The man who finally belled the cat

It wasn't merely a "Dump Dief" movement, or even a collision of generations. It was a confrontation of the nation's past and its future. The past died sadly

ALEXANDER ROSS February 1 1967

The man who finally belled the cat

It wasn't merely a "Dump Dief" movement, or even a collision of generations. It was a confrontation of the nation's past and its future. The past died sadly

ALEXANDER ROSS February 1 1967

The man who finally belled the cat

It wasn't merely a "Dump Dief" movement, or even a collision of generations. It was a confrontation of the nation's past and its future. The past died sadly



DALTON CAMP HAPPENS to be an adman as well as a politician, and he likes to joke that he's got a sensational idea for revolutionizing the Canadian political consciousness. He wants to print millions of little cards, maybe lapel buttons, too, and blanket the country with this slogan: MACKENZIE


The slogan is all wrong, of course. The country isn’t ready for it. Mackenzie King not only isn’t dead, he is still the most important political force in the country. How else would you explain the menopausal mentality that obsesses us? We have one of the Western world’s most youthful populations, yet most of our recent elections have been fought on the issue of old-age pensions. We’re continually exhorted to be proud of our country, yet everything, from our foreign policy to our entertainment, is almost defiantly second-best. Caution is the highest political virtue. Ottawa seems to be run by spinsters. Parliament talks while the country spins along its own frantic course into tomorrow. We have no leaders, only technicians.

It doesn't make the slightest difference whether or not this is an accurate expression of how the country is governed. The important fact is that millions of Canadians, not all of them young, feel this way about the nation’s leadership. Ottawa, a city of old women, bores them profoundly. So do all those frock-coated old horse traders who lathered Confederation. So do Pearson and Diefenbaker. So do the “reforms” proposed by either major party, which always seem to consist of: larger handouts to somebody. And so do the politicians themselves. They do not inspire. They do not excite. They have nothing to do with life as it is led today.

These people — the young ones are reaching voting age at the rate of nearly 1,000 a day — are Dalton Camp's secret weapon. They are not merely ready, they arc hungering for a Kennedy-style explosion of idealism and change. It's already happened in Quebec—-a revolution in style and energy that’s made politics seem important again. And if it ever happens in English-speaking Canada, it will be through the leadership of Camp, or someone very much like him, who understands the real issue of the 1960s: “There’s a kind of creeping spirit of innovation abroad in this country,” he says. “Either it’s going to be crushed by a reversion to ritual, or it’s going to make us the envy of the world. Either we survive as a great nation, or we don’t survive at all.”

The issue was clearly expressed at last November's Conservative Party annual meeting, at which the Camp forces successfully challenged the party’s leadership. It wasn’t merely a “Dump Diet” movement. It wasn't even a simple collision between generations. What we witnessed, in the sad humiliation of John Diefenbaker, was a collision of political mythologies, a decisive confrontation between the nation's past and its future. The fact that the Camp forces won may turn out to be more decisive than we can now imagine; but after the old man had tried everything — appeals to unity, derision, invoking the grandeur of the past — and met only with hisses or an uncomprehending silence, everyone there somehow sensed that the country might never be the same again. It wasn’t just the end of one man’s political career: it was also the end of a whole style, a political sensibility that has served us for half a century. “It’s not often you can feel a page of history turning,” says Pat Nowlan, an anti-Diefenbaker Conservative MP, “but we all felt it that night.”

“Diefenbaker’s speech was the turning point,” Camp now recalls. “After it was over, I felt very sad. I wanted to get out of there.” He went to a friend's room on one of the upper stories of the Chateau Laurier and stayed there for an hour. There were four other people in the room, but no one said much. Camp sprawled on a sofa, his jacket off but his tie still neatly knotted, and thought about what he’d done. “I thought what a shattering experience it had been, and how costly it was going to be for our side.” It had been an ugly spectacle: the boos, the wisecracks, the heckling — and the brave old man up on the platform s. Qng all the wrong things. “I'd never believed it would be as bad as it was,” Camp says. “When the heckling started I kept wondering if I, as chairman, should stand up and call the meeting to order. I decided that I’d better not -—it would have been an affront to Mr. Diefenbaker, who knows better then anyone how to manage audiences.”

Camp was a little stunned — not just by the extent of the meeting’s anti-Diefenbaker feeling, but also by the personal attack that the leader had made on Camp himself. “For seven weeks,” Camp recalls, “I’d been campaigning for a review of the party’s leadership and hadn’t mentioned anybody’s name. And then, suddenly — bang! The w'hole thing was polarized.”

That’s not how Camp had planned it, but that’s how it turned out: the party was as badly split as at any time in its history. Down below on the convention floor, delegates were cursing each other. Some wept. One Tory MP, a Diefenbaker man, overheard an undergraduate hissing Diefenbaker as he made his way through the crowd and cuffed the young man to the ground. Senator Grattan O’Leary, who supported Camp’s bid for re-election as the party's national president, was actually spat upon.

It was Camp w-ho had crystallized this fearsome division — Camp and the old man who’d chosen to fight rather than resign. Now w'hat was to be done about it? Sitting up there on the beige sofa in the Chateau Laurier hotel room, Dalton Camp started thinking about how to pick up the pieces. Then he got up, took an elevator down to the convention floor, and started moving once again among the milling delegates, the reporters, the television cameras. He w'as the wanner that night, but Dalton Camp wasn’t smiling.

WHO IS HE AND how did he do it? The man we saw on television during those hectic days and nights was the image of coolness and icy control. Even when the old man, during his speech, pointed a finger and called him. in effect, a backstabber. Camp showed no emotion. With his three-piece Toronto suit, his high-domed Stevensonian head and his tailored phrases, he seemed like everything his detractors have accused him of being: power-seeker, big-city intellectual, bloodless adman-manipulator, Bay Street hatchet man.

Actually, Camp is all of these things, and none of them. As a Toronto resident for 16 years he qualifies for the big-city label, even though his background, and many of his inclinations, are decidedly small-town. He is a masterful manipulator — in the sense that he understands, better than almost anyone, what makes the Conservative Party tick. He is also an intellectual, in the sense that he hates political clichés worse than anything, and believes a party needs new ideas the way a locomotive needs fuel. And you could even describe him as a Bay Street man — but only in the sense that some powerful Tory financiers, including Sinclair Stevens and Senator Wallace McCutcheon, supported his re-election.

Camp may be uniquely qualified to bring the news to his party because, at 46, he knows more than almost anyone else of his generation about the minutiae of Canadian party politics. For the past 20 years he has done little else but learn. If you ask him about Pincher Creek, Alta., or Plaster

But it’s a sad commentary on our political vocabulary that we must fall back on obsolete labels like these to describe a man who is simply a modern politician — a breed lamentably rare in Canada. For if Camp’s revolt is for anything, it’s for a revision of this outworn vocabulary, and for a change in our political climate. Kennedy did it in the U.S. When is it going to happen in Ottawa? When are we going to acknowledge that the depression is over, that Mackenzie King is dead? Rock, NB, he can tell you who the sitting member is, how many votes he won by, what’s bugging the local citizenry and exactly who’s in charge of the local party organization. He spends most of his time listening, and admits, “You have to have a computerized mind for this job. Everything that’s said goes into the bank.”

"There is a creeping spirit of innovation abroad. It could make us the envy of the world"

This political flair was noticeable early. One morning in 1946, when Camp was a student at the University of New Brunswick, there was a knock at the door of the off-campus quonset hut that served as married quarters for him and his wile Linda. It was an aide of New Brunswick’s Liberal Premier J. B. McNair, who said, “The premier presents his compliments and invites you to visit Ottawa this weekend.”

The hand of God! He’d never met McNair (although he’d known two of his sons in the army). But three days later he found himself installed in a suite in the Chateau Laurier, lunching with cabinet ministers, and making speeches about the youth of New Brunswick to respectful little groups of Liberal MPs. This went on for three days.

“It was the strangest thing,” Camp recalls. “I still don’t know why McNair did it. Maybe he’d been reading my editorials / continued on page 73 in the Brunswickan.” (Camp was a fiery campus editor in those days.)

continued on page 73

DALTON CAMP continued from page 21

Camp’s first meeting with Diefenbaker: “He was very aloof”

Whatever the motive, the effect was instantaneous. Camp had been shown the Great World outside Fredericton, and he was hooked on politics. Within two years, and before he'd graduated from UNB. he’d become national treasurer of the Liberal Student Federation, had helped draft the party's maritime policy and—by skipping lectures to hang around the New Brunswick legislature—had become a sort of unofficial aide to his mentor. Premier McNair.

But his career as a Liberal ended abruptly in 1948, after he attended the convention that named Louis St. Laurent as the party's leader, and rejected the Maritime policy he’d helped to draft. “It disgusted me,” says Camp. “That was my first confrontation with the real Establishment of this country —the first one and the last one.” When he returned to Canada in 1950, after postgraduate work at the Columbia School of Journalism and the London School of Economics, he was a committed Conservative.

During the 1950s he led a double life: he earned his living as an advertising copywriter and account executive in Toronto, and directed Tory election campaigns in the Maritimes and Manitoba. For six years he was chief Conservative organizer in the Maritimes. “I don’t think we'd have made it without Camp,” says Nova Scotia Premier Robert Stanfield. “In the 1953 campaign, when the party was weak, he managed to bait the government so well that, by election day, the Liberals were running advertisements attacking me personally.” Manitoba’s Premier Duff Roblin. another personal friend, also regards Camp’s campaign assistance as crucial. By late 1962, when AI lister Grosart retired as Conservative national organizer, Camp was a natural choice to succeed him. In 1964 he was elected president of the national association — the post he’s held ever since.

In 1959, he formed his own agency, Dalton Camp and Associates. About one third of the firm’s $1.5 million annual billings comes from the tourist boards of Nova Scotia and Manitoba. the two provinces whose premiers he helped elect. Camp has been criticized for this arrangement and acknowledges that, like most government advertising accounts, they were political awards. “But you still have to produce results," he says.

It wasn't until 1955 that he met Diefenbaker. Their first encounter, at a Tory dinner in Winnipeg, was not promising. “He was very detached.” Camp recalls, “very aloof.” Later, when Diefenbaker became prime minister and Camp had assumed a national role in the party’s organization, the two men learned to work closely together. Camp, in his public statements about his chief, was consistent-

ly loyal to Diefenbaker — but never warmly so. They never became friends.

They never could have become friends. They’re too dissimilar. Camp is affable, creative, tolerant, contemporary. humorous, candid, sophisticated and heavily disposed toward seeing several sides to every question. Diefenbaker is not. Camp drives a Buick Riviera, likes wine at dinner and tries to understand Marshall McLuhan. Diefenbaker does not. Camp tries to learn from young people: Diefenbaker tries to instruct them. Camp prefers talking to individuals; Diefenbaker is at his best addressing crowds. Camp would have got along famously with John F. Kennedy. Diefenbaker emphatically did not. Camp’s style is cool, controlled, and intellectual. Diefcnbakcr’s is fiery, impassioned and evangelistic. Camp is a man of reason. Diefenbaker is a man with visions. They truly have about as much in common as Stalin and Yevtushenko.

DALTON CAMP continued

“We were participating in an act of cynicism.” Camp acted

This simple fact-—not Bay Street, not the press, not the “Hitler youth"— explains Camp’s victory last November. Nearly everything about Diefenbaker is repellent—that is not too strong a word — to the people who mean most to the future of the Conservative Party. Diefenbaker's critics, in groping to deline his personality, tend to lapse into the jargon of clinical psychiatry. “We weren’t fighting the older generation,” says one Camp supporter, “we were fighting paranoia. Says another, 1 he man is simply incapable of an adult relationship.” As for Camp, he publicly declines to make personal comments about Diefenbaker. “What can 1 say that will sound diplomatic?” he asks.

The time was now

Regrettably, the Conservative Party is full of people who have been trying for years to be diplomatic about their leader. This realization, which came to Camp on May 13 last year—the day was a Friday—made him decide the time finally had come to beli the cat.

It happened at a seminar at McMaster University organized by the Ontario Young Progressive Conservative Association. Camp had just returned from a Caribbean vacation. During his absence, and without consulting him, the newly appointed national chairman, a Diefenbaker man named James Johnston, had fired the party’s long-time secretary. Flora MacDonald. The incident had been widely interpreted as a direct slap by Diefenbaker at Camp.

"The panelists at the seminar weren't Conservatives.” Camp recalls. “They were well - informed, openminded people like Fraser Kelly of the Toronto Telegram, and their attacks on the leadership were brutal.

"But that isn’t what shocked me. What shocked me was the fact that, in this roomful of young people, of Conservatives, sitting through a long attack on their leader, no one budged! Nobody protested the attacks, because nobody disagreed with them.

“All were participating in a profound act of cynicism. It was so unreal. No one in that room approved of the leadership, but all of us were acquiescing. The toleration of it was corrupting. To accept it you had to be a cynic. And among the young people of a political party-—that's the worst place for cynicism.”

That’s when Camp decided to act. Months earlier he’d accepted an invitation to speak at a black-tie dinner meeting of the Albany Club, a Conservative-oriented men’s club in Toronto. He took an unpublished column he'd written for the Toronto Telegram, expanded it into an appeal for a review of the Conservative leadership, and delivered it on May 20 to the Albany Club gathering, which was closed to the press. Diefenbaker heard about it that same night: Senator David Walker telephoned him from the club minutes after Camp had finished speaking.

This, Camp had decided, was the only way to inform the Chief that his leadership was under attack. The two men by now were virtually strangers (Camp’s last formal audience had been the previous January). If he’d mailed Diefenbaker an advance copy of his speech, Camp felt, it would have been interpreted as a threat.

That secret speech, its import relayed across the country by jungle telegraph and long-distance telephone, crystallized the opposition. Camp’s supporters, younger party workers in constituency organizations across the country, started organizing delegates for the November convention. And, although their alliance was loose and informal, Diefenbaker men soon began referring to them as “the Eglinton Mafia.” Camp stayed in constant touch with his mafiosi by long-distance telephone from his advertising-agency office on Toronto's Eglinton Avenue.

DALTON CAMP continued

Camp won the battle — but can he supply the new vision?

Camp chose the earliest possible moment to make the issue public. He waited until two provincial electons and the September 19 federal by-elections had been decided. Then, in a speech the following day to the Toronto Junior Board of Trade, he laid it on the line. It was almost the same speech he'd given at the Albany Club, but broadened to include an appeal for leadership reviews in both major parties. “Where the leader does not know the limits of his power, he must be taught, and when he is indifferent to the interest of his party, he must be reminded,” Camp said. He received a standing ovation and the fight was out in the open at last.

From then on the battle has been well documented. Arthur Maloney— identified, despite his denials, as the “Diefenbaker candidate" — opposed Camp for the presidency. Party chairman James Johnston issued a Convention agenda that would have left the leadership vote until the final day. The Camp-controlled party executive revised the agenda at a Sunday-night meeting before the convention opened. Diefenbaker’s debacle came on Monday. Camp narrowly defeated Maloney for the presidency on Tuesday and, before going home, the delegates voted for a leadership convention to be held not later than January 1, 1968. Seventy-one of the To y MPs in parliament signed a statement affirming their loyalty to Diefenbaker, and purged several pro-Camp MPs from the caucus representation on the national executive. But it was a largely symbolic gesture, since it couldn’t atleet Camp's massive control of that body. Dielenbaker, in other words, is probably finished. Even commentators who have embarrassed themselves in the past with premature predictions about Diet's “impending” retirement are now betting he’ll never fight another election. It may have been necessary surgery it the Conservative Party is to survive (the NDP have already pulled abreast of the Tories in national popularity polls), but it is sad nevertheless.

“Stand your ground, sir”

I his great old man, with his fierce love of country, his reverence for the greatness of parliament, his vision of what Canada might have been, succeeded in moving the hearts of his countrymen as no Canadian has done before or since. His personality has dominated a decade of the greatest changes in all our history — but they are changes that he never understood. Last November, when he received a visitor in his House of Commons office among the mementos of a lifetime in politics, he spoke of the mighty shades of parliaments past: Pitt. Burke. Gladstone. Baldwin. Churchill, Macdonald, Mackenzie King. He spoke of his mother’s ancestors, driven from Scotland by the enclosure laws, and of the wide, barren country that they settled and tamed. Men tiptoed in with messages to be answered and papers to be signed. But the old man waved them away or ignored them, and told an anecdote about Macdonald as though it had happened yesterday.

There w'ere stacks of mail in his office, hundreds of letters of encouragement from people who sensed that a friend, a man they loved, was under attack. “Stand your ground, sir,” advised a retired navy man from Victoria. “THE SKUNKS, t CAN SMELL THEM FROM HERE.” telegraphed a man from Calgary. Pinned up on the wall behind his desk w'as a poem sent in by a well-wisher. It was a printed copy of Kipling’s //. These were the people who built and are still building this country, who lived through its hard times, w'ho fought its wars. They believe in John Diefenbaker and in his vision for Canada.

It is a terrible responsibility for Dalton Camp. He saw that the times are changing, and he was tough enough to humiliate the man who has prevented the Conservative Party from changing w'ith them.

But can he—can anyone—supply the new vision that Dalton Camp's generation needs? ★