Interview

Interview

With ROBERT STANFIELD

February 23 1976
Interview

Interview

With ROBERT STANFIELD

February 23 1976

Interview

With ROBERT STANFIELD

Robert Lorne Stanfield, 61, steps down this week as national leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, a position he has held for more than eight years. For the previous 19 years he had been leader of the Conservatives in his native Nova Scotia. Now, putting behind him a quarter century of leadership (he has likened it to spending time in prison), he has the time to reflect and the freedom to speak his mind. He was interviewed recently by Robert Lewis and Ian Urquhart of Maclean's Ottawa Bureau in the Opposition Leader’s Office on Parliament Hill. Seated before portraits of Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George Etienne Cartier, he appeared healthy and relaxed, although his outlookon the future of Canada under the current government was, to say the least, pessimistic.

Maclean’s: You have said you don’t want a far right-wing Conservative Party. But as the leadership campaign develops, it seems that is where the party is headed.

Stanfield: Well, I think it is too early to say. I believe strongly in private enterprise and the preservation of private enterprise, but I don’t want to see my party simply concentrate on one problem in the country. And, as I said to the delegates eight years ago before they chose me: increasing the size of the GNP is important, but it is not in itself a sufficient goal for a civilized country. I want to see a compassionate country as well as a prosperous country. Maclean’s: Do you think both the delegates and the leadership candidates have been emphasizing compassion as well as prosperity and free enterprise?

Stanfield: I recognize that a good many of the candidates seem to have been emphasizing the small-c conservative approach to things. I rather believe, however, that the convention itself will not become mainly a right-wing, left-wing confrontation. Maclean’s: Who would you like to see as the next Conservative leader?

Stanfield: Well I’m not going to get involved in pushing any particular person by indicating my support.

Maclean’s: Surely you will make your influence felt in some way?

Stanfield: I think the people in the party

generally know what my views are, know what my concept of the party is, and I, having decided to resign, don’t think I should influence the result except in the case of

dire circumstances, by which I mean circumstances that would be totally unacceptable to me.

Maclean’s: You have ruled out some candi-

dates, however, by previous statements. For instance, you have said the next leader should be fluent in French.

Stanfield: I’ve said that a national leader who is fluent in both official languages has an enormous advantage in campaigning in this country and communicating in this country over a leader who is fluent in only one language. Especially in this particular case, when the leader of the government is himself fluent in both languages and able

THE CONDITIONS THAT BROUGHT ME TO OTTAWA IN THE FIRST PLACE HAVE NOT IMPROVED. MOSTLY THEY’RE WORSE

to communicate effectively in both languages. I think this is much more important in this age of television than it used to be. It has been said that Mackenzie King got along well without knowing very much French, but this is a different age and many people get their impressions of a person from radio or television. Clearly, therefore, a man like Mr.Trudeau, who can not only speak both languages but speak fluently and communicate effectively in both languages, has a decided advantage over someone who cannot.

Maclean’s: There has been a lot of talk about Claude Wagner’s trust fund. Everywhere he goes, convention delegates ask him about it. Do you know what he says about

the fund? He says: “Don’t ask me. Ask Brian Mulroney and Mr. Stanfield. ” What do you know about the trust fund?

Stanfield: Perhaps all he means is that he doesn’t know the source of the funds and perhaps he thinks I do. But I don’t. Maclean’s: Was it a question of you approving the principle of a fund with the details to be worked out by someone else? Stanfield: No. No, no. I wasn’t consulted about the principle of the fund, although I must say, and want to say, that the people working around me were well aware that I regarded it as important that we have Mr. Wagner as a candidate in the 1974 election. They wouldn’t feel it necessary to consult me about the establishment of such a fund. Maclean’s: What words of advice would you leave with a new leader of the Conservative Party?

Stanfield: (laugh) Well, I would urge that the new party leader never forget that a national party, in order to perform its role and be successful, has to be a national party. And it cannot succeed, for any length of time at least, trying to exploit particular positions. It is not only important to the country that a national party work toward the cohesion of the country; it is also vitally necessary for the party itself. It will be important, particularly for a new leader, to have clear directions in mind. When I talk about a national party, I talk about a party that contains in its ranks people from all walks of life in Canada, and a party where the differences, very real differences, and points of view between people from various parts of the country and people from all walks of life can be thrashed out. I hope he will share my concept of a national party in that sense. Maclean’s: Let’s turn away from the future and talk about the past. Hasn’t the party already departed considerably from its principles as laid down by John A. Macdonald, principles like government intervention where necessary and nationalism, toward principles more like the American-style, free-enterprise approach and continentalism, which used to be seen as the Liberal Party platform. The Conservative Party seems to have become a continentalistparty. Stanfield: No, I don’t believe so, although it is certainly true that the Conservative Party, with myself included, has become concerned about the size of government, both in terms of the proportion of GNP that governments are taking and also in terms of governments taking on so many things that—speaking particularly in terms of the federal government—it is not really doing very well. But I don’t see any departure to

date from the general lines of the party as laid down by Sir John A. in terms of a healthy Canadian nationalism and a relatively pragmatic approach to government intervention where it is necessary and important. But things, of course, are very different now than they were in Sir John A’s day, and the size of the federal government and its readiness to intervene creates quite a different context, and it’s appropriate that my party react as it has.

Maclean’s: Things are also quite different from Sir John A ’s days in terms of nationalism. Surely our country is even more under the dominant influence of the United States, and your party has resisted—in the past couple of years certainly—nationalist measures taken by the federal government. For instance, the Time-Reader’s Digest Bill and the World Football League Bill. Now these are bills that wouldn’t increase the government take of the GNP in any way. They are nationalist measures in the tradition of Sir John A. Macdonald, and your party opposed them.

Stanfield: I think we have perfectly sound reasons for opposing the bill relating to publications and I can’t see that the World Football situation is related to any great, vital nationalistic future for Canada. We’re concerned to see our country develop as broad a range of trading partners as possible and to develop as much independence as possible. I just won’t accept being described as a traitor to the traditions of Sir John A. Macdonald simply because I am not prepared to support every nationalistic move the government may make, such as the most recent move in the area of publications. I think the attitude of the government is highly arbitrary and I find it very difficult to justify it to myself and to Canadians.

Maclean’s: Let’s look at your own career. In the harsh world of politics, fortunately or unfortunately, the difference between winning and losing is often everything. Do you feel that your eight years in federal politics have been in vain?

Stanfield: No, not in any personal sense at all. I don’t pretend for a moment that my political life has been altogether smooth. Certainly, it’s been full of surprises, and I’ve had my trials and tribulations. But I haven’t felt in a personal sense destroyed or distraught in the course of losing three times up here.

Maclean’s: What things brought you the most satisfaction?

Stanfield: In the party sense, I hope that I have contributed something to bringing the party together. I hope I have done something toward healing some of the old wounds. I hope I have done something to make the party even more truly national than it was, in the sense of having roots in all parts of the country. I would like to think, too, that I’ve done something toward bringing Canadians together, or at least done something toward increasing the understanding among Canadians. But the things, the conditions that led me to

think it was important to come to Ottawa, those things that I was concerned about in Canada at that time, certainly have not improved, and in most respects are far worse. Maclean’s: For example?

Stanfield: One of the things that concerned me back in 1967 was the state of relationships within the country, particularly between French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians, and to some ex-

DO I FEEL VINDICATED BY WAGE AND PRICE CONTROLS? NO, I FEEL I’VE BEEN PLAYED FOR A SUCKER

tent the role that my own party was playing in connection with that. I have to say that I think the lines are harder today on that subject than they were in 1967. I think the lines between East and West are harder than they were in 1967. And I think there is more of a feeling of confrontation in the country now than there was in 1967.1 was concerned, too, about developing some coherent approach in the country toward reducing regional economic disparity. I don’t think that comprehensive approach has been developed. I don’t say the problem is worse than it was in 1967, but I don’t think we’ve gotten much in the way of results for the money we’ve spent. And I think, probably as a result of this, more people in the prosperous parts of the country have become tired of helping to finance these programs. In that sense, the situation is worse than it was in 1967.1 was also concerned about the fact that we seemed to have no coherent economic policy. The federal government seemed to be flying all the time by the seat of its pants. I was concerned about the position of Canada in a world of increasing economic blocs. I don’t think we have begun even to face up to that

latter problem. Here we are, in 1976, far from having a more coherent and satisfactory economic policy. Instead we have more unemployment and higher rates of inflation. So, in terms of the things that I was concerned about when I came up here, I can’t say that any one is any better and some of them are significantly worse. Maclean’s: On the subject of the economy, do you feel any sense of vindication now that we have price and wage controls?

Stanfield: Well, I wouldn’t put it in terms of vindication. Rather than making me feel vindicated, I feel that I have been played for a sucker. But the significant questions to ask are not so much about me and my feelings as about the relationships between government in Canada and the people in Canada. What effect does this sort of thing have upon trust between voters and government? What effect does this have on people to the extent they feel they can believe what politicians say to them? Is it right, or is it correct, that our government can do virtually anything it likes—it doesn’t make any difference what it did, what it said a year or so ago? Is it right that a persuasive Prime Minister with all the modern paraphernalia of communications can do practically anything he likes with public opinion? These are relevant questions. Whether Bob Stanfield feels vindicated or like a sucker is pretty unimportant. A year or so ago, the government was putting no emphasis at all on restraint, and now it is standing before the people of the country saying that we need a new attitude toward things and the people won’t conserve this, and the people won’t do that, and the people keep demanding this, and so on. I can’t help but believe that this is very demoralizing for the political process of the country. I think it is tragic. I hope the program to fight inflation works, but I think this sort of manoeuvring places an incredible strain on the relationship of confidence between those governed and the governor.

Maclean’s: But your party surely contributed to that strain by voting against controls after advocating them during the election. Stanfield: But the government’s controls are open-ended. I had to ask myself, in order to avoid seeming to be inconsistent, in order to avoid some people thinking the Conservatives were turning around: do I have to vote for something that I think is wrong, do I have to do something that I think is irresponsible? I recognize that there is a distinct possibility of the public feeling that I had changed my position. I came to the conclusion that that does not justify me giving my support to a measure I felt was wrong.

Maclean’s: Why do you think you were never elected to form a government? Stanfield: We very nearly were in 1972. But I think there are a number of factors. One reason is our relative lack of success in the province of Quebec. We did not succeed in significantly improving the position of the party in Quebec, in terms of the

number of seats, although I think we pretty well eliminated, at least as of now, the feeling of hostility that may have existed toward the Conservative Party in Quebec. Secondly, and here I’m being very personal, and I think being pretty objective about it, I think it is a perception of myself as a national leader. The perception in central Canada. One of the significant reasons for leading me to the conclusion that I should resign at a time of my own choosing following the election of 1974 was that I had been party leader before the public of Canada for eight years, and it was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t their idea of the sort of person they wanted to run the country. We did well in Ontario in 1972, but it didn’t seem to me that that was because Ontario people were wild about Bob Stanfield, but rather that quite a number of them wanted to bring Pierre Trudeau down to earth a little. You know, a number of people have said to me at various times, “Don’t be precipitous, things can change,” and this sort of thing. But, as I say, I have been before the people for eight years and I think that it is time that I accepted the judgment of the assessment of me as made by Canadians. Prior to deciding to seek the leadership in 1967 I felt around a bit to make my own assessment of things and I came to the conclusion that there was no great demand for my services across Canada within the party, and I didn’t find any such feeling in the country. I did not decide to seek the national leadership because I felt there was a demand for my services. I came to the conclusion that I was sufficiently concerned about a number of problems that existed and that I’d take a whack at it. And the next step, of course, was seeing whether the Canadian people wanted me to do it. Now I’ve been the leader for eight years, and following the election of 19741 didn’t think it was appropriate for me to take the same kind of attitude and say, “Well, I’ll hang around and see if the people still want me.” Maclean’s: Don’t you feel that one of the problems you had was the perception that your party was divided? Seventeen MPs, including John Diefenbaker, voted against you and the party on the Official Languages Act.

Stanfield: Certainly on matters of importance, the time you refer to, I said that the party has got to be prepared to take positions on important matters and risk division and dissension, if that has to be. The fact that there were at least some Progressive Conservatives prepared to vote against the Languages Bill might have raised doubts in the minds of a great number of people in Quebec as to what kind of a steady course a Conservative Prime Minister could steer with regard to matters in which Quebec was particularly interested. Certainly that might have been a factor. Divisions in the party could, to the extent they existed, affect the effectiveness of the party as an electoral instrument. In 1972, we were very close. And it may be that a

few more seats might have resulted from a higher degree of party unity at the time. But I have always felt and believed that the leader of the caucus cannot ignore the caucus. I don’t think he should expect the caucus to accept the strain of being asked too frequently to follow the views of the leader when they differ from the views of the majority of the caucus. There are many times when I have persuaded the caucus, and the caucus has agreed to go along with me. But, frankly, playing down the importance of caucus so as to appear to the country and to the party to be leading the caucus, well, I don’t think I could do that as a matter of continuing strategy. Maclean’s: Surely, in such cases as the Official Languages Act, you had a majority of the caucus on your side. It wasn’t a case of your railroading that through caucus. Still 17 MPs insisted on voting against the bill and

IT WAS PRETTY CLEAR THAT I WAS NOT THE SORT OF PERSON CANADIANS WANTED RUNNING THE COUNTRY

then again, after the 1972 election, when the Liberals brought in that obviously calculated resolution on languages, just begging you to divide, you accommodated them and divided again. Why didn’t you draw the line there and say to the dissidents, “All right, if that’s the way you ’re going to be, you are going to have to leave the caucus—we cannot tolerate that sort of division”? Surely, in the long run, it would have strengthened your hand.

Stanfield: I don’t buy that. I don’t accept it because I think one has to recognize that the members of my caucus who voted against the government and voted against me in those instances reflect, to some extent, a significant opinion of the country,

and I do not believe that it would have strengthened the party or strengthened the unity of the party for me to have attempted to weed those people out of caucus on those occasions.

Maclean’s: What was your feeling about having somebody as prominent and as independent as John Diefenbaker sitting on the same bench, sometimes taking positions that were quite different from your own? Did that ever make you uncomfortable or angry? Stanfield: Well, let me put it this way: I think that the fact that Mr. Diefenbaker seemed to be taking positions from time to time different from mine did affect the public’s perception of my leadership in the sense that it tended to blur the party position and possibly made it more difficult for me to appear to be taking a clear and firm position on a particular matter. I think it probably tended to obscure the public’s perception of me as a leader.

Maclean’s: Did you ever raise that problem with him?

Stanfield: The relationship between Mr. Diefenbaker and myself is pretty personal and I don’t really wish to discuss it. Maclean’s: What about your own future and your plans? I presume you are not going to take up ski-jumping?

Stanfield: (laugh) I might this time. I’m going to stay on in parliament until the next general election as a member for Halifax. And, I’m not going to commit myself to anything more at the moment. Maclean’s: What sort of things would you like to do?

Stanfield: I’ve been a partisan politician, a leader of a party, for over 25 years and it’s been a fascinating, wonderful life, but a confining life in the sense of things I’ve been able to read, discuss, and do, and I’m quite certain that my views about what I want to do with the rest of my active life will be quite different, even in six months’ time, from what they are now. In the role of a national party leader, one lives and sleeps in that role, and I want to begin living and thinking as an individual again for a while before I decide what I want to do. I know enough about myself to know that I’m not going to be content gardening, although I’m looking forward very much to putting in a garden next spring, or reading, although my reading will be of a much wider range than it has been, or listening to music, although I love listening to music. I’m going t'o have to get involved in something, but not to the same degree of commitment as I have been doing.

Maclean’s: Likely not politics?

Stanfield: No, not politics, definitely not. And I know, too, from looking back over my life that it hasn’t been a planned affair. I have spent most of my life doing something that I never intended to do, without regret and with great satisfaction on the whole. I rather expect that whatever I do get involved in in the next phase of my life will not be the result of any deliberate planning, but will rather be a response to something that challenges me.^