Backstage at Ottawa

Backstage at Ottawa

Tory dilemma: who can replace Drew?

October 27 1956
Backstage at Ottawa

Backstage at Ottawa

Tory dilemma: who can replace Drew?

October 27 1956

Backstage at Ottawa

Tory dilemma: who can replace Drew?


It took George Drew's illness to make Conservatives realize how close he had come to being their Indispensable Man.

Not that they hadn't fully accept| ed him as leader. There was an anti-Drew faction in the party at one time. especially after the 953 elect ion defeat. hut it disappeared long ago. Anyth rig that niav have been left of it Was wiped out by the great debate on the Defense Pro duct ion Act last \`ear. s~ lien the ( onservatives under Drew's gene ralship were able to block a law that even the liberals now admit was a singularly bad one. Part morale rose higher than it had been in niore than twenty years. and I)rcws per on~tl prestige reached a new peak.

Rut cven then it's doubt ful if maiiv (`onservatives knew. as they L flOW flOW. how important Drew had become to the part v They didn't knoW how hard it would he. in the party's present eireunistances. to find a man to iieeeed him.

Within hours of l)rew\ return from Bermuda fur h is seeuiid adflhIsSiOil to hospital. C onservat ives were tat king about preparations for a nat iona convent ion. There Was nO disloyalty in this-thev merely took it br eranted that he wouldnt be able to endure the strain of an other session of part lament tot lowed by the ordeal of a eneral eke ion campaign. ihe v thought theretore. that the part~ s~ould h.~sc to move as fast as possible in order to give a new leader ma \ 101 tim time to make himself known and get his org~t n ion rc~nd V or t he ha it Ic expected next \IaV and June.

Rut cven then, there were many powerful VOIeC'~ who di'~agreed.

I `in against calling a con vent ion unles~. and until it is absolutely unavoidable, said one sen or member of the party. ``I ct ( eorge take it easy all I hrough the session let hi iii even take it easy through the cam paign. bitt lets keep him as leader if we possibly can. Among those who shared this view ssere sonic ol the most prominent ( onservative NI l's. 1 hey svere all, of course, frie rids and warm tip porters of George Drew, hut that was not their only and perhaps not even their pri mars reason for opposi rig a leadership convention. 1 hey were afraid a convent ion now would choose John Dietenbaker NIP foi Prince Albert, as the new parts'

I)iefen baker has t wicc contested the leadership already. ii 942 he was one of those. alone with Miiidoch \1 ae Pherson. of Reci na. and II owa id ( i reen of Va neouver. who ran at the convent ion that picked John l3racken. In 94~ he was the principal contender against (Jcor~c Drew. and he took his defeat hard. l:vc rv hod V took it for gra n ted. wit liou t eve ii ask i ni~. that he would make another try br the job this lime and would take defeat even harder~-•if in fact he were defeated. lie niieht not he. He has stron~ support in western ( )ntario as s~ell as on the prairies. In the \ I a ru imes. he is regarded as one of the partv~s most efteclive vote-getters. In Quebec he has no support, but Quebec is not quite as decisive a factor at a Conservative as at a I iberal convention.

continued on page 101

Backstage at Ottawa continued from page 8

"Conservative members think Diefanbaker is a good stick handler who won't pass the puck"

Even his enemies concede that Diefenbaker is one of the party’s ablest debaters ir parliament. He is also much in demand as a campaign speaker — again, even among his enemies.

Why then don’t they want Diefenbaker as party leader? The commonest answer is he’s a good parliamentarian but he isn't a good party man. Diefenbaker's friends interpret this to mean that the so-called big shots of Bay Street don t like him. This is true but it's not the whole truth. Many Conservative members of parliament would not accept Diefenbakct's leadership (if they could help it) because they think he is a solo performer rather than a team player—a good stick handler who won't pass the puck.

Aside from these considerations Diefenbaker is sixty-one years old. and his ovn health is by no means robust. There is doubt in many Conservative minds wfhether he could stand the strains and pressures of leadership. All these doubts on the one hand, and Diefenbaker's national fame and strength among rank-andfile delegates on the other, explain the instant formation of a "stop Diefenbaker movement as soon as George Drew fell ill.

Donald Fleming, MP for Toronto_ Eglinton, was also a candidate for party leadership at the 1948 convention and would doubtless stand again. Fleming is one of the outstanding figures in the present opposition. He is industrious, tenacious and formidable in debate. He also speaks French better than any other Conservative whose native tongue is English, and would probably draw stronger support from the Quebec delegation than any other aspirant.

But Fleming, too. rouses apprehensions among many of his fellow MPs. He is a deadly solemn fellow—takes himself and life very seriously indeed. I he Conservative caucus as a whole is not exactly a playful group, but it would prefer more humor and lightness ot touch in its leader than Fleming is equipped to provide.

George Hoes, MP for Toronto-Broadvievv, might be taken as the other extreme in personality. He is a jolly, friendly, easygoing extrovert who makes friends quickly and doesn’t mind a joke on himself. For some time he has been quite frankly and openly a candidate for the succession to George Drew as party leader, and although he has never presumed to be a rival to Drew himself he has challenged the rule of the small group of senior men around George Drew whose influence is usually decisive in caucus. It was over the opposition of this group that Hees was elected president of the National Progressive C onservative Association two years ago, an event which brought Hees into the limelight as a leader of the party’s young Turks.

However, the big difference of opinion then was about organization, not leadership. Even some of those who voted for Hees as national president have since made it plain that they wouldn’t vote for him tts party leader. On the other hand, the men he opposed at that time have not forgotten or forgiven. They will do all they can. and they can do a great deal, to prevent Hees from ever getting the leadership.

One of the many reasons for the movement to draft Leslie Frost. Premier of Ontario, as federal chief was the fact that he would automatically stop both I-leming and Hees. As Ontario members they would hardly dare oppose such a towering Ontario figure as the unbeatable Frost, whose career in provincial politics has been a triumphal procession.

So great is the Conservative respect for Frost as a vote-getter that federal MPs are said to be willing even to forget his statements last spring in support of the 1 ibcrals' pipeline scheme. At the time they spoke of him as a traitor to the party, and it's doubtful that all the resentment has really vanished even now. But it would he swallowed, perhaps, it Frost

would consent to run for the leadership.

Frost has said in the past, though, that he is not interested in the federal field. He is sixty-one. less than a year younger than George Drew, and a wound from World War 1 still bothers him; there has been intermittent talk of his retirement even from the comparatively light burdens of the Ontario premiership. It's possible. of course, that he might give in to the unanimous call of a Conservative convention. nut the convention isn't likely to be unanimous—after all. there’s a lot of risk in bringing to the feulerai leadership a provincial politician, however successful. The Conservatives have not forgotten their experience with John Bracken. Moreover, Leslie Frost's most recent appearance on the national scene was as opponent of a tax-sharing deal on which Ontario takes a stand opposite to that of most provinces.

Hees and Fleming are young as politicians go—Hees is forty-six, Fleming fiftyone—but another Conservative MP is more distinctly a young candidate. Davie Fulton (Davie is his name, by the way, not a diminutive) was only twenty-nine when he was flown home from overseas to be Conservative candidate in Kamloops. B.C. He has survived both general elections since that first one of 1945, and now can call himself a parliamentary veteran even though he is only forty years old. A Rhodes Scholar, an excellent debater. an expert on the rules of parliament who got a lot of favorable notice in the pipeline debate last May. Fulton will be a powerful contender it he decides to try for the party leadership.

Fulton's best friends are inclined to think, though, that it's too soon for him to lead the party. Fie has grown noticeably during his eleven years in parliament; they think he is still growing, and would be better equipped next time.

Also. Fulton is a Roman Catholic. This is not the lethal drawback it might once have been for a Conservative aspirant, but it is not an advantage—Conservatives remember what happened to their last Roman Catholic leader. Robert Manion, who lost his own seal in 1940. There’s a general feeling that the party had better wait at least until the Liberals are led by a Protestant, before choosing a Roman Catholic leader of its own.

If Fulton is thought too young and too little known, both points weigh even more heavily against young Duff Roblin, Conservative leader in Manitoba. Roblin’s friends all say he will go far in Canadian politics, but even they admit he hasn’t gone far yet.

Other names crop up in discussion of the Conservative plight—Premier Hugh John Flemming of New Brunswick, but he is happy where he is and little known nationally; Sidney Smith, president of the University of Toronto. Dr. Smith would have been a candidate in 1942 it John Bracken had decided not to run. But in 1942 he was only forty-five years old, and he was president of the University of Manitoba—probably the most frustrating, exasperating, unsatisfying academic job in Canada. Now he is fifty-nine years old and president of a university that has impressive claims to be called Canada's best. Moreover, he has had no experience at all in politics, and his chances at a convention would be highly doubtful even if he decided to run.

Thus the process of elimination goes. Undoubtedly when the time comes the Conservatives will choose a leader, and the party will rally around him with more solidarity than would seem possible beforehand.

But there’s even less doubt that for here and now, all Conservatives would rather have George Drew stay on. ir