HOW TO TELL THE GRITS FROM THE TORIES
PETER C. NEWMAN’S HANDBOOK FOR VOTERS:
As THEY TUSSLE FOR VOTES in the current election campaign, loyal Grits and loyal Tories are damning each other’s politics with the gusty passion of a Sicilian vendetta.
Yet the jaundiced elector trying to summarize the real differences between them may end up with only one item on his list: that the Conservatives are in power; the Liberals want to be.
In fact, the more stump talk the uncommitted voter hears over the next few weeks, the more convinced he may become that the Liberals and Conservatives exist as separate parties, mainly because our mode of government happens to be based on a two-party system. In their motivating philosophies, the Grits and Tories seem to differ as little as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
The national leader of one of the major parties recently defined its basic principles in these words: “We accept reasonable social security, but reject socialism; we accept free enterprise, but reject economic anarchy; we accept humanitarianism, but reject paternalism.”
We defy anybody to identify the speaker. It’s our bet that the guessing will be about equally divided between John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson.
Maclean’s Ottawa editor says there really is a difference, but you won’t find it platforms, in their speeches or even in their records in power. First, you have to remember where the two old parties came from. Then, you have see way they jump when someone pricks them with words like Inflation, Tariff, Quebec, Yankee, Crown or Empire
Actually, the statement was Pearson’s. But no part of the Liberal leader’s definition conflicts with anything that Diefenbaker has said or done.
If Grit and Tory programs and promises being shouted from the hustings these days sound vaguely similar, it’s because Pearson and Diefenbaker are both following the same cardinal law of Canadian politics: to be successful, national leaders must advocate nothing that might disturb the nation’s delicately balanced regional, racial, religious and economic differences.
NOT GRIT, NOT TORY. JUST “GOVERNMENTAL”
Probably the best illustration of this principle is the Canadian tariff, generally thought of as the handiest dividing line between Tory and Grit administrations.
Tories are supposed to be interested in protecting the domestic market for the manufacturers of central Canada, while Grits declare themselves to be tariff-hating free traders. But actually, the ratio of duty collected to total imports (the best measure of tariff effectiveness) has varied only seven percent in the ninety-five years since Confederation. The many party pledges to the contrary, tariff rates
obviously haven’t changed according to party principles. They can’t. Like most things on this economically unjustifiable subcontinent, the tariff rate must be set according to business realities, not party philosophical roots. “Any Canadian government in office,” says Prof. Frank Underhill, the dean of Canadian political scientists, “is neither Liberal nor Conservative in any sense that would be intelligible to political philosophers. It is simply governmental.”
But, while the disciples of the two old parties talk the same political language, they don t really think or feel the same way about the same things. They act from entirely different sets of prejudices, and it’s by examining these prejudices that the voter can learn how to tell the deep and real difference between Grits and Tories.
“The real Tory,” says Jack Pickersgill, the wittiest member of last parliament’s front bench, “believes he has a hereditary right to govern. The real socialist thinks the virtuous should govern. The real Liberal believes everybody who isn’t in jail has an equal right to have a say in governing the country.”
Professor W. L. Morton, the Manitoba historian who is probably the country’s best
known conservative intellectual, once ascribed the following traits to the typical Tory: He has respect for tradition and likely prefers the promptings of the heart to the dictates of the head. He believes in human fallibility (while Liberals believe in human perfectibility). He prefers persons to ideas (“he gives his loyalty not to the Conservative Party, but to John Diefenbaker”). He holds firmly to the need for continuity in human affairs and believes that change should come about by way of organized growth, not by deliberate revolution or skillful manipulation.
The Liberal prides himself in a more adventuresome approach. Tom Kent, an ex-editor of the Winnipeg Free Press who is now one of Lester Pearson’s policy advisers, distinguishes true adherents to the two parties by their emotional reactions to startling new proposals. “The attitude of cautious suspicion to anything new is the emotional foundation of intelligent conservatism,” he says. “An attitude of welcoming interest — of a controlled but definite disposition toward change — indicates a liberal.”
One of the prime difficulties in trying to discover just what it is that separates Grits from Tories is that political parties in Canada have no legal existence;
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The early Tories: more loyal than the king or more Catholic than the Pop
they aren’t mentioned in the British North America Act or even named on ballots. There is. however, a shelf-full of documentary evidence which clearly defines the various stands of both parties on national issues. These are the party policy platforms, carefully hammered out at national conventions. But in Canadian politics, party platforms are little more than ritualistic exercises in futility. T hey do give pressure groups a chance to imagine that they’re influencing party policy. But they don't bind party leaders and no Canadian prime minister has ever paid much attention to the platform of the party that elected him to office. At the 1956 Conservative convention. for example, a 160-mcmber policy committee labored for four days to bring forth a stack of earnest resolutions, later hotly debated on the convention floor. John Diefenbaker not only ignored the resultant document in his campaign six months later, but he personally ordered that all available copies of it be burned.
Party pronouncements can safely be ignored in trying to divine the differences between Grits and Tories, but party origins can not. In fact, the divergent appeals that separate the parties today date right back to the Family Compact of pioneer Canada and the rebellions of 1837. Tories were then, and are now, emotional loyalists. This kind of loyalism is the common factor that resolves the seeming paradox of the Conservative party’s background — its union of the fanatically Crown-worshipping Orangemen of Ontario, with the ultrafaithful Castors of Quebec, a marriage between those who were more loyal than the king, and those who were more Catholic than the Pope. Sir John A. Macdonald was able to unite these factions behind his moderately nationalistic conservatives to establish the Liberal-Conservative Party which brought about Confederation in 1867.
The Liberals evolved from a totally different union: Les Rouges of Quebec, and the Clear Grits of Ontario. Just-as Les Rouges were anticlerical and violently opposed to Canada’s British connection, the Clear Grits were, if not anti-Crown, certainly anti-C'ompact. Both groups had their roots on the rebel side of 1837. (To emphasize their uncompromising nature, the Ontario Liberals took their nickname from the hard, gritty sand sought by masons in making good house-building mortar.)
These tendencies on both sides have been moderated by time and the expediencies of political office. It’s true even today though that the Liberal is the one who has to deny that he’s anticlerical in Quebec and antiBritish in Ontario, while the Conservative has to keep denying that he’s anti-American.
Canadian political history provides many examples of both attitudes. Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Reciprocity campaign of 1911,
Mackenzie King’s lifelong suspicion of the British (still alive in Senator Chubby Power and Jack Pickersgill) and Laurier’s campaign for a Canadian fleet independent of the Royal Navy demonstrate the Liberal’s traditional view of Britain. Sir John A. Macdonald’s “A British subject I was born . . .” campaign slogan; Sir Robert Borden’s stand on conscription; Arthur Meighen’s “Ready, aye, ready” when England appealed to the Dominions for soldiers during the Chanak crisis of 1922, and Howard Green’s emotional outbursts during the Suez crisis amply show
the Tory preference for the British Crown. At one time in the 1920s when the Conservative opposition in the Commons couldn’t think of a way to answer a Liberal argument, they simply stood up in a body and sang God Save the King.
These hereditary emotional reactions are much stronger and much more valid as distinctions between Grit and Tory than any definable policy differences. The history of Canada’s Conservative party, for example, has been dominated by the unremitting search for a reincarnation of Sir John A. Macdonald. Because none of the party chieftains who followed Macdonald have come anywhere near to possessing his frisky flair for leadership. Conservatives exalt the memory of their founder (and with it, his 6,500-odd days in office). Such beatification would have afforded amusement to the irreverent John A., but the Tories are very serious about it. At the party’s 1942 leadership convention, for instance, every speaker who supported John Bracken’s successful candidacy stressed that Bracken’s father had been one of the mourners at Macdonald’s funeral. (No-
body mentioned that this, in fact, was the only previous connection which Bracken: a Progressive who had governed Manitoba for twenty years with Liberal support, actually had with the Tory party.)
John Diefenbaker is not a Tory at all, but one variety of Prairie radical (other varieties become Progressive. CCF, Social Credit and even Liberal). Yet he enthusiastically carries on the party’s Macdonald tradition by surrounding himself with the Old Chieftain’s relics. At his office, in Parliament Hill’s East Block. Diefenbaker works under a portrait and beside a statuette of Macdonald, and uses John A.’s inkwell. During Privy Council sessions, h sits in Macdonald’s former chair and dricj his signature with Macdonald’s spring blotter. At home in his study, Diefenbaker uses Macdonald’s clock, easy chair and library. Like Macdonald, Diefenbaker has relied for his power on a direct appeal to the voters, and like Macdonald he has shown that he believes the postponement of decisions can often solve problems.
Although the Conservatives have concen , trated their efforts on trying to find another Sir John A. Macdonald, they’ve just as badly needed another Sir George Etienne Cartier — the Montreal lawyer whose political skill enlisted Quebec behind the Tories in the movement for Confederation* Of the many unsuccessful strategies the Tories have since used to woo the FrcnchCanadian vote, none was more disastrous than the selection, in 1938, of Dr. Robert James Manion as party leader. A Fort William physician, Manion's chief claim to Quebec support was his marriage to a French-Canadian—a doubtful appeal that was more than offset by the fact that he had been a Liberal MP who in 1917 deserted Laurier to back conscription as a member of Borden’s Unionists. In the 1940 election, Manion declared that the Tories were prepared “to share the burden of office,” and that if elected they would form a coalition National Government. The balloting gave the Tories thirty-nine seats — their lowest representation in ¿he Commons, without a single MP from Quebec. Mackenzie King rewarded Manion’s zeal for “sharing the burdens of office” by' appointing him Director of Civil Air Raid Precautions. „
In its attempts to gain public favor during the past four decades, the Conservative Party has freely sacrificed unsuccessful leaders like Manion after their first Hop at the polls. Dana Porter, now chief justice of Ontario, once touched on this point; during his term as attorney-general of the province and as a leading figure in Canadi' Conservatism, he wrote: “One prevalent. fallacy that besets the minds of many Conservatives, in discussing the question of leadership, springs from a widely held theory of führer worship. Leadership
on this basis implies an almost emotional exaltation of some one indispensable man.”
Few politicians can survive this “superman” requirement. John Diefenbaker, in 1958, achieved the greatest electoral triumph in Canadian history, but already there are rumors that if he’s beaten on election day, an effort will be made to force him out of the party leadership.
The Tories’ eagerness to scrap a loser ánd pick a winner is reflected in the fact that they’ve had fifteen leaders since Confederation. They’ve also altered the party’s name five times. The Liberal party has had only six leaders since Confederation and has never changed labels.
The most successful politicians in that time have been Macdonald, Laurier and King—between them they held office for fifty-seven years, more than half of Canada’s lifetime. The three men had vastly different personalities, but each exploited the democratic limits of the prime minis' tership without becoming a zealot reformer. They all succeeded in overcoming the crucial problem of French-English cooperation by concentrating the attention of both races on national economic expansion. Always willing to betray the dogma of their supporters, the three men overshadowed their parties, and became unifying symbols to the nation at large.
The same three prime ministers shared similar attitudes toward Ottawa’s role in national affairs. They used the power of the state for positive action to shape both the course and rate of the country’s economic development. Less successful leaders —Mackenzie, Borden. Meighen and, toward the end of his regime, St. Laurent— limited state economic intervention to a negative supporting function.
Despite the mixture of Grit and Tory names on both these rosters, throughout most of Canadian history there hos been an important difference in party relations with the business community. From 1879 to 1942 it really was true that the Conservatives were the party, if not exclusively of Big Business, at least of the secondary manufacturing industries of Ontario and Quebec which depended on Ottawa’s tariff policy for their markets. The specific concern of the Liberal Party tended to be primary industries, especially the exporting farmer and lumberman. It’s no coincidence that the Liberals only became a strong national movement after the opening up of the Prairies and the development of wheat exports as a major industry. The Liberals insist that, unlike the Tories, they have always thought of people primarily as consumers with equal interest, rather than as producers with clashing, special interests.
Tory attitudes began to change at the party’s 1927 convention which supported “special legislation, designed to conserve human life, health and temperance, to relieve distress during periods of unemployment, sickness and old age.” But when R. B. Bennett tried, in his 1935 “New Deal” legislation, to put these ideas into law, he was repudiated both by the electorate and his party. The permanent modernization of Conservative policy didn’t begin until September, 1942, when 150 young Conservatives, fed up with the outdated ideas of their leaders, met at an unofficial round table conference in Port Hope, Ont. They drafted a program which became the skeleton of the platform adopted at the Winnipeg leadership convention, three months later. The party’s new policy muted protectionism and advocated many of the welfare measures which until then had been considered rank socialist heresy.
The 1942 nomination of Prairie Progressive John Bracken as Conservative standard bearer shifted the effective leadership of the Tory party from the Right to the Centre. Welfare measures became the
common property of all political parties, and the quadrennial auctions for votes began.
Unfortunately for Bracken he couldn’t convince much of the electorate that his party had really become progressive, so that in the 1945 election the Conservatives didn't win even as high a percentage of the popular vote as they had five years earlier. But by the end of his tenure, Bracken at least achieved something that no previous Tory leader had managed to do: in his farewell address to the 1948 Conservative convention he sounded
exactly like Mackenzie King. “To the left,” he said, “lies the hidden slopes of communism; to the right a short and bitter descent to oblivion. On the other hand, this party can follow the straight path to reasoned progress.”
Mackenzie King carried through his own modernization of the Canadian Liberal party during the 1940s, by bridging the apparent contradiction between liberalism’s traditional pursuit of unhampered liberty for the individual and compulsory enlistment in federal social welfare schemes. He did this by insisting that legal freedom is
meaningless, unless it brings positive benefits. Under King, the Liberal party accepted the welfare state as “a liberating force” and prepared an extensive network of social services for the return of World War II veterans. This move stole much of the support which might otherwise have gone to the CCF, so that unlike Britain—where Winston Churchill’s coalition government failed to implement the 1942 Beveridge Report which contained similar suggestions —Canada’s wartime administration survived its first postwar election.
Louis St. Laurent, who succeeded King
in 1948, was equally skilled at frustrating the rise of the political Left by extending the welfare state while at the same time keeping the business community reasonably happy and preventing the rise of any effective national force on the Right.
In this way, the division in Canada between the political Left and Right—the most common labels used to tell parties apart in other democratic nations — has been rendered meaningless. Instead of Right against Left, the contest between Canadian Grits and Tories has become a determined struggle for the Centre.
The Tories are traditional opponents of the planned economy. But it was R. B. Bennett—generally thought to be the archTory of Canadian history—who established the Bank of Canada, which uses monetary action to interfere massively in the setting of production, price and employment policies of Canadian business. The Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern railways were nationalized under Conservative administrations and it was Sir Robert Borden who seriously proposed the rationalization of Canada’s telephone system. By 1935, Mackenzie King was attacking Bennett’s regime for its increasing control over business, but once the Liberals gained power, they wej.t on to create thirty Crown corporations which mingled limited features of free enterprise with considerable state intrusion in the nation’s commercial life.
One of the words that quickly reveals the underlying differences in attitude, if not always in action, between Tories and Grits, is “inflation.” Tory politicians are much more frightened of inflation than Liberals. When the Conservative party was the political arm of Canada’s financial community, such fears may have been based on the desire of bankers to be repaid in dollars worth as much as the ones they had loaned. That criterion no longer applies, but the dedication of Conservative politicians to financial orthodoxy survives in their dogged pledges to balance the federal budget. (This attitude is no less valid just because the Tories, during their forty-four years in office since Confederation, have managed to have surpluses of more than a million dollars only twice. Tory finance ministers mean to do it, all the same—and none more fervently than Donald Fleming, who has been spending over a million dollars a day more than he has taken in during his term of office.)
Similarly, the record of Tory and Grit government shows that there has been only a marginal difference in their tariff actions. Secondary manufacturing and primary exports both are vital to the economy. The tariff hike that might help keep a few more textile mills open in eastern Ontario, would also prevent the British from selling enough of their goods here to earn the dollars with which they buy Arvida aluminum and Saskatchewan wheat. But just because no meaningful choice between protectionism and free trade really exists in Canada doesn’t mean that the parties feel the same way about tariffs. Real Grits think of themselves as freetraders, forced by circumstances to maintain Canada’s tariff wall; real Tories insist that if they only could do it without ruining the economy, they’d build a far tighter tariff structure. Both parties genuinely believe that they might be able to achieve their ultimate objectives, if they managed to hold onto office long enough.
Such Tory prime ministers as Sir John Thompson. Arthur Meighen and R. B. Bennett were strongly opinionated warriors, hampered by their ideology. The Liberals have tended to choose more flexible and conciliatory leaders on the theory that if they rule with less devotion to party dogma, there’ll be less for the voting public to disagree with. By insisting that
Liberalism is more a state of mind than a political creed, the Grits have been able to pick candidates on the basis of their ability and vote-getting appeal, rather than party loyalty. Throughout Canadian history the Liberal party tag has been a lot less complicated to wear than the badge of Toryism.
This election has grave implications for the future of both parties. Decimation of the Tories would mean, as was the case with its 1930-1935 administration, that the Conservative party in this country has been unable to establish its dominance
for more than one parliament. Conversely, a decisive licking of the Liberals would confirm the trouncing they received in the 1957 and 1958 contests, casting a shadow on their prospects. Both parties have been beaten before, but unlike most previous elections, this time there appears to be a fairly powerful third national group—the New Democratic Party—uniting impatiently in the wings, not yet ready for power, but eager to replace one of the traditional partners in Canada’s two-party system.
The preservation of this Grit-Tory axis will depend on a sufficient number of
Canadians continuing to respond to the different prejudices of the two parties. It’s safe to predict that Grit and Tory differences will survive the current contest — as they have every other election since Confederation.
Nevertheless, the definitive comment on Canadian politics was probably made by Sir John Willison, the Ottawa correspondent for the Times of London in the 1920s, who wrote: “No man in Canada has been more inconsistent than the man who has faithfully followed either party for a generation.”