MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

PETER C. NEWMAN July 28 1962
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

PETER C. NEWMAN July 28 1962

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

MACLEAN'S REPORTS

PETER C. NEWMAN

The 1962 election may bring Left and Right back to Canadian politics

INDECISIVE AS IT WAS, the 1962 election drastically altered the voting roots of Canada’s political parties.

The Conservative party, which throughout Canadian history has traditionally been the political expression of big business and Orange Ontario, has now become a rural and resourcebased movement, with only a pitiful vestige of big-city support. The Liberals, who have looked to Quebec for their most dependable support ever since a Tory cabinet refused to intercede in the hanging of Louis Riel, were transformed this year into a party representing the mercantile interests of the nation’s urban and suburban citizens. The New Democratic Party, which was supposed to be nourished by the agrarian background of the CCF, lost all farm support and emerged instead as a significant competitor of the Liberals for the urban vote. The Social Credit party, which until June 18 was a semiserious right-wing prairie invention, shocked all of the political zodiac-readers by becoming an expression of French-Canadian disillusionment.

These changes represent trends, not just election results.

The loss of Ontario — and especially many of the personalities who were defeated — has

removed most of the reactionary element from the Tory party. It seems headed for a new role as a truly progressive movement. The Liberals, on the other hand, are in danger of being hived into the cities, which would leave them in a death duel for survival with the NDP. The most likely long-term outcome of such a battle — which w'ould force the Grits to move even more to the political left — would be the absorption of the NDP. That, in turn, would isolate the business community from the Liberals. Bay and St. James Streets might then return to their more natural habitat inside the Conservative party, reorganized under a new leader.

Such a realignment — and it might take another generation to come about — would once again polarize the political movements in this country into a recognizable Left and Right. But whether or not these massive alterations actually take place, the trends they represent will have a definite bearing on the behavior of the four parties in the next House of Commons.

Most of the guesses about future political alliances have based Diefenbaker’s ability to remain in power on an entente with the Social Credit. Aside from their doctrinal differences, the Socred leadership problem — which might be compared to a Hindenburg-Hitler relationship — will make that party a most undependable ally.

Instead, there is growing speculation in Ottawa that the Tories will seek and find a much more palatable alliance with the New Democratic Party. The NDP has 19 seats. Together with the Conservative total of 115 (taking one member away to become speaker), this gives the two parties 134 votes — enough to block the dissolution of the House against the combined strength (129) of the Liberals and Social Crediters.

While Tommy Douglas has no love for Diefenbaker, the two men are believed to share the hope that the next election will be postponed as long as possible. Douglas has the personal problem of getting himself elected to the Commons. His party is literally bankrupt and needs to refinance itself (mostly from the slow trickle of union dues) for the next contest. Most important of all, the NDP must totally reorganize itself around the urban vote, which in an early election would be swept away — possibly, permanently — by the Liberals.

The Liberal party, on the other hand, desperately wants an early election, since it could then capitalize on the fear Canadians would have of putting into office another minority administration. The appeal that Pearson alone

could form a majority government, and a reminder to the electors of the pre-1957 political stability under the Liberal regime, would be tough to beat. Social Credit also wants an early campaign, so that it can take advantage of the gusher of public sentiment now going for it in French Canada.

Prime Minister Diefenbakcr’s insistence on delaying the next session of parliament until well into September, and his tactic of including in his austerity program only those measures which did not need new legislation, plainly indicate his intention of delaying an election. The main job of the Conservatives now is to enlist able, young candidates to run in the urban ridings, and to find a platform attractive enough to help oifset Diefenbakcr's lack of appeal in the more sophisticated voting areas of the nation. But this will take time, and that’s why the Tories will use every device — including deals with their political and ideological enemies — to stave off another campaign.

In the past, John Diefenbaker has amply demonstrated that his political instincts are those of a river-boat gambler. Now he’s about to undertake the biggest gamble of his political life.