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The leadership campaign behind us, I became one of Keith Davey's trouble-shooters.
Keith relishes his role as the party's national organizer and performs it
with a happy exuberance. I visited him frequently at his Cooper Street offices
in Ottawa and enjoyed watching him play political manipulator with what can
only be described as zest. As many as a dozen times during an hour's visit
he might break off a conversation to take "important calls," quickly becoming
immersed in the specifics of a particular problem or catching up on local
political gossip in Sudbury or Saskatoon or Fredericton or Revelstoke, or
in his beloved Toronto. He is a man wedded to his work, exultant in his
You have to guard against Keith's enthusiasms. In each general election
he likes to set up scenarios in three or four ridings that will attract the
particular attention of the media. I sometimes had to remind myself that
Keith’s and the party's interest might be inimical to my own. He made a
number of more or less serious proposals that I run as a candidate in various
election; the most fanciful of these kamikaze missions had me being parachuted
into Burnaby-Coquitlam to "knock off" The then leader of the NDP, Tommy Douglas.
In the 1963 general election I was dispatched to Algoma East "to rescue
Mike Pearson.” Like all Political organizers, Davey, despite his essential
level-headedness, is subject to unreasonable panic. Joel Aldred, a Conservative
entrepreneur and sometime television-commercial spieler, decided to challenge
the prime minister in his own riding. Algoma East is a sprawling, sparsely
inhabited section of mid-northern Ontario. Pearson had first run there because
it was a safe Liberal seat. He only occasionally visited the riding, despite
which it cheerfully returned him each election with thumping majorities.
But now the mellifluous and personable Aldred was on the scene, working
hard, taking his best shot at the absentee landlord and "getting lots of
ink.” There was a sudden flurry of alarm at Cooper Street. Pearson's other
responsibilities made it impossible for him to visit the riding, so I was
sent. I flew in to the Manitoulin and immediately challenged Aldred to a
debate on the issues. He didn't respond. I made a couple of speeches in
hastily arranged rallies - not so much for the people who attended as for
the press - and for a few days junketed from place to place, showing the
flag and dampening whatever Tory brushfires there might be.
It was all unnecessary, of course. The people of the riding weren't buying
Aldred's pear-shaped tones, and the PM was returned with a sizeable majority.
In 1965, in his first bid for office, Robert Andras was in trouble, trouble
not of his own making, and I was sent to see if I could help out. Andras,
who would later hold a number of important cabinet responsibilities and end
his political career as president of the Treasury Board, was the Liberal
nominee in Fort William, now incorporated into Thunder Bay, Ontario. I went
directly from the airport to a downtown hotel, where I met a very depressed
candidate. He was fighting an opponent he couldn't grapple with - the series
of political scandals that had dogged the Pearson government's steps during
the previous year. Most notable among them was the so-called Rivard affair.
It was a complicated and sorry tale. * Enough to say that the Liberals
had been targets of the press and the opposition over a series of unsavory
goings- on in which they had been bumbling, insensitive, imprudent and slow
to act. With the calling of the election, the Conservatives and the NDP
had revived the mess and, while the tactic had not been all that successful
elsewhere, Andras told me lugubriously that it was about to defeat him in
I thought he was exaggerating. (It is astonishing how irrational normally
sensible men can become in the pressure cooker of an election campaign. )
To sniff the political atmosphere, I went for a two-hour stroll in the downtown
section and, in the course of a number of conversation, discovered that Andras'
reading of local sentiment was accurate.
Back at campaign headquarters, I asked the candidate if he could buy time
on the local television station. He checked. By a stroke of luck. a half
hour was available at ten the following evening immediately after The Man
From U. N. C. L. E, the highest rated show on the station at the time. I
arranged for a simple set- a desk and an artist's easel against a black backdrop
- and notified Andras that I was going to talk about the so-called scandals.
He shook his head "We've had specific instructions from Ottawa that only
the prime minister is to speak to the charges. No candidate is to discuss
it publicly.” "I'm not a candidate," I said.
The Rivard scandal was at that point a phony issue and could be shown
to be so. At the television studio, I came on the air cold, occupied in
making a lightening-fast caricature of a fulminating John Diefenbaker. When
it was finished, I turned to the camera, introduced myself and said straight
out that I was going to speak candidly and without histrionics about the
various scandals. For half an hour, I perched on the edge of the desk, moved
to the easel to make swift sketches, or spoke directly to the lens of the
camera. I had spent years learning how to use television and now it paid
off. As the program ended, Andras was so excited he ran onto the set, threw
his arms about me, lifted me into the air and swung me around. He was elected
by a small majority.
Next stop was my native province, Saskathewan, where politics is fought
bare-knuckles. My task was to tour the province-the Tories held every seat-and
to give particular aid and comfort to Hazen Argue, the Grits' one, long-shot
hope. I found Argue an introverted, diffident man, given to preoccupied silences.
He had been for eighteen months the national leader of the CCF party before
defecting to the Liberals, and was passionately hated by the NDP. In 1965,
he was trying for election in Assiniboia, having been defeated in 1963.
I was chauffeured about the province by a madman assigned by then premier
Ross Thatcher. The entire tour of five cities was driven with only one hand;
the other was occupied in gesturing as we rocketed along the straight-as-a-string
Saskthewan high- ways at ninety miles an hour. Often, I was tempted to return
As recompense, I was told wonderful tales of local politics. They played
for keeps in Saskatchewan: you left someone to guard your car when you made
a speech if you didn't want to find your tires flat or water in your gas
tank when you returned. I heard of meeting-hall doors nailed securely shut;
a candidate's car fastened to a telephone pole with a length of heavy chain;
and of obscenities added to campaign posters so that the candidate himself
had to destroy them.
Bully-boy hecklers were sent to meetings to frighten away women and the
timid. They would feign fistfights in the midst of the candidate's speech
and flee before the police arrived. A woman brought her hungry baby to a
meeting and sat in the front row so that the infant's crying drowned out
the candidate's speech. At another meeting, a man brought an enormous German
shepherd on a leash. He, too, sat in the front row. Throughout the candidate's
speech, the dog lunged toward him, straining at the leash, teeth bared, snapping
and snarling. It didn't make for oratory.
There were, of course, the common tales of election-day chicanery: of
ballot boxes stolen and of dead men voting, some many times. In turn, I
told him horror stories I'd heard about the Toronto-Dovercourt riding in
the 1930s. Such skullduggery as when a scrutineer for one of the parties
lodged a piece of lead beneath a fingernail when unfolding ballots for tallying,
and managed to mark those cast for the opposition in such a way as to make
them invalid. One party organizer perfected a brilliant scam. Early in
the day, a voter entered the polling station. Having been given his ballot,
he substituted a folded piece of paper and voted it. The unmarked ballot
was then given to the organizer. He marked the X for his candidate and gave
it to an indigent or a rummy whose name was on the voters' list . The man
deposited the marked ballot and returned with the unmarked one he'd been
issued, whereupon he was rewarded with a couple of dollars or a bottle of
cheap liquor. The system was repeated throughout the day.
My efforts in Saskatchewan didn't achieve anything tangible. Once again,
the Liberals lost every seat. Hazen Argue was defeated but was rewarded
by "being summoned to the Senate of Canada".
I was scheduled to go next to Victoria but was diverted to the Northwest
Territories by an urgent telephone call from Keith Davey. It seemed there
was a chance to capture the seat and that all that might be needed was an
I flew from Edmonton to Yellowknife aboard Pacific Western
Airlines. The initials PWA, I was told by fellow passengers, stood for "Please
Wait Awhile" and "Pray While Aloft.” The centre of the cabin was occupied
by an enormous piece of crated machinery, lashed to the floor. The few seats
that hadn't been removed were occupied mostly by stolid and silent Inuit
and Indians. They had brought lunch, and as soon as we were airborne, unwrapped
it. I passed when a steward offered me a squashed box lunch.
In Yellowknife I was informed that I couldn't meet the candidate, Bud
Orange; he was campaigning at the eastern end of the riding. I looked at
a map: I was closer to Toronto than I was to Bud Orange.
Yellowknife looked as a picture-postcard wilderness city should; scrub,
rock outcrop and water. Most of its residents dressed in clothes suited
to the setting; in my light topcoat and white shirt and tie, I looked like
the prototypical city slicker. There were, of course, most of the amenities
of a southern city, but the feeling was of being at the end of civilization's
I did all the things you do when you are beating the political drum.
I was interviewed by the local paper and on radio, was photographed shaking
hands with the shy and inscrutable men introduced to me as the leaders of
the native people, was taught a few words in Dog Rib, addressed a public
meeting in an inferno-hot hall, was presented with an Inuit bone knife and
spoke to a group of wives of engineers, accountants and other "southerners"
who were doing a limited stint at the Pine Point mine. The conversation
afterwards consisted of stories about the various manifestations of cabin
The entire flight across Great Slave Lake was accomplished with my heart
palpitating. We were just out of sight of land when he single engine of
the bush plane began to catch and occasion- ally to falter. The pilot opined
that there might be a little water in the gas line and that it must be freezing.
Nor did my trepidation subside when he reassuringly pointed out that, if
the engine did quit, we would last no more than four minutes in the cold,
grey waters below.
There were two memorable moments during a two-day stay in Hay River.
On the drive into the dust-mantled town, we passed an extensive fenced area,
every square inch jammed with gigantic earth-moving machines. My driver
told me that, at the end of the Second World War, the United states Army
engineers who had been building and maintaining the Canol Pinpeline simply
abandoned their equipment. The cost to ship it home was prohibitive, and
they were forbidden by law to sell it in Canada. A citizen of Hay Riber,
a middle-European as I recall it, slipped out of town with the usual prospector’s
equipment - a sleeping bag, a gun, an axe and some matches, along with some
flour, salt, beans and tea-and living off the land, followed the pipeline.
He had taken with him a can of paint, and he laid claim to millions of dollars
worth of abandoned equipment by simply painting his name on it.
The editor of the newspaper in Hay River was an intense, narrow-jawed
young man. He sat at his overburdened desk at one end of a long and very
narrow office, every square foot of the floor heaped with stacks of yellowing
back issues. I tried to talk politics while he talked about the development
of the north-two zealots, we held simultaneous conversations about entirely
As we spoke, he picked up a chunk of rough rock and looped it across the
intervening distance. I reached for it but dropped it. Picking it up, I
was surprised at its weight and noticed that flakes
had fallen from it to the floor.
"Lead and zinc," he said. "From the Pyramid mine. Have you heard of it?".
"No," I said, and tried to get back to the Liberal party.
"Do yourself a favour," he said, "get yourself some shares. It's going
to be bigger than Pine Point.”
The following morning, killing time at the Edmonton airport, I checked
Pyramid shares in a newspaper. They were listed at eighteen cents. I was
unimpressed - I'd been touted on penny stocks before. A few months later,
Pyramid was selling at thirty- two dollars.
It wasn't a total loss: the Liberals won the seat.
Lester Pearson was in Winnipeg for a major rally and I was flown there
to "warm up" the crowd for ten minutes before introducing the prime minister.
I was well known in the city - some eighty thousand had attended my preaching
mission there in 1956. But we had reckoned without the NDP.
They lined up before the doors opened and immediately occupied the front
three rows in the auditorium and all the front seats in the gallery. As
I was introduced and made my way to the lectern, they sent up a cacophony
of whistling and booing, and the moment I started to speak, began to heckle.
My every statement was challenged with hoots and jests and shouted questions.
The badgering was not ill tempered, the jibes were mostly attempts at humor,
but it was impossible either to ride over it or ignore it. Things grew worse
when the Liberals in the crowd began to boo the hecklers, for it sounded
as if the increased uproar was directed at me.
I soldiered on, perspiring, shouting to be heard above the melee and swiftly
growing hoarse. As there was no option, I quickly moved to my conclusion
and returned to my seat. The booing immediately switched to applause. Mr.
Pearson got a respectful hearing.
Something like the debacle in Winnipeg happened some years later when
I was asked to speak prior to Pierre Trudeau at Maple Leaf Gardens in the
1974 campaign. The Gardens was jammed; the proportion of teenagers was much
larger than would normally be the case because of the presence of The Guess
Who. In the wake of their incredibly amplified rock music, I rose to speak,
my brain numbed by the uproar. The frenetic din that followed the music
didn't diminish by a decibel. In mid-speech, my mind was elsewhere, vowing
never again to accept an invitation to such an occasion.
Pushing through the crowd five minutes later, I passed an old friend.
"Hi,Chuck.” he shouted. "When are you on?"
In November, 1965, Lester Pearson's
government was returned with its second straight minority. Having counseled
the prime minister to go to the country, assuring him of his longed-for majority,
Walter Gordon, Political head of the party, and Keith Davey, the national
organizer, resigned. Four months later, Davey was appointed to the Senate.
In 1968, Pierre Trudeau ascended to the leadership and, in setting up his
election apparatus, passed over Davey and appointed Robert Andras Anglophone
political organizer. Jean Marchand was made responsible for Quebec.
I had never been enthusiastic about Trudeau and had been publicly critical
of him on radio. Nonetheless, I continued to work for the party. In the
spring of 1972,the prime minister began to make noises abort an election
and the requisite organizational structure was set up. Clem Neiman, who
had been campaign manager in my bid for the Ontario leadership, was named
Ontario chairman. He persuaded me to act as Chairman of the Candidates
Committee, my task being to find suitable candidates and to talk them into
The weeks dragged on. Summer came and a half dozen election alerts passed
without a writ being issued. It was obvious that Trudeau was unable to make
up his mind. I was growing restive. The idea for a novel was yeasting in
my head and I was anxious to get to the daily routine of writing. By mid
July, I'd had enough and asked to be released from my responsibilities.
Neiman wouldn't hear of it. As the dwindling days of summer revealed more
indecision in Ottawa, I saw a way out of my dilemma.
Although he had been set aside by the prime minister, Keith Davey was
loyal to the party and he was filling a relatively minor role in the Ontario
organization. I told Neiman I was adamant about resigning and proposed that
he replace me with Davey as candidates chairman. As I recall it, he passed
the task to Keith and Dorothy Petrie, Neiman's co-chairman. Incidentally,
they subsequently married, although not as a result of this joint assignment.
When Trudeau finally called the election for October 3, his majority was
reduced to a slim, two-seat advantage. In August 1973, Davey was summoned
to serve again as national organizer.
I have not since worked for the party. There was no rupture; it was simply
that I was growing increasingly critical of the Trudeau government and was
voicing my criticism on the air in my daily dialogue with Pierre Berton.
Liberals do not attack their leader, so I severed my connection.
It was also the beginning of the end of my marriage to Sylvia. Such warmth
and mutual commitment as there had been was destroyed when I decided to run
for public office. Early in 1975, after fifteen years, I left home. We
were divorced in February 1976. On December 21, 1980, I married Madeleine
Helen Leger. Happy day.
I like politicians. Not all of them, of course, but the breed. If
pressed to say why, I would be at a loss. I know many of them, some well,
but I have no illusions about them and take such characteristics as self-absorption,
overweening ambition and pretentiousness as essential to their trade. That
they have king-size egos should not surprise; anyone who runs for political
office must believe that he is superior to his fellows to want to be set
over them. (I use the masculine gender here because of the awkwardness
of he/she and because politicians are preponderantly male. )
It is, of course, facile to speak of politicians as a group. In personality
and talent they range the spectrum and vary as widely in their ambitions.
Some lust for power (the most unlikely see themselves as numerousness,
their improbable dream hidden from even those closest to them until the time
comes to declare them- selves as candidates in a leadership convention),
some aspire to little more than to represent their neighbors in parliament.
Some are compassionate, realizing themselves through service, others do
little that won't serve their own ends. Some are honorable men, some are
The largest vocational group among politicians is lawyers, which fact
is neither surprising nor regrettable. The reasons for their disproportionate
representation are obvious: lawyers are trained in law; government has mostly
to do with the making of laws. Happily, their number is leavened by accountants,
clergy- men, farmers, businessmen and what have you. A few are academics.
A very few are women.
There are reasons why few women occupy seats in the federal or provincial
legislatures. Principally, it is bevause political parties are of the nature
of men's clubs, and women are not readily admitted. Male politicians - and
I'm speaking here of those who work at the job year round rather than spasmodically
when there is an election - like to get together to "talk politics.” They
meet in "smoke-filled back rooms," in hotel rooms, in each other's homes.
Theirs is an easy camaraderie, a jackets-off, collars-open, shirt- sleeves-rolled
informality, with feet on the table and a drink in the hand. The conversations
is "man talk," the language is forthright and occasionally raunchy. Expletives
go undeleted. It is a habitat in which males feel at ease only in the company
of other males. Not many women are at home in this environment, and while
the political pros will accommodate to the presence of women, the old ways
are cherished and protected.
The situation is changing but not very rapidly. Most of the women active
in politics are relegated to secondary and tertiary tasks and have not yet
begun to realize their potential. Women are more numerous than men in the
population, and if they were to emphasize their solidarity, they could elect
more than their share of members. But there is no evidence that women vote
for women because they are women. If anything, the contrary is true.
This will surely change, however. Women will make their way in politics
as they are doing in every other activity, and one day - but probably not
in this century - the Canadian head of state will be an extra- ordinary human
being addressed as Madame Prime Minister.
To an outsider, it must seem odd, almost masochistic, that anyone would
offer himself as a candidate for public office. There are rewards, of course,
but the price exacted can be excessive. Public-opinion polls reveal that
politicians are not highly esteemed by their fellows - the very word is spoken
with a curl of the lip. The stereotype is a pompous, unctuous, garrulous
and self- serving extrovert who "rides the gravy train" and "fattens at the
public trough. "He is target of abuse for his fellows and the press, is
maligned in editorials and cartoons, is criticized in letters to the editor
and is commonly the scapegoat in matters over which he has no control.
When in 1964 I ran for a provincial seat, the demands made of me most
frequently were that I "do something about that damned new Canadian flag"
(a federal responsibility) and about property taxes (an affair of the municipal
The stuff of daily politics is tedious, exhausting and without glamour.
The successful candidate immediately loses his privacy. He is subject
to being called upon at any hour of the day or night and on weekends. His
constituents expect him to solve problems as varied as finding a job for
someone's lay-about son-in-law, improving the mail service, filling a pot-hole
or halting the nuclear-arms race. In responding to these and other appeals,
a politician must move with circumspection. If he uses his influence unwisely,
he may be charge with influence peddling. Innocent of willful impropriety,
he may find himself pilloried in the House and by the news media and end
with his good reputation besmirched.
Some politicians become wealthy through politics, others are beggared
by it. The pay in the House of Commons may not be princely, but it is adequate.
The pension - if the member can stay around long enough - is more than generous.
if he has served the party loyally, even defeat can be rewarding - a seat
in the Senate may secure the future. The contacts and experience gained
in political life can put a man in the way of lucrative opportunities. Despite
these rewards, many backbenchers pay for their years in politics with debts
incurred in campaigning, in maintaining two households, in the mandatory
contributions to every "worthy cause" and in the thousand and one expenditures
for which there is no recompense.
The heaviest cost may be a broken or gutted marriage, a result of the
neglect of a wife and children and frequent and prolonged absences from home.
The sexual temptations are many; a politician is a celebrity of sorts and
there are political groupies. The loneliness and discouragement of the political
arena and the tenuousness of the future can lead to heavy drinking. Let
that man count himself among God’s favorites who has a supportive family,
a private income and a safe seat.
But the candidate is only the focal point of the political process. Behind
him, unnoticed and usually unheralded, are the volunteer workers. Many
have a dedication akin to a missionary's They work sweatshop hours without
pay or hope of tangible reward, simply to see their man win. They are satisfied
with a handshake or an arm about the shoulder or a word of commendation,
and for this they will canvass strange streets in good or bad weather, climb
narrow stairs, knock on every door, accost passers-by, solicit votes. They
endure insults, hot rebuke and massive indifference with few complaints and
undiminished vigour. On election day they drive the infirm to the polls,
babysit so that mothers may vote and, at the end, agonize or exult with the
candidate as the results come in.
Part of their recompense is, of course, an identification with celebrity,
the sense of being part of Something Big. But political workers are prepared
to do more than bask in a reflected spot- light; they are givers as well
as takers. Many are lonely people who find companionship among their kind.
Some are social misfits and a few are intolerable one-note bores, but the
political process wouldn't work without them. Those who sit on the sidelines
and scorn all politicians and their followers owe these "foot-soldiers" more
than they know.
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