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Diefenbaker, Pearson, Trudeau « Douglas Fisher



Reflections: Diefenbaker, Pearson, Trudeau
Transcripts of interviews with Douglas

In terms of the media coverage, it used to be that you could look into the gallery and there would always be three or four reporters up there watching the scene in the House. In the evenings, the MPs tended to cherish them. That is when everybody got together and there was a lot of chatting. And there was a certain amount of drinking going on upstairs in the dining room. People would come down from dinner and sometimes it made for lively debates. There was camaraderie of Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats, like Stanley Knowles. The social traffic back and forth was heavy. Paul Martin Sr., for example, and Lionel Chevrier, seemed to be talking up the opposition all the time. They were always chatting with people on the other side. It made for a greater interest among MPs.

It was during the Pearson-Dief thing that the paradox began to develop; their rabid concentration on each other, and a so-called political hatred. For a long time, the opposition in Parliament had not been very strong. It was busy, but not strong. We began to get a balance in the House after the Diefenbaker sweep in 1958. That balance managed to last quite some time – right into the late Trudeau years.

The media, particularly television, wanted to reduce politics to personalities; and, preferably, not too many. Of course, it began to deal more and more with Diefenbaker and Pearson. Those of us in a third or fourth party began to notice this very much. It was harder for the other parties to get much attention paid to them when the big Dief-Pearson show was going on.

As one might expect, Diefenbaker always made it lively. Pearson was more effective in straight-talking terms and he was not a complete patsy when exchanging angry words. He was also backed up by a couple of people who were very good in the House. I am talking about Jack Pickersgill, Paul Martin Sr. and Chevrier. Pickersgill played to the whole thing because he could get on Diefenbaker’s nerves easily. He played that often. Diefenbaker was ruthless and devastating during some of his exchanges with Pickersgill. I can also see that during my eight years there, phasing up until the arrival of Trudeau, the television coverage raised public interest to not only above the House, but also above Cabinet to the PMO and the office of the Leader of the Opposition. That trend rose when Trudeau was chosen as Liberal leader in 1968.

Remember, Trudeau was picked after the Conservatives’ terrific convention. They had picked Robert Stanfield out of a big cast of candidates. That was an enormously successful convention, which packed Maple Leaf Gardens for about four nights in a row. It was a wild and woolly affair and the two last people on the ballot were Duff Roblin and Robert Stanfield, premiers of the provinces of Manitoba and Nova Scotia. Both of them were capable men. Roblin was, in a modest way, a good speaker. But neither of them could be compared to Diefenbaker or even Alvin Hamilton or Davey Fulton – prominent Tories who were also candidates. The focus was on leadership skills and Stanfield won, primarily because he made the best television impression on the very first night of the convention. It gained him an edge that Roblin was never able to catch up with. Dalton Camp, who was a thinker behind Stanfield, had written a couple of good speeches, catching the mood in terms of the treatment of subjects. Eventually it boiled down to west versus east. And Stanfield won.

Then the Liberal Party came back to the public’s attention with a super convention. A lot of its dash came seemingly from nowhere. But it had been obvious to some of us that Pierre Trudeau was coming on. When Pearson announced before Christmas in 1967 that he was retiring and that a leadership convention would be held in April, the first list of favorites had Paul Martin at the top, followed by Paul Hellyer, Mitchell Sharpe, Allan MacEachen. Trudeau really was not in it on the first ballot. It was assumed that if anybody was to come out of Quebec it would be Marchand – another one of the ‘Three Wise Men’ that joined the federal Liberals in 1965. But he did not have the balls for doing that kind of thing. He was temperamental and did not have a great deal of confidence in himself. Of course, Trudeau did.

My own judgment early on was that Trudeau was going to win. I said that very thing before Christmas to the Speaker Claude Lamoreux – one of our best in modern times. He was a very capable man, who was ill just before Christmas in 1967. He had an operation and missed a few days of the House. I was coming down the corridor from the press gallery and I bumped into him in the hall. He asked me to come in for a cup of coffee. He asked me: “Bring me up to date.” I said, “What do you want to talk about?”  He replied, “The Liberal leadership.” I said, “It looks to me like it’s going to be a big surprise.” He asked, “You mean Paul Martin isn’t going to win it?” I said, “He isn’t going to even come close. It’s going to be Trudeau.” Mr. Lamoreux started to laugh – genuine outburst of laughter. He said, “I know Pierre. He’s a bright fellow but he’s here, there and everywhere. He’s like the flight of a bumble-bee. He’s a dilettante.” I said, “Take him seriously. He has a mob in Toronto. He has a bunch of MPs there, including Bob Stanbury and Donald Macdonald.”

The reason it was interesting is that most of the Toronto MPs rallied by Keith Davey were behind Paul Hellyer. And so was Judy LaMarsh. As expected, Paul Martin Sr. had supporters in both caucus and Cabinet. So, one deciding factor of the convention was that  Trudeau had so many MPs from Ontario on his side – particularly from the greater Toronto area. Speaker Lamoreux called his wife into the office  and told her what I had said. She said: “He’s a fop. He intrigues everybody because he’s got so much money.” I said: “Wait and see.” About two weeks later, I was coming along the same route to get into the Reading Room and I bumped into Mr. Lamoreux again. He said: “I’ve discovered that you’re right. It’s Trudeau.” He said: “Please forget what I told you. And forget what my wife said!”

Trudeau came bouncing in. Looking at the anatomy of the 1968 leadership, Trudeau’s win was (inaudible). If those who were against him, possibly led by George MacIlraith or Paul Martin or even John Turner, had worked together better, the leadership could have been won by Bob Winters. He was a former minister in the St. Laurent government and was a protégé of C.D. Howe. Winters had made one mistake. He announced he was going to run for the leadership – and then changed his mind. After Mitchell Sharpe backed out, Winters  jumped back in, and only lost by a few votes on the last ballot. I think Trudeau’s edge came with the TV performance that he put on. It was arranged by Patrick Watson and Roy Faibish and was done at CJOH in Ottawa. It was a very good half-hour interview, with Watson’s timing being masterful. Another thing the Liberals had done for the convention was to set up a system where all the big hotels in Ottawa were wired. So they could have a cable channel tuned-in for the convention. The organizers would boast that people could see their candidates on television. Trudeau organizers really advertised this. And of course the actual show was repeated on-air several times on CJOH – an Ottawa-based station. That is, for everyone to see.

It had a great impact on a lot of people because Trudeau came across as not only smart, but human and natural. He was not the high and mighty. He was a friendly, college-educated decent fellow. I think that was the edge that he had and it gave him the margin. It was a great convention in terms of performances. The two best speeches were from real outsiders: Joe Greene, who was the minister of agriculture and Eric Kierans, one of the few non-Cabinet members in the race. Kierans was very well known in Montreal and was getting to be well-recognized in the rest of Canada. He came to the country’s attention during Pearson’s ’60 days of decision’ and the schmozzle of the first Walter Gordon budget in 1963. Kierans was the outside guy who had accused the budget of being capable of killing corporations with its tax measures. Thus, he said, killing the influx of foreign capital, particularly that from the United States.

At the 1968 convention, Eric and Joe Greene spoke very well. Paul Hellyer was kind of fluffed. Allan MacEachen was not as good as he should have been. Trudeau was not great, but it looked as though he was because of the younger people in the crowd. They all wore orange, including beautiful girls with tight sweaters. The place was loaded with good-looking young girls and they were all for Pierre. He was their romantic choice.