Reflections: Dief, Doug, Budget crisis
Transcripts of interviews with Douglas
Diefenbaker was very clever. I always remember that when I scored a big coup on Walter Gordon’s first budget by exposing the use of Bay Street advisors. Diefenbaker jumped right into it. That scandal began the slide of Walter Gordon and his budget. It was the kind of partisan point that Diefenbaker loved. He bluffed that he knew something about the Bay Street boys. Yet he knew bugger-all.
It was sheer luck that I got my hands on the names of the men involved. I knew Walter Gordon’s chief aide, Brian Land – who was, like me, a librarian. During the week before the budget, he was sitting over in an alcove of a restaurant with three men. When I bumped into him afterward, I asked who he had been talking to and he mentioned that the one who likely looked familiar to me was Martin O’Connell. I said, “What the hell are they doing here?” He said they were authorities on fiscal matters who were from Bay Street. I put that together with a piece of information that Ernie Steele, the number two man at the Treasury Board, had given me. I happened to bump into him in a corridor the day before the budget and asked him how busy a man he been. He laughed, and said that nobody in his shop had anything to do with the coming budget and that few from the Finance Department had either. So I put these two things together. Walter Gordon was a very arrogant man, who decided that he wanted executives from the business world to help him draft the budget – rather than bureaucrats in Ottawa.
On the day the issue exploded, Gordon had made a mistake by hesitating during his answer to my question. His response only muddied things up for him. If Diefenbaker had not jumped in, the matter might have fallen out of sight. Within ten minutes of his questions there was uproar. And by 7 o’clock that evening we had heard that the stock market was in an uproar. Of all the people in the House, the one who was ready to go flying on any issue and get his share of the attention was Diefenbaker. I can still see him the next day, shaking his fists and going after ‘these Bay Street rogues.’ He could lay it on thick and did.
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