How (and why) do people get into politics? Here is the inside story of a hard, clean battle now near its climax

BLAIR FRASER June 15 1949


How (and why) do people get into politics? Here is the inside story of a hard, clean battle now near its climax

BLAIR FRASER June 15 1949




How (and why) do people get into politics? Here is the inside story of a hard, clean battle now near its climax

CHARLIE STEPHENSON was off on a hunting trip when the convention was called, in October 1944, to choose a Progressive Conservative candidate for Durham County, Ontario. He got home at six o’clock one evening with a week’s growth of beard on his chin, to find a delegation waiting in his front parlor.

“Hurry and get cleaned up,” they told him. “The convention’s at 8.30, and we want you to stand for nomination.”

Until that moment Stephenson had no idea of entering politics. He had been mayor of Port Hope for two terms beginning in 1943, but that wasn’t a matter of party politics. He was a member of the Progressive Conservative Association but had never held office. Lending a few cars on election day (he owned a garage) had been about the limit of his activity.

Stephenson had two hours to think it over while he shaved and dressed. His wife didn’t like the idea (few wives do, and with excellent reason), but she wanted him to make his own choice. He finally agreed to go to the convention anyway, let his name stand, and see what happened. Now, after one term of four years as a backbencher M.P., he is running for re-election.

That’s how one man got into politics. This is the story of what happened to him and to his Liberal opponent in the present campaign, young Johnny James of Bowmanville; to their mutual rival of the CCF; to the hundreds of people on each side for whom politics will be a full-time job on election day and has been a spare-time job for the whole campaign.

It costs each party anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000, sometimes more, to run an election in one Canadian riding. It takes a complex and subtle organization which, like an iceberg, is about 10% visible and 90% under cover. Nine out of 10 voters, even those who take a keen interest in public affairs, vote all their lives without knowing what, exactly, a political organization does; where it gets its money; who turns out to work for it, or why.

Two Parties Evenly Matched

I SPENT a w'eek in Durham during the campaign, looking for answers to those questions. I learned more about politics in those seven days than in seven years at Ottawa.

Every riding has a character of its own, but Durham is as nearly typical as any. Over half of it is rural, a beautiful stretch of farmland along Lake Ontario. The urban half is tw’O small towns

—Port Hope, population 7,000, half a dozen medium-sized industries; Bowman ville, population 5,000, a market town with one big factory.

Both are pretty little towns, quiet and treeshaded, with children playing safely in the side streets. Port Hope has a daily newspaper that must be the smallest in Canada. Bowmanville’s Canadian Statesman has won several awards as the best country weekly in Canada. Despite this competition, three Durham villages have weeklies of their own.

Durham constituency has been mainly Conservative since its creation in 1903—went Liberal only twice in 11 elections—but it was formed of two older ridings, one traditionally Conservative and one Liberal.

That may be why the normal majority for either party is small in Durham County. In 1945 Charlie Stephenson won for the Progressive Conservatives by only 476 out of 13,405 votes cast.

Stephenson is 50, a small greying man with a diffident manner—not at all the back-slapping extrovert we think of as the typical politician. In Ottawa he is not an outstanding figure where he sits among the other Tory backbenchers. But so far as I could learn, everyone in Durham County who knows him likes him. The chief Liberal organizer said, “I don’t think anybody here has anything against Charlie.”

He came to Port Hope 25 years ago, borrowing money to put a garage on the town’s busiest corner. Selling cars all over Durham County, he got to know every corner of it. He’s a past president of Rotary and the Board of Trade, chaired the Victory Loan campaign, used to be soloist in the United Church choir, is Grand Steward of the Masonic Order and is a World War I veteran. These activities began long before he thought of politics, but they’re all part of a good politician’s background.

Johnny James, the Liberal candidate, has a similar record of community activity. With his uncle, George James, he owns the Bowmanville Statesman, and got to Continued on page 58

Continued on page 58

Election Campaign

Continued from pa#e 9

know his native county as a reporter and editor. He’s a director of Rotary and an active Mason. Last year he headed a committee that rebuilt the Bowmanville rink, burned 12 years before. Johnny was a good hockey player himself before the war. Now, at 38, he’s still invited to present trophies and make speeches at hockey-club banquets.

Two influences drew James into politics. Asan intelligence officer overseas he had a lot to do with civil government in the liberated areas, and found he enjoyed it. But the more important thing was what happened, while he was away, to his own newspaper.

When the Statesman was founded in 1878 it was violently Liberal. Later, especially after it became the only paper in town, it grew to be independent. Johnny still believes in that policy.

While he was away, though, his uncle George became converted to Progressive Conservatism. George James’ best friend was Conservative candidate in 1940, and he also became a close friend of John Bracken. Today the Statesman is openly Conservative in its editorials.

Buys Space in Own Paper

By agreement between the partners George James has a free hand as editor, but Johnny remained a Liberal. More to clarify his own position than anything else, he became an active worker in the provincial campaign last year, and this year stood for nomination.

One reason the Liberals chose Johnny James on the first ballot was their hope that in getting him they’d recapture the editorial support of the Statesman. It hasn’t worked out that way. The Statesman is still potently Conservative; frequently the half owner and co-publisher inserts a paid advertisement attacking the editorials of his own paper. This family feud has generated the nearest approach to personal bitterness in the Durham County campaign.

Among the candidates there is no hostility at all. “One thing I don’t like about this business.” Johnny James said, “I hate to be bucking Charlie.” At a Progressive Conservative meeting in April, Stephenson read aloud a Liberal broadsheet extolling their new candidate. “I agree with every word of it,” Stephenson said, “except the part that says the Liberals are going to win.” J. D. Kenny, the Port Hope schoolteacher and a bachelor who’s the candidate chosen by the CCF, is a newcomer who doesn’t know either opponent personally, but his organizers tell him they are both good fellows.

However, this lack of animosity implies no lack of vigor in the Durham County campaign. The CCF has no chance here and knows it, hut the two older parties are determined to win, and to use every fair means they can think of. And of all the means to victory the first and indispensable is what the politicians call “an organization.”

A political organization Is the machine that gets out the vote. To be efficient in a small county like Durham the organization must know every voter in the riding -not just his name, but his politics. In any close race the winner will be the party that knows exactly who its supporters are, and gets those supporters to the polls without wasting time and money transporting people who will vote the wrong way.

Durham County’s Liberal organization had fallen to pieces in the four years since their last M.P., Frank Rickard, was defeated. Most of their local presidents and secretaries were older men in failing health who had done a good job in 1935, when the Grits won Durham for the first time in history, but who’d slipped a lot in the meantime. In many a township there was no record of Liberal membership, nothing to show a new executive where to look for its support. James and his chief organizer, Ted Woodyard, started last March on the delicate diplomatic task of replacing the old leadership without creating hard feelings within the party. By the first of May that part of the job had been pretty well completed.

They List and Listen

Charlie Stephenson, for whom politics is now a full-time job, had no such repair work to do. Early in May. as both parties began the real work of campaigning, Stephenson’s organization was in prime shape.

The first job for each of them was enumeration. Enumerators are employed by the Federal Government. One is named for each polling subdivi-

sion in rural areas, and is paid 10 cents for each name he inscribes on his list. Urban polls have two enumerators each, paid eight cents a name. The Federal Treasury pays them, but they’re chosen by the political parties. Liberals, as the party in power, choose all the rural enumerators; the urban pairs are chosen by the two parties that got most votes at the last election.

Enumerators’ job for the Government is to make a correct list of the voters. Their job for the party is to bring back information. They are not missionaries—“Don’t try to convert people while the other fellow is listening,” one group of enumerators was warned by a local politician—but they can be very effective intelligence agents.

“Name your poll chairmen as enumerators whenever you can,” a party chieftain told a meeting of candidates and organizers. “Tell every one of them to carry a notebook and jot down any odds and ends of information he may pick up—in a day’s canvass he may hear enough to give you leads on a hundred voters. Those facts make all the difference on election day, when you need to know where to send your automobiles in the last hour.”

Liberal associations also have the

job of naming a deputy returning officer, a polling clerk and a constable for each poll. None of these jobs has any significance for the party at all since the appointees are Government officials for the day, charged to see that the voting is properly conducted. However, the appointments are a small item of patronage. The deputy returning officer gets $9 for the day’s work, the poll clerk $6 and the constable $4; also, there is a certain element of prestige about the appointment, so the jobs are carefully distributed among the party’s friends.

Formally the appointments are made by the returning officer of the riding, himself an appointee of the Government’s party. The returning officer’s own fees add up to about $1,000, but the work is spread over four months and involves a lot of bother. The incumbent in Durham County, Lawrence Mason, a lawyer, is now running his third campaign, but says he’ll never do it again—takes too much of his time.

Once enumeration is done the parties go to work on the lists.

Each party has an association with officers for the whole riding. There are also local associations in each town and each rural township. But the vitally important man, the combat NCO of a political army, is the poll chairman elected by the local party organization —the unsung hero whose duty it is to know his own polling subdivision like the palm of his hand.

“Never forget, elections are won and lost in the polling subdivision,” said a party sachem recently in a pep talk to organizers. “Here in Durham the Liberals lost in 1945 by only 476 votes. A change of five votes in each poll and the election would have gone the other way. Maybe a good poll chairman would have known where to find those five votes.”

It’s How You’ve Lived

Durham County has 78 polling subdivisions—17 in Port Hope, 12 in Bowmanville, 49 rural. Ideally, each party would thus recruit 78 men who’d be able to recognize every name on the list (there are not more than 350 voters to each poll) and tick them off with assurance as Grit, Tory, CCF or doubtful.

It’s astonishing how thoroughly a good party organization knows its territory.

“We had one old chap, he died last year, who made a hobby of knowing everybody in town—not just who he was, but what he was,” a local president told me. “One time the hotel got a new waitress. Waitresses are important, you know—they talk to dozens of people every day—and old John couldn’t rest until he found out how this girl voted. She was a good-looking wench and he didn’t have the nerve to ask her himself, flat out; he went at it indirectly, asking other people to find out for him. It went through seven people in the end, but he did find out.”

Once the lists have been checked (a task that’s never finally done, for they’re gone over many times by many people) the organization takes careful note of its own supporters, to make sure they all cast their votes. Then it goes to work on the doubtfuls.

“I doubt if half a dozen votes are changed by political meetings,” Charlie Stephenson said. And a Liberal organizer was equally dubious about radio speeches: “Do too much of that and

the people get bored.”

Some candidates depend heavily on door - to - door canvassing — Gordon Graydon, whose campaigns are held up as a model to Progressive Conservative freshmen, likes to recall that he

pushed 7,000 doorbells in his first campaign in Peel County, west of Toronto. In Durham, however, both Stephenson and James are a bit sceptical of the door-to-door method.

“After all, I’ve lived here 25 years and been in Parliament for four,” Stephenson said. “If they don’t know me by this time they never will. It’s what a man’s been doing all his life ¡ that counts, not what he does in the j two months before election day.”

Johnny James was newer at the j game, but he agreed. He met as many i people as he could at the afternoon teas, the evening socials and kindred j events that make up a rural campaign (both candidates were careful not to miss such local gatherings as lodge meetings and church suppers), but he didn’t ring doorbells at random.

Knowing whom to canvass and whom to let alone is another mark of the good party organization. Some voters like to be solicited—“If you don’t care enough about my vote to ask me for it, you won’t get it.” Others resent canvassing as an intrusion on their privacy.

With doubtfuls of the latter type the organization tries to be subtle. “Sometimes we can approach them through some personal friend,” a party chairman said. “Also, we try to single out people who are leaders in some group or other—in a church, a labor union, any kind of organization. Then if we convert them we can usually count on their bringing in a batch of votes with them.”

However, even if they make few converts, the public meetings and radio talks and general hoop-la have their role. Also the outlays for newspaper advertising, job printing, radio time, etc., are useful sweeteners of influential friends.

That brings up the question: “Where does the money come from?”

Politicians in all parties tend to be secretive about their financial arrangements. It’s partly because most of them really don’t know.

Broadly, though, the system is this:

Most of the funds come from headquarters of the parties in Ottawa. They are collected by eminent senior statesmen, often senators, from wealthy individuals and from companies which, for one reason or another, like to be in any government’s good graces. As a rule these companies give to both major parties with approximately equal generosity.

The amounts are a deep secret, but they probably vary widely. I happen to know of one donation, from a large corporation, of $25,000 for a provincial campaign a few years ago in another province. Federal donations, especially for such a close race as the present one, would likely run much higher.

Must Declare Expenses

A smaller fraction of each candidate’s fund is collected in the riding. Both parties have friends among the solid citizens—one Port Hope chairman said he knew about 40 in his own town on whom he could call, if necessary, for $25 to $100 apiece.

Each candidate usually makes out a rough budget at the beginning of the campaign, and gets as much of it as he can from headquarters. Usually he underestimates his needs. If he has no money of his own he sends an S O S to headquarters for more, which he may or may not get. If he’s a man of some means he often has to dig into his own pocket. One M.P. from a large city told friends that his 1945 election cost $5,000 of his own money, on top of what he got from the party’s war chest.

By law each candidate’s official agent must make a public declaration of all

election expenses. Here are the published items for the 1945 campaign in Durham County:

Personal expenses


Hire of premises .


Goods and advertising


Liberal PC

$890.50 $955.60

55.00 40.51

90.00 95.00

379.96 74.61

185.48 444.65

$1,600.94 $1,610.37

The CCF candidate listed his expenses under slightly different headings: petty claims, $6.74; hire of

premises, $27; traveling, $2.50; advertising, $65; total, $101.24. The CCFers* receipts “by public subscription” were stated as $105.31, so he apparently had a surplus of $4.07. Liberal and Conservative candidates declared receipts "from one person only” as $710.44 and $654.77 respectively, so their nominal deficits ran about $1,000 apiece.

Nobody appears to take these published accounts seriously. I don’t know what the CCF really spent—their man hardly campaigned at all, and polled only 926 votes. Liberals and Progressive Conservatives both admitted that their campaign expenses were at least double the amounts they published.

Sorting out the various guarded and reluctant estimates I got from both the major parties I found the lowest guess to be $3,000 and the highest $5,000. Both parties seemed to agree, though, that their respective outlays were about the same.

There is no limit, under the law, to the amount any party may use for legitimate expenditures. Why, then, do they conceal at least half of their outlays? Apparently it’s because some types of routine expenditure are embarrassing and others are technically illegal.

For example, neither party’s accounts show any payment to its 166 scrutineers—the two agents at each poll whose duty it is to watch the voters, check the ballots, guard against impersonation or any other kind of electoral fraud. Each scrutineer puts in a long, hard day’s work on election day. Some of them are unpaid volunteers and all of them, no doubt, would prefer to be regarded as such; in fact, most of them are paid an honorarium of $5 or so for the job.

You Can’t Hire Cars

A more serious problem for party accountants is the drivers who bring voters to the polls. Under the election act, section 73, anyone who hires any kind of conveyance to bring voters to the polls commits an offense. Any candidate whose agent does so might, if the offense were proven, lose his seal. That is the letter of the law.

Neither party obeys it. In the big city ridings whole fleets of taxicabs are often hired to get out the vote—it may lu» a “donation” by the taxi company, but it doesn’t go unrequited. In smaller places like Durham the candidates do their best to borrow enough automobiles, and sometimes they succeed. But even a borrowed car needs a driver, and one party organizer privately admitted that the drivers—on both sides, he said—get $10 or $15 apiece for their day’s work. As a nod to the letter of the law they’re usually paid after the election is over.

These are technical violations of the election act and as such they have to be concealed, but there’s nothing scandalous or shameful about them. In Durham County no one in either party so much as hinted that his opponents were resorting to any kind of corruption.

However, these tricks are trivial skirmishes in a political battle. The real question on which victory depends, aside from national issues, is “How much does your party do for the riding?”

Where the sitting member is a good M.P., and even Durham Liberals admit that Stephenson did a first-class job, he starts a campaign with a considerable advantage. In Durham voters don’t mind too much if their member seldom speaks in the house and makes no headlines except in the home-town paper. An M.P.’s function is to help his electors, regardless of party; Stephenson has helped a lot of them.

However, the Liberal candidate retains one weapon even in defeat. He controls the patronage—that is, he advises the Government whom to pick for federal jobs. One sign of the Liberal organization’s decrepitude was that until lately several such jobs went by default to outsiders. Since Johnny James took over that defect has been mended.

Some Johnny-Come-Latelies

Charlie Stephenson’s right-hand man in Port Hope, Wally Vick, is a factory manager who’s most unlikely ever to need any favors from Ottawa. He regards politics as a hobby which, he says, costs him about $50 a year and a lot of his spare time, but gives him a lot of pleasure. When he first became interested, about 12 years ago, he was inclined to favor the CCF; Dr. R. P. Vivian, later M.P.P. for Durham and Minister of Health in the Drew Government, converted him to Conservatism.

Few of Durham’s political figures give the impression of being particularly expert. I sat in on the organization of a women’s Liberal association in Bowmanville. About 30 ladies elected a prepared slate of officers, then listened politely to a long dull speech by a Liberal from a neighboring county.

Afterward, while tea was being served, I asked the new president how she got into politics. “I don’t quite know,” she said. “I went to a Liberal meeting not long ago, and before I got out they elected me secretary and asked me to organize a women’s group.”

Durham has its share of hereditary Grits and Tories, but the active ones don’t all belong to that group. Ted Woodyard, chief Liberal organizer for the county, was a member in good standing of the Progressive Conservative party until last February.

I asked him why he’d changed sides.

“Didn’t like George Drew’s line in federal politics,” he said.

Did he think that was general?

“Works both ways,” Woodyard said. “George Drew is causing more Grits to vote Tory, and more Tories to vote Grit, than anybody I ever heard of.”

It did seem to be true that Drew’s personality was a major factor in Durham County politics and in the tactics of all three parties.

The CCF, for example, was sharply divided on whether to run a candidate at all because the party didn’t get many votes in the last federal and provincial elections in Durham. It looks as if CCF campaigning in Durham County will be half-hearted and many a CCF voter will vote Liberal to try and beat George Drew.

Among Liberals the issue oftenest mentioned in private talk is the cocktail-bar legislation which Drew introduced as Premier of Ontario. (Durham County is split about 50-50 between wets and drys, in both older parties.) Prime Minister St. Laurent’s name seldom came up; Liberals just argued “the Government’s done a pretty fair

job.” Of such questions as provincial rights, I didn’t hear a word from anybody.

Mainly, the election in Durham County seemed to be a straight contest between Charlie Stephenson and Johnny James, two men everyone knew and liked, who were fighting without rancor for a hard and thankless job.

Stephenson wants to win because he now has no other occupation. He sold his garage business and the commercial buildings he owned in Port Hope. He hadn’t the time to attend to them once he got into Parliament. He now owns a tobacco farm operated on a share-crop basis, and that’s all. It cost him a financial sacrifice to go into politics in the first place, but now it’s his only full-time job. Also, he suffered a personal tragedy a year ago when his wife died. He has two grown-up daughters. If he should be defeated on June 27 Stephenson won’t quite know what to do with himself.

James wants to win because defeat would make his position in his newspaper even more uncomfortable than it is now. Otherwise he hasn’t much to gain by victory. Ever since his nomination last March he’s seen almost nothing of his two small children. His wife is loyally doing her best for him, but she hates politics—the phone ringing all day long, Johnny away until midnight or later almost every night in the week, and the prospect of six months’ separation each year for the next five years. The politician’s wife is the real heroine of democracy.

But people still want to go into this thankless game, and in Durham County you can understand why. It would be a very satisfying thing to represent those friendly and decent people, to be their contact with an impersonal state. It would be worth while to help them straighten out their problems and help a government to understand just what those problems are.

If Durham County represents democracy in action, then democracy is a pretty sight. ★