THE SWEATY FIGHT FOR A SINGLE SEAT
PETER C. NEWMAN
Maclean’.s* Ottawa Editor
IN THE CANADA OF 1962 FEDERAL CAMPAIGNS AREN'T WON IN MEDIEVAL JOUSTS BETWEEN THE 4 PARTY LEADERS ¡¡F
POWER CHANGES HAND IN LOCAL FIGHTS AMONG ANONYMOUS MEN'LIKE THE :; SLUGGING IT OUT 1K!NGSTON
MOST OF THE NOISE and all the pomp in the current election campaign has come from the four national leaders who, like middle-aging knights with party colors flowing from their lances, have ridden off in all directions to seek power in verbal combat with one another. But federal elections in twentieth-century Canada are not won in medieval jousts between party champions. Victory comes in sweaty, hand-to-hand fight-
ing among largely faceless candidates slugging it
Liberal back room: Benson’s strategy board is trying to sell his “janitor image’’ — he was one, once.
out for the 265 seats across the country. It is here, even in these indifferent times, that politics still stirs the passions and tests the endurance of ambitious men.
No single constituency is exactly like any other. Local problems overshadow the national issues. The politics of each riding is touched by its history, influenced by its geography, and swayed by the special character of its inhabitants.
Despite these differences, most constituencies have enough factors in common that a detailed study of one contest can reveal a great deal about the political mood in the country at large. At the start of the current election campaign, Maclean’s surveyed the southeastern Ontario seat of Kingston — a sleepy city of nearly sixty thousand halfway
between Toronto and Montreal, where the St. Lawrence joins Lake Ontario. I spent two weeks in the constituency, interviewing not just the men and women who’ve committed their loyalties and energies to the campaign, but also dozens of people whose interest in politics stops at voting. Maclean’s decided to study Kingston lor these reasons:
□ No party considers it a “safe” seat. In the twenty-four elections since Confederation, the Tories have won Kingston thirteen times; the Liberals eleven. Neither party has ever taken the seat with a landslide majority. Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, held the riding five times; but he won it with margins as low as seventeen ballots, and in the 1878 campaign lost it altogether.
□ Because of its location, Kingston reflects the political temper ol
Car dealers are typical of the near-equal split businessmen make between parties. Besides Edwards and Nesbitt, one GM dealer is a Tory and the other is a Liberal. The Rambler dealer is a Tory, the Dodge dealer a Liberal.
Conservative back room: Allmark’s brain trust meets daily. It bills him “the servant of all the people.
southern Ontario where, according to nearly all the experts, this election will reallv he decided, the seats history is typical ol those the Liberals must win if Lester Pearson is to become the prime minister — and of those the Conservatives must hold if John Diefenbaker is to continue in office. The riding stayed Liberal by a small margin in the 1957 election, then was swept away in the Tory tidal wave of 1958.
□ Kingston constituency isn’t all city. It includes a representative number of rural Ontario voters. Even more important, there’s a generous sampling of the suburban vote here — the newest, least understood and most volatile of the voting blocs in this election.
□ As in the majority of Canadian constituencies, the contest in Kingston is between fairly evenly matched Liberal and Conservative candidates.
Benjamin “Ben” Graydon Allmark, the incumbent Tory, is a conscientious if unspectacular backbencher, dead set on getting re-elected. Edgar John Benson (also called Ben), his Liberal opponent, is a highly successful chartered accountant and a Queen's University commerce professor with a charming smile, an air of dignified authority and not much talent for public speaking. He’s a neophyte in politics, and like all political challengers earnestly believes his victory would vastly improve the region's well-being.
□ Elections in Kingston aren't won by default. The two big-party candidates are the official choices (more cynical Kingstonians say “creations”) of
in Kingston affords an opportunity to assess the
continued on page 53
THE SWEATY FIGHT
continued from page 15
“Politics here is a sort of game — a carryover from days with less alternative entertainment”
influence of the Liberal and Tory machines — similar models of which help decide the results in most other constituencies, although the average voter is hardly aware of their existence.
□ Beyond all this. Kingston is a particularly interesting riding because its citizens are more intensely interested in federal electioneering than most Canadians. This is mainly because the city’s brief fling at being Canada's capital (1841-44) and its long association with Sir John A. Macdonald has given the populace a historical consciousness of national politics. (Macdonald. incidentally, is claimed by both parties. During the 1953 campaign, for example. Louis St. Laurent told a Kingston audience that had Sir John been there, he surely would have supported the Liberals —the only party with a national policy.) “Politics in Kingston," says Professor K, G. Crawford, the director of the Institute of Local Government at Queen’s University, who served for ten years on city council, "is a sort of game—a carryover from the days of Sir John A. when there was less alternative entertainment, and it became a real challenge for one side to outwit the other."
Any political second-guesser trying to predict the outcome in Kingston riding would quickly come up with this summary of recent voting trends: the number of Liberal ballots has remained constant at
about 14.700 throughout the past three elections —in 1953 and 1957 this was enough to beat the Tories, who advanced from eleven to thirteen thousand. But in 1958, the picture changed abruptly. Ben Allmark, the Tory candidate, was swept in by a margin of 2.127 ballots over Bill Henderson, the Liberal who had sat for the riding since 1949. The upset was due partly to a higher turnout of voters at the polls. Local politicians agree that Kingston now has about fifteen thousand certain Tory and fifteen thousand sure 1 iheral votes; this campaign battle is concerned with winning the allegiance of the other five thousand-or-so voters expected to turn out on June 18. (The NDP isn't expected to do much better than the thousand ballots it used to get in Kingston running as the CCF; Social Credit will have a candidate for the first time, but he’s been totally discounted by everybody. He had not been nominated by the time this article went to press; only six people turned up at the party's organizational meeting.)
National Liberal Party headquarters in Ottawa counts Kingston among the twentyodd Ontario ridings it expects to swing into the Pearson camp on June 18. Certainly the Liberals stand a good chance. “But."’ Brig. D. G. Cunningham, the chairman of the local Conservative Association’s steering committee points out. “a lot of people will have to turn over for us to lose.” At
the beginning of the campaign Robert Owen, the managing editor of the Kingston Whig-Standard, summed up the election outlook this way: “Diefenbaker came along and got everybody excited about politics in 1958. Now the question is if the voters are still excited. So far, there hasn’t been much animosity or enthusiasm for either candidate.”
The one factor that will not decide the Kingston election is a debate of the national and international problems facing this country. Unless they're committed to one of the old-line parties by inheritance
or disposition, few Kingstonians recognize national issues to be a dividing line between the Grits and Tories. There’s some disillusionment that Diefenbaker’s promiseladen campaigns of 1957 and 1958 didn’t really do much to advance the welfare of Kingston, but such issues as Canada’s attitude on nuclear warheads hardly raise a coherent opinion.
“The average citizen of Kingston regards the possibility of atomic war as pure science fiction,” observes H. I.. Cartwright, an outspoken young Kingston lawyer who, although a scion of Kingston’s founding
family, ran as a CCF candidate a few elections ago.
The last international issue that hit Kingston with any impact, according to Cartwright, was the Suez crisis which brought into the open some astonishingly strong anti-American feelings. But even then the anti-U. S. emotions were diluted by the realization that much of the city’s summertime prosperity depends on Yankee tourist dollars. Again. “A surprising number of people were shocked by Britain’s application to enter the Common Market,” Cartwright says. “But their shock was with the
British, not with the Canadian government’s handling of the issue. Their attitude toward the mother country wasn’t too different from the feeling of betrayal that the French colons have felt in Algeria.” -
While fluoridation managed to become a major municipal issue (the antifiuoridationists won) and the law against coloring margarine remains an important provincial issue, 1 couldn’t spot any urgent preoccupation with federal problems. The single accomplishment of the Diefenbaker government that Kingstonians mentioned most often was the increased payment to old age pensioners. Comments on Diefenbaker himself ranged from, “sure he’s got problems, but if he can’t solve them, what the hell can / do about it?” to more critical opinions, such as, “Diefenbaker is a great piteh man. He did a good job leading his party into power, but that doesn’t mean he’s become or can ever become the statesman Canada needs.” 1 didn't find much criticism of Lester Pearson, but neither was there evidence of much feeling that he’d make a good prime minister. “I like and respect Mike Pearson, but he should’ve stayed at the United Nations—that’s where he can contribute most to Canada,” was a typical comment.
Possibly the main reason why national issues are receiving so little attention in Kingston is that the city has enjoyed moderate but uninterrupted prosperity in postwar years. Average income (at $5,955 per household) is twenty-two percent above the national average; taxi drivers clear about a hundred dollars a week. Unemployment last winter reached a peak of 2,174 men and 781 women registered at the local NFS office, and has since declined to 1,640 men and 720 women. Some of those out of work are former employees of Kingston Shipyards and the Canadian Locomotive Company—the only two local firms hit hard by the postwar business slumps.
The fact that nearly forty percent of the labor force is employed either in institutional or service industries provides a permanent cushion of salaried people to help offset the effects of all but the most violent economic cycles. An estimated eight thousand of the community’s thirteen thousand homes depend for their livelihood either on the federal or provincial governments—that’s almost as high a proportion of civil servants as in Ottawa. (This fact makes Kingston a somewhat untypical
community, but it’s generally true that just about every riding has in it some such special factor.)
Because Kingston doesn’t have a highly developed hinterland, it never grew into the thriving distribution metropolis envisioned by its early settlers. The city reached its commercial peak in the 1830s when it was a far more important business centre than Toronto. But after the completion in 1856 of the Grand Trunk Railway, which killed Kingston’s function as a transshipment point from lake boats to canal barges, the city went into a century-long economic decline. Enterprising youngsters moved out—a trend reflected by the lack of significant locally owned industry. Politically, the business inertia was reflected by an attitude of small-“c” conservatism at all three levels of government.
Wartime industries moved in and revitalized the local economy. They included large plants of the Aluminum Co. of Canada, Canadian Industries Limited and Du Pont of Canada. Old Kingstonians like to think that the people who moved in with these factories have been given more character by Kingston than they've given the town. There’s such a strong Loyalist tradition in the city that you can't claim to be a real Kingstonian until your family has buried three generations in Cataraqui Cemetery. Old Kingston still remembers, not without nostalgia, when politicians would address their audiences as: “Gentlemen, mechanics and honest yeomen . . .”
Few cities in Canada have such a clearly marked division between the right and the wrong sides of the tracks. The “tracks” in Kingston are a street—Princess, the main thoroughfare running diagonally out from the harbor’s commercial docks to slice the city into two quite different environments. North-of-Princess (originally settled by the laborers who toiled on the construction of the Rideau Canal in the 1830s) is still the dormitory for the city’s laboring class, while South-of-Princess has the Queen’s University campus, twice as many municipal parks, and some of the stateliest old homes in Canada. There’s a twenty-five-percent spread in real estate prices for identical houses, according to which side of Princess they're on. Naturally enough. Kingstonians who live north of Princess resent their more privileged neighbors across the street. The candidate who can harness this resentment to his own cause is a shoo-in for any political office because the vote here is mobile while citizens south of Princess are too set in their voting patterns to be significantly converted by any amount of electioneering.
This North-of-Princess attitude is particularly relevant to the current campaign, because Ben Benson, the Liberal candidate, spends several days a week teaching accounting to the commerce students at Queen’s University. Many North-of-Princess citizens have developed a fairly strong resentment of Queen’s and its faculty. The only federal candidate who managed to beat the town-and-gown split was the late Norman Rogers, a Queen’s political science professor who held the seat from 1935 to 1940 and became Mackenzie King’s minister of labor and, later, of national defense. The Tories are now trying to exploit the situation by referring to Benson as "The Professor.” The Liberals realize this could be a fatal handicap to their candidate. “What we’ve got to do.” says Bill Henderson, the former MP for Kingston who is one of the Liberal campaign’s main strategists, “is sell Benson's janitor image.”
Benson actually was a janitor for three years after World War II, when, while working on his C.A. degree, he supplemented his veteran’s allowance by looking after a small apartment building. Now thirtynine, Benson grew up in Cobourg, Ont.,
where his father was employed on a CNR ferry. Fie worked in a garage from the age of twelve to help boost the family’s income, and served out the war as an artillery sergeant during some of the heaviest fighting in France, Belgium and Holland. After getting his C.A., he became a partner in the largest local firm of chartered accountants. He got into politics eight years ago when his financial talents were enlisted by local Liberals who named him treasurer of their association. He says he became a Liberal largely because he was grateful to a Liberal government for helping him get a university education. Before he agreed to run for the 1962 nomination he went to Ottawa and received a commitment from Pearson that if elected, his accountancy training will be put to some use, so that he
wouldn’t have to spend his time at Ottawa merely pounding a back-row parliamentary desk-top. Although he’s not giving them much weight in his campaign, Benson has some impressive theories on how Canada’s fiscal and monetary policies might be improved, especially in the reallocation of the tax structure.
"Ben Benson,” says a man who claims to be a neutral observer of Kingston politics, "has at least a hundred percent more on the ball than Ben Allmark, but he’s almost completely unknown in the community.” Benson realizes that meeting voters is his main problem. "How,” he wondered at the start of his campaign, "can I get to know thirty thousand people in six weeks?” Since then, he’s been spending every afternoon and evening knocking
on doors, showing his face and telling his story to as many householders as possible.
The campaign has become a family affair. Benson’s Dutch-born wife Marie Louise goes on calls with him. working the other side of the street, thus doubling their coverage. His young sons Bob and Paul early in May persuaded some of their pals who had paper routes to slap “Vote for Benson” stickers on the Whig-Standards they were delivering, but the paper soon stopped that. By June 18 Benson will have distributed 37,000 brochures describing his qualifications and the Liberal platform.
He’ll also have written more than ten thousand personal letters asking for support at the polls. His organization, meanwhile, will have recruited some six hundred volunteers dedicated to getting the Liberal vote out on polling day. Besides Bill Henderson, the former MP, Benson's main organizers include Dr. R. H. Hay. head of the physics division at Aluminium Laboratories Ltd.; J. L. Hdwards, a local Ford dealer; and Dave Cooke, a young Queen’s economics graduate who’s acting as Benson’s personal assistant.
"We’ve cut our campaign down to a few
basic issues,” Benson says, "mainly that people both in and outside Canada aren’t as impressed by this country as they used to be. You can’t run the nation just by going around shaking your jowls, the way Diefenbaker does. We’re also stressing the Liberal program of social security which Pearson is offering the electors.” Although he had some trouble digging up local issues, Benson has made a promise that if elected, he’ll get the city’s federal-owned drydock enlarged to handle ocean-going ships. His main target throughout the campaign, however, has been the Ottawa
record of Ben Allmark, the sitting Tory. “This riding,” Benson charges, “deserves more than to be represented by a member who doesn’t feel he should take part in the government of the country.”
These and similar charges hurled at Allmark throughout the campaign refer to the fact that since he was elected to the Commons four years ago he has made only nine brief contributions to debates, nearly all concerning minor Seaway matters. Allmark maintains that the floor of the Commons isn’t the place where a member can do the most good for his constituents. He has concentrated instead on cementing his personal relationships with such cabinet ministers as George Flees, David Walker, Leon Balcer and Davie Fulton, so that he can deal with them directly on local matters. “You develop your own strengths.” Allmark believes. "I’ve made this a full-time job and I’ve tried to do as much as possible for the little people. I hat’s what will show up on election day.”
Allmark was born in Kingston fifty-one years ago. the son of a moderately successful real estate dealer. While in high school, he spent his summers as wheelsman on St. Lawrence steamers, and later became first mate of a Canada Steamships laker, lie joined the Alcan plant as a clerk in 1940 and gradually worked himself up to planning superintendent. Fie was a city aiderman from 1953 to 1958.
That year, just before the election, there was a split in Kingston's Conservative association, when the Old Guard, led by perennial candidate Lt.-Col. T. A. Kidd (who got elected once in three tries) was upset by a new group under the command of Brig. D. G. Cunningham, one of the city’s leading lawyers. The Cunningham group got behind Allmark who won the nomination on the second ballot. With a heavy assist from John Diefenbaker, who held one of his most enthusiastic rallies in Kingston just before polling day. Allmark was elected with a two-thousand-ballot margin over Liberal incumbent Bill Henderson.
Although Allmark does indeed have a poor record in Commons debates, he has managed to do quite a bit for his riding. He persuaded the public works department
to dredge the entrance of Kingston harbor so that ocean-going ships could enter, he helped place a new medium-security federal penitentiary in Kingston, served as an active go-between in obtaining some exports orders for the Kingston locomotive works, and negotiated a lease of federal penitentiary farm lands for a subdivision development. Probably his main asset has been the conscientious way he’s looked after even the most inconsequential requests of his constituents. Earlier this year, for instance, he carried on a lengthy correspondence with three government departments to get a set of slip covers returned to a Kingston widow when they had been mistakenly confiscated by the RCMP at the U. S.-Canadian border.
In his current campaign Allmark, like Benson, promises that he’ll try to have the federal drydock enlarged. He also says he'll push for federal assistance to create a Confederation Park in downtown Kingston as part of the 1967 centennial celebrations. Allmark’s electioneering tactics aren’t too different from Benson’s. He loo is concentrating on door-to-door visits and writing personal letters to the voters. Neither man plans more than four public meetings during the entire compaign; both candidates are sick of tea which they have to sip at innumerable neighborhood parties (known locally as “bun fights”).
Getting ou( the money
Probably the main difference between the candidates is the nature of the organizations behind them. Benson’s campaign committee, which meets once a week in a private room at the La Salle Hotel, operates with the easy if amateurish flair of a clutch of little theatre enthusiasts trying to put on a good play; Allmark's brain trust, which meets daily in a private room over Morrison’s Restaurant, is far more businesslike. As well as Brig. Cunningham, it includes Bill Webster, a real estate assessor who is campaign manager. Dave Nesbitt, a local Mercury dealer, and P'red Madden, retail advertising manager for the Whig-Standard, who runs Allmark's promotional activities. The Tory group discusses strategy down to the last detail. At one meeting I attended, the men spent five minutes deciding how one Kingston heartattack victim, who had promised to vote Conservative, could be transported to the polls on election day.
Both parties have been concentrating their promotional activities on television. Each booked a barrage of spot announcements. plus half-a-dozen longer broadcasts. Benson’s newspaper advertising uses the slogan. “The man you need for effective representation.” implying that Allmark hasn't done much of a job in Ottawa. Allmark’s 1958 ads referred to him simply as “YOUR DIETT.NBAKl R CANDIDATU.” This time he’s billing himself as “The servant of till the people.” implying that Benson might not understand the problems of the little man.
Campaign funds are a headache for both parties because Kingston is one of Ontario's most expensive nonmetropolitan constituencies, but they have been a greater problem for the Liberals than for the Tories. Hard figures are of course impossible to gel but informed estimates 1 heard ranged up to thirty thousand dollars each for the Liberal and Tory campaigns. Just why it's such an expensive riding isn’t clear, though I did get hints that vote-buying isn't tin altogether lost art in Kingston. A dowager recently visited the office of one politically neutral lawyer to complain that the mill girls, whose votes could once be bought for two dollars, were asking for five, and what was the world coming to. anyway?
As in the majority of southeastern On-
tario constituencies, the NDP is written off by both old-line parties. “Respectability is such a virtue in this town that even union people are afraid of appearing radical.” says a Queen’s professor who’s done a sociological study of the city. The labor force is docile; Alcan, the largest employer, has only had one short strike in the past ten years. At the local NDP founding convention last May only thirteen out of thirty locals voted to support the new movement financially. Altnough the CCF . never managed to get much more than a thousand votes in any federal election, John McKinnon, the genial city fireman who’s the NDP candidate, is convinced that the rechristened party will do much better. “We'll do so well that we’ll never be discounted again,” he says. “Up to now, the worker’s vote has belonged to nobody in particular, hut the NDP will be able to gather it up, because for the first time the workers will have a chance to vote for their own party.”
Roughly a fifth of Kingston riding’s votes are in the surrounding farm areas, and except for a few unexplained pockets of Grit votes the rural vote has always been solidly Tory.
Why the dirty fighting begins
Another kind of vote which might very well swing this June 18 is the city's large cadre of institutional workers. The seven military establishments in the city (including the Royal Military College and the National Defense College) account, with their staffs' dependents, for about seven thousand ballots. The military vote went Liberal in 1958. but not as strongly as in 1957. This time it’s expected to swing wholeheartedly back to the Liberals, because the majority of army personnel are dissatisfied with the Tories’ defense policies and some of the economies instituted under former defense minister George Pearkes. (Under the Liberals, for example, there were three independent recruiting centres in downtown Kingston, allowing each service to display photographs of its accomplishments in the booth’s windows. Now there’s only one joint recruiting stand, and many army officers resent the change.) There’s also considerable antigovernment feeling among the six hundred guards at Kingston’s four federal penitentiaries because Justice Minister Davie Fulton’s reform measures have made their jobs more difficult. Predicting the institutional vote is difficult, because many civil servants feel a conflict between voting for the government which gave them their jobs (in most cases, Liberal) and the government which currently employs them.
Because Kingston is such tough political fighting territory its elections have always been marred by questionable tactics. In the 1872 campaign, for instance. Sir John A. Macdonald’s Liberal opponent referred to the prime minister’s thick lips and curly hair, hinting that he must have had Negro antecedents. More recently, during one of the elections won by Liberal Bill Henderson, a stranger calling himself Bill Henderson appeared in Kingston a few weeks before polling day and immediately launched a messy divorce action which got into the local papers. I'he case never came to court and the man vanished shortly after polling day.
All of these things — back-fence innuendoes and platform accusations, old snobberies and new rivalries, local arguments and national issues — will be swirling around in the minds of the 35,000 Kingstonians who'll step behind polling booth curtains on June 18. Then, by some mysterious synthesis — they’ll decide, “I like hint” — and mark their X. This is the way the grassroots process of Canadian democracy works, it