GENERAL ARTICLES

Quebec's Godbout

A quick sketch of the Big Little Man who has set Quebee by the ears with a pregram of dynamic reform

LESLIE ROBERTS May 1 1941
GENERAL ARTICLES

Quebec's Godbout

A quick sketch of the Big Little Man who has set Quebee by the ears with a pregram of dynamic reform

LESLIE ROBERTS May 1 1941

Quebec's Godbout

A quick sketch of the Big Little Man who has set Quebee by the ears with a pregram of dynamic reform

LESLIE ROBERTS

GENERAL ARTICLES

WHAT quality is Adelard Godbout's which has not been vouchsafed to other Canadian political leaders? What makes this short-statured, sandyhaired Big Little Man from Quebec's river-ridings

tick? How did he happen to defeat Duplessis? How did he get away with his votes-for-women legislation in a province where men are still alleged to believe that the proper environment for women is the home? Where does he stand on the war?

These and a score of similar questions pour into a Quebec-er’s ears no matter where he goes in Canada beyond the home borders. So far as the national headlines are concerned, Quebec’s little Prime Minister is the man who told his compatriots to hurry and learn English— which some strange-minded gentlemen apparently regard as synonym for “stop speaking French”—the bright opportunist who went to the Sirois party without either ruining his reputation as a bon Canadien with the boys in his home country or branding himself un-Canadian with those who hold that provincial problems should be submerged for the duration. But from the east bank of the Ottawa to the Gaspé shores Adelard Godbout is the man who is conducting a one-man constitutional revolution, the object of which is to modernize the life and thought of the ancient province without scrapping the heritage and tradition of the past. A political project of considerable proportions, as those who know the down-river country will agree.

There are those among the brethren who still insist that Godbout is a stepchild of fortune, polite way of calling him a lucky stiff. On the strength of the record they are right, if the matter is viewed through hard political eyes, up to the day when he assumed the premiership in the autumn of 1939. But since then the going is of his own making, and he has cut himself a sizeable swath with his shiny new scythe. First, however, about the moot question of an assist to Dame Fortune . . .

From Rout to Triumph

ALONG in the early summer of 1936 a provincial ■ government was on the point of folding like a concertina in the dignified legislative buildings alongside Quebec’s Grande Allée. For better than forty years the Liberal party had been in office. Now time and the opposition had caught up with it, the former by producing the quota of miscreant camp-followers which any political party contrives to pick

up when it remains in power too long, the latter by blocking the passage of supply, thereby precipitating dissolution and an election. In manifest haste the prime minister’s mantle was tossed to Minister of Agriculture Godbout, first because no vestige of stain could be found on his personal escutcheon, second because nobody else in the vicinity would have wriggled into the coat under any circumstances. Godbout put up the best fight he could under the conditions imposed, failed even to carry his own riding. Only twelve Liberals were elected out of a total of ninety deputies. That was 1936.

A year later the party stalwarts from Bonaventure to Pontiac foregathered in Quebec to do something about the leadership. From that assemblage Godbout emerged confirmed in his rank, as had been expected, if only on the theory that the little fellow deserved a chance. In his acceptance speech he promised votes for women—longtime bone of contention down the river—undertook to modernize agriculture and education, announced that when he became prime minister he would provide Quebec with economical, businesslike administration. Nobody paid much attention, if only because Premier Duplessis looked like a man destined to remain in power for a decade. That was 1937.

Adelard Godbout said practically nothing. . he discharged the functions of leadership a modest office on Quebec’s Mountain Hill, leaving legislative reins in the hands of his lieutenant, the Honorable T. D. Bouchard. Meanwhile the Duplessis Government looked stronger than when it was elected. A carpet of modern highways was going down across the length and breadth of the land—and how Quebec needed highways! The farmer was the recipient of boons the like of which no government had ever offered him, but his taxes were not going up. Whenever the political weather turned dull the government would investigate a few more Liberal stalwarts with suitable on-and-offstage noises. Mr. Godbout and the Liberal Party bore all the earmarks of a group of gentlemen headed for nowhere in particular. That was 1939. Then Canada declared war on Germany and Premier Duplessis committed hara kiri.

With the first imposition of Federal war restrictions the Premier cried aloud that provincial autonomy had been invaded, dissolved the Legislature and called upon the faithful to resist at the polls. Then he drove to Three Rivers and. by way of giving the welkin a resounding clout, declared that if participation in the war meant the surrender of provincial rights he didn’t think very highly of participation. At this juncture Mr. Godbout jumped him. What way was this to be talking in wartime? Was there no limit to which the Premier would not go, even to dismembering Canada, to gain his political ends? On the other tack he pointed to pyramiding debts, to usurious interest rates, to paper discounted in New York at par but redeemable in United States dollars. Duplessis tried to explain the socalled Participation Speech, but couldn’t catch up with it; pointed to the new highways and the farm loans, but tangled his feet in the French-Canadian farmer’s angry amazement when the thrifty Lefebvres and the Legaults learned that the banks had come to regard their Government as a poor risk. Quebec’s Federal ministers, led by Ernest Lapointe, vowed that if Duplessis were returned they would accept the result as a vote of no-confidence and quit Ottawa. Every word of opprobrium in the bright

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lexicon of politics was bandied from a thousand hustings. Lifelong friends cut each other dead on the public street. Then the radio stopped blaring strange noises and the platforms stcxid empty while Jean Baptiste and his brother wrent to vote. And when the ballots were tallied Adelard Gcxlbout was Prime Minister of Quebec, reversing, almost to a seat, the rout of 1936. That was 1939.

A Leader In His Own Right

SO MUCH for the child-of-fortune aspect.

He won, if you like, because Duplessis read wrongly the signs of the times, saw. in 1939, a replica of the conditions of 1917 when French Canada did not take kindly to the idea of conscription. It has been said that Lapointe won the 1939 election, not Gfxlbout, that French Canada shud-

dered at the prospect of its ministers pulling out of the Federal cabinet, leaving the minority race at the mercy of the majority. This observer, having been among those present when it happened, says No. It was Adelard Godbout, nobody else, who took the first flying leap at Maurice Duplessis as soon as the word nonparticipation escaped the premier’s lips. He called no council of war, asked no advice from Lapointe, Cardin, Power, or anybody else. He jumped. He jumped because he believed it to be the only thing he could do and remain on speaking tenns with his own conscience. He jumped because he saw then, as he sees now. a direct threat to French Canada’s way of life, to Christianity, to the autonomy and supremacy of the family—which is the essence of down-river living—in Adolf Hitler and the pagan credo. And he would have jumped just as far and just as hard no matter what the outcome was to be, no matter who jumped with him, or if he jumped alone, in proof of which estimate stands the fact that when Duplessis made the Three Rivers speech Godbout did not wait for public opinion to jell. He jumped. The others followed.

In 1939, Adelard Godbout was the recipient of a great deal of help from Mr. Lapointe, boundless assistance from Mr. Duplessis. But it was Godbout who set the keynote and it was Godbout’s victory, nobody else’s. Wherein you have the key to the man’s make-up and the answer to the question: Where does he stand on the war?

Let it be granted that without Duplessis’ supreme gaffe Godbout could not have won the premiership when he did. Nevertheless the record of the intervening months is his own. What has he done since October, 1939?

After years of shilly-shallying on the part of his predecessors, arising from fear of the political consequences, he has given Quebec women the vote. At this writing the way is being paved for milady to practice at the Bar. In fine, he has raised woman’s status from that of man’s legal chattel to one of equality as person and citizen. To anyone who has lived his life in Quebec this one act alone is tantamount to a constitutional revolution.

He is modernizing public instruction. Throughout its history Quebec’s educational system, predicated on the classics and closely hitched to the Church, has turned out doctors, lawyers, notaries and scholars, but not engineers and businessmen. That was the hard core of the sense of outrage which led to the creation of Mr. Duplessis’ Union Nationale party—the English Canadians were holding all the good jobs, making most of the money, making peons of their compatriots; French Canada must cure this condition by isolating itself from the rest of the country and developing its own economy. Godbout’s attitude is the opposite. He says that Quebec must lit its sons and daughters to compete in the all-Canadian market by producing engineers, geologists, businessmen; that they must equip themselves to meet English Canadians on even terms by acquiring the same knowledge of affairs and by learning the language of the majority race. Another revolution !

On the economic front Godbout attacked the province’s acute financial problem as soon as he had been sworn into office. Public works were halted pending investigation of the immediate need. Some were abandoned altogether. Expenditures were cut to the bone. New taxes were imposed. The Premier set about disentangling the confusion of Montreal’s civic finances, gave the metropolis a new governmental form, kept the reins of control in Quebec. When citizens complained about the upping of taxes in wartime, arguing that provinces should sing low because of the national need, Godbout replied that he had not destroyed the provincial credit, that he had proclaimed from the hustings that he was going to restore it and that he proposed to do so, even at the expense of

being kicked out for his pains when voting day rolls around again.

At this writing, murmurs of complaint are heard against the imposts of the provincial income tax, and the good burghers of Montreal, already digging till it hurts to meet Ottawa’s demands, stoutly maintain they are approaching the verge of ruin as a result of Godbout’s determination to pump adrenalin into the province’s financial system and to salvage the City Hall. The Prime Minister looks sorry, but the salvaging goes on. People are beginning to realize that he means what he says, which can be very annoying in a politician. Doesn’t the man realize that preaching and practice are not supposed to be synonymous in a democracy?

Votes For Women Issue

ODBOUT is funny that way. At the ^ convention which confirmed him in the Liberal leadership the Votes-forWomen plank had been nailed into the platform. To political old-timers the plank was probably no more than a footbridge to be thrown away after the boys had crossed Jordan in safety; the result of smart organizing by the womenfolk. But the Prime Minister saw it otherwise. Almost before he could move into his offices in the Parliament Buildings the ladies were knocking on the door, ready for a new battle-royal, half expecting one. What did Mr. Godbout propose to do about the Vote? The Premier gave them his friendly smile. They would vote, he assured them, in the next provincial election. The ladies went away, wondering if they had been disarmed again by a charming gentleman. But at the first session of the new Legislature the bill came down.

Suddenly a bombshell burst. The hierarchy publicly signified its disapproval. The story reached the newspapers. Mr. Duplessis pounced. Had the Prime Minister taken note of the opposition? Of its source? Did he still intend to proceed? Godbout stood up and the galleries sat back, anticipating a flow of self-justifying rhetoric, an attempt to escape, or to postpone the day of judgment. Instead they heard as brief a statement of policy as was ever uttered by a Canadian political leader. The people of Quebec would discover, the Prime Minister said, that they had chosen a leader to whom the plighted word is sacred. That was all. The legislation passed. The hierarchy has offered no further comment. Time and again this observer has been asked if it is true that Godbout “beat the Church” on the women’s franchise issue. The Premier would answer that the question has never arisen. He stood committed. He implemented his pledge. He didn’t “beat” anybody. That is the serene attitude he brings to bear on his whole scheme of life. He keeps his commitments. He does the right, as he sees it.

As with the vote, so with his education program. Not all the educationalists of the province, by any means, favor a modernizing movement. Public instruction has been a lotus-eater’s island too long for all its residents to be suddenly imbued with the desire to be up-and-doing. The teaching of the young is closely allied to Mother Church, so far as the French-speaking majority is concerned, and not all the members of the teaching orders look with favor on what they are inclined to regard as the Americanizing of the rising generation. Quebec clings hard to its ancient traditions and to its folk-ways. Alarm exists in many quarters lest the introduction of latter-day methods may tend to destroy the tie with the brave past, loosen the link between education and religion. The problem is not on all fours with that of the franchise; that was a straight yes-orno question; this is a case of convincing a great many people in many walks of life and securing their co-operation.

The Prime Minister’s approach is, first, that Quebec must modernize its

scluxtl system, else its sons and daughters cannot compete with the products of modern schooling at home and abroad. He contends that to live in the present does not necessitate a break with the past. His plan is to modernize within the four walls of the existing system, not to separate Church and School. Such an idea would be unthinkable in Quebec, would spell immediate political extinction for its sponsor. But modernize Quebec must, he insists. The question whether we want to do so or not is beside the point. Quebec either goes ahead and strengthens itself in the Confederation, or slips back and becomes an underprivileged member of the Canadian family. A bonny brawl may ensue before all the chips are down.

His determination that La Vielte Province shall occupy its rightful place in the Canadian sun by co-operation with its neighbors, not play the ostrich game of radal isolation, is at the root of his learnEnglish plea. The so-called Nationalists played it the other way. Disgusted with what they regarded as English-Canadian encroachment on the French-Canadian teirain they urged a program of provincial insularity, implied they would make it tough for the English trustards (Big Business. to you and me), soon discovered the only result of such policy to be the desire of the intended victims to withdraw their capital from the province, throwing good French-Canadian workers out of employment. Godbout not only pointed out the fallacy but urged a dynamic Canadianism on his people instead of passive provincialism. “All Canada is ours!” he cried. "Ours to share with our English-speaking compatriots. Learn their ways, their methods of doing business. Learn their language!” He talks this kind of Canadianism wherever he goes, all-out Canadianism on the home front, an all-out Canadianism in the war effort (he is a British Commonwealth man to his marrow. as are almost all his fellow Quebec-ers. if only because that way lies the preservation of language and other folk-rights which might quickly disappear under any other association).

“Courage And Sincerity”

STRANGELY, it is his own difficulty with the Saxon tongue which is his greatest drawback to intercourse and understanding beyond the borders of Quebec. Speaking in his native tongue he is fluent, vehement, full of the fire which marks his race. In English he is not always at his ease, particularly outside his own bailiwick. At home he can speak to his English neighbors with a disarming smile

which suggests that we know his difficulties. having problems of our own when we try to meet the good citizens of Beauceville or Terrebonne in their own medium. But outside Quebec he is like a man who feels his auditors are prone to be hypercritical, knowing that he is not in his natural element That is why it is sometimes said, in such foreign parts as the sovereign commonwealth of Ontario, that he lacks fire, color. Godbout lacks neither when he is playing on the home grounds. Ask Mr. Duplessis. He knows.

His manner and instincts are those of the teacher, as well they may be. since his entire career, up to the time of his acceptance of the Agriculture portfolio from Premier Taschereau in 1930, had been devoted to teaching, first among the farmers of L'Islet county, then at L’Ecole d’Agriculture at Ste. Anne de la Pocatiere. in the tidewater country where he had his own beginnings. For that role he had fitted himself not only at Ste. Anne, but at New England’s Amherst College and L’Université de Montréal. To modernize Quebec farming methods has been the driving ambition of his life. His urgent desire to improve the fanner’s lot, not by spoon-feeding but by bringing him to regard agriculture as a machine-age industry in its own right, led him to contest rural L’Islet in 1929, to enter the cabinet a year later. Today, as Prime Minister, he still holds portfolio as Minister of Agriculture, devotes hours of every working day to supervising his department, working on the problem of switching Jean Baptiste from ox-cart to tractor in one jump. As and when he can find a few brief hours for repose and relaxation he makes posthaste for his own rolling farmlands at Frelighsburg in the heart of the verdant Eastern Townships.

The cornerstone of this man Godbout is his sincerity. Like few followers of the political trades he is intellectually honest, no hedger, no master of compromise. Hence the women’s franchise. He is a man of indomitable determination and courage. Hence his acts of surgery upon the ailing financial anatomies of the province and Canada’s greatest city. Yet despite Votesfor-Women, his projected Reform of Education and suchlike goings-on, he is no showman, no impresario of innovation, no hurler of noisy but dud thunderbolts. but a conservatively-spoken man; which probably explains why he is Quebec’s Prime Minister. La Vielle Province had just enjoyed three years of the finest rhetoric ever to flow between these two oceans, but it cost a lot of money. And then there was that strange new word; Participation. Voila !