MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKGROUND

Early line on the Quebec election: even money on the Union Nationale

PETER DESBARATS November 17 1962
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKGROUND

Early line on the Quebec election: even money on the Union Nationale

PETER DESBARATS November 17 1962

BACKGROUND

Early line on the Quebec election: even money on the Union Nationale

LESS THAN FIVE MONTHS AGO, 524,474 Quebec voters — or about one quarter of the electorate — decided they had nothing to lose byvoting for Réal Caouette and his Créditistes. Where will the Social Credit vote go in the snap election called by Premier Jean Lesage for Nov. 14? During the past month of campaigning this has been the big question, and the answer to it may be the key to the election. One man who believes he has that answer is the leader of the Union Nationale, Daniel Johnson.

Early in the campaign, Duplessis’ capable heir rolled out the red carpet for Les Crcditistes. In Three Rivers last month, he assured French-Canadians that his party “will see to it that our friends in Ottawa, particularly the Social Creditors, give us their assistance in getting what we want there.” He lashed out at editors of French-language newspapers who had wailed about the “stupidity” of rural Québécois in the last federal election.

Gérard Filion, director of Montreal’s liberalminded daily, Le Devoir, rubbed half a million Quebec voters the wrong way after June 18 when he wrote that Quebec is different from other provinces because it’s more stupid, Johnson said.

“NO, STUPIDITY IS NOT DEAD”

“They have called the Socreds imbeciles,” he went on, referring to Filion and the editor of La Presse, Gérard Pelletier, “but they have never understood anything. The fact that they do not wish our victory in the next election is a good omen for us.” During the current campaign, Filion repeated his thesis in scarcely more flattering terms: “Politicians who catch voters with humbug still have an easy life in the province of Quebec, and they find boobs to listen to them. No, stupidity is not dead. Jt flourishes more than ever.”

If Fiiion really believes this, he might as well forget about Liberal chances in the provincial election. Even a cursory glance at results of the last federal vote reveals that Quebec Socreds can make or break Premier Lesage this month. Fifteen of the 26 ridings taken by Caouette men last June were in territory which is more or less Liberal at the provincial level. In ten of these ridings, Social Credit candidates had majorities of more than 5,000 votes.

Boundaries of provincial and federal constituencies vary, and the two can't be compared without qualification. But the mere thought of these Socred votes moving en masse into the Union Nationale camp is enough to make Liberal organizers sweat. They are painfully aware that 21 of the 54 seats held by Liberals in the last 95-seat legislature were won in 1960 with fragile majorities of less than 1,000 votes.

There are two good reasons why Johnson hopes to corral the Caouette forces. The first is Caouette himself, fiercely anti-Liberal and keenly aware of the help he received last spring from UN workers. The second is Johnson, who has spent much of the campaign convincing the Créditistes that he means in Quebec what Caouette means in Ottawa.

It is no secret that hundreds of UN organizers who toiled for Caouette last spring had Johnson’s silent blessing. At Socred rallies, familiar cogs of the Union Nationale’s famed machine were much in evidence. Caouette showed his appreciation as soon as the provincial campaign opened. At a meeting in Hull, across the river from federal realities, he reined back Socreds champing at the bit to enter the Quebec race. Caouette knew perfectly well that the party was ill-prepared for a Quebec campaign against experienced French-Canadian leaders who can give rhetoric lessons to both Diefenbaker and Pearson. A mediocre showing in the provincial election would alienate the Union Nationale and damage Socred chances in the next federal campaign.

Caouette wasn’t able to stop Socred small fry from starting up a new provincial party suitably entitled PAP. Maybe he didn’t want to. The Provincial Action Party, after a vain attempt to persuade the mayor of Three Rivers to lead it, creaked into the campaign behind

Hertel La Roque, who was once secretary to the late Montreal mayor Camillien Houde. La Roque, who was a Montreal organizer for Caouette last June, announced that he would run against Natural Resources Minister René Lévesque, father of the Liberals’ power nationalization program. PAP’s chances of popping a surprise on Nov. 14 are equal to La Roque’s chances of beating Lévesque — slim indeed.

Johnson’s bitterest enemies admit he is a master politician. That he instinctively assessed the reasons behind the Socred sweep last June has been evident from the start of his first campaign as UN chief. The 47-year-old former Duplessis minister, once parliamentary assistant to “Le Chef,” pitched his appeal primarily at rural voters who felt that the “politique de grandeur” of Lesage-Lévesque had about as much bearing on their immediate problems as the race to the moon.

The UN program has attacked high taxes under the Liberal government while promising to raise provincial income tax exemptions and implement a dollar-an-hour minimum wage. Realizing that Quebec’s “revolution” is only skin-deep in many respects, Johnson has ridiculed the ambitious educational, social and economic schemes of Jean Lesage’s Liberal regime.

Four weeks before the election, bookmakers on St. James Street were offering $5,000 evenmoney bets on a Johnson victory. Those who accepted the wager were banking on one thing — that Johnson would fade in the stretch. Private polls taken by Liberal organizers tended to support this prediction, but no one was underestimating Caouette’s potential role as king-maker in the final stage of the campaign.

PETER DESBARATS