The lone pine of Parliament Hill

Aloof and unbending, Howard Green was a surprise appointment as Canada’s new Minister of External Affairs. Will he create any fresh surprises in the conduct of his difficult and onerous duties?

BLAIR FRASER August 1 1959

The lone pine of Parliament Hill

Aloof and unbending, Howard Green was a surprise appointment as Canada’s new Minister of External Affairs. Will he create any fresh surprises in the conduct of his difficult and onerous duties?

BLAIR FRASER August 1 1959

The lone pine of Parliament Hill

Aloof and unbending, Howard Green was a surprise appointment as Canada’s new Minister of External Affairs. Will he create any fresh surprises in the conduct of his difficult and onerous duties?


Veterans of No. 3 Platoon, A Company, of the Kootenay Battalion still remember, with a kind of resentful admiration, what used to happen to their rum ration in Flanders in 1916.

The battalion saw a lot of action with heavy casualties, and the normal practice was to draw the daily tot of rum for every man on each unit's nominal strength. If some had been killed or wounded in the meantime, there would be that much more rum for the survivors.

Not in No. 3 Platoon. The rum requisition sent back to the quartermaster w-as always precise. It stated the number of men actually on strength and in the line at the moment and was signed by the platoon’s lieutenant, a tall, thin, spectacled, earnest, competent, conscientious teetotaler named Howard Charles Green.

That was'probably not the first time and certainly not the last when Howard Green's unyielding integrity proved a trial to friends and colleagues. In twenty-four years of public life Green has not been known to say anything he didn’t believe or do anything he didn't think right. He gets from all parties the respect that such a record of honor deserves. But there have been times when even the most scrupulous of his fellow workers could have w ished he was just a little more pliable.

This is part of the answer to a question Canadians have been asking ever since Green became Secretary of State for External Affairs last June 4: What kind of foreign minister will this introvert Vancouver lawyer make, representing a country that prides itself on being active in world affairs, and working for a prime minister who has strong views of his own and a habit of putting those view's into effect? After Green’s appointment was announced one of his old friends said: “Gromyko may think he has stubborn men to deal with, but he hasn't seen anything yet. Wait until he meets Howard Green.”

“Howard is a lone pine,” said a Conservative MP who has known and liked Green for tw'enty years. "He stands by himself and he doesn’t bend, no matter how' hard the wind blows. I suppose at one time or another he has exasperated every Conservative party leader since R. B. Bennett by his refusal to give way an inch."

Whether he includes John Diefenbaker among the “exasperated” party leaders, the MP didn’t say. Probably not. Diefenbaker and Green are old personal friends w'ho were allies in some memorable fights within the Opposition caucus. Also. Green’s prickly quality has been much less noticeable since the party came into office. As House leader he has revealed a hitherto unsuspected vein of humor, the kind of easy banter that doesn’t lend itself to quotation hut does oil the wheels of parliamentary business and take a lot of the bitterness out of debate.

He has not said much, as minister, to show what his views on foreign policy may be. From various speeches during his twenty-four years in parliament. though, it is possible to make a few plausible


• Canada will show more interest in the problems of the Pacific area. T his has heen one of Green’s recurrent topics ever since 1935 — that Canada is a Pacific as well as an Atlantic power, and should remember it more often. There is no indication of any specific change of policy. It is not true, as reported, that Green favors immediate recognition of Communist China; no dramatic reversals are expected, but there will be a shift of focus.

• Canada will be more strongly and more reliably a supporter of British policy. Green has a deep emotional attachment to “the British Empire” (as he continued to call it long after “Commonwealth” had become fashionable even in Conservative circles).

• Canada w ill be wary — not hostile to. just wary -— of any closer entanglement with the United States. Green has pointed continued on page 49

continued on page 49

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repeatedly, year after year, to the danger of getting "under the thumb of the Americans.” He may add quite truthfully that some of his best friends are Americans, but the feeling of apprehension is there.

How or even whether it will show itself is another matter. Green in office is a milder man, a more genial, more gentle, more soft-spoken man, than the rather dour figure who used to rise on Mr. Speaker’s left. Most people think the representational side of diplomacy, the simple but difficult task of making Canada look to other people a likeable country, is the job Howard Green will do best.

The old Green stubbornness is still there, though. As minister of PublicWorks he has been using it mainly to fend off demands from his own backbenchers for patronage appointments or pork-barrel contracts. In this never-ending struggle he has been remarkably successful. Officials in Public Works, who are not a sentimental lot, speak of Howard Green in the most glowing terms of affection and gratitude.

"He cast a spell of intense personal loyalty over the whole department,” says one of. them.

They had reason to be grateful. PublicWorks had long been notorious, under the Liberals, as one of the few remaining sloughs of old-style political patronage. And. although Robert H. Winters began extensively draining this slough when he became minister in 1954, there were still a few soggy patches left when Green took over. Under Green, who holds a high opinion of Winters and had no intention of upsetting the reform program, nobody in the department was summarily fired. Even the fifteen or twenty people who were "ministerial appointments” of the Liberals, not career civil servants at all. remained in their jobs — to their own vast astonishment.

This was no oversight, it was deliberate policy. One civil servant in the minister's office was ready to retire on pension in the summer of 1957. Green said. "Please don't retire just now. wait a bit." He didn't want to give anyone a wrong impression. At least one of the secretaries now on his personal staff held the same job under Bob Winters’ predecessor, Mr. Justice Alphonse Fournier.

Green also made sure there would be no wholesale head-chopping among the temporary or casual labor. People who had worked for the department for three years, or for an even shorter time if they were war veterans, stayed on the job. although some had a record of minorpolitical activity.

Policy on contracts has been the same. As soon as Green took over he asked for complete details on the system of calling for tenders. When he learned that the Canadian Construction Association was satisfied that the method was fair, he let it stand. The changes he has made, in the main, have been extensions and not restrictions of the general principle of calling for open tenders and taking the lowest reliable bid.

"Of course he's had to give a little

ground occasionally, here and there," says one of his officials, "but he's really done wonderfully well, considering his party has been out twenty-two years. Howard was able to keep the party politicians at bay."

Of course not all the hungry Tories feel he was "doing well” to keep them thus “at bay.” There has been much resentment. On the day after Green's appointment to External Affairs, a cynical Conservative remarked:

"I wondered, listening to all that applause yesterday, how many of my colleagues were cheering because Howard is going to External Affairs, and how many because he's leaving Public Works.”

Another said quite frankly: “We need a minister of Public Works who has some awareness of political realities.”

It s only fair to add that not all the critics of Green’s rigidity are frustrated pork-seekers. The friend who called him “a lone pine” didn't mean it altogether as a compliment.

“In the old Opposition caucus, time after time, it would be Howard Green against the rest,” he said. “Often it got pretty tiresome. Back in the war years, his usual complaint was that the party wasn't giving enough hell to the Grits — not taking a firm enough stand on issues like conscription, not pressing hard enough for more effort. But after the war he'd take the same high line on a lot of other issues, all of them forgotten now and some of them trivial even at the time.”

Another old acquaintance said: Howard is a man of very high principles and very deep prejudices. He can't always tell which is which.”

An example often cited is the party schism in Green's native province of British Columbia — a split which ruined the Conservatives for years out there and still bedevils their provincial organization. Green had no use for Herbert H. Anscomb, provincial Conservative leader and a member of the coalition government that fell to pieces early in 1952. Green detested not only the idea of coalition with the Liberals, but the whole coalition crowd as individuals. Some of them may indeed have been unsavory characters, but others were respectable ( onservativcs whom the party badly needed: Green would have nothing to do with any of them.

“Howard won’t even sit down and talk to anyone from another faction of which he disapproves,” said one of his Conservative critics.

An older instance of the same thing was Green's feud with Harry Stevens, of Vancouver, the minister in Bennett's cabinet who resigned in 1935. after a long period of almost open dissension with bis chief, to found the stillborn Reconstruction Party. Though Green is almost painfully non-partisan in other situations — as when he’s running a government department — loyalty, in his view, is the cornerstone of all the virtues, and he would have no dealings with the Stevens group — and won't to this day.

"Howard will tell you, and he really believes, that his quarrel with Stevens was entirely a matter of moral principle,” the same Conservative says. “But the old hands in B. C. remember that Harry Stevens beat Bob Green, Howard's uncle, in a fight for the provincial party leadership in 1904. So all the Greens were brought up to think that Stevens was a terrible man.”

Be that as it may. it’s true that Howard Green's political views date back to the mists of early childhood. He can't remember a time when he wasn't interested in politics.

He was born in 1895 in Kasio, a boom

mining town in the interior of British Columbia. The town itself was only two years old when Howard was born, and his Uncle Bob, his father’s partner in the local general store, was kaslo's first mayor. Later Uncle Bob became an MEA. still later an MP. finally Senator Robert Green, still remembered with respect by older British Columbians. Uncle Bob was a close friend of Premier McBride, who always dined with the Greens when he visited the Kootenay district. Young Howard grew up determined that he too would go into public life.

Of course. World War I interfered. He was an undergraduate w'hen it broke out, and not yet nineteen; he waited to take his BA in 1915. enrolling meanwhile in the Officers' Training Corps, so that when he graduated and joined the Kootenay Battalion he already had a second lieutenant's commission. After a year in the trenches he became an instructor at the Canadian Corps Infantry School, then a staff officer with the Sixth Brigade. He was sent to Germany with the occupation force, then posted to demobilization duty and didn't get out of the army until July, 1919. After an accelerated postwar law course at Osgoode Hall, Toronto, and a couple of years articled to a Vancouver law firm, he was called to the bar in 1922.

But Green only took law as training for public life. He plunged into politics at once — not as a candidate for many years yet. but as a lowly party worker. By 1935 he had earned the nomination in Vancouver South and, though 1935 was a disastrous year for the Conservative Party. Green won the seat. It is one of his few' boasts (he's a modest man) that he has never been defeated in an election nor opposed for a nomination.

He hates to travel

Since then he has had experience in a wide variety of policy fields. He was minister of defense production during the first year the government was in office, and before that was a studious critic of national defense. He w'as the minister in charge of the housing program which Liberals concede to be the Diefenbaker government’s outstanding accomplishment. He has always been interested in welfare legislation — his first speech to parliament, in 1936. was in favor of pensions for the blind, and he and John Diefenbaker talked the party out of opposing family allowances in 1945. At one time or another he's been active in veterans' affairs, postwar reconstruction, conservation and development of resources, in fact almost every sector of public affairs with one glaring exception—foreign policy. There, his experience and his visible interest have been practically nil.

Since the Conservatives came to power more than a hundred MPs. including at least fifteen ministers, have been abroad as Canadian representative on official or semi-official missions. Howard Green has not been one of them. True, the Public Works minister might not appear to have much occasion to go outside Canada, but neither has the minister of Northern Affairs. I he record seems to indicate that anyone can get on some delegation who really wants to go. Howard Green hasn't wanted to go. He doesn't like travel, hasn't been overseas except as a soldier in the first war, and seldom even visits the United States.

He doesn't like entertaining, either. He and his second wife ( his first wife died in 1953) live very quietly in the middle of Ottawa's bustling social life. When parliament is in session Green, as House leader, is on duty there three nights a week; other evenings he prefers to spend at home reading, usually official papers he

has taken home from the office. Unlike the prime minister. Green doesn't like getting up early, and has trouble getting to work by nine or even nine-thirty, hut he puts in just as long a day. Often he is at his office past midnight.

He has a son and three grandchildren living in the village of Manotick, tw-elve miles out of town, and when he can get away he likes to spend time with them. Otherwise his favorite recreation is a brisk walk, or occasionally to have a few friends in for the evening.

However, these friends have no worries about the Greens’ ability to play official hosts. Mrs. Green, a former science professor at the University of British Columbia, has all along done considerable entertaining of parliamentary wives, who say she does it well and seems to enjoy it. As for her husband, most of his friends seem to agree with one who said: “If Howard thinks it is his duty to entertain people, he will do it—and if he does it at all he’ll do it well.”

During his twenty-two years in Opposition he made many speeches on one or another aspect of foreign affairs, hut aside from his interest in the Pacific only two principles emerge clearly. One is his bias for “the British Empire,” the other is a lively distrust (though not, he would insist, a dislike) of the neighboring colossus, the United States of America.

Actually Howard Green’s first statement as minister of External Affairs was a defense of the United States, or rather of American conduct. George Hees, the minister of Transport, had been making statements about the passage of U. S. naval vessels through the Welland canal, in which Hees sounded a hit like Horatius at the bridge repelling a Yankee invasion. Green cut in to say, “It would be unfortunate indeed if the impression should go abroad either in Canada or the United States that this matter is not being treated in a very friendly and considerate way by both governments.”

He explained that there had been the exchange of notes required by the RushBagot Treaty before any ships of war can enter the Great Lakes, that Canada had agreed to the course suggested by the U. S. Navy, that neither country had foreseen the congestion now tying up the Welland Canal. In Washington and in Ottawa “everything has been done in good faith in connection with this proposal.”

His personal relations with Americans are excellent. U. S. Ambassador Richard Wigglesworth is a man particularly congenial to the new' Canadian minister of External Affairs, since both are old hands in politics and newcomers to diplomacy. On one of the rare occasions when Green has acted as official host for the government. his guests happened to be an American delegation; Green's direct, friendly manner made a great impression on the visitors, and the affair was a huge success.

A visiting Irish statesman once said to a small audience in Ottawa: “You Canadians seem to he the opposite of us Irish. We hate England, but we get on very well with Englishmen. You adore England, hut you don't like the English much.” Green's attitude toward the U.S.A. seems to he a modified, diluted version of this Irish attitude toward England.

“If the Canadian people aim no higher than for Canada to be a small nation, she'll never be anything else — and she'll end up under the thumb of the United States," he said in a typical speech toward the end of the war. "I believe Canada's destiny is to he a great world power, standing beside Great Britain in the British Empire . . . We are a British nation, and 1 believe the great majority of the

Canadian people intend we shall remain


Early the same year, in a speech often quoted even now, he had come out strongly for “one common policy” in world affairs, a single Commonwealth policy. Green says today that this dream of “one voice” for the Commonwealth is obsolete; the Commonwealth took a different course after the war, he says, and now its great function is to be a bridge between East and West (meaning Europe and Asia, not the Free World and the Communist bloc). He has no intention of trying to put the clock back.

But whatever changes time may have made in ideas for specific policies, the Suez debate two and half years ago revealed the same emotions and convictions. To Green. Suez was “the most disgraceful period for Canada in the history of this nation.” When the General Assembly of the United Nations condemned Britain and France for attacking Egypt, “the Canadian government didn't have the backbone to get up and vote against that resolution; they were too busy currying favor w'ith the Americans.” Colonel Nasser, “this tinpot dictator to whom Canada has been a better friend than she has to Britain and France” had been "fomenting trouble in North Africa against the French”; yet* Canada’s “whole attitude to Egypt w'as unbelievably soft,” and “the moment Britain and France moved, Canada rushed to condemn them.” He ended the speech with a sentence that still rings in a good many ears, both friendly and hostile:

“It’s high time Canada had a government that won’t knife Canada’s best friends in the back.”

What does Albion say?

Such words are not soon forgotten. There is coolness to this day between Green and Lester Pearson, who as minister of. External Affairs was largely responsible for Canada’s policy on Suez: the two men have respect for each other, but not liking. Green is not likely to get from Pearson, in debates on foreign policy, the gentle treatment accorded to the late Sidney Smith.

This is not just because Smith w'as an old friend, it’s also because Smith and Pearson agreed on all important questions of foreign policy, including Suez. Smith said so to reporters on the day he was sworn in; the prime minister hastily shushed him. but Smith's remark w'as no mere gaffe — he meant it. and he often repeated it in private. He added, too. that the secret papers to which he now had access made him all the more strongly believe Anthony Eden was w'rong and Lester Pearson right on the Suez issue.

Green hasn't yet had time to read the Suez papers. He is still minister of Public Works and House leader, and it’s all he can do to keep up with the barest minimum of daily routine in External Affairs. But if any secret documents convince Howard Green that Britain was w'rong in 1956, it will be a great surprise to most people who know him.

Last autumn, when Prime Minister Diefenbaker was traveling in Asia and Green was acting head of the government, a tricky vote came up in the UN General Assembly on one of the resolutions about Cyprus. Sidney Smith was away too. on a visit to South America. The Canadian delegation asked for cabinet instructions. Back from the acting prime minister came the word: Canada should find out what the British were going to do. and vote the same way.

Earlier, when he was minister of defense production, the Americans wanted to set up in Canada part of the communi-

cations system for BMEWS — the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. All they wanted at the outset was to send teams into the sub-Arctic to pick the sites for micro-wave relay stations, but the request went unanswered for a very long time. Then when the actual terms were to be negotiated, the U. S. found Canada unexpectedly sticky on various details. Finally the Americans dropped the w'hole thing and put an underwater cable down instead, at nearly double the cost but without international complications.These things may have been mere coincidence, but not all Americans think so.

Such items were recalled with apprehension when Green was named to External Affairs. Some people thought they indicated a step back toward colonialism, to a Canada that would blindly “vote with Mom.” Others, and they seem the better informed, say these incidents are both unusual and misleading, and no cause for alarm. However, there may well be a period during which the minister and his new department will look each other over rather warily.

Perhaps the confrontation is deliberate. Prime Minister Diefenbaker takes a rather sardonic view' of the External Affairs department. “They don’t do enough to keep themselves warm,” is one remark attributed to him. Many other Conservatives are suspicious of a band of men w'ho. they feel, are all admirers, protégés and imitators of Lester B. Pearson, the Liberal Party leader and therefore the enemy.

Some put the thought in non-partisan terms. “I think Howard Green w'as the best possible appointment, just because he’s different from any we’ve had before,” said a Conservative MP. “Those fellows are all the same type, and up to now we’ve had ministers w'ho were just like them. It’s time they had to deal with somebody who isn’t too damned congenial.”

It’s true that the people who have handled Canada’s affairs abroad, from John A. Macdonald on dow'n. have had remarkably similar views on what Canadian policy ought to be. But it’s also a historical fact that although these men came in the end to have the same opinions, they started out with very different ones.

John A. himself, with all his pride that “a British subject I was born, a British subject I will die,” refused a British request to send Canadian troops to Suez: he would not. he said, help “to get Gladstone and Co. out of the hole they have plunged themselves into by their own imbecility.” Sir Robert Borden, another great empire patriot, became the founder of Canada’s autonomy in foreign affairs by insisting on Canada’s right to sign the Treaty of Versailles as a separate, sovereign nation.

It’s interesting to observe the same transformation beginning now. George Drew, Canada’s high commissioner to London, was a strong imperialist too, when he was Conservative Party leader — almost as strong as How'ard Green. Friends say he’s not so strong today. The change began last year, they say, at the Geneva conference on the law of the sea. Some of the British delegates undertook in a kindly w-ay to instruct the Canadians on the right way to think, speak and vote; Drew’s reaction was unfavorable. Friends who have seen him lately report, with amusement and perhaps with some exaggeration, that he often begins a sentence w'ith “I’m not anti-British, but ...”

Howard Green, the lone pine, is as little given to changing his mind as any man in public life. Still, it will be interesting to see how' Canadian foreign policy develops under his guidance,