When stumping Fundy-Royal watch out for the divine right of pawns
FIRST BUSINESS OF A MARITIME CAMPAIGNER
When stumping Fundy-Royal watch out for the divine right of pawns
The softwood trees are a deeper green along the Bay of Fundy, and in late October the golds and browns of the salt marshes are mellower than ever beside the small black rivers carving their way through the headlands to the sea.
The sea is not reserved for fishermen and poets; there are also shipyards and pulp mills and oil refineries on the shore. But the noise and smoke of factories are soon forgotten in the heartland of New Brunswick, Fundy-Royal, which stretches from Saint John to the rivers of the north and east, and takes in the lower St. John River Valley.
Fundy-Royal is a large constituency, and I have plenty of time for reflection as I travel from town to village to city. The 1972 election is my fifth campaign in 10 years, but I still feel that for the sake of my own integrity I must maintain a sense of proportion when supporters rain exaggerated claims about me upon grave-faced audiences. This does not mean that I am not deeply touched when, during a canvass in a hospital convalescent wing, a woman grips my hand and says, “Mr. Fairweather, it is not just that your supporters respect you, they love you.”
Ideas emerge on the road. It is important not to permit anxiety, the companion of exhaustion, to disintegrate into despair. The truth is that I am engaged in a passionate love affair with people and places in the area I represent in parliament.
A federal election campaign is a curious mixture of exposure and isolation, of exhilaration and exhaustion; but for me the strongest sensation is one of being in a time capsule for six weeks. The candidate does receive signals from time to time — messages from national headquarters urging even greater effort and suggesting ways of wooing voters. Yet even though my constituents are following the progress of the campaign by means of newspapers, radio and television, I feel cut off from the national scene. One of the truths of New Brunswick politics is that provincial, not national, issues are foremost in the minds of the people. Ditches, culverts and roads rank well
ahead of ideology in voter appeal as I seek support.
On a subsistence farm a mile from the main highway lives a family who have asked to see me. The message is relayed in the casual way of some country people — “If you see Mr. Fairweather, ask him to stop by.” I find a man so distraught by worry due to his wife’s illness that he’s lost all hope. His wife’s heart is on the right side of her body, and other vital organs are also misplaced. The Canadian Heart Foundation is paying half the drug bills but there’s no spare cash to pay the rest. The family is stalked by debt. I promise to help. I telephone the Heart Foundation and write to the provincial department of health, but these are stopgap procedures; the image of the man’s eyes will not leave my mind.
In the village of Apohaqui lives Mrs. Phyllis Buchanan, a World War II bride. Her husband, her husband’s brother and then her daughter were afflicted with Huntington’s chorea, a rare hereditary degenerative disease of the central nervous system. Mr. Buchanan died and the Department of Veterans Affairs first responded to Mrs. Buchanan’s application for help by saying that she was “too young to be a widow.” That insensitive non sequitur was overcome by pressure, firmly applied; the whole community knew of this mother’s devotion to her gravely ill daughter and knew she could not leave her to go out to work.
Cheryl died last September. Because I had been close to the family at a critical stage in their lives, I went to the funeral, after first being assured by a local sage that such a gesture would not be misunderstood.
Jim Clark lives at Iron Bound Cove in Queens County and walked six miles to shake hands with me. He drinks six cups of scalding coffee as fast as the good ladies who are catering for the “meet the candidate” night can refill his cup. He eats twice times six doughnuts to sustain him during his long walk home.
A deaf mute comes to campaign headquarters and motions for paper and pen. He scribbles the / continued on page 52
FAIRWEATHER from page 27
message that he will vote for Gordon Fairweather and that he likes him. I write a thank-you sentence below his words and he grasps rriy hand and shakes it vigorously, smiling all the while.
A man in Hopewell Cape tells me he will not buy CIL ammunition because it is made in Quebec. Winchester shells are made in Ontario, he says, and when John Diefenbaker was prime minister he made sure the Ontario product was available in the stores. The man boasts about how he frightened the store clerk who had the temerity to question such blatant bigotry.
St. Martin’s is now a lovely quiet place along the coast of the Bay of Fundy. The men of the village who are not retired drive 30 miles to Saint John to work, many of them in the large modern shipyard. A century ago ships built in St. Martin’s could be found on all the world’s oceans. Captain and Mrs. H. J. Walter and Mrs. Walter’s sister, Miss Annie DeLong, live in a handsome white painted wooden house beside the small harbor. The house is full of pictures and models of St. Martin’s ships. Captain Walter is 80, but he still builds fine model vessels, and Miss DeLong recalls her 40 years of teaching primary grades in the local school. The library in the new school is to be named the Annie DeLong Library. I didn’t have to talk politics; they all knew why I was there.
Anagance Ridge United Church is having a turkey supper. This part of the country has been stripped of people; they have had to move away because the family farms of standard 200-acre size cannot possibly support them. The turkey supper serves both to replenish the church coffers and the need of the people for a reunion. We sit upstairs in the church with our tickets, numbers 155 and 156, waiting to be called to the feast
below. Eating is serious business. Bustling women scurry back and forth with plates loaded with turkey, vegetables, homemade bread, rolls and pies. I remember the story of Prince Philip in Yellowknife who was told by an excited lady serving him to “keep your fork, Prince, there’s more to come.”
The Women’s Progressive Conservative Association of Hampton have invited people to meet their federal Member of Parliament (they are flatteringly unconcerned that the elec-
tion to choose their MP is 10 days hence). The meeting starts with one verse of O Canada, quaveringly rendered without accompaniment. I try to talk about some of the issues and what it means to have their votes and their help. Mrs. Gus Schousboe, who came to Canada with her husband 45 years ago from Denmark, is in charge of the meeting and announces that the candidate will entertain questions. One comes in the form of a statement criticizing the government for bribing people with goodies paid for with their own money, and that’s the end of the public questioning. After a verse of God Save The Queen, sung equally uncertainly, I go about the crowded hall listening to a whole series
of comments and questions by people now emboldened by the privacy of faceto-face discussion. The ladies of the association have outdone themselves both in the quantity and the variety of sandwiches and cakes. My wife says that the Tories are busy eating their way to power.
Mrs. Flora McKee takes charge of me for the canvass of St. Martin’s. She has a list of calls for me to make. I get an earful of complaints leveled against Premier Richard Hatfield personally because his government has not ditched this piece of road or renewed that culvert. These public works were allegedly promised long ago, when Louis Robichaud was in power. There’s not much left of the secret ballot in St. Martin’s; Flora drives through the village with me saying, “They are okay,” “They are great,” “They are good as gold,” “They are Grit,” “It’s no use stopping there.” The canvass, in a place with fixed voting patterns, is really a case of a friendly visit in the same way a clergyman makes his rounds. No votes are changed. Useful personal information is gathered: who’s sick, who’s had an anniversary, who needs help.
For some unaccountable reason a lady from Statistics Canada has included a politician’s family among her sample for data gathering purposes. We thought it a bit of a lark during the summer because my hours of work defy analysis. The questions became positively ludicrous when asked during the last hectic weeks of the campaign. “What was the number of hours you worked last week?” was one question. I quickly calculated the answer to be about 100. “Did you do anything else?” My reply cannot be coded for any computer yet invented.
Confrontation politics is not the rule continued on page 54
FAIRWEATHER continued in Fundy-Royal — confrontation, that is, with one’s opponents or with people whose views may differ widely from one’s own. There’s one exception, at the University of New Brunswick at Saint John, where the political science department has organized a panel which includes seven candidates from adjoining ridings. There are the usual questions about social issues, including one directed to an NDP candidate asking for his views about abortion. The good man answers that he does not have a position on this issue yet, but if the questioner will leave his telephone number the candidate will develop a policy and call him.
There is no discussion from the 200 to 300 students of international affairs, and most of the questions asked show a bias considerably to the right of my own. For example, the Canadian Radio-Television Commission’s Canadian content rules are criticized and the student who condemns these rules is applauded.
But the real confrontation takes place in widely separated parts of the riding and is about widely different issues. One of my many theories about young people who live in the Maritime provinces is that they are rather like dry sponges and will absorb anything. The lack of critical capacity is by no means the fault of the young — there are socioeconomic explanations which are rooted in our history. During the campaign, I thought it more important than ever to get to the high schools with an explanation of what we politicians are about, what some of the issues are and, incidentally, to suggest that there is no inexorable rule that they should follow the voting patterns of their fathers and grandfathers.
The students of Flillsborough High School press me about the language issue. They trot out all the familiar prejudices — French is being forced upon them; there is a lack of jobs and promotions because of the bilingualism policy.
I realize that though an honest answer will not be popular here, I must reply. I explain my support of the Official Languages Act. I try to make them see that they could be the first generation without bigotry, that in 1972 it can only be an advantage to be able to speak the two working languages of most of the world. I beg them to be patient; nation-building is a long, difficult and delicate process. They don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, and I abandon all thought of placating a hostile community. I tell the kids that the French words on bilingual national park signs are smeared at night by cowards who dare not come out with their paintpots by day. A teacher shrugs her shoulders and says it will take a long while to erase prejudice — as long as it took the people of Israel to get out of Egypt.
“Who owns this building?” asks a youth who with 30 of his friends has come to see some movies and eat some sandwiches provided by the provincial minister of highways. The minister wants to find out what young people in Chipman have on their minds. The minister and I struggle hard to get the questions under way. There are a few desultory inquiries about cost of elections and how funds are raised. Then a young man who is obviously bitter and frustrated says, “There’s nothing for us to do but get drunk — all the activities are controlled by old people.” “Who owns this building?” “I bet it’s old people.”
The discussion comes alive. He repeats that “all the kids can do is get drunk on Friday night and stay drunk for the weekend.” The bored and indifferent are suddenly involved. I tell them they should incorporate a youth council and run their own dances and other entertainment. I tell them that Opportunities For Youth and Local Initiatives Programs are designed to meet some of their hang-ups, and that although I can’t impose solutions I can help them with organization and paper work. One lad asks me my name — a salutary question after 10 years as an MP — and in turn I ask them theirs and urge them to take action. It is exhilarating to watch the group respond. Will they trust me enough to come back to me with requests for help? They’re bored and alienated; and that can’t continue by default.
There are some people who persist in searching for the real Canada as if it has not yet been found. But Canada is all about us, and each of us will define it in his or her own way. For me the source is to be found in hundreds of places beside the rivers and ocean bays, in the intervale meadows and in the forested uplands. In Snider Mountain, where the Hon. Milton Gregg, VC, was born the Baptist Church stands stark and spare and the flies buzz about the windows as the preacher intones the virtues of a departed neighbor. The land rolls away to the north and west as far as the eye can see — far beyond Snider Mountain and far beyond New Brunswick, for we’re only a part of Canada. The real Canada is all around us. We must discover it, and love it, for Canada needs our devotion. ■
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.