April 8 1961


April 8 1961


Saskatchewan's socialist premier “doesn't have to kiss babies — they kiss him.” His political wizardry may make all the difference in the left’s new drive for federal power


SOME DAY between now and August a jaunty little spellbinder named Thomas Clement Douglas will decide whether to stand for nomination as leader of Canada’s first new national political movement in a quarter of a century.

If Douglas does become a candidate, he will almost automatically be chosen to head the still unborn New Party in its first general election, probably in the spring of 1962. His chief support will come, officially, from an alliance between the country’s largest occupational organization, the Canadian Labor Congress, and its third-largest political organization, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. In fact, its sponsors concede, the real key to the New Party’s success or failure lies beyond the CLC and the CCF, neither of which has ever been able to deliver federal votes in wholesale lots.

The two parent groups can help to supply money, a machine and some strength at the polls, but if the New Party is to go anywhere they both feel it will ultimately have to sell itself, one voter at a time, to the country’s trade unionists, farmers, left-wing intellectuals, and

unclassifiable rebels against ninety-five consecutive years of government by either the Liberals or the Conservatives.

And that is why, suddenly last winter, Tommy Douglas became the New Party’s indispensable man and in a flurry of excited headlines the most newsworthy figure in Canada. On his lifetime record he is one of the surest vote-getters in the country’s history. He has been running for political office for 27 of his 56 years and during the last 26 he has been undefeated. He served two terms in the House of Commons and then led the Saskatchewan CCF party into office in 1944 as the first and, to now, only socialist government in Canada. He has remained premier of the province for almost seventeen years and through five elections. By the time his administration began the Depression was over, the drought and duststorms had subsided, and the mortgage companies, the banks, the grain exchange, the railways and other real and fancied enemies of the

prairie farmer had been repulsed or checked by social and legislative measures of a dozen kinds. But so strong is Douglas’s impact on his agricultural constituents that thousands of them still have a comfortable feeling he arranged these happenings largely on his own, and is capable of arranging others equally salubrious if given a chance at Ottawa. Thanks to various wage, hour and bargaining enactments, his standing with labor is good. He has introduced just enough socialism in Saskatchewan — most of it through co-operative marketing and processing plants and utilities — to appease the fading pinks who first put him in the Commons. But he has also begun to speak so disparagingly of “socialism for its own sake” that business and the banks have lost much of their early fear of him. The only people who are utterly and implacably hostile to him are the Saskatchewan Liberal party, slowly fighting back to life after almost a generation of near-extinction, and most of the province’s doctors, digging in for a last-ditch battle against his plan for state medical care. In scoring an easy

victory over their combined forces in the I960 Saskatchewan election. Douglas managed to convey the impression that his adversaries were not so much against him as against health.

It is small wonder that in the eyes of the architects of the New' Party the most important task for their founding convention next summer was not drafting a final platform or a constitution. but drafting Tommy Douglas. They have all seen other third forces launched against the granite phalanx of the Grits and Tories only to flounder and collapse behind Alpine saints like J. S. Woodsw'orth, worthy schoolmasters like M. J. Coldwell, lukewarm class warriors like T. A. Crerar and impulsive bolters like H. H. Stevens. One of Douglas's attractions as a candidate is that, in the image he presents to the electorate, he has almost nothing in common with these fallen insurgents of the past. Woodsw'orth was a good speaker, but Douglas is a far better one, in his own homey and utterly infectious way one of the most effective campaign orators since Laurier. In the other “political” qualities — including such vital minutæ as the firmness of his handshake, the warmth of his smile and the instinct for telling exactly the right joke at exactly the right time — the ranks of the reformers have seldom produced his equal. “Douglas,” a disgusted Regina Liberal observes, “doesn't have to kiss babies. Babies kiss him.”

Every estimate of its prospects — whether it’s made in Ottawa, Regina, Winnipeg or Vancouver, whether among Liberals, Conservatives, CCFers or officers of the Labor Congress — emphasizes the bizarre fact that, with its official birth still four months away, the New Party has actually become two parties: the New Party-With-Douglas and the New Party-With-

out-Douglas. “Tommy has become a folk figure.” said one of his more critical supporters, Douglas Fisher, the CCF member of parliament for Port Arthur. “But he isn’t the round little gem he looks to the average voter. You don't stay in office as long as he has done without a streak of Machiavelli. A man doesn't arrive at Douglas’s art in handling a crowd unless it’s a rational process.”

Fisher, in short, is less impressed by the leftist legend that Douglas is a man without fault than by the reality that he’s a first-rate politician. “With him. we could get forty seats at the first election and become the official opposition at the second. Without him. I can't see that possibility at all.” The old parties make the same distinction in their guesses of the New Party’s potential strength in the next House of Commons. These range from a WithoutDouglas fifteen to a With-Douglas fifty in an assembly of 265.

The subject has stood aloof from this sort of speculation. But he is not only willing but eager to talk of the New Party itself, of his own appraisal of its future, his ideas of its best line of strategy and his convictions about the stand it ought to take on public issues. Whether or not he becomes its first candidate for prime minister, his weight in its councils as head of an affiliated provincial government will be second to no one’s. Even if he remains in Saskatchewan his influence on the affairs of the nation will grow' in roughly the same ratio as the New Party grows over the CCF. and even those who wish it most ill expect to see some growth, whoever the leader turns out to be.

Douglas himself is cautious about predictions. In most matters he is an optimist but he is also, particularly in


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What the New Party wants that Tommy Douglas has

politics, a realist. He thinks the New Party, or some movement echoing its leftwing liberalism and its heavy accent on planning and welfare, will ultimately come to power in Ottawa but he sees a long, complicated fight ahead.

He visualizes the party’s future in three stages: first a partial success; then a severe, almost a crushing defeat; then a rebound to a position of solid strength, at worst as a sizeable official opposition.

“Our first goal.” he says, “is to drive the old parties together. They’re together already, if they'd only admit it. What real difference can you find in the fiscal policies that Abbott formulated under a Liberal government and Fleming is following under the Conservatives? Diefenbaker and Pearson are not alike in their personalities, and their philosophies are not quite identical, but what difference is there betw-een. say. George Hees and Donald Fleming on one side and Jack Pickersgill and Paul Martin on the other?”

Coalitions aren't for him

There has seldom been a more opportune time. Douglas believes, for forcing the old parties into a public acknowledgement of their sameness. All the known signs show' the Diefenbaker government has lost popular support since its peak of 1958. with the Liberals on the upswing. If the trend continues the next general election could cut the immense gap between them so much that a third party might hold the balance of power with as few as twenty or thirty seats.

Could such a situation lead the New Party into a coalition with either of the old ones? A few' Liberal policymakers have already given some thought to the possibility, and admit privately that they'd prefer a working agreement with the CLC-CCF enclave to another term in opposition to Diefenbaker. One of the country’s half-dozen most powerful Conservatives told me not long ago that if the next House of Commons should be hopelessly deadlocked, he could even see some logic in a limited union between the New Party and the Tories.

If Douglas has his way, the New Party will never enter a combination or a truce with anybody. "Coalitions and gentlemen's agreements are the road to ruin for any political organization.” he insists. “That’s how the old parties virtually wrecked themselves in British Columbia. Alberta and Saskatchewan. Duff Roblin raised the Conservatives from a coalition grave in Manitoba just in the nick of time. Our objective must be to stay away from compromises and make the old parties and those who have been voting for them recognize how close to being identical they really are. Then the people who can’t stomach them will come to us.”

While he considers it inevitable, Douglas does not expect this evolution to take place overnight. “The next election might get the thing started, with a Liberal-Conservative cabinet or perhaps one party governing as a minority with the consent of the other. If they should have

to join forces formally and fight the second election — say in 1966 — as a union party opposing the New Party they’d just about wipe us out. But by the third election from now we’d be firmly established as the one alternative, the one place to cast a vote of real protest or a vote for real social progress.”

Leaving political strategy aside, what does Tommy Douglas stand for now? Precisely how, if he could persuade the electorate to his point of view, would he change our domestic ways of life, our private and public economy and our dealings with the world at large? How much of the radical idealism of the CCF’s now abandoned Regina manifesto has clung to him? How closely does he now adhere to the original socialist dream of Woodsworth, his early model and mentor?

Douglas still calls himself a socialist, but he can also recall with relish a halfserious lecture the late Lord Tweedsmuir once read to him and M. J. Coldwell at a governor-general’s garden party. “My friend Jimmy Maxton,” Tweedsmuir scolded the two astonished members of parliament, “would have nothing but contempt for such milk-and-water socialism as yours. You’re just left-wing Tories.”

In the twenty-odd years that have intervened, Douglas’s doctrinaire fervor has cooled still further. This, he insists, is not because his ideal of society has changed but because society has changed. “In the Thirties we talked about public ownership of the whole country,” he says, “and for those times and conditions it would have been a lot better than the mess we had. But we’ve come a long way since then. Our luck has improved and so has our management.”

Then, the Keynesian theory of pumppriming in times of depression was still widely regarded as ivory-tower lunacy but, Douglas points out, “now it’s built right into the whole economy.” So is the redistribution of money, through family allowances, better pensions and the like.

“I still believe in socialism,” Douglas says, “every bit as much of it as will serve a specific requirement. But I don’t believe in it as an end in itself. I used to believe, for instance, in socialization of the banks. Now I can’t see any need for it. Insurance companies and investment funds have become the real sources of credit. If we can regulate them better — make it easier, say. to borrow money for new schools and harder to borrow money for new dies and tools to manufacture perfectly unnecessary new models of automobiles — then 1 don’t see any reason to socialize either the insurance companies or the banks.”

Exactly what industries or institutions would Douglas take over for the state?

“Mainly natural-gas pipelines,” he says. “They serve virtually the whole of the country, they are a natural monopoly, and therefore they should be owned by the people as a whole, the interprovincial lines by the federal government, the main lateral lines by the provinces and the local feeder lines by the municipalities. In time we may have pipelines for moving wheat and even packaged goods, and if they achieve the same importance as the gas lines they should come under public ownership too.”

Douglas’s greatest impatience for economic change lies in the field of the cooperatives, where ownership is not vested in the state as a whole but in the consumers or producers of a specific commodity or service. Of all the planks in the New Party’s tentative platform the one he talks about with the most headlong enthusiasm is the proposal to establish a ministry of Credit Unions and Cooperatives.

“In this province of far less than a million people, the co-operatives did more than half a billion dollars’ worth of business last year. One co-operative alone, the oil refinery, began with a stake of $28,000. Now it refines more than twentytwo thousand barrels a day. It has a hundred oil wells and seven hundred

filling stations. The profits go back in dividends to the people who own it. run it and buy from it. They’ve knocked down the price of farm fuel by five cents a gallon.”

Not the least of the co-operative movement's benefices. Douglas maintains, is in its role as an example to its competitors. "The carrot is always better than the whip.” he says. "The best control we have against the excesses of private business is not more out-and-out state ownersnip. but more competition from the cooperatives."

Douglas would establish a separate government department to protect the consumer against such costly selling gimmicks as trading stamps — which Saskatchewan has succeeded in banning — and frilly packaging, and to stillen the existing safeguards against misleading advertising.

Most of the work of drawing up the New Party’s platform and putting it in language acceptable both to the CCF and the Labor Congress fell to Douglas's oldest friend. ex-MP Stanley Knowles. It is no coincidence that Douglas goes along, except in a few minor details, with the whole 71-point package, from the first four words: "A strong United Nations” to the last four, "Abolition of the Sena:c." One hidden time bomb, not mentioned specifically but still ticking quietly away, is the party’s policy on N A I O. I he CCF wants to lose no time in getting out o: NATO, the Western military alliance, as well as NORAD, the North American joint defense command. The party's other sponsor, the Labor Congress, recently submitted a much different brief to the government opposing “unilateral disarmament" and either “armed or disarmed neutrality for Canada." If the conflict should, as some predict it will, lead to a major fight at the founding convention. Douglas’s position may offer the likeliest ground for a compromise. He’s in favor of pulling out of NORAD at once, cutting defense spending heavily, and rejecting nuclear weapons in Canada or for the use of Canadian troops anywhere. But he'd postpone the decision on NATO for a year, first issuing a flat demand that the Atlantic alliance re-read and implement ihe part of its constitution that describes it not merely as a military but as an economic alliance.

Douglas says firmly that he is neither a pacifist nor a neutralist. In the last war he held a commission with the second battalion of the South Saskatchewan Regiment and was on an overseas draft as a pre-Pearl Harbor reinforcement for the doomed Canadian garrison at Hong Kong; the recurrence of an old and stubborn leg ailment invalided him back to mufti instead.

Douglas sat beside .1. S. Woodsworth in the memorable House of C ommons debate in September 1939 in which Woodsworth alone spoke against and voted against Canada's declaration of war. "Only a very few people knew it then, and only a few have heard of il to this day,” Douglas recalls, "but a few days earlier Woodsworth had had a severe stroke. When he rose to speak he could scarcely see and one side was partly paralyzed. The night before Mrs. Woodsworth had made a few notes at his dictation — a cue word here and there — and pul them on cards in thick crayon letters at least an inch high. I slipped into the scat beside him and handed the cards up to him one by one while he made his moving but hopeless plea for peace. I knew that in a few minutes I would be voting against him. but I never admired him more than I did that day."

Douglas’s ideas of war anti peace have probably changed least of all, among the

Steer clear of the CCF, a church official warned

ideas he took into politics from his pulpit as a Baptist minister.

“Any absolute creed is usually an oversimplification,” he says. “To say that force is always wrong, and that you will never use it under any circumstances, is to fail to recognize that different things have different values and that you must have a sense of values. I think of a man going to set fire to a school in which there are five hundred children. You may have to make the choice between killing this man and the risk of letting him kill five hundred children.”

Douglas admits without shame to an extremely non-pacifist incident from his first campaign for a House of Commons seat in 1935. In those black days in Saskatchewan, politics was one of the few available forms of recreation and, sometimes, of physical exercise. A gang of thugs once tried to storm the platform from which Douglas was speaking. The jockey-sized minister grabbed the water pitcher, broke it noisily on the speaker’s table to give it a better cutting edge, and dared his molesters to keep coming.

If it hadn’t been for the combative streak he admits he has found difficult to control, Douglas would have given up politics before he was well started. He took time out from his congregation in Wcyburn to run for the provincial legislature as a Farmer-Labor candidate in 1934, his first, and he thought at the time his last, election. After his defeat, the only election defeat of his life, he was about to turn down an invitation to run as a CCFer in the federal election of

1935 when a superintendent of his church came to pay him a visit. The radical CCF, the superintendent warned him, was not appropriate company for a respectable Baptist minister to be keeping. “If you don’t stay out of this thing,” Douglas recalls that his visitor told him, “you’ll never get another church in Canada, and I’ll see to it. Moreover, the board has authorized me to say this to you.”

Douglas thought a while and then said, “You’ve just given the CCF a candidate.” He ran and was elected and at his church’s suggestion the threatened suspension was forgotten. He still preaches a dozen or so courtesy sermons a year in various Baptist pulpits.

Most of Douglas’s other major decisions as well as his philosophy — and by no means incidentally his appeal to the electorate — have been shaped by things that have happened to him personally and by people he has known personally. His life has been a swirl of events and people.

He was born and spent his first few years in Falkirk, a place hallowed by Bonnie Prince Charlie and Sir Walter Scott. His ancestors for several generations were ironmongers by day, arguers and Burns-quoters by night. His grandfather Tommy was also a good enough oil painter and a good enough Liberal to have been allowed to do a portrait of William Ewart Gladstone. “Nobody could be in my grandfather’s house without being in a welter of words; there was a constant bedlam of argument — politics, religion, philosophy.” Douglas’s imagina-

tion was so stirred that it has seldom come to rest.

He can still relive the delighted terror of sitting on old Tommy’s knee and listening to Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter.

Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! Thou'II get thy fairin’! In hell they'll roast thee like a herrín’!

It was in his grandfather’s house that young Douglas first heard the name of Keir Hardie, the first Labor MP in the United Kingdom, who “went from Lanarkshire with his muffler and his cloth cap down to the House of Commons to sit with the gentry with their top hats and frock coats.”

It was on the cobbled streets of Falkirk that Douglas fell and hurt a knee. The injury developed into osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone marrow that has flared up painfully at intervals ever since. For several years now antibiotics have kept it under control, but in one three-year stretch of his boyhood he spent almost two years in bed. When Douglas rises in the legislature, as he did recently.

to vow that Saskatchewan will get its medical plan “as long as I’ve got the breath to put it through,” the passion is not solely that of a political reformer. The voice is partly that of a bewildered youngster lying helpless under the shadow of being crippled, physically and financially, by a single stroke of bad fortune.

It is, again, less the sociologist than the Tommy Douglas of long ago who expresses his views on immigration and various kinds of discrimination. After his family had moved to north Winnipeg just before World War I, young Tommy began going to school on crutches. “I got along fairly well in spring and fall,” he recollects, “but when the winter came it was very difficult. The prewar depression was on and my father was working only three days a week so anything like tutors was out of the question. One day a Polish boy and a Ukrainian boy from the neighborhood came knocking at the door. They told my mother that they would pull me to school each day and bring me back. These boys speaking broken English, the kind that some referred to as Dagos and foreigners and Bohunks, these were the people who came and took an interest in another immigrant boy. They had nothing to win or lose through anything that happened to me and yet they hauled me to school every morning and hauled me home at four o’clock; without them I just wouldn’t have got to school at all that winter.”

In uncertain fits and starts Douglas finally got his education (McMaster, Brandon College and postgraduate studies at Chicago). He paid for his schooling partly by preaching to small Manitoba congregations that could afford only a student minister, and partly by delivering

recitations at fowl suppers for five dollars a night. Elocution was a much more popular art in those days of Chautauqua and the church concert and he took lessons from two of the recognized masters, Jessie Alexander and Jean Campbell. It was in his travels as a piecework preacher and a declaimer of Alfred Noyes’s The Highwayman, Pauline Johnson’s Legend of Qu’Appelle Valley and Kipling’s If that he first met Irma Dempsey of Carberry, Manitoba.

Besides Irma, who became his wife, his acquisitions included a growing fund of stories and a remarkable talent for adapting them to almost any occasion. He admits without hesitation that practically all of them are borrowed, some from sources as unfashionable as Joe Miller himself. It is not without significance that one of the half-dozen portraits in his office (hard by the mantel holding the original Kilmarnock edition of Burns) is of Abraham Lincoln, another noted anecdotist.

The other political portraits include Woodsworth, Coldwell and—unexpectedly and warmly autographed—Mackenzie King. “King and I were on very good terms,” Douglas recalls. “He was a very lonely man, with a need to unburden himself now and then. He did a number of things that he didn’t dare tell his friends about, so occasionally he selected me, a theoretical enemy, as his confidant. At the height of the conscription crisis in 1944 he kept me up half one night to tell me the whole incredible and devious story of his manipulations and intrigues in and out of his cabinet and frequently behind the cabinet’s back. I suppose I could have destroyed him if I’d felt free to use it. But it didn't seem to occur to him to think of the risk he was taking. He used to tell me that I looked like his late brother Max and, mystic that he was, this might have given him some special confidence in me; from the pictures of Max he showed me I couldn't see any real resemblance at all.”

The photograph of the elder of the Douglases’ two daughters, Shirley, brings an equally interesting reflection. Shirley, a talented and successful young actress who is now married to a medical student in England, has just finished playing a small part in the motion-picture version of Lolita.

"We have a fairly tough film censor in Saskatchewan and of course he wouldn’t stand for any political interference even if anyone were indiscreet enough to try it. I have a strong hunch that when Lolita is released in Canada it will end up being banned in Saskatchewan. Shirley’s mother and 1 will probably have to sneak into Winnipeg to see it.”

This year will be. as most of them have been, a lively and crucial one for Douglas. He is. I believe after talking to him at length on the question, entirely in earnest in his repeated statement that he doesn’t want the leadership of the New Party and will take it only if "the movement” absolutely insists, and can persuade him that he would be more valuable to it in Ottawa than in Regina. The likeliest guess is that the movement will, indeed, insist. Of its key people only one—Hazen Argue, national leader of the CCE and an avowed aspirant to the same job in the New Party—has supported anyone except Douglas since the latter’s availability came under serious discussion.

In the meantime Douglas is not without trouble at home. With no provincial election due until 1964. the Saskatchewan CCE is beginning, after seventeen years in office, to show distinct signs of losing its evangelical zeal. Recently the party had to close its Regina headquarters for lack of funds, even after making a des-

perate last-minute appeal to the thousands of families who used to pay its overhead with their twoand five-dollar bills. It lost an important “prestige” byelection in Turtleford. The forthcoming struggle over the medical-care plan is sure to he accompanied by some added fireworks over a thus far unpopular scheme for replacing Saskatchewan’s checkerboard municipal system with much larger and fewer counties. “The CCE is on the way out in this province,” predicts Ross Thatcher, who broke with the CCF to lead the Saskatchewan Liberals. “Those boys are on the run. We’re going to beat them in 1964 whether Douglas stays in Saskatchewan or not. If he stays it may be close; if he goes it will be cakewalk. What’s more, we’ll take at least half the Saskatchewan seats at the next dominion election, against the New Party and Douglas both.”

Douglas professes to be less interested in Thatcher than Thatcher is in him. But the nature of politics in Saskatchewan—

a non-stop Olympiad of town-hall, barbershop. Chinese-café and curling-rink disputation—decrees that the two men will never again be friends.

Thatcher’s predecessor as Liberal leader in the province, Walter Tucker, once was goaded into suing Douglas for a hundred thousand dollars, although the case was dropped. Jimmy Gardiner, the creator and boss of the once invincible Saskatchewan Liberal machine, inspired one of Douglas’s most famous parliamentary thrusts. Douglas, five foot six. was glaring across the floor of the House of Commons at Gardiner, five foot two. "If the honorable member,” Douglas suggested, “will sit up in his chair and dangle his feet I’ll go on with what I have to say.”

Douglas now seems less concerned about his old foes, the Grits, than his new ones, the Tories. "Everybody is writing John Diefenbaker off.” he says. “That’s a mistake. Nobody but Mackenzie King ever had such good political antennæ. Diefenbaker knows nothing about economics and is not a good administrator, but he can scent a vote a long way off. The Diefenbaker his opponents are starting to feel sorry for today is not the Diefenbaker they’ll be running against a year from now. Before he goes to the country there’ll be something like a cut in the income tax, a bonus to the farmers, an increase in the old-age pension and a medical-care plan at least in sight. A man who could win 208 seats in 1958 is going to be very hard to beat in 1962.” *