sales to be so arranged on a monthly installment basis as to encourage people of small incomes to buy. So far the scheme has not been taken advantage of to any marked degree, but there it is.
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Nova Scotia* *s "Angus L."
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The Government’s Trades Union Bill went into effect just at the time of the Hepburn-C.I.O. clash in Ontario and aroused national interest. Under that act, a trade union is “any lawful association, union or organization formed for the purpose of advancing in a lawful manner the interest of such employees in respect of their employment.”
It is lawful for employees to form themselves into a trade union and join one. and bargain collectively with their employers, and for members of a trade union to conduct such bargaining through the union and its officers. Any employer refusing to recognize and bargain collectively with the members of a trade union representing the majority choice of the employees eligible for membership in that union, is liable to a fine and, in default, to imprisonment.
No employer may restrain an employee from exercising his rights under the Act without being liable to a fine or imprisonment, But the Act maintains the right of the employer to suspend or discharge employees for proper and sufficient cause.
Each trade union must file with the Government copies of its constitution, rules and by-laws, and each year a general statement of its receipts and expenditures, or be liable to a fine; and every trade union treasurer must, as required, render to members of the union a just and true account of all moneys received and paid.
And if employees sign a written request that deductions be made from their wages for union dues, the employer is compelled to do so and to furnish the Government with a record of such deductions.
The Trades Union Bill is the first of its kind in Canada, and so far, says Mr. Macdonald, has operated smoothly and equitably.
In addition, a commission has been investigating the Workmen’s Compensation Act with a view to revision. Hours of labor and the matter of minimum wages are being attended to. Supervision and encouragement of credit unions (which
incidentally are also encouraged by the coal and steel companies) are provided for, and organization of co-operative societies is to be facilitated.
Work in the Cape Breton coal fields has been more evenly distributed by action of the Department of Labor and the cooperation of lx>th operators and employees. Young men are to be trained under actual working conditions.
So far as lalx>r is concerned, there hasn’t been any serious trouble in Nova Scotia for some time, and the Provincial Minister of Labor doesn’t kx)k for any. When you recall the strife there used to be in the steel and coal districts of Cape Breton, the industrial sky has large areas of blue.
A Program of Action
"VWJIEN Lí’ comes to agriculture,
* V Premier Macdonald believes that the way to keep people on the farms is to bring to them more of the amenities of life. Light and jxnver are being brought to the farms through the Government's rural electrification scheme. Country roads are being improved, and financial assistance has been given to farmers for the transportation of hay to Nova Scotia.
An active department of agriculture, cooperating with the producers, has brought about an increase in forage crops, stimulated interest in better methods of cultivation. improved livestock breeding and dairy herds, cheapened the cost of lime, promoted spray circles in the orchard districts, organized marketing branches with a market intelligence service, and, more than all these things jxrhaps, has brought the peoples of the rural communities together through a variety of organizations and clubs, and taught them to work in harmony.
For general 1 benefit there is the Government’s public health program, based on a
report made for it by an investigator from the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation. There is provision for the control of disease and for preventive and educational measures. And Nova Scotia is being made “sanitary conscious.” Improvements in water supply and sewage disposal, in milk and fexxi distribution, in the safeguarding of industrial and other employees, are the particular responsibility of a particular beareau. Also, diagnostic, treatment and nursing services are at work. Expensive at the start perhaps, but Premier Macdonald believes that a healthy population is going to save the Government money in future.
Then there is the tourist industry. For it is an industry. Florida calls it its major industry; California, its second largest industry. Michigan ranks it next to the automobile industry. “We can never rank it that high,” says Mr. Macdonald, “but we can develop it. Since 1933 we have, by a vigorous advertising campaign, doubled the number of visitors to Nova Scotia. The year 1937 was the best in history.” And so the province’s main trunk roads are being paved on a five-year plan, and up in Caj>e Breton a National Park area is being developed. There isn't any reason at all why, with g(xxl roads. Nova Scotia should not be a tourist mecca. It was rightly named—a new Scotland.
Now, what of employment?
Shrinking Relief Figures
rT'HE QUICKEST way of seeing the picture is to look at the relief figures. The total population of the province is some 525,000. At the peak of the depression there were 75.000 people on relief. In August of 1937 there were 8,401 on relief, of whom 5.350 were in the city of Halifax. Four or five years ago more than thirty of the province’s forty-five towns and cities.
and more than twenty of the twenty-four municipalities, were receiving relief from the Government. Today these numbers have shrunk to six towns and cities, and three municipalities.
Premier Macdonald is happy about these figures, but he doesn’t say, “Look what we did.” The Government did help Halifax reduce its unemployment by building a new office building. It did help other towns by building other public works. It did seek out and enlist the co-operation of every lumber operator in the province in finding jobs in the woods for a considerable number of men. It did send to Great Britain a representative to sell more Nova Scotian lumber. But Angus L. is the first to tell you that the boom in the steel and coal industries, and the willingness of the Nova Scotian to work, have been major factors. And business at the present time in the Maritimes is good. The Maritime Division of the C.N.R. in October and November was carrying more freight than it carried in the peak War-trade days.
And what of the finances of Nova Scotia?
Not one municipality in the province has defaulted.
In spite of its program of social reform, the expenditures on old-age pensions, on education; in spite of a reduction of motor license fees by twenty per cent, operating deficits have been cut so that at the time this was written. Premier Macdonald was expecting to announce a balanced budget at the end of the fiscal year. He balanced his 1936 budget and had a surplus of $151.000. That was Nova Scotia’s first balanced budget since 1923.
Borrowings have increased by some $19.000.000 since, in 1933, the Macdonald Government inherited a deficit of $1,618,000. Highway construction accounts for some $9.000.000, unemployment relief $2.400,000, direct relief S1.40Ö.000, deficits $3.800,000, and smaller sums for power developments, fishermen's loans, land settlement, etc.
With a funded debt of some $87,000,000,
credit of Nova Scotia still stands high, refunding loans have been obtained at ¡rabie rates. But this doesn't lull nier Macdonald. “It will take time.’’ says, "but we mean to watch our nces so that we can gradually bring ,-n the amount of that debt.’’
He’s Worth Watching
IN rHE manifesto of Angus L. Macdr aid, issued before the election of 1933 in the clause covering education it is set jrth that the Liberal Party “will foste. pride in, and affection for. Nova Sotia by providing for adequate instruction in all grades in the subject of Nova Scotia history.”
In that clause is Macdonald’s hope for tie future. Do not interpret it as one more p:oof that “the trouble with Nova Scotia isthat it lives too much in the past.” You hive to talk with Macdonald, and watch tie light in his eyes to feel what he feels aid see what he sees. He sees the long nster of young Nova Scotians who in the yast left their native province to seek letter opportunities in Central and Westrn Canada, and in the New England Suites. He knows that a land denuded of
its youth must stand still. He wants the present school generation to be inspired by the history of Nova Scotia, the history of the men who stayed there and bestowed their talents upon the province which begat them. He wants them to reach manhood with a vision of citizenship; with a burning desire to farm in Nova Scotia, to develop business in Nova Scotia, to advance medicine, science and the arts in Nova Scotia; to work in their own province for the betterment of living. He wants them to know the value of roots.
He wants them to take their politics seriously, not partisanship.
He wants them as good Nova Scotians, to be good Canadians.
He believes that good, sound, advancing government will encourage agriculture, trade and industry, and provide opportunity at home for those equipped to seize it.
He was tutored, and in turn he tutored, in Antigonish. where men of all creeds have been solving their problems by co-operation. In government and in citizenship, he believes in co-operation in the broader sense.
Nova Scotia’s Angus L.—and he seems to be Angus L. to everybody—is worth watching.