January 6 1962


January 6 1962


Why both the major parties really think they’ll win


Peter C. Newman

The federal election of 1962 will have at least one unusual feature. For the first time since 1935, both the major parties will be going into the campaign genuinely expecting to win.

For the record, of course, all political parties always expect to win. Actually, they’re not so naive. The Liberals knew they’d be beaten in 1958, as the Conservatives did in 1949 and 1953. And in that year of political miracles, 1957, not one Conservative in a thousand thought that victory was possible. Politicians are realists. But this time, for very different reasons, each party thinks it will form the next government.

Conservative hopes, though high, all hang on one man — John Diefenbaker, the vote-harvesting wizard of the 1957 and 1958 campaigns. Not even the most optimistic Liberals imagine that Lester Pearson can similarly electrify the electorate, but the Liberals claim to have a team and a trend on their side.

The Liberals have convinced themselves that their nominations are gathering a galaxy of talented Canadians who, presented to the electors as a team, can compete for votes with the attractions of John Diefenbaker. They point to recent public opinion polls as proof that the trend is with them, and have taken additional surveys of their own to document their optimism.

The way the Tories see it

Conservatives admit they’ll lose seats, especially in Quebec, but they could lose up to seventy and still remain in office. They’re confident that losses won’t be nearly that high. Conservative chances at present appear to be strongest in the Prairies, partly thanks to Alvin Hamilton’s success in the agriculture portfolio, and partly because many of the west’s rural ridings have for the first time in years had MPs on the government side in Ottawa, and they’ve found they’re able to get a lot more done. In the east, the Tories think their champion can easily regain any ground he may have lost, once the campaign gets going.

There’s reason for the Conservative confidence. They now hold the entire west — the Liberals have nothing west of Kenora, Ont., and the Tories have a monopoly broken only by a small and scattered handful of New Democratic MPs. Their grip on the Maritimes is almost equally solid. Ontario, the traditional Tory stronghold, elected twenty-five Conservatives even in the Liberal landslides of 1940 and 1949, and now has no fewer than sixty-four Conservatives among its eighty-five MPs. Even allowing for heavy losses in Quebec, the Tories are still quite relaxed about their chances across the country.

But despite the fact that a Liberal victory would require a political turnover of even greater proportions than in 1957, the Liberals now openly count on forming the next administration, with about I 37 members. Not all Liberal strategists agree on how this can be done, but here is a breakdown by provinces that represents a rough consensus of Liberal hopes:

Newfoundland: The Liberals fully expect to hold their present five out of seven ridings. Although Joey Smallwood has made a lot of noise about unseating Solicitor General W. J. Browne (in St. John’s West), it’s now believed that he’d prefer to see Browne continue in Ottawa, rather than go into provincial politics if he were defeated.

Prince Edward Island: At least two Liberal members where they have none now; one of the Queens seats and Prince are rated as the most vulnerable Conservative possessions.

Nova Scotia: In this all-Tory province, the Liberals

expect to win at least four ridings, with Cumberland, Antigonish - Guysborough. Inverness - Richmond and one of the Halifax seats rated as the most vulnerable.

New Brunswick: The Liberals hope at least to double their existing representation of three members, with top expectations in Charlotte, Westmorland, YorkSunbury and Saint John-Albert.

Quebec: Here the biggest gains are expected. Predictions range up to sixty of the province’s seventy-five seats, compared to the twenty-five Quebec Liberals in the present House.

Ontario: The Liberals hope to win twenty-three more scats, which would give them forty of the province’s eighty-five ridings. This sounds like a tough target, but actually the Liberal party has elected more than forty Ontario members twice since World War II, and as many as fifty-six in the 1949 campaign.

Manitoba: Here the party thinks it may be able to win six seats, but expects less if Premier Duff Roblin enters the campaign on behalf of his federal colleagues.

Saskatchewan: The target is six seats, encouraged by the provincial Liberal party’s full backing; David Steuart of Prince Albert, head of the province’s Liberal Association, will act as federal campaign chairman. The Liberals expect the NDP to cut further into the Conservative strength.

Alberta: Athabasca and Calgary South are judged by the Liberals to be the best bets in a province now entirely represented by Conservatives. They expect much more serious attrition to be achieved by Social Credit.

British Columbia: The Liberals expect to win six new seats, but consider only Vancouver-Quadra and Kamloops as entirely safe for the Tories. The rest, they think, will go to Social Credit and NDP.

Yukon and Northwest Territories: The party expects to win both these huge constituencies (a gain of one seat) although no candidates have yet been nominated.

The Liberal party’s top strategists recently reversed their previous decision to campaign mainly against the Diefenbaker administration. Instead, they intend to concentrate on selling Mike Pearson and his policies. “The success of a national leader is largely a matter of having the right personality for the mood of a country at a particular time,” says Keith Davey, the party’s national organizer. “Diefenbaker suited the atmosphere of 1957 and 1958, but Pearson is better suited for the campaign to come. Just as Diefenbaker was aided by his sharp contrast with the government he defeated, so Pearson represents a constructive difference to the kind of administration this country has had for the past four years.”

Twelve of the Liberal party’s thirteen victories since Confederation have been based on support in Quebec, and it is here that the Conservatives are currently in most serious trouble. The swing away from the PCs in French Canada has been partly due to the widespread humiliation felt over the dismal quality of Diefenbaker’s French-speaking cabinet ministers; Quebec’s only able cabinet representative remains the Englishspeaking Postmaster General, Bill Hamilton. But on top of this, French-Canadian disillusion with the Conservatives is probably based on something deeper. Their experience under Diefenbaker has plainly shown the French Canadians that they cannot make their influence felt in a Conservative government, even when they give it most of their votes, as in 1958.

There is some evidence that the Conservatives are unwillingly retreating to their 1957 electoral strategy. Then, in a confidential memo to Diefenbaker, Gordon Churchill, who was the party’s director of organiza-

tion, advised that the campaign should virtually ignore Quebec, because in eight of the nine general elections since Confederation when a government has been toppled, the decisive margin of seats was supplied from English Canada. Now Churchill’s theory has been revised to read something like this: If you go out of your way to try to hold Quebec, you might alienate the rest of Canada; but if you can demonstrate to French-Canadian voters that you’re likely to hold the rest of the country, you have a chance of retaining Quebec as well.

At least eight of the fifty-one sitting Conservatives from Quebec have already indicated they may contest the next election as independents. Presumably, their strategy will be to rejoin the party if it wins. At the same time, there is increasing pressure from non-Quebec Conservatives in Ottawa for a top-level declaration that the party will cut its ties with the discredited Union Nationale machine, so helpful during the 1958 campaign.

The strategy for Quebec

The federal Liberals meanwhile have shifted responsibility for delivering the sixty or so seats they expect to win in Quebec to their provincial party organization. Like the Conservatives they’re pouring most of their organizational energies into winning the rest of the country.

The speculation now in Ottawa is that the Conservatives will probably not spring an election until they’ve given parliament time to enact legislation covering most of their dozen or so still unfulfilled election promises. But the election’s timing might be advanced if the Conservatives win all, or at least four, of the five provincial by-elections being held in Ontario on January 18. An early national contest would allow the government to postpone such major impending decisions as acceptance of nuclear warheads for weapons already in our defense arsenal, and the necessary revision of our external trade policies. Having piled up a budgetary deficit of more than two billion dollars since they took office, the Conservatives will hardly be in a position to offer the voters tax cuts in this year’s budget, which itself is expected to show a cash deficit of nearly a billion. Some Ottawa observers interpret this as a good reason for calling the election before a budget has to be brought down. A minority even argues that the present lack of scope for added government handouts might postpone the campaign until 1963.

Also in the running

While the strategists of both major parties are confidently dividing the vote between themselves, the NDP’s Tommy Douglas and Social Credit’s Robert Thompson plan to continue their own country-wide campaigns until balloting day. So far neither of the two new leaders seems to have caught fire, although both are expected to help their parties do better than in 1958. Social Credit appears dormant outside of B. C. and Alberta, except for isolated pockets in northern Quebec. But even some of Ottawa’s mossback Tories are privately admitting that if Douglas is able to get good candidates his party might pick up as much as twenty percent of the popular vote.

Most of the Ottawa political observers whose judgment is unaffected by partisan loyalties are now guessing the country is moving toward another 1957 situation — a stalemate with no majority for any party. This doesn't mean they expect that any party will achieve the kind of emotional sweep that brought John Diefenbaker to power. It does mean that the results of the forthcoming campaign could be very close indeed. *