A STRONGMAN’S ROAD TO POWER
Maclean’s Quebec editor Caouette's 26 Socreds upset Quebec and split Canada. Here's why nobody could stop him
ON THE FIRST WEEKEND IN JUNE, a young French Canadian named Raymond Noël, who had just finished his postgraduate study of chemistry at the University of British Columbia, received an urgent telephone call from Montreal. The caller was an official of the Quebec Liberal organization. Was it true, he asked, that Noël was no admirer of the Social Credit government of B. ('.? Very true. Was Noël aware of the rise of Social Credit in Quebec? He'd heard something of it. Did he know that one of the créditiste planks was that B. C., under Social Credit, had become a “debt-free paradise"? Would he like to fly to Quebec at Liberal expense and do some talking about Social Credit? Sure, said Noël, and began to pack.
In Quebec City, pivot of the créditistes’ strength, the Liberals set quickly to work. Television time was booked for Noël. Newspaper ads announced that he would reveal the “truth about Social Credit in the west.” A young newspaperman hired by the Liberals sat up half a night, working Noël’s rough thoughts into two tight speeches. (“You have been misled by a man telling you all possible falsehoods . . . You haven't the right to vote Social Credit.”)
Noël's arrival in Quebec was one of the first shots fired in a massive counteroffensive against the créditistes. This counteroffensive was spearheaded by Liberals; the Conservatives played a minor role. It became the most noticeable feature of the last two weeks of the campaign in French. (Some people have guessed that its only effect was to assist Social Credit by drawing more attention to it.) On June 11, Jean Marchand, president of the federation of national syndicates in Quebec, urged the province's workers to vote against a party that was “diametrically opposed to union policies” and threatened the working class with “slavery and exploitation.” Almost immediately, Roger Provost, president of Quebec's other major labor movement, issued a statement of his own, echoing Marchand. Newspapers took up the cry. led by Le Devoir of Montreal, which titled its June 13 editorial: “Social Credit, a monumental dupery.” Practically on election eve, the province's immensely popular minister of natural resources, René Lévesque, took to television for his only public comment of the whole campaign, a blast against Social Credit. “Either its leaders are deliberately
deceiving the population or they're not aware of their own contradictions," he said among other things.
In the Quebec City district, the in-fighting got rough. Ciillcs Grégoire. Socred candidate in Lapointe, and a provincial vice-president of the party, had been in a court case over how much he would have to pay his separated wife. The Liberals discovered that one of the documents in that case, submitted by Mrs. Grégoire in an attempt to establish her husband's income, was a letter from the central organization of the Union Nationale. This letter, dated May I960, set Grégoire's salary from the UN — it did not sav what for — at fifty dollars a week. The Liberals, masterminded by Gérard Lévesque, the principal government lawyer in the provincial inquiry into graft under the UN, had the letter photostated. They made it into a broadsheet headed SC AN DALE, and for the last ten days of the campaign they distributed it everywhere they could.
THE BIG LIBERAL BLITZ WAS LATE-BY FOUR YEARS
At the same time, the Liberals spent most of what was left of their newspaper advertising budget in Quebec City on quarter-page ads on the theme “Créditistes, your leaders have misled you.” In its last edition before voting day, Le Devoir was able to devote five different front-page stories to the blitz against the Socreds.
It w'as all too late — by about four years. The phenomenon of Social Credit in Quebec w'as the phenomenon of one man, Réal Caouette. More than any other man influenced any other area, Caouette’s personality shaped and colored the campaign through a vast piece of Quebec. At the same time, he has almost single-handedly turned Social Credit inside out. Robert Thompson, the theoretical national leader who brought only himself and three faceless MPs out of the w'est, now in fact heads a group composed mainly of men who owe him nothing and whose language he can scarcely speak. Because of the success of Social Credit in Quebec, Caouette, the deputy leader, is now the strongman of the national party. That success was Caouette’s success, and he had been working toward it since 1958.
By now, this man, who rose
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Oil early television shows he talked about $100 for everybody
to prominence so quickly that the Montreal Gazette thought it necessary after the election to tell its readers hew to pronounce his name, has become a national figure, and most of the facts of his life arc well known. Born: Amos, Que., 1917. One of fifteen children. Classical college education. Onetime traveling salesman, onetime grocer, now an automobile dealer in Rouyn. Social Créditer since 19.39. Ran for Parliament in a 1946 by-elccticn. Won — first Socred ever elected from Quebec. Principal contribution in the Commons: refused to offer customary congratulations to the seconder of the address in reply to the speech from the throne: caused “furore,” one paper reported. Defeated.
Shortly after the election of 1958. in w'hich Caouette had run anil lost again, he took the first step in a campaign that has made him what he is today, a French - Canadian combination of William Aberhart. Pierre Poujade, Dale Carnegie and Juan Perón: he started appearing on television.
Every Sunday afternoon, he talked for fifteen minutes on Rouyn-Noranda's private TV station. He is a formidable speaker, an old-fashioned orator, at once stylized and folksy, sometimes funny, passionately convinced, surprisingly convincing. To him. money is the root of all politics. He makes juvenile delinquency, for instance, an economic and therefore a political problem: "If a boy old
enough to earn his living can't get a job, and he has to borrow a quarter from his poor mother just to buy cigarettes, no wonder he turns to crime." ("The handkerchief's really come out on that one." he told me in an interview during the campaign.) In his talks, the complex economics of Social Credit seem somehow simple. He is probably a more classically doctrinaire Social Credit philosopher than any of the western Socred leaders. On his early TV shows he often talked in terms of $ I ()0-a-month dividends tor everyone. He dropped this item from his policy after it was rejected by the Social Credit national convention in 1961. He says you do not have to understand Social Credit to vote lor it. and his personal magnetism is probably a stronger reason for his success than the ideas he preaches. Arms chopping, eyes burning into the camera (he uses no notes), ideas and words and jokes coming trip-hammer fast into your living room, he is as good television fare as the Plouffe family.
His TV talks brought him new supporters. At a dollar a member a month, his party began to grow and prosper locally. The new members dollars went into buying more television time on other stations. Jonquière. Three Rivers, Sherbrooke. New Carlisle, Quebec City, as soon as the program was pulling in enough money in any one area to pay for its own time. Caouette added a new station to his
network. The more he talked on TV. the more people joined his party; the more people joined, the more he talked. By last winter, he was on nine stations and the party claimed 12.000 members. By the time the election was called. Caouette was as popular in rural and small-town Quebec as BoomBoom Geoffrion, and when the MPs arrived back from Ottawa, and the major parties began holding nomination conventions. Caouette was already running strong.
Through April, May and early June, he whirled across and around the province. traveling mostly by car. Compared with the machinery of the other parties. Social Credit was an amateur movement. No newspaper ads announced their meetings. Sometimes the. constituency organizations didn't even know' w hen Caouette was coming into their ridings. But somehow, word got around, and everywhere he went he was box-office dynamite. Fifteen thousand people in one town. Ten thou-
sand in another, which had a population of eightv-five hundred. On the weekend of June 10 he spoke in a hall in Quebec City to 2,500 people, some of w hom stood outside in a gentle rain to hear him over a PA system. In better - organized and better - advertised meetings in the same hall earlier in the week. Fester Pearson and John Diefenbaker had each drawn only a thousand.
On the night that Raymond Noël was scheduled to make his first appear-
ance on Quebec City TV. blistering the crédit isles, 1 had an opportunity to have a look at the man all the shouting was about. Earlier in the evening. Caouette had addressed a dinner meeting in Quebec City (five dollars a plate) and at nine o'clock, he was playing the Levis armories across the river. I arranged to travel there in the car taking the Hon. Robert Bonner, attorney general of B. C., who was also on the bill (he speaks pretty fair French), but by the time we drove up from the ferry dock, even Mr. Bonner’s car couldn’t get near the building. The speeches from inside were being piped outside on some very loud loudspeakers and for a couple of blocks in every direction, the streets were jammed with cars bearing créditiste stickers. The crowd of pedestrians in front of the armories was something just short of soldiers' day at the ( NE. I tried to stick with Bonner, hoping to get near the platform, but it was hopeless. I would have needed a blocking halfback. There were people shoulder to shoulder in every square foot inside. I decided to do some research in the out-of-doors.
There was something different about this crowd, inside and out, from the people I had seen at the meetings of the older parties. Here, there were no white shirts. Rather than a cross-section of Quebec, this was almost entirely a meeting of sun-tanned men in work clothes, hearty women in cheap dresses, all come here from farms and factories. There was a high proportion of young people, and some of the boys looked as if they rode motorcycles. A surprisingly high percentage of the
parked cars were full: a lot of people seemed to have brought their families and to have decided not to risk the mob scene in the armories itself. Sitting in a packed car on a summer night for a two-hour political meeting may not be everyone's idea of an evening’s recreation, but, as Attorney General Bonner had remarked in mounting elation as we drove up to the meeting, Quebec takes its politics earnestly.
The speakers were all fluent. Many were obviously imitative of Caouette. Every time one of them scored a point there was a great deal of horn-honking outside, mingling with the roar of
applause from within. Bonner spoke briefly, saying that when he got back to the west where they've had Social Credit for thirty years he was going to tell the people that they should go to Quebec to see what the movement was realty like. Caouette spoke last, hitting hard on his familiar theme that Quebeckers had nothing to lose with Social Credit, and drawing the most horn-honks. As he spoke, four or five quite pretty girls moved among the crowd taking up a silver collection and there was a little round maman selling ballpoint pens and car-stickers at one of the armory doors.
I left early while Caouette was still in full oratoria! flight, and as I walked away from that crowded building — all the windows were full of peoples' backs — with his impassioned, staccato phrases and his audience’s noisy response still ringing in my ears, I wondered how it was possible that the old-line parties and so much of the press could really believe that this man and his movement were not a serious political threat.
The truth is, probably, that those who rationalized away the créditistes underestimated not so much Caouette's appeal — no one who saw him could do that — as the dissatisfaction that much of French Canada was feeling with the older parties. This year's campaign did nothing to convince French Canadians that they had been wise in switching from their traditional Liberal alliance to give John Diefenbaker fifty seats in 1958. Though he spoke more and better French in this year’s campaign, the prime minister still docs not seem at home in that
language. Bilingual checks, a French governor general and simultaneous translation in the House of Commons simply were not enough to convince many French Canadians that the Conservative government was really interested in their problems as a "nation,” and the Tories’ vote dropped from over a million in 1958 to under six hundred thousand. Lester Pearson spoke excellent French in this campaign — good enough that two columnists in La Presse called him, with slight exaggeration, the first English('anadian political leader who has ever been truly bilingual. Most of the Liberals' publicity boosted their “équipe de 75” — the team of candidates who would, the publicity had it. be Quebec’s voice in Ottawa. This publicity received a nasty blow when Le Devoir's André Laurendeau, in a page-one column he wrote regularly through the campaign, questioned whether the équipe really offered any significant change from Quebec’s tradition of sending too high a proportion of weak members to Ottawa. In fact, the Liberals’ team was probably the strongest the party has ever offered Quebec — but it might have been stronger. For one reason or another, three potentially outstanding candidates declined to run this year. They were Paul Lacoste, a philosophy professor at the University of Montreal: Guy Favoraux, a lawyer who was once a senior official in the justice department; and Jean Marchand, the labor leader quoted earlier. All of them may well be candidates in a future election.
Even without these men. though,
the Liberals got more votes and more seats than anyone else, but because of the Socred wave the total number of votes they got was actually lower than in 1958.
One myth that kept the old parties from taking Social Credit seriously for so long was the one about Quebeckers not liking to “lose” their votes. As a Conservative put it: “Sure there are some dissatisfied people, and lots of them will go out and cheer for Caouette to express that dissatisfaction. But when they get behind that curtain on voting day, they'll go right back to tradition. They’ll think that if they don't vote rouge or bleu they'll be excommunicated.” (A survey taken for the provincial Liberals in 1959 showed that roughly a third of French Canadians aren't sure that the ballot is secret.) There was another factor too: a lot of political strategy emanates from Montreal, and in Montreal. Social Credit had little impact. Though Caouette's candidates polled 25.6 percent of all votes in the province, they got only 6.1 percent in the twenty-one Montreal ridings. There, the Socreds ran behind the NDP.
The eleventh-hour stampede to stop the Socreds was set off by the fact that private polls, taken late in May, finally convinced the older parties that a lot of people really were going to vote Socred.
Who were they? Where did the Socreds draw support? A high percentage of Socred votes came from the Tories. A great many ridings followed a pattern that was evident in Quebec-Montmorency, just north of Quebec City. Quebec - Montmorency was solidly Liberal from 1935 until the Conservative sweep of 1958, when it voted this way: PC, 25,394; Lib., 19,610; SC (yes, there were créditistes in 1958), 1,109. This year, the Socreds took a whopping 28,360, the Liberals dropped to 10,691, and the Conservatives plummeted to 6,465. The nonConservative vote, in other words, that had gone Conservative in the bandwagon election of 1958, swung here to the créditistes. Another factor was that in 1958 Premier Duplessis’ powerful Union Nationale machine was available to the Conservatives; in 1962, Daniel Johnson's not-so-powerful one was not. In fact, many people suspect that some of the money that paid for Caouette’s stepped-up television crusade in the campaign itself — a crusade that would have been difficult to pay for with nickels and dimes from party members — came from the still-bountiful coffers of the UN. At the level of constituency organizations though, the Union Nationale was, to all intents, neutral. Johnson, who is neither lover nor beloved of the Ottawa Conservatives, is just getting his party reorganized provincially, and he was not anxious to test his rebuilt machinery in a federal campaign. The result was, of course, that a good many UN supporters were free to w'ork for the créditistes on their own, and a good many more voted for them. There were certainly a few incidents in the campaign reminiscent of the Union Nationale. One of them occurred in Jonquière, where Raymond Noël delivered his “truth about Social Credit” live on the local TV station. As he came out the station door, he was met by two carloads of rugged-looking
créditistes who made it clear to him that if he was not enchanted with what was happening in Quebec, he would have their blessings if he left for Vancouver immediately. In the riding of Quebec East, Liberal Maurice Lamontagne was defeated by a Conservative in 1958 largely because Duplessis, an ardent nonadmirer of Lamontagne, threw the whole weight of his local organization into the fight. Social Credit this year piled up twentytwo thousand votes; Lamontagne ran
second: and the Conservative lost his deposit.
The question that remains is to what degree Social Crediters can continue to make inroads in Quebec. Now that they're firmly -established as a party with a real F'rench wing — or a French party — the Socreds will prove tough to unseat in the ridings they hold. A lot, of course, will depend on the impact Caouette and his twenty-live crédit ist e colleagues make in Ottawa. My own opinion (my onl\
qualification here is that 1 won some bets on the créditiste wave) is that the party has already achieved very nearly its maximum strength in Quebec. In nearly all the ridings where the créditistes did well this time, they won. In only five ridings did they come second, and none of those were squeakers. Still, Caouette is convinced he can eventually sweep the province, and if he proved anything in this election. he proved that he was a better prophet than his critics. ★