Charles Templeton
An Anecdotal Memoir


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Inside Politics 1 (Charles Templeton Memoir)

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First Taste

In October 1952, John Diefenbaker offered me a guaranteed seat in the House of Commons. It was my first experience of Canadian politics.

I met the man who would be the Progressive Conservative leader when I returned to Regina, the city of my childhood, to conduct a fifteen-day preaching mission for the Council of Churches. It was "home-coming week” for me and I made much of it. So did the media. Diefenbaker was not yet leader of the party but he was planning to be, and he happened to be in Regina during my campaign. On the Sunday night, with about 3,000 present, he was invited to sit on the platform. Afterwards, we went together to a small social gathering in a private home.

Dief had been much impressed by the service, and after a few minutes, he drew me aside for a private conversation. He urged me to return to Canada ("Great things are afoot") and to become active in politics. He emphasized that he wasn't denigrating the importance of the ministry-making the point that he was a Baptist and active as a layman-but he insisted that, if a man truly wanted to serve his fellows, the place to get things done was in politics.

He made me this proposition: "Return to Canada, join the Progressive Conservative party and I'll guarantee you a set in the House of Commons.“ He was certainly able to keep the promise: he was in absolute control of the party in Saskatchewan, where the Tories held every federal seat. Only half in jest, I quoted Martin Luther, "God forbid that I should slip from being a priest to become a king.” He laughed and clapped me on a shoulder. As the evening, ended, he at the door, “If you change your mind, come and see me.”

I have been fascinated by politics since the 1930s when I watched Mitch Hepburn, then premier of Ontario, utterly entrance a crowd of about one thousand at a Liberal rally in Toronto. I was there to draw his portrait for the Globe and Mail. In my years in the United States, I hero-worshipped Franklin Roosevelt and especially Harry Truman. In the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections, I worked for Adlai Stevenson. (I was a resident alien and couldn't vote, but I offered my services and passed out campaign literature in downtown Manhattan.) If you cared about words and ideas, Stevenson was a particularly attractive political figure. It seemed imperative that a man with such intellect and idealism be elected president. Today I have no doubt that he would have been a disaster as president. He seemed congenitally incapable of making the tough decisions.

In 1957, only weeks after my return to Toronto, I moved to become active in the politics of my own country. I read in the newspapers that the Liberal party of Ontario was holding a leadership convention at Toronto's King Edwards’s hotel. Knowing no one, I slipped unobtrusively into the Crystal Ballroom to watch the proceedings. I was recognized by a few delegates because of my television appearances and they shook my hand. Among them was Keith Davey. I watched as the final vote tallies were announced and John Wintermeyer was elected leader.

The following week I was invited to lunch by Paul Hellyer. He had been Associate Minister of Defense and, only months before had gone down to defeat with the St. Laurent government. He pressed me to join the Liberal party. Their prospects were anything but prepossessing: the federal wing had just suffered its worst defeat in history and the Ontario Liberals had been out of power for twenty-seven years.

The following day I was again invited to lunch, by coincidence at the same table in the same dining room of the same hotel, the Westbury. I was the guest of Donald MacDonald, the leader of the CCF in Ontario. I'd voted CCF once; in the 1940s when E. B. Jolliffe was leader of the party. MacDonald and I talked about Norman Thomas, the brilliant American socialist-idealist, whom I admired, and about Sam Gompers, the heroic early labour organizer. We discussed Bernard Shaw and the Fabians, compared politics in the United States and Canada and talked about the hopes of Canadian socialists. I Liked MacDonald but was not impressed by what he had to say.

I am not by disposition a Conservative, so I didn't contact John Diefenbaker. The following week, after an extended discussion with Keith Davey, I joined the Liberal party.

Davey was then a time salesman at a small Toronto radio station, CKFH; in his spare time, he was president of the Toronto and Yorks Liberal Association. We established an immediate rapport. We were both fascinated by the political process and liked politicians, and while we were both idealists, we relished he back-room activity of organizing and building the party. Davey was a leading member of an informal agitation of Toronto Liberals known as Cell 13 who met regularly to work for the return to power of a reformed Liberal party. An untried newcomer, I was not a member of the group, all of whom had been blooded in earlier electoral battles, but none the less busied myself with party activity, mostly in association with Davey.

Together, we organized and were co-chairmen of what we called the School for practical Politics. (The approach was later adopted nationally under the title Campaign College.) The weekly meetings of the "school" were hardnosed teaching sessions spiced by lighthearted camaraderie. “Old pools" taught party workers the fundamentals: door-to-door canvassing, riding organization, fund-raising and promotion and so on. The classes marked the beginning of the revitalizing of the party in Toronto.

Only months before, Liberal fortunes had hit bottom. John Diefenbaker's Conservative party won 75 percent of the seats in the Commons, including a majority in Quebec, amassing the largest parliamentary majority in Canadian history: 108 seats to the Liberals' 67. The press of the nation blew Taps over the Grits' grave.

But the Liberals were not without hope, and his name was Lester Bowles Pearson. Did anyone ever come to politics whose credentials shone more brightly? He had taught history at the University of Toronto. He had been Canada's senior advisor at the Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco conferences that led to the formation of the United Nations, and he had headed Canada's delegation to the new peace body. In 1947, as chairman of the United Nations Political and Security Committee, he had played a decisive role in mediating the Palestine crisis. No sooner was he elected to the Canadian parliament than he was appointed minister of External Affairs and was instrumental in the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1957. That same year he was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his work in resolving the 1956 Arab-Israeli war. Beyond all this, he as an unpretentious, warm, gregarious man who freely confessed that he would rather coach a major-league baseball team than be Secretary General of the United Nations.

And yet. . . . When he rose to speak at public function, one's soaring expectations were suddenly earthbound. His self-deprecating wit fell flat. His lisp, barely noticeable in private conversation, was accentuated by tension. Speaking in public, he had a way of closing his eyes, and of lolling his head back and to one side that appeared almost spastic Ringing phrases became prosaic on his lips. Often, when he summoned indignation or reached for outrage, his sentences collapsed in boneless ineffectuality. Pearson didn't sound like a politician because he wasn't a politician. His genius was as a conciliator, solving problems, working with people. Loyal Liberals covered their dismay, and tried to reassure themselves: Pearson's sure touch would soon be evident; his lack of slickness would become an advantage as people grew accustomed to him and were able to measure him against the over-blown bombast of John Diefenbaker. "If the Canadian people could only meet Mike face to face in small groups," we used to say, "he would carry the country by the largest margin in history.”

No one believed this with greater conviction than Keith Davey. Davey is given to hero worships. (For the past twenty-five years he has committed himself unswervingly to Pearson, Walter Gordon and Pierre Trudeu although in the latter case, one suspects there is more loyalty than affection in the fealty.) Beyond all that, Davey was a dedicated Liberal and it was inevitable that he be summoned to Ottawa to use his exceptional skills as an organizer on behalf of the party.

I was at a small luncheon for journalists and Mike Pearson was doing what he enjoyed doing: telling stories, especially stories about great events or great men in which the unexpected and, ideally, the humorous happened.

I had asked him to describe the difference in dealing with John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

"The first time I met Kennedy," he said, brightening (he had been listless earlier responding to questions about the problems of his government) "was at Hyannis Port. The Kennedy clan summered there. It was an official meeting, a putting on the table matters of concern and areas of conflict between our two countries.

"Kennedy arrived at the appointed time with a dozen aides, each of them carrying a fat attaché case, and we sat down in a sunny place to talk. The Americans had prepared an agenda and Kennedy had been very carefully briefed. The interesting thing was that he had it all in his head. He knew more about some of the issues than I did and had some facts about Canada that were news to me.” Pearson chuckled. “I’d only been in office three weeks - at any rate, that was my excuse. Kennedy was cordial and witty, but all business. We accomplished a lot.

"Lyndon Johnson," he said with a laugh, “was the antithesis. This time the shoe was on the other foot; he’d been in office only two months. We met at the White House. He had his aides, too, a lot of them. But we'd no sooner sat down than he said, 'Look, Mike, let’s you and I slip into the next room for a few minutes and leave these guys to get started. '

"The next room," Person said, “was a small sitting-room. We pulled up comfortable chairs. Lyndon poured some coffee. Very relaxed, very informal. He said, 'Now Mike, they tell me you're not too happy about certain things, certain problems between our two countries. I don't know a hell of a lot bout the problems, whatever they are, but why don't we do this: you tell me what you would like to see done that I can do without doing a disservice to the American people, and I'll see that it’s one.”

Pearson tossed back his head and laughed at the memory.” We were having serious problems on the Great lakes at the time- rivalries in the Seafarers' International. There had been a number of shootings and some violence. I wanted to see it stopped. At seven the following morning, I was told later, Johnson picked up a telephone and called Paul Hall, head of the Seafarers' union. "Paul," he said, "I'd like to have breakfast with you here at the White House this morning. I’m sending a car around. ‘Hall came to breakfast, of course, and LBJ told him of our conversation. "Paul," he said, "I'd like you to put a stop to all this - you hear me now?"' Person laughed again.” And it stopped, “he said.

When you interviewed Pearson, he would frequently seem disconcertingly vague and withdrawn, but in private conversation he exuded great warmth. Once, late in his life, we talked sports in his suite at the Inn on the Park for the better part of an hour. (The early part of the hour had been spent talking about his exasperation with some aspects of Methodism; his father had been a clergyman. ) He had extraordinary recall, especially about baseball, and we traded recollections. When it was time for him to leave to make a speech somewhere in he hotel, he seemed almost poignantly reluctant to drop the subject.

Among Pearson's ministers I knew Paul Hellyer best, although we were not close friends. I saw him often, worked for him in Trinity riding when he sought to be returned to parliament, and in later years, did a weekly television show with him for five seasons. For all our frequent association I have never felt close to Paul. He is an earnest Christian and is, I think, fended by my unapologetic agnosticism. He is a contained man, not given to easy camaraderie, and is certainly not the affable glad - hinder politicians are thought to be.

When he was Minister of Defence, Hellyer was asked to speak at a testimonial dinner that the late George Ben, a feisty and aggressive Toronto alderman, decided to hold for himself. I acted as master of ceremonies. The locale was the Palais Royale on the Toronto waterfront. At one point in his speech, Hellyer, extemporizing, was making comparisons between Canada and the United States.

"The United States,“ he declared, “is a melting pot. People have emigrated there from all over the world and have blended in one whole. Canada, too, has grown through immigration, but we are not a melting pot. We are. . . .” He paused, seeking an appropriate analogy. "We are more like. . . . more like. . . .” And now he had it. "Canada is more like a Christmas cake; you put in the fruits and you add the nuts. “He stopped, sensing that something had gone amiss but not quite sure what. A woman at the head table loosed a guffaw, and the rest of us, who had been restraining it, exploded with laughter. After a moment, Paul joined in.

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