PREVIEWING the 1960s

Canada

Blair Fraser November 7 1959
PREVIEWING the 1960s

Canada

Blair Fraser November 7 1959

Canada

Will the Tories rule the decade?

THE POLITICAL OUTLOOK

Blair Fraser

It’s a good bet that Canada will have three national elections, not two as custom would dictate, in the 60s. The first may well be called in 1961, two years before it becomes obligatory, and it will fix the shape of Canadian politics for the rest of the decade.

If the Conservatives win this first campaign decisively, their enemies concede them an excellent chance of remaining in power for a generation, like the Liberals before them. The Liberal party would be decapitated and demoralized by a third consecutive trouncing, and would have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

But Conservative chances of decisive victory, overwhelming a year ago, have lately declined somewhat. One astute Tory strategist thinks an election this winter would give the Liberals 100 seats, double their present strength. A recovery of that magnitude, with some revival of CCF and Social Credit at Conservative expense, would bring back a Liberal government before too long.

Earnest efforts will be made to change this situation in the coming year. For at least that long, and probably the next year too, the Conservatives will have prosperity on their side. Boom periods since World War II have lasted roughly three years each, so with any luck the current one should endure until late 61 or early ‘62. Then another recession is likely, perhaps a tougher one than the 1957 - 58 downturn. That’s why 1961 appears a likely election year.

How can a government with a huge majority call an election after only three years in office? To an experienced politician this is no problem. All he needs is a grievance that he can state in clear, simple language, and if none exists he can easily contrive one.

Take, for example, reform of the Senate. Every party has paid lip service to that objective, ever since Confederation, so none would dare oppose it in principle. If a drastic Senate reform bill were to pass the House of Commons and run into veto in the upper chamber (as it assuredly would do if it were drasticenough) then what more natural than an appeal to the people?

This example is not fantastic. Conservative tacticians have given it some thought, and like it very well. It might even be combined with a likelier issue that has already begun to emerge—the control of money.

Prime Minister Diefenbaker has said with righteous indignation that "tight money” is no fault of his. If anyone has a tight money policy it must be the chartered banks, or the Bank of Canada, or both. If "they” are plotting to bar simple folk from a rightful share in prosperity, then "they” must be foiled by changes in the law'. Such talk, on top of budget deficits and sliding bond prices, has made bankers and investment dealers speechless wdth rage. One visitor from Wall Street, watching in a Toronto club the prime minister's TV performance on tight money, exclaimed: "Why, this man is worse than Roosevelt.”

The remark neatly demonstrates the problem facing L. B. Pearson as opposition leader. In some ways it will be helpful to him that the Diefenbaker government has offended, affronted and appalled the business community (for one thing the destitute Grits should have an easier time raising money) but it could also be dangerous. Roosevelt, loo. made enemies of bankers and businessmen, and made the fact his greatest political asset.

Pearson wall take great care to avoid the trap that caught every Roosevelt opponent from Hoover to Dewey — the appearance of being a candidate of the bankers against the people, the rich against the poor. He will not be drawn into complicated arguments on monetary policy. He will stick to his general charges of mismanagement, ineptitude, incompetence, and let the government do its own explaining.

At this stage both parties are cautious in their predictions. The leader of the opposition prophesies only "a return to stable, sound government through a party that represents all liberally minded people.”

One leading Conservative says: "If we can hold the small-1 liberal vote, we shall be all right.” Pearson would be the first to agree that in 1957 and 1958 the small-1 liberal vote did go Conservative. Even the big-L Liberals knew they had been too long in power, and their fight for another term was half-hearted. Next time it will be different. Win, lose or draw, nobody’s going to be half-hearted.

But once the initial struggle for power is settled decisively, the outlook for some years thereafter is fairly smooth. The same economists who see trouble ahead, in the fairly near future, predict a return by the middle 60s to rapid and steady expansion with no great need for massive intervention by government. The party in office will take credit for the good times without the trouble and jeopardy of actually doing anything; the parties out of office will grow old and bitter in the wilderness.