OTTAWA

Farewell To Power: Departing Thoughts Of An Absent Cabinet Minister

BRYCE MACKASEY February 1 1973
OTTAWA

Farewell To Power: Departing Thoughts Of An Absent Cabinet Minister

BRYCE MACKASEY February 1 1973

Farewell To Power: Departing Thoughts Of An Absent Cabinet Minister

OTTAWA

BRYCE MACKASEY

November 10, 1972. Driving back from meetings at Mont Gabriel, Quebec, to Ottawa. Last night, I gave a speech to a gathering of my departmental officials, people from Manpower and Immigration who were at a seminar working out new ideas for forthcoming legislation.

Tonight I quit the cabinet. I’m not being pushed out, I could have had a number of portfolios, but I’m going. Enough is enough. It’s warm in here, and my mind keeps drifting back over a political life.

It was a hell of a speech, that one at Mont Gabriel. The atmosphere was charged even before I began to talk. I’ve never seen civil servants that excited; they’re supposed to be unemotional, celluloid men, but they were on their feet. Well, they deserved the truth. We had been getting it in the ear from all quarters, during the campaign, before the campaign: unemployment insurance

chiselers, and foreign criminals staying in Canada apparently at will.

That last one isn’t the fault of the Immigration people. It’s the fault of an archaic, ridiculous appeals system, and loopholes in the immigration laws you could drive a truck through.

And the Unemployment Insurance Plan? I can’t understand all the fuss. Do people want to go back to the Hungry Thirties, the labor camps, the breadlines? The problem with this country isn’t unemployment insurance, it’s unemployment. Seven percent unemployment. And that’s not the fault of the Manpower officials. The real culprits are those smug, arrogant civil servants in the Finance Department, superbly confident of their ability to manipulate the economy with methods that should have died with Lord Keynes. They created the unemployment.

We almost lost the election on that one, but the Tories almost blew it, too. They spent a month or so howling about the cost of unemployment insurance and the tiny minority who were taking advantage of it, when the real issue was unemployment itself. We were leading comfortably in the polls until that last, disastrous unemployment figure was released in October: 7.1%. Then the Tories woke up and started to hit where it hurt.

I worked hard on that campaign. I spent only three days in my own riding, Verdun, and the rest of the time on the road. I went into small ridings in the Maritimes, and hit back at the Tories: “The Conservatives say they’re going to cut back on unemployment insurance. Well, where are they going to start cutting back? Are they going to leave out fishermen? Woodcutters? Are they going to extend the qualifying period for benefits to 12 weeks? What do you live on for 12 weeks? Welfare money?”

That worked. If you talk sense to the people, it works. We picked up seats in the Maritimes. Maybe we could have picked up more.

I’m leaving the cabinet. I’ve been in parliament a long time: 10years as backbencher, Parliamentary Assistant, Chairman of the Liberal Caucus, Minister Without Portfolio, Minister of Labor, Minister of Manpower and Immigration, with responsibility for the Unemployment Insurance Commission andfor the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.

A long time. Incidents, memories, people come back. Lester Pearson, most of all; a brave and honest man.

Pearson’s government was a productive one. The Canada Pension Plan, the Canada Assistance Plan, the Canadian Radio-Television Commission, legislation protecting our banks, trust companies and newspapers. And the new flag. I remember Pearson announcing casually in caucus that he was going to bring in a new Canadian flag, and Jim Tucker, a Newfoundland member, promptly standing up and reciting a 16stanza poem to the Union Jack.

And Walter Gordon, with his concern for Canadian independence and integrity. How will history finally treat him, I wonder.

The Victor Spencer affair; now, that was a rat’s nest. A Russian spy in the Post Office. Not much of a spy, but a spy. Well, the Post Office fired him, and the whole thing blew up. The government didn’t have to let Spencer appeal his dismissal, and for a while it wasn’t going to. I didn’t like that; I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for Spencer, but the idea of dismissal without any appeal bothered me. I said so, in the House, and I privately told Mike Pearson that I’d resign if he didn’t change his mind. He said, “Don’t worry, I’m going to reverse myself,” and that’s what he did.

All that was on a Friday. On Monday,

I was walking toward Pearson’s office, and I met Pierre Trudeau in the corridor. He wanted to know where I was going. I told him that I had offered to resign over the Spencer affair, and now that it was over I thought I should carry through and ask Pearson if he wanted me to quit. “Wait,” said Trudeau, “I’ll come with you.”

So we both walked in and offered our resignations. Pearson nearly kicked us out of his office.

We stop at a traffic light. I’m still thinking of people. Friends in the press corps: Bill Wilson, Doug Fisher, Tony Westell, George Bain, the late Blair Fraser. And Charles Lynch. How can anyone dislike Charlie, even if he’s a Liberal one day and a Tory the next? Judy LaMarsh, a reporter now; she had some harsh things to say about me in her book, but I just did an appearance on her hot-line show in Vancouver. Life’s too short for feuds.

Politicians: Stanley Knowles, Gordon Fairweather, Bob Muir, Gordon Churchill. I really don’t have an enemy in the House — not in the Opposition, anyway. And, of course, Pierre Trudeau.

A lot of self-proclaimed experts have said Trudeau lost seats this time because he was “arrogant.” He couldn’t be less arrogant. I remember the time he spent 40 minutes playing with my daughter, Susan, who was then five, while his aides looked nervously at their watches. And his concern when I was hospitalized for the second time; he told Mary Macdonald, in his office, to make sure I could use his summer residence, Harrington Lake, to go fishing when I got out of hospital.

He hasn’t changed; he’s the same man he was in 1968. His image may have changed; his advisers have told him it’s not dignified to throw snowballs or attend too many Grey Cups or to be seen at too many hockey games or to exchange idle banter with the public, even if it’s natural for him to do so. The image makers have disguised the real man; he’ll bounce back if his advisers leave him alone.

Shy, sensitive, irritable sometimes, impatient on other occasions. Arrogant? Never.

I wasn’t really aware of most of Trudeau’s writing, before he came into politics; but there was one article he wrote (with some others) in the Montreal Star, an endorsement of federalism, at a time when few French-speaking intellectuals were coming out in favor of keeping our country together.

I hate separatism, by any name — two nations, associate statehood and the rest. Trudeau and I shared the same beliefs.

We became good friends. I backed

him for the leadership of the party without hesitation. It looked good right from the start, and perhaps we became overconfident. A couple of days before the voting, we found that we had a revolt on our hands in the Quebec delegation.

There was a sense of listlessness among the Quebec people, nothing was moving. Some of them were naturally very conservative, which made them targets for Bob Winters. Others were just alienated, and that made them ripe for other candidates to pick them off.

I don’t know who first noticed the trouble, but suddenly we had to move, and we did. A handful of us literally beat the Quebec delegates back into line, and Trudeau won the balloting.

On stage, after the results of the voting had been announced, Bob Winters, whose loyalty and charm I always respected, took me by the hand and whispered, “Good show, Bryce. I wish you’d been with me.”

Approaching Ottawa from the Quebec side. Well, it’s a new ball game. We lost a lot of good men: Ray Perrault would have been afine minister . . . It’s going to be a new cabinet, and there’s more than enough talent to fill the vacancies: Hugh Faulkner, say, Jim Jerome, Charles Caccia, John Reid, Marcel Prud’homme, Pierre De Bañé, Gene Whelan, Mark MacGuigan. We’re going to need another English-speaking minister from Quebec.

The Opposition’s going to be tough, tougher than last time. Their good ones are back. Diefenbaker’s back. He’s going to have a good time.

I like Diefenbaker. Once, when I’d been bypassed for a cabinet post, he sent me a note: “Please do not do as Nicholas Flood Davin did.” Davin, apparently, committed suicide when he didn’t get a cabinet position. I wrote back that I couldn’t find any reference to Nicholas Flood Davin in the Parliamentary Library. Ten minutes later, 40 volumes of books relating to Davin were piled on my desk. I looked up. Diefenbaker was roaring with laughter.

A lot of people think of parliament as a sonorous, placid kind of place. Not always. Once I hit the Speaker of the day, Marcel Lambert, on the nose with a paper clip by way of attracting his attention. A withering look from Lambert. My seatmate was Donald Macdonald; I pointed to him as the culprit. I don’t know if Lambert believed me.

And there were odd things outside the Commons too. My first strike settlement as Minister of Labor, for example. It was the night before parliament was to open, and we were in a very uncomfortable situation; the grain handlers were out and we felt uneasy about going to the House in that kind of fix.

We were at a ball at the Governor General’s residence, and I decided to give it one more try. I went over to the Department of Labor building, in my white tie and tails, and made a pitch to the union people: “Look, if we can work out a formula here, I’ll carry the ball with the elevator owners for you. But if you’re not going to come to some kind of agreement, I’m not going to waste my time, I’m going back to the GG’s.”

Perhaps the costume did it. They approved a formula, and I started chasing the management people all around the country by telephone; I finally got the man who could give me a decision in Winnipeg at seven o’clock in the morning. He agreed. Then I went to a cabinet meeting, still in my white tie and tails, and said, “We’ve got a settlement.” And so we had.

My thoughts still turn to the election. Unemployment killed us, I know that; the unemployment insurance question was an irritant among a thousand others, nothing more. Maybe we should have reassured people about extending the 3% cut in personal income taxes. Maybe we should have done something about the old age pension, particularly in cases where the husband is 65 and the wife is not. The railways have got to smarten up on their pension plan; that hurt us in some areas. The bureaucrats will howl about a lack of money. Well, let them. They’ll find there’s about a billion bucks in the general revenue accounts they haven’t made estimates for, and when the unemployment figures go down, there’ll be a lot more.

We made mistakes, bad ones, over our four and a half years. We didn’t get through to the people. The government was susceptible to pressure groups, all the usual ones, all the lobbyists. We were preoccupied with the West, and we paid too little attention to the East, where people were really in trouble.

But I can’t nail specific people for our failure in the election. Who do you

blame? Ivan Head? Jim Davey? The other people in the Prime Minister’s Office? Reporters can’t understand that elections are decentralized, that various groups have various responsibilities; when you wind up with a bad result, you can’t point a finger at any one individual and say, “He’s responsible.”

Now, the message from the Liberal Party is to be: “Tell the people we learned something on October 30.” They’ve got to keep their heads down and survive, and if that means looking meek and submissive, and bringing in more rightwing legislation because the people seem to have shifted to the right, then that’s what they’re going to do.

I don’t see it that way. But I’m not running the government. Obviously.

One irony: a couple of months before the election, Stanfield was running around in despair because people didn’t seem to think unemployment was an issue. He claimed my unemployment insurance program was “tranquilizing the poor.”

Maybe if I’d been able to keep them tranquilized for a couple of more weeks, I’d be a political hero today.

Almost to Ottawa.

Maybe I’d be better off out of politics entirely; maybe I shouldn’t have run at all. I was going to give the whole thing up, but Trudeau wouldn’t hear of it, and Marc Lalonde appealed to me.. . It’s going to be strange, though, not to be a minister. I worked hard at it. Now, no more calling up for a government plane; I’ll be taking trains from now on. I’ll have to watch the phone bill. I’ll have to break in a new, smaller staff; my personal staff are in a higher pay-bracket than I can afford now. And there’ll be $20,000 less in the paycheque every year.

And time. I’ll have time, now, to spend with my daughter. Time to work. Even time to write a book, perhaps.

Well, at least I did things. I fought like hell for my kind of Liberalism. I passed a lot of legislation. I got things through for people, not for pressure groups, not for lobbies.

Maybe the best of all was the Ugandan immigration. There was no trouble in cabinet, everybody agreed that permitting the Ugandan Asians to immigrate was the only sane and honorable thing to do; but it was a scramble, getting it all together in record time.

And then the first plane. Hours late in leaving Uganda, mechanical trouble in Paris; 28 hours after departure, the first child came down the ramp. She looked around and asked, “Where’s the snow?”

Top that one.

It was a good run. Maybe I’ll be back. Maybe I’ll look around for something else. But I’ll miss the bloody place. ■