Right vs. Left

Old party lines have vanished from B.C. politics and now it's Right versus Left

BRUCE HUTCHISON February 1 1942

Right vs. Left

Old party lines have vanished from B.C. politics and now it's Right versus Left

BRUCE HUTCHISON February 1 1942

Right vs. Left

JOHN HART, the new Premier of British Columbia, has only been fired from a job once in his life. The results were surprising.

A few weeks ago T. D. Pattullo—then struggling vainly to hold together a dissolving government—called for his minister of finance. Mr. Hart duly appeared before his leader. “I want your resignation,” raid { Mr. Pattullo.

Thus Mr. Hart was fired.

But within a month the Liberal Party had fired Mr. Pattullo and Mr. Hart had become Premier in a eoalition government of Liberals and Conservatives. Mr. Hart will never stay fired.

At first sight the firing of Mr. Hart and its curious consequences might be considered purely a family matter, of real concern only to British Columbians. Acti ually it concerns, and rather vitally, the whole nation. Mr. Hart has become the symbol of something much larger than British Columbia, the forerunner of an u issue which ultimately will stretch, with bitter controversy, from Victoria to Halifax. He is the first tangible sign of a new era in Canadian polities.

When Mr. Hart was fired, and then hired as leader of the Liberal Party, he did not carry on where Mr. Pattullo and the dilapidated Liberal regime left off. He could i not, because he did not command a majority in the legislature. So he joined with the Conservative Party, another minority, and the union thus formed represented two thirds of the popular vote in the election of ! last October. But it represented much more than votes. It represented the idea of private property, private initiative, competition—what we loosely call the capitalistic system though now hardly recognizable as such. This was a new thing in Canadian politics. For the first time the two old-time parties, believing basically in the same things but unable to govern alone, had to unite if they were to prevent the election of a new party which believed in something else entirely, a socialistic state. This possibility—the election of a C.C.F. government on a program of socialism—was no longer academic in British Columbia. It had become a real threat to the established order of things. The C.C.F. had secured the largest popular vote in the election, had elected fourteen members in the legislature as against twenty-one Liberals and twelve Conservatives. The socialists quite obviously were on the way. In four years more, at this rate, they could expect to take power with a minority of the popular vote—provided the old parties, believing in the same system of society, betrayed their belief by continuing their ancient sham battle and splitting the ballots of the majority.

Mr. Hart saw that prospect long ago. When his worst fears were realized in October, he publicly advocated a LiberalConservative coalition. That was why he

Old party lines have vanished from B.C. politics and now it's Right versus Left


was fired. Mr. Pattullo intended to carry on a minority Liberal government, at the mercy of the opposition.

When Mr. Hart succeeded Mr. Pattullo, by decision of a Liberal Party convention, the issue of private initiative versus socialism ceased to be a debating point, a vague abstraction for orators to practice on. It became practical politics.

At last party lines, so long blurred, make sense here as they do not make sense anywhere else in the country. We have on one side the orthodox businessman, Mr. Hart; on the other, the incandescent socialist, Mr. Harold Winch. All Canada had better watch them.

Whether he knows it or not, Mr. Hart, as Premier and chief figure in this fundamental struggle, is the product of a deep historical process, the struggle of new forces against old. You cannot sort out the events that have molded his position from his power to mold events. It is evident, however, that he has contributed a helping hand of considerable skill to the divinity which shapes his ends. Events, issues, social forces finally have made him a national figure, but up to now he has been entirely a self-made man.

Team Player

IN 1898 an Irish youth of nineteen, a native of County Leitrim, arrived in Victoria. The first thing he saw in the local paper was the announcement of a football game that afternoon at Beacon Hill Park. John Hart knew nothing of Canada but he knew a lot about football. So he went to the park and started kicking the ball around among the Canadians. He kicked it so well that they invited him to play on one of the teams. Since then Mr. Hart has always played with the team.

It was some months before the immigrant boy could get his first job. It paid $10 a month. The Irishman was getting along.

Young Hart soon showed that he had the capacity to get ahead, to work long hours, to study in secret, to grow. He was soon in

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Right vs. Left

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business for himself and making money as a financier. Presently he was in politics and applying to it an unsuspected talent for organization— always playing with the team. Then he was minister of finance in British Columbia in the middle of the first world war. He found the province close to insolvency. He raised taxes, he balanced the budget and retired again to private business. There he made and lost most of a fortune in the crash of 1929.

By 1933 Mr. Hart was back at his old stand and back at his old task of avoiding provincial default. It was not easy, and first he had to establish his own position. The new Pattullo government found that he was the kind of man you could lean on in a pinch. He was not spectacular, he made no rousing speeches, he built slowly, day by day. Soon Mr. Pattullo, the rest of the ministry and many of the opposition members of the legislature found themselves going over to Mr. Hart’s office whenever they were in trouble.

He was now established as the main cog in the machine of government and it was his insistence on the sanctity of contract, his ability to hoard up money against the day of reckoning, that kept British Columbia’s bonds paid on the date of maturity. By this year, having put the treasury into a state of un-

exampled prosperity with substantial reductions in debt, Mr. Hart thought of retiring—a senatorship perhaps, to keep up his interest in politics, some golf, some trout fishing in the Cowichan, his country place on the Gulf Islands.

Into this idyllic picture came the election, the ghastly end of the Pattullo government, the coalition. Mr. Hart’s retirement is indefinitely postponed and his hardest days are still ahead. But if his robust health holds, they will be the happiest of his life. He loves the strategy, the organization, the minutiae and the strange human chemistry of politics. He still plays with the team.

Today, at the age of sixty-two, you can still see the original traces of Ireland in him—the typical cast of his face, his love of a joke and a good time, the faint remnant of a brogue. If you, a stranger, are sitting in the legislative gallery at Victoria and a lean gentleman, with a cloud of white hair and immaculate clothes, stands up and asks the House to vote “twinty thousand dollars for annie purpose” you may be sure it is Mr. Hart.

Or if you are in the Chateau Laurier grill at Ottawa and a whitehaired gentleman is fox-trotting with more vigor than all the young bucks, that will be the Premier of British

Columbia. And you can identify him positively by the largest glass when the drinks are going around. The glass will contain ginger ale. He hasn’t had a proper drink in twenty years, and he is a devout son of the Catholic Church.

In his office, on the golf links (he is one of the best senior golfers in Western America), at the card table (he is easily the ablest poker player in the Union Club,) on the trout stream or the dance floor, Mr. Hart is the most engaging and genial fellow you ever met. You would think he had no care in the world, no urgent task. That is his poker face only. If you are an observant person you will note that, without any change in the broad Irish grin, the blue eyes can turn to the sudden hardness of beach pebbles. If you are a student of the subject, you will know instantly by a lift of the eyebrows, a tightening of the eyes, when Mr. Hart is grinning all through or merely on the outside.

You don’t reach Mr. Hart’s present position as the unchallenged leader of British Columbia, the welder of two old parties, without more than geniality.

Mark of the Whip

AVERY different sort of man leads the party and the basic idea which will seek to defeat Mr. Hart and his idea during the next four years. Harold Winch is only thirty-four years old. He is dark, with a Latin look, a mane of straight black hair, black brooding eyes, a thin black mustache and a look of desperate melancholy. At a distance you might take him for a movie star, playing “heavy” roles. At close range you know immediately that here is a very remarkable young man, who has come far and will go farther.

His dark complexion comes from a minor strain of Spanish blood, which is mixed with the pure English of his father. His brooding eyes come from certain bitter experiences in life. His look of desperation and melancholy come of a passion for a better world, not easily attained. One hopes he will not lose that passion in the seductive garden of political success, which he has now entered.

Young Winch had no interest in politics before 1932. He had come out from England as a baby, had learned the electrician’s trade and had a young family. His father, an English bricklayer, had studied public affairs a bit and joined the C.C.F. The son was concerned only with the need of making a living in a time of grim depression. He had known grinding poverty, had been on relief and seen his children want for necessities. But he was no radical.

Then one day, walking on a Vancouver street, minding his own business, he found himself swept along by a crowd of unemployed. An officer raised his whip. The lash caught Winch across the face. A fateful blow.

Winch went home that night in a smoldering anger which has not yet died. It soon broke forth on the platform. In the dimly-lit halls where the C.C.F. was struggling to be born, a new voice was heard. A

shabby youth, with gaunt face and wild tongue, was beginning a somewhat notable career. A new political power was being forged, all unsuspected, in British Columbia’s depression.

By 1933 the young man was in the legislature. There you could almost see the mark of the whiplash on his face. In every word and gesture, in his sneer, his harsh sarcasm, his shrill voice, his reckless words, you could see the injured soul of a boy who had experienced the worst side of the world and not much else. The old politicians tut-tutted indulgently and Mr. Pattullo spanked the youth in a paternal fashion. Such boys would grow up.

Mr. Winch grew up fast. He

discovered that he possessed a flair for practical politics which is something quite different from a knowledge of abstract socialism. He

mastered an impediment of speech which would have kept most men out of public life altogether. He became an accomplished speaker—no orator, no master of language, but a good rough-and-tumble fighter. His father sitting behind him as a fellow C.C.F. member, glowed with an old-fashioned English pride while the son became periodically incandescent with his vision of a better world, but mostly with his hatred of this one.

Into every town and hamlet went the new socialist ball of fire, but he had no beautiful blueprints of the new world, no cosmic promises, no call to a bloody class war. He preached in terms that ordinary people could understand and opponents of pure socialism could support—aid to farmers, government ownership of public utilities (including breweries, which appealed powerfully to the poorer beer drinkers,) the end of' patronage, honest administration, better social services. The complete Co-operative Commonwealth, he knew, must be achieved by a national government. Nor did he make the mistake of arriving too early or leading too much. He had committed Pitt’s crime of being a young man and he did not unnecessarily offend his elders. It was a people’s movement. Let the people organize.

Everywhere C.C.F. clubs sprang up, became social as well as political centres. To many a poor family the C.C.F., with its little evening entertainments, its vision of reform, became a new contact with other unhappy human beings, a ray of hope at last—became finally a passionate belief.

Presently the scar of the whiplash began to fade out. Mr. Winch learned to laugh. He learned that politics is not the simple surgical process he had expected but a slow process of organic growth. He expects no miracles any more and above all, in this war, he has learned that you must first save political democracy if you are to have any chance of the economic democracy which he advocates. In a rather moving speech the other day the young man who had been a wildeyed rebel admitted that in any other political system he would have been in jail or in a prisoner’s grave.

Last autumn the C.C.F. achieved

the most notable victory for the Left in the history of Canada, with a large popular vote than either of the other parties. Mr. Winch, as opposition leader, became part of our parliamentary system, recognized by law as the alternative to the Premier, paid a state salary. He got off to a good start. Instead of manoeuvring for office, he urged the two old parties to coalesce against him. He wanted the line clearly drawn so that he could fight on the line, without confusion, if it took the rest of his life. The line was drawn.

The Forces of Conflict

THUS THE great debate in British Columbia, the curtainraiser for the greater debate of the nation, begins with competent advocacy on both sides.

On Mr. Hart’s side the program is ( bvious. He will try to give British Collumbia such sound businesslike government that it will decide to stay with the existing system. While he has been called a Conservative in disguise, certainly is no radical and is the sworn enemy of monetary mysticism, he will move with the times. He will move toward increasing social services and reforms when the war is over.

He will co-operate fully in the war with the national government. Having burned his fingers along with Mr. Pattullo at the fiasco of the last interprovincial conference—where British Columbia refused to consider the Rowell-Sirois Report—Mr. Hart will not make such a mistake again. He is firmly set, however, .against the financial provisions of the RowellSirois Report as a permanent policy after the war.

Mr. Hart’s chief function will be in the welding together of the LiberalConservative parties in a permanent union, a new party of the Right. If any man can end the old party sham battle and create an enduring union, a sound alternative to socialism, he will do it.

The new Premier’s danger is not from his enemies but from those who consider themselves his friends. The two old-line parties in British Columbia have built up machines

of such magnitude and such odor that a great part of the strength of the C.C.F. can be traced to them. Many people vote socialist because they cannot stomach the patronage racket of the old parties, the report of royal commissions showing the enormous use of campaign funds from liquor interests, the indecent prosperity of political hangers-on. Mr. Hart is a party man, a highlypractical politician who knows that elections are not won by prayers, but he must control these machines or they will ruin him, as they have ruined other leaders before him with weary monotony.

On the other side the Winch plan of campaign is clear. He will cooperate fully with the Government in all war measures. He will go farther than Mr. Hart in offering permanent co-operation to the Federal Government and will be ready to accept in general the Rowell-Sirois formula. He will hammer at inefficiency, patronage and wrongdoing in government. He will not promise plenty for all or even a system of socialism in British Columbia if he is elected, for he knows a province’s limitations, and he will not expose socialism to such a risk of failure. He will not make Mr. Aberhart’s mistake.

Instead, he will advocate practical local reforms within the authority of the province, but he will not stop here. He will try to make British Columbia the starting point of the socialist system throughout Canada, the demonstration area of good government, the first unit in the Cooperative Commonwealth, out of which the movement will sprout everywhere. Such a man, with no illusions, with a thorough understanding of politics, presents a greater challenge to the existing system than the most gifted dreamer or the cleverest agitator.

Between Hart-the veteran swordsman of politics, the subtle strategist, the shrewd judge of men— and Winch—the boy who has just grown up—the duel begins. On the surface the opponents are friendly, have a genuine liking for each other. But they do not control the struggle. Behind them are forces of deep conflict, much stronger than they.