GENERAL ARTICLES

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Election Pay-off: Nobody Quite Happy

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 15 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Election Pay-off: Nobody Quite Happy

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 15 1945

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Election Pay-off: Nobody Quite Happy

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

ON ELECTION NIGHT, while the CBC waited for M. J. Coldwell to come to the microphone with his comment on the result, somebody put on a batch of “Porgy and Bess” records as fill-in music. People who knew the play looked worried—and sure enough, second piece to turn up was, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” hardly the right introduction for the CCF leader on June 11.

They heaved a sigh when that record ended and another came on, but their relief was premature— worse could happen and did. As ill luck would have it, the cue music for Mr. Coldwell’s talk was, “I Got Plenty of Nothin’.”

NOT only the CCF but all Parties have found plenty of cause for gloom as they study and restudy the election figures.

Liberals paid heavily in casualties for their narrow victory—some of their biggest names are in the “also-ran” bracket—and they’re acutely conscious that no Canadian Government in 20 years has taken office with as little parliamentary backing as theirs will have next month. They may have got the largest group of seats, but their losses bulk large too, especially in the Prairie Provinces, where once they were so strong. The almost complete rout in Alberta was an unexpected blow—they’d thought to hold their own, or lose two at most of the seven seats they took last time. And their popular support dwindled alarmingly right across the country. In 1940 more than half of all Canadians voted Liberal; in 1945, in spite of continuing strength in Quebec, their vote had slumped to 39%.

Progressive Conservative satisfaction at having done fairly well in Ontario is offset by other factors. This was, after all, their greatest chance in 15 years, and they’d hoped to make more of it. Some of them had counted on as many seats from Ontario alone as they actually got in all Canada. And their popular vote was even more disturbing than that of the Liberals—in their Black Year of 1940 they’d got more votes, both in numbers and percentage, than civilian returns gave them in 1945. John Bracken got them 1,300,000 civilian votes, 28% of the total.

Bob Manion in 1940 got them 1,400,000,

30% of the total.

But if the election was discouraging for both old Parties, it was calamitous for the CCF. They knew, and admitted, that they’d lost some of the strength they’d had in 1943. Communist infiltration had weakened them in Ontario, faction had riven their west coast groups. But never in their blackest moments had they imagined the catastrophe that actually hit them—to be wiped out entirely in central Canada, and hold only their solitary Cape Breton seat among the 173 that lie east of Manitoba. The party they’d hoped to make national was still just a Western faction. Ontario, that had seemed a stronghold, wiped out entirely, their one seat there gone back to the Tories. At best it was a Dunkirk, at Worst it could be Waterloo.

Their one consolation was the reflection that they’d got nearly 700,000 votes, instead of the 600,000 they had the last time Canada went to the polls.

So all the professional politicians, Right,

Left and Centre, are glum. For the ordinary citizen, though, there is plenty of cheer, no matter what Party he favored. Cheeriest fact of all was the rout of the Wise Guys, the Smooth Operators whose favorite answer is “Yeah, but the people don’t know that.”

Without exception, all their squalid little deals fell through.

ONE that fell through at its inception was the deal the Communists tried to strike with the Liberals. Before the campaign opened, a leading spokesman of the Labor-Progressives went to the National Liberal Federation with a list of Canadian constituencies.

“We want to be helpful,” he said. “Show us the ridings where you’d like us to run candidates and we’ll do it.”

Liberals went so far as to give the proposition some thought, but the reaction in their own ranks was powerfully (if not unanimously) hostile. One Cabinet Minister declared that if any such deal were struck he personally would repudiate it and the Communists, too. So the offer was turned down.

Labor-Progressives, who aren’t easily abashed, went right on being as helpful as they could—and in one or two cases this was pretty helpful. In one Calgary seat the man who had got the CCF nomination pulled out, shortly before nomination day, and ran as a LaborProgressive instead. In the main, though, their weight turned out to be negligible. And in using it to what they thought was the Liberals’ advantage, they were left exclusively to their own judgment.

FAR more ambitious, and even more completely ineffective, was the scheme to unite all the antiKing forces in the Province of Quebec.

Frederic Dorion, onetime Conservative organizer and now a Duplessis henchman, was its moving spirit. Hon. P. J. A. Cardin, onetime Liberal Minister, was to have been its leader. The strategy was to merge all dissident and antiwar factions, elect a solid “Quebec bloc” to Ottawa, and then strike the best available bargain with the largest English-Canadian group willing to play ball. According to one scheme this latter group would have been a coalition of Conservatives and right-wing Liberals, to be headed by Hon. C. D. Howe.

Mackenzie King was told about all this, ns early as the first week in April. CCF leaders learned of it about the same time. The CCF was worried—success or even half success of such a plan would have forced on them what they most wanted to avoid, a coalition with the Liberal Party. But the Prime Minister was unperturbed. He said there was nothing to it. Mr. Cardin and he understood each other, said Mr. King.

Yet the deal went forward. On the day Mr. King arrived in San Francisco, Mr. Cardin announced that he would lead a Quebec group to be called “Le Front National.” Mr. Dorion and his “independents” would make up most of its following, with a scattering of maverick ex-Liberals.

But then something happened. Some say Mr. Cardin found he wasn’t to have certain financial aid that had been promised to his new party. Anyway, for whatever reason, he announced just before nomination day that his Front National “seems to have found no sympathetic echo in the hearts of most Quebec citizens,” and therefore he would “limit his activities” to his own riding. The would-hnve-been Front National had to fall back on their original intention, long since defunct, of running candidates who would be supported by the Duplessis machine but who would bear the label “independent.”

It was at this point that Paul Lafontaine, Progressive Conservative organizer in Quebec, made his famous Kaffe. He announced that although his Party had only 27 candidates running under the Progressive Conservative label, it was supporting “independent” candidates in 33 other ridings, men who differed from Progressive Conservatives only on “points which are not essential.”

Progressive Conservatives swear there was no justification at all for Mr. Lafontaine’* statement. He made it, they hint, in hope of covering the fact that he, as organizer, had only been able to line up 27 candidates for 65 seuts. Certainly the statement was unauthorized by the Progressive Conservative high command. But it was difficult to deny—the “independents” were made up almost exclusively of former Conservatives, and the Progre&sive Conservative candidate« in many cases were Duplessis men.

Liberals seized on all this with whoops of joy. The Winnipeg Free Press began setting prairie grass afire with charges of a “deal” between total-war Tories and antiwar Nationalists, 1911 style. In Quebec the charge was even more effective for smearing anticonscriptionist “independents” as allies of that John Bracken who wanted to send draftees to Japan.

Quebec’s whole antiwar faction was destroyed. Of the so-called “independents,” only Dorion and two others were elected— even fewer than he had in the last Parliament. Le Bloc Fiopulaire went down with a similar crash. Maxime Raymond was re-elected, and a newcomer named Hamel won over an antiwar Liberal named Crete, but the rest were all beaten. Camillien Houde, who swung over from “independence” to become co-leader and campaign director of the Bloc, lost even his own Montreal St. Mary, the riding where he had been deemed unbeatable.

It had been a smart scheme, firmly based on the Wise Guy’s principle that you can fool all the people enough of the time. The principle turned out to be wrong.

{F LESSON Number One of the campaign was, “You can’t fool the people,” Lesson Number Two was, “You can’t ignore them, either.” Under the British Cont’dort page43

Cont’dort page 43

Backstage at Ottawa

Continued from page 15

parliamentary system every Minister— including the Prime Minister—is also a local M.P. One thing that made Mr. King’s path so thorny in Prince Albert, Sask., was that he rather overlooked this point. What cost Mr. King perhaps more than anything else in Prince Albert was the fact that, as a private member, he’d neglected his riding.

Prince Albert is a city of about 13,000, a bustling and ambitious little place with a Rotarian civic pride. But newcomers arriving by train would conclude, from looking at its railway station, that it was a none-too-enterprising village. Prince Albertans are acutely conscious and ashamed of this eyesore.

Prince Albert is also on the North Saskatchewan River, a navigable stream which used to be the sole transport artery of the region. Bridges over such streams are a federal responsibility. Prince Albert has a bridge that looks like a museum specimen of the late Victorian era; it’s ugly, grimy, rickety and inadequate to the traffic it bears.

Worst grievance, though, is the Prince Albert airport. Other Western cities of comparable size and status have good, modern air fields with hardsurfaced runways. The Prince Albert airport looks like what it Is, somebody’s cow pasture. Two days’ rain converts it into a swamp on which no plane can land or take off. But nobody ever persuaded Munitions and Supply to release the asphalt, or Transport to release the money, that would have made this piece of prairie farmland into a modern air station. Clamor on all these grievances met the reply, “Now don’t embarrass the Prime Minister.”

This neglect has been rooted, of course, in Mr. King’s honorable reluctance to give any favors or preference to his own riding. But resentful Prince Albertans, even Liberals, will tell you that he carried this policy much too far.

* * *

Each of the three Parties had its particular cross to bear during the election, its Old Man of the Sea which it couldn’t shake off.

With the Liberals it was, of course, manpower. From coast to coast the old bogey of conscription, the same one which they for 25 years had conjured up with such profit in Quebec Province, confronted them at every turn. In

Quebec they were maligned for bringing in conscription, in the rest of Canada for not doing so, and in all regions for being two-faced about it—for “talking out of both sides of their mouths,” in President Roosevelt’s phrase.

In neither area did the Liberals make much of a defense against these charges. Out West, when you asked Grits about their troubles with the manpower question, they’d answer, “Of course, there isn’t much you can say.” In Quebec there were attempts to brand the whole conscription issue as essentially phony, and Liberals leaned heavily on the schoolboy argument, “You’re another.” But in the main their rejoinder in both cases was the same. Openly or by inference, they’d say to both sets of critics, “We didn’t like it, but we couldn’t do anything else.”

Conservatives had no such single major trouble as the Liberals’ manpower burden, but they had an impressive total of smaller ones. The Grits’ charge of “Quebec deal” bothered them quite a bit in places. Mr. Bracken’s decision not to enter the last Parliament worked against him. Out West, too, his Grey North campaign boomeranged—reporters met many a hostile reference, on the prairies, to that story about throwing the rifles overboard.

But their chief handicap in the Midwest was the belief of anti-Socialist voters that only the Liberals could beat the CCF. In Prince Albert, for instance, the man who ran against Mackenzie King in 1940 was more or less openly supporting him this time because, in his words, “the Tories have nothing to sell.” His main interest was to defeat Socialism and maintain the free enterprise system, and he couldn’t see how the Progressive Conservatives would be able to do it. Without Quebec backing they couldn’t form a government; if they couldn’t form a government, how could they carry on? Even in Ontario this “stability” argument had a good deal of effect.

The CCF had none of these worries, but it didn’t need them—it had more than enough of its own.

Mr. Coldwell’s radio speech on election night put the blame for the CCF1 rout in eastern Canada upon the Communists and upon the anti-Socialist propaganda sent out by B. A. Trestrail and his so-called Public Informational Association. Neither excuse stands examination very well.

If Trestrail’s propaganda was hurting them they were slow in finding it out —hardly a CCF meeting was held

without somebody producing a copy of “Social Suicide,” and rousing mirth with it. They would point to the costly print job, the slick coated paper, and they’d make great mock of the “Price, 10 Cents,” printed on the cover, when everyone knew the booklet was mailed free to thousands. They gave every appearance of believing that Mr. Trestrail, far from injuring their cause, was making votes for them right and left.

The Communist attack was more effective. Certainly it did defeat the CCF in some ridings, and it probably had more effect in others than the figures appear to show. But it could hardly have accounted for the Party’s complete failure in Ontario.

Whatever force these things may have had, there was one thing working

against the CCF that’s beyond dispute, and that was factional squabbling within their own ranks. Particularly was this true in British Columbia, where Socialists tend to be doctrinaire and theological argument flourishes. British Columbia fundamentalists have been known to look askance at Tommy Douglas’s 30,000 dues-paying members in Saskatchewan: “How do you know they’re real CCF-ers?”

Result was the kind of purge and counterpurge, bureaucratic stubbornness and popular revolt, that split the Party wide open in such sure seats as West Kootenay.

So all the politicians are licking their wounds, pondering their sins, and adding a long-forgotten line to their

prayers:

“And please make me a good boy.”