Backstage at Ottawa

Backstage at Ottawa

Ross Thatcher’s glum conversion

BLAIR FRASER September 15 1956
Backstage at Ottawa

Backstage at Ottawa

Ross Thatcher’s glum conversion

BLAIR FRASER September 15 1956

Backstage at Ottawa


Ross Thatcher’s glum conversion

It would be interesting to know whether most Liberals are proud or ashamed of one fact about their newest convert, Ross Thatcher, the MP from Moose Jaw, Sask., who was originally CCF and more recently an Independent. The fact is that Thatcher did not become a Grit out of any sudden spontaneous enthusiasm for Liberal principles, policies or personalities. On the contrary, he joined them glumly and reluctantly, after having tried out and rejected all the available alternatives.

The status of last resort, or least of four evils, may grieve those Grits (if there are any) who regard their party as a band of crusaders. The more realistic will know that many a voter has been facing for twenty years the same dilemma Ross Thatcher resolved by joining the Liberals in July. In spite or because of this fact. Liberals have been in power throughout the entire lifetime of young men and women who will be casting their first votes at the next general election.

Thatcher’s onetime allies in the CCF. with whom his relations were chronically chilly for a long time before he formally left their ranks seventeen months ago, have been saying for years that Thatcher was a fellow traveler of the Grits. By now a convert’s zeal may impel Thatcher to agree with this statement, but he used to deny it with considerable heat. According to him. he was never anything but a loyal, dues-paying member of the

CCF, which he joined in a burst of radical sympathy soon after he graduated from Queen’s University in the 1930s.

But as he grew older (forty next May) and richer (he is a very prosperous hardware merchant) Thatcher’s radicalism cooled. Socialism appeared to him more and more “unrealistic”—one of his favorite words of disparagement. Nevertheless he remained a CCF member because, he insisted, most CCF voters in Saskatchewan had gone through exactly the same transition and were no more socialist than he. They were just ordinary folk who were fed up with the Grits and the Tories.

Not so, at any rate, the CCF members of parliament. They were still far too radical for Thatcher’s taste, and he too conservative for theirs. They would squirm and fume when this heretical colleague got up to denounce government spending, call for a means test for old-age pensioners, or wonder aloud whether the farmers were making too much fuss about their economic plight. It was a relief all round when he finally left the CCF early in 1955 to become an Independent.

Thatcher never regarded this as anything but a temporary stage. He had no intention of remaining a lone wolf indefinitely, so he began to look over the other opposition parties with a view to enlisting. It didn't occur to him then to look at those Liberals of whose wasteful continued on page 93

continued on page 93

Backstage at Ottawa continued from page 8

“Listening to George Drew makes me madder than anything else I know,” Ross Thatcher confided

extravagance he had been the most consistent (and sometimes the only) parliamentary critic.

As a free-enterprise man Thatcher first thought of joining the Progressive Conservatives. No Conservative candidate has much chance in any Saskatchewan riding (unless his name happens to be John Diefenbaker), but this alone would not have discouraged Thatcher. He thinks the Liberals too are going to be beaten in Saskatchewan. What put him off the Conservative Party was not its slim hope at the polls, but its words and deeds in parliament.

To Thatcher it often seemed that the Conservatives were trying to prove themselves more radical than the CCF. They didn’t seem to him to bo a free-enterprise party any more—not as he understood the term. Also, he couldn’t work up any enthusiasm about Conservative leadership.

“Listening to George Drew makes me madder faster than anything else 1 know,” he confided to a friend.

Having crossed off the Conservatives, Thatcher took a long and by no means unsympathetic look at Social Credit. He thinks Social Credit is the only party now gaining strength in the west, and he admires the businesslike attitudes of Premier Ernest Manning in Alberta.

On their side, the leaderless Saskatchewan Social Creditors would have been delighted to enrol such a man as Thatcher. It was widely reported—and, so far as I know, never denied—that Thatcher was offered the Social Credit leadership in Saskatchewan before the much-publicized bid to Robert Kohaly, Conservative ex-Ml.A, a year ago last spring.

Precept, not practice, was the stumbling block that prevented Thatcher from joining Social Credit. He couldn’t swallow their gospel.

"1 tried as hard as 1 could, but 1 just couldn't understand it,” he said later. "I can't make out what they're talking about with their monetary theories.”

That left him with no party to support except the Liberals. He had been attacking them with vigor and effect for more than ten years—Conservative MPs had lots of fun in parliament one day, reading quotations from the former speeches of this new lamb in the Liberal fold. He is on record as believing they are wasteful of the taxpayers’ money, incompetent, unbusinesslike and generally deplorable.

But in the end he could find no preferable alternative.

Backers of Lester B. Pearson for the Liberal leadership are less hopeful now than they were in June that their man will still be available when the next Liberal convention is called. They are again afraid that he may be working for the

North Atlantic Treaty Organization by that time.

It has been prophesied for years, of course, that the job of secretary-general to NATO would be offered to Pearson whenever Tord Ismay retires, as he is

expected to do within the next few months. The story was last revived by no less eminent a newspaper than The Times of London, at the time of the NATO Council meeting in Paris last May.

Many of Pearson’s friends then believed that if the job were offered to him he would turn it down. NATO seemed an increasingly superfluous organization. In spite of all the talk about its conversion to nonmilitary purposes most observers, including Pearson himself. were distinctly pessimistic about any such useful purpose being devised for the organization.

But Pearson was one of three foreign ministers—the Three Wise Men—appointed in May to study the possibilities of nonmilitary uses for NATO, and to report on them in December. As a result of his summer’s work Pearson is vastly more cheerful than he was last spring about the future of NATO, and is again convinced that there is a big job ahead for the organization and for its secretary-general.

One function that everybody mentioned as a possibility for NATO was “political consultation,” a rather vague phrase that in theory is supposed to be part of NATO’s work already. The record in the past had been unencouraging though —allies continued to make their own moves in foreign policy and “consulted” each other after the event.

But this summer, presumably as a result of the renewed interest in NATO’s nonmilitary services, consultation among the western allies has been more fre-

Standard Practice

When people say “It takes all kinds To make a world,” one always finds This easily foreseeable:

You’re going to be told about A character who’s out-and-out Bizarre or disagreeable.

quent and more faithful than ever before. Also, they have had rather more to consult about, and will probably have still more in future.

NATO is obviously at the beginning of a general and fairly substantial reduction of armed forces by all its members. This was one reason why many people assumed it to be a withering, shrinking organization. Already the western partners have found the opposite to be true.

Unilateral decisions to cut defense budgets or defense forces could lead—in one or two cases very nearly have led—to a general rush to disarm, which would have the appearance and some of the effect of panic. NATO’s machinery for consultation and co-ordination is proving just as essential for the reduction of strength as it was for the original buildup.

The assignment of the Three Wise Men is to find ways of improving and enlarging that machinery for peaceful purposes. To that end they sent out questionnaires to all member governments, asking in very specific terms what each thought could be done and what each was in fact prepared to do. The answers were due in before the end of August, and the committee hoped to get all foreign ministers together to discuss them in September.

But regardless of the result of this operation, Pearson is now convinced— as he was not convinced three months ago—that NATO still has a big job to do. He also thinks that NATO is doing

it. ★