MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

Flash: the Socreds are...well, anti-semantic

PETER C. NEWMAN September 22 1962
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

Flash: the Socreds are...well, anti-semantic

PETER C. NEWMAN September 22 1962

BACKSTAGE IN OTTAWA

Flash: the Socreds are...well, anti-semantic

PETER C. NEWMAN

THE BEST PARLIAMENTARY brains of the Conservative party have spent the summer desperately trying to devise some way of extending their ministry’s mandate until next spring, when they believe the Diefenbaker image may be refurbished enough for another journey to the hustings. The centrepiece of this strategy does not, as many observers have been predicting, involve any kind of coalition in the House of Commons with Robert Thompson, the Social Credit leader.

While Thompson has already said that he doesn't plan to precipitate an election this year (“if the other parties can rise above political partisanship, and concentrate their efforts on Canada’s improvement”), Tory parliamentarians are convinced that the behavior of the Socreds in the House will be governed not by the calm compromise of Thompson but by the extravagant fanaticism of Réal Caouette, the party’s deputy leader.

Unlike Caouette, who since the election has behaved like a hot gospeler bitten by the devil, Bob Thompson has exercised the grace of a gaitered bishop who prefers to deal in supreme destinies.

“My definition of success,” he told me during a recent interview in his newly painted parliamentary office, “is not based on whether I become prime minister of Canada, but on whether I can bring about the necessary reforms.”

A sad-eyed, earnest introvert, Thompson at least outwardly presents a sharp contrast to the not-too-distant past, when his party was raving against the international conspiracy of bankers and Zionists. But if Thompson isn’t anti-Semitic, he is anti-semantic. With a dogged but curiously impersonal fluency, phrases spill out of him in an unanswerable gush that

leaves the listener cither totally convinced or totally baffled. “For every dollar in circulation,” he proclaims, “there will he a matching dollar of consumer goods, so that production to satisfy the wants of people will control the money system, instead of money controlling production.”

Thompson told me that the movement is attracting increased support from “small 1" liberals across Canada, but his comments were mi ch more compatible with the far right in politics. He sp^ke admiringly of American Senator Barry Goldwater, and he plans to invite Goldwater to Canada. Unlike Goldwater, Thompson opposes the spread of nuclear arms to Canada, but his view of the United Nations is only slightly left of that held by the Neanderthal wing of the U. S. Republican party. (“I’m not against the UN, but the thing that disturbs me is how you can make black and white come together. It's like mixing oil and water.”) Last spring Thompson edged toward red-baiting when on March 9 he to’d a small gathering in Regina that Hazen Argue’s admission to the Liberal party meant there was “a definitive red glow from the lamp in Lester Pearson’s window.”

Thompson advocates many things that few responsible Canadian politicians, whatever their party allegiance, would oppose. He'd like to see the British North America Act brought under Canadian control, trade with the U. S. and the Commonwealth liberalized, the establishment of a municipal loan bank, and the adoption of a distinctive Canadian flag and anthem.

But when he begins to expound the Social Credit theories which he feels are essential for Canadian progress, his apparently sound understanding of the nation’s problems vanishes in a cloud of the clichés into which the monetary mysticism of his movement is cast. “The Social Credit theory,” he told me, "is more true today than it ever was. It’s a philosophy with a principle.” Then he leaned across his desk and asked me: “When we borrow money from a bank we give a bond. If we can print the bond that makes the debt, why can’t we print the money?”

This left me rather confused, so I shot back with a question of my own: “Since Social Credit seems basically to be an economic theory, aren’t you just a bit discouraged by the fact that not a single economist in Canada has joined your party?”

I got back another question: “What’s ant economist?”

I said that I thought an economist was someone who had received the university training which qualified him in economics. “No,” was the answer, “it’s practical training that counts. 1 have lots of people with me who are as well qualified as any economist." (A few days before our interview, Thompson had compared John Diefenbakcr’s austerity program to “rubbing liniment on your foot to cure your headache.” I had to admit it was as good a definition as I’d heard.)

Our interview then switched to Réal Caouettc, the firebrand deputy leader who had spent the preceding week in CJttawa contradicting just about everything that Thompson said. I asked Thompson particularly about Caouette's interview in Vancouver on August 7, when he boasted that he had dodged conscription during World War II and proclaimed he would “never go to war for Canada’s present economic system.”

“Réal didn’t really mean that,” Thompson explained. “Something is lost in translation sometimes. Loyalty to country ought to surpass our struggle for reform.”

I confronted Thompson with a statement Caouettc had made to Hélène Pilottc, a reporter from Le Magazine Maclean; Caouettc said that Hitler and Mussolini were his political heroes. Thompson, who hadn’t previously seen this quote, blanched visibly, and mumbled that certainly Réal couldn’t have meant it. (Of contemporary political figures, Thompson expressed an admiration for U. S. Senator Strom Thurmond — an ultra-right-wing demagogue from South Carolina — and ex-president Herbert Hoover.)

“People haven't yet quite accepted the notion of giving us power,” Thompson said at the end of our interview. “But they’re toying with the idea.”

? JOHN DIEFEN BAKER’S austerity program washed out most of the financial promises he made during his campaign, but at least one nonmonetary pledge will also probably never be redeemed. On June 14, he told a rally of immigrants from the Baltic nations at Toronto’s Massey Hall that “sympathetic consideration will be given to granting the acting consuls (non-Communist) of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania full diplomatic recognition.” What he didn’t mention was that those three unhappy little countries have already been granted de facto recognition by Canada as constituent republics of the USSR, and, in fact, the few Baltic immigrants who have come to Canada in postwar years have been admitted as Soviet citizens.