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Minister for everything « Douglas Fisher

Fisher

 

Minister for everything

It was 20 years ago last Friday (June 10th, 1957) that enough electors in the riding of Port Arthur voted for me and the CCF ticket to send me to Ottawa. The subsequent time until today – eight years as an MP, 12 as a commentator has been most enjoyable. Politicians I like; polities I still find a consuming interest.

I still get questions from people my own age or older (almost never from anyone below 40) about that first win simply because it was over the strong man
of the generation, C. D. Howe. Even in 1957 I could sense that Howe had stayed past his time. This opinion stems from more than his age (coming70) – 22 years in the exercise of power is too much.

On the other hand, he was, as I thought then, a great man, an outstanding minister. Even if one disagreed as so many did, and I did with the almost irreversible bent he gave our economy to continentalism, the performance remains of a man who wanted to do big things and did them.

One can’t easily spot a “C.D.” in recent ministries. His legacy is a system of Crown Corporations and a direction in the economy, not in disciples or those who model themselves on him.

We still do not have either a scholarly or a good popular biography of C.D. Howe. He merits one more than any other Canadian politician, particularly from some author who is critical of the economic development for which Howe was catalyst or initiator.

On the personal side the one attribute of the “minister for everything” which I have kept encountering and which never seemed to have struck his political and administrative associates in Ottawa was his obsession with money, his immense frugality.

The electoral class of ’57was not so large and new as the class of’58 when the Diefenbaker sweep to over 208 seats turned out the largest crew of incumbents in
any election since Confederation. Yet there are 11 MPs in today’s Parliament who came in first in ’57 and only the same number from ’58.

Of the 1l ’57survivors, four were defeated later and then made their way back in – Tories Alvin Hamilton (Qu’appelle), Bob McCleave (Halifax-East Hants),
Jim McGrath (St. John’s East) and Liberal Stan Haidasz (Toronto Parkdale).

Those with a full run of 20 years are five Tories: Bob Coates (Cumberland-Colchester)
Marcel Lambert (Edmonton West), Heath MacQuarrie (Hillsborough, PEI), Bob Muir (CapeBreton-The Sydneys), Doc Rynard (Simcoe North) and one NDP, Arnold Peters (Temiskaming), and one liberal, Gerry Loiselle (Montreal-Saint Henri).

There are only seven MPs who made it to the House of Commons before’57 who are still members – Tommy Douglas (1935), John Diefenbaker (1940), Stanley Knowles (1942), George Hees (1950), Walter Dinsdale (1951), Alex Patterson (1953), and Alan MacEachen (1953). Only two of this seven have had continuous runs – the Chief and Walter Dinsdale. The other five were out – either of their own accord (e.g. Hees) or through defeat.

Why are there so many more Tories and New Democrats than Liberals as survivors? It’s not because it is harder for a Liberal to be elected -as we all know. It’s because promotion or elevation to such places as the Senate or nice jobs in commissions and agencies or on boards have been available for Liberals.

The least known of the members listed above are Alex Patterson and Gerry Loiselle. Yet they have in common, with all the others, a trait or characteristic which seems to be essential for survival as an MP. They either work very hard at being an MP all the time or if they don’t – and here I think of Heath MacQuarrie or Gerry Loiselle – they are intensely interested in politics or some aspects of it.

I’ve asked myself after scanning this short list of fellows left from our crop of 1957, whether I had anticipated such longevity for them. Of course, that ’57 Parliament was the second shortest since Confederation. One didn’t have much chance to appraise one’s new colleagues, not least because of fascination with the elders like the feisty Saskatchewan strongman, Jimmy Gardiner (who is getting a big biography) or Solon Low, the Social Credit leader, or M. J. Coldwell or brash Jimmy Sinclair (the present PM’s father-in-law) or, especially the courtly, white-haired St. Laurent.

The three who did register on me then, aside from my cantankerous caucus fellow from the Ontario bush, Arnold Peters, were Marcel Lambert because I knew he’d been a “kriegie” taken at Dieppe, Bob Muir because even then he was doing what he’s been doing ever since, raising cain about poor Cape Breton – and Heath MacQuarrie because as an academic it was said that he was doing the definitive biography of Sir Robert Borden (still to come, at least from this source).

The 1957 influx, I must admit, was not a vintage one, say compared to ’58 or, especially, to ’62. This is in terms of men who became ministers or other extraordinary prominence. But what it was, retrospect shows, was the end of the era of what King had built and the beginning of politics under the marked influence of the electronic media.

Source: BY DOUGLAS FISHER, TORONTO SUN

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