- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Jan 1907, p. 174-185
- Ames, Herbert B., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The speaker's definition of the "machine" as an organization, actively at work to influence the choice of a body of electors, with regard to who shall represent them. Where such a machine might exist, with examples. The machine idea as practically universal, or may become such wherever an election can take place. The sinister significance of the term. The speaker's desire to convince the audience that it is both possible and desirable that there should be a machine, and that that machine should be in honest hands. The shameful disclosures of electoral corruption that have been made from time to time in Canada. A personal reference to an experience in 1904 of a parliamentary election where there was not one vote corruptly influenced or personated on the side which the speaker represented. The speaker's belief that such corruption need not exist. A description of the detail of organization which may be said to make up an honest machine. Four classes of activities or component working parts of an honest electoral machine, with discussion of each: the preparatory work; the influencing of public opinion; getting out the vote; protective measures to make sure that the game is played according to the rules. An interesting experiment in Montreal. Opposition to the speaker's organization on the basis of cost and the number of volunteers required. The speaker's response to the criticism. We in Canada upon the threshold of a new century and entering upon a year of great development and of great prosperity and success. Our phenomenal advantages and national assets. The danger that we forget what it has cost to get for us the liberty we enjoy. A summary of the elements of the speaker's "machine."
- Date of Original
- 24 Jan 1907
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THE MACHINE IN HONEST HANDS.
Address by Mr. Herbert B. Ames, M.P., of Montreal, before the Empire Club of Canada, on January 24th, 1907.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Empire Club,--The honour of addressing your Club at one of these luncheons, internationally famed, is an honour that I very highly appreciate, and what I wish to say this afternoon will represent to you certain sincere convictions with which I may not expect you all to coincide, but the earnestness and honesty of which you will be, I know, prepared to admit. I wish to speak to the topic, which, perhaps, is not very intelligible as printed: "The Machine in Honest Hands."
We of Canada are exceedingly fortunate in having what I believe to be the best form of government known in any age or in any land. We, by inheritance, come into the experience of our forefathers, and to us is given what they, for many centuries, struggled for. We have the British constitution that has been gradually evolved, improved, modified, and brought down to the present day, and that in the fullness of time was transplanted here in Canada, has become adapted to Canadian civilization, has grown and here borne its best fruitage. That has come to us, and whenever we stop for a moment to think of it, we Canadians cannot be otherwise than highly appreciative, and it is desirable, at times, that we should also think of the responsibility that this great gift carries with it.
Now, if I interpret rightly the central idea of the British constitution, as we know it today in Canada, it is that the sovereign power rests with the people. Many centuries ago, when the forms of government were much more simple than they are today, as in Athens for example, Demosthenes and Eschines would present themselves before a popular assembly, and would plead, each in turn, for peace or for war, as the case might be. And the assembled gathering, by popular outcry, or by show of hands, declared as to which of the resolutions, presented by the rival orators, had their support. That was in the days when government was simple. We have passed beyond those days. We no longer have popular gatherings which declare themselves on public questions, their public declaration having the force of law. Today we are governed by representatives. We choose men who shall be entrusted with the great powers which are ours, for the choice of those representatives is both complex and elaborate. It is intended that that choice shall be the free, the unbiased choice of a sovereign people. But law stops at that point. We find, however, that this choice is not left to haphazard. We find that there are influences at work to endeavour to persuade those who have the right of election in favour of a platform, a party, a candidate. We find that there is oftentimes organization of influence at work in support of a candidate, and now this leads me to what I purpose to give you as my definition of the "machine." The machine is an. organization, actively at work to influence the choice of a body of electors, with regard to who shall represent them.
Now, I think you will see that there is nothing vicious in the machine, as so described per se. I think you will admit that machines exist wherever there is an election. You may have a machine; not only in Parliamentary provincial politics, but you may have a machine in a school board election, in a vestry election, board of trade election, in a secret society election, even in a debating club election; you might almost have a machine in an Empire Club election. So that the machine idea is practically universal or may become such wherever an election can take place. The term, however, as a rule, has a sinister significance. We are accustomed to attach to the word "machine" corruption in elections, debauchery in politics, the dying struggle of a Government that no longer holds the confidence of the people; but I claim that this definition is wholly foreign and unnecessary, and my purpose in speaking to you this afternoon, to a body of influential representative men in this great city of Toronto, is this--in order, if possible, to convince you to accept, what I believe to be true: namely, that it is both possible and desirable that there should be a machine, and that that machine should be in honest hands.
I think we all, throughout this Dominion of Canada, have bowed our heads in shame at the disclosures of electoral corruption that have been from time to time made. I know we have done so in our Province, for our sins, and unfortunately every other Province in that respect does not differ greatly from my own, and we asked ourselves, why is this? Is it necessary, is it inherent in our form of government that electoral corruption should exist? We go to the practical politician and this is what he says: "Syllogism! we must win; to win we must use corrupt means; consequently we must use corrupt means." Very simple, and that is the generally accepted doctrine of the practical politician. I would not undertake to set up my humble judgment in controversy with many other men who have had far more experience than I in political life, but, I would like to say to this gathering of Toronto men, that my fifteen years' experience has convinced me that that syllogism is false and erroneous. In our city of Montreal, which, I think, does not differ in general conditions from other cities of Canada, we have had electoral corruption and probably will continue to have it for some years to come, but we have also had an exhibition of the fact that a corrupt machine can sometimes be broken and put out of business by an honest machine. For several years we had an up-hill fight with a corrupt administration in municipal politics. They controlled all of the accessories which are generally considered adequate to keep a party or a group in power. They were extravagant; they were greedy; they were unscrupulous; and yet we fought them for seven years, each year gaining a little ground, until finally, in 1900, a reformed administration had a majority in the City Council. That campaign was cartied on along clean lines from start to finish, but we were not satisfied with that alone. We made the other fellows fight their elections cleanly, too, or stand the consequences, and when we got a clean, moral issue before the people of a ward, and when the corruption was eliminated from the contest, the better man. won every time, and he always will.
If I may be excused for a personal reference, permit me to say we had a similar experience in 1904. The organization that was at my back in that election was similar in character to that which had done such valued service in our municipal fights, and I can say without fear of contradiction, for I know what I affirm, that in the Parliamentary election of 1904 there was not one vote corruptly influenced or personated on the side which I represented. Now, what I say was done in my constituency and what was done in the municipal elections of Montreal I believe can be done, mutatis mutandis, in every constituency of Canada. If I did not believe that to be true I would lose faith in the hope of our great country, notwithstanding its magnificent resources, and notwithstanding its noble men. Possibly you may be interested, if I may be allowed a few minutes to go into detail, in some slight description of the method which we employed in operating our honest machine in Montreal. It does not differ very much in the main features from an ordinary electoral organization, with which, I suppose, you are all familiar. It may possibly be a little tedious in the numerous details, but I desire, above all things, to be practical, and I trust that what I may 'say may contain in some portion of it some suggestion that may assist others equally desirous with myself of seeing politics purified, and so I will, with your permission, give you a slight description of the detail of organization which may be said to make up an honest machine.
There are four classes of activities, I may almost say four component working parts, of an honest electoral machine. First of all, there is, the preparatory work. It is desirable that in every constituency there should be at least two political clubs, active, wide-awake organizations. As members of each club there should be every man who believes that the principles of that party are the best for the governance of Canada. The officers of that club should be men who have the respect of the entire community. From time to time debates and discussions should be carried on that will bring a knowledge of public questions to the members, and arouse their interest in them. And I would further advocate that the English system be adopted of having a paid secretary who can devote his entire time to the details of the routine work which must come to a political club. One of the prime objects of the creation of a political club is in order that it may supervise the work of preparing the voters' lists. When the time of revision comes this club should overlook the striking from the list of names of those persons who have no right to be there and the adding of names which should be there. And when the lists have been perfected and signed and become official, it requires also constant supervision in order that the names of dead persons, the names of persons who have removed from the city may be noted, and in order that changes of address may also be noted. All this is preparatory to the election. The Germans have a proverb that " To be well soaped is half shaved," and nothing is truer in elections than that proverb. To have your lists in good shape is half the battle in an election fight, as everyone of you who has engaged in practical work knows, and I think you will all admit that it is not necessary that there be a corrupt element of any kind in the work that I have described.
The next component part of an electoral organization is the influencing of public opinion. In the old times this was left, for the most part, to public meetings. These, to a considerable extent, are now being replaced by newspapers, by campaign literature, pamphlets, etc. Any of you who are in the advertising business, or who have known what it is to promote, let us say, a patent medicine, know that a lot of ingenuity can be expended in getting the public to read what you print, and I. will guarantee that a truly ingenious man could make every man, woman and child in Toronto read a statement commending his wares, in three months, if he set out to do it; but he would have to use discretion and tact, and so to bring the facts before an elector one needs to not forget that people are influenced, not in masses, but some by one view of a question and some by another. When an election is imminent the next phase, of course, is the classification of the vote. It is necessary that steps be taken to ascertain who are favourable, who are unfavourable, and who are doubtful. It need not be necessary in such a canvass that influence be brought to bear to change the opinions of people who have already made up their mind, but the doubtful vote becomes the possession of the personal friends of the candidate, and the hand-picking of fruit in that quarter oft-times constitutes the majority when an election arrives.
The third phase of the machine comes next in evidence, and that is getting out the vote. It consists of the technical work performed usually by a paid office staff, of notifying every elector as to the place of the polls; and we have added a notice served upon every business man at his place of business, which he opens on the morning of the election. When he comes down to business, he is met with letters an inch high. "Have you voted? Remember, it is election day." Then comes the task of getting out your vote, and we have adopted, in Montreal, a system probably similar to that in vogue in other places, consisting of a team of five men to each poll. It works in this way. First of all there is the scrutineer. I do not know whether you are troubled by personation in Toronto, but with us it is the worst thing that we are up against in any election in the city of Montreal. We have, again and again, seen elections stolen by gangs of personators, but we have brought that to an end in this way: We have had a canvass made of every elector entitled to vote in a given constituency, and an accurate written description taken of him. I had fifteen thousand of these descriptions in my office, in one year. The card contains the following particulars of the voter: his height, his build, his complexion, the colour of his eyes, the colour of his hair, and any peculiarities-and a trained canvasser can pick a peculiarity out of almost every man that he meets. That package of cards is placed in the hands of the scrutineer of every poll. He does not know how the man is going to vote; it makes no difference to him; he is an honest man and is put there to do one thing-to see that only the men that have a right to vote, and the right men, poll at that poll, and he does it. Ay! and he does something more. He generally knows the election law better than the returning officer, and he sees that the returning officer does his duty, as well.
Number two in connection with the working of the group is the telephone man. He has a list of all those supposed to be favourable at that poll, with the business telephone of every man. He spends his day at the telephone, and he becomes a veritable nuisance to the business man who does not vote. His phone rings every half hour. "Have you voted, Sir?" Sometimes the business man in sheer dispair drops his letters and votes before he can do any work. Next comes the poll captain. He stands at the door of the poll. He has in his hand a pad which contains a little slip of paper for every supposedly favourable voter. As a man steps up to the poll, he says, politely, "Your name, please?" and if it be one for whom he has a slip, he detaches the slip and puts it in his pocket. So he keeps on all day, taking out the slips as people vote, and as the day wears on, he notices that so-and-so and so-and-so have not voted. He detaches the necessary slip and gives it to one of his hustlers, and that hustler never lets up until he lands his man. There is a poll captain's book that was used in my election, and there was one unfortunate that escaped. (Laughter.)
Now, there is one other phase of electoral organization quite as important, and that is known as "protection"--protective measures to make sure that the game is played according to the rules. Now, a man who sets out to win an election on fair lines has a right to expect, ay, and he has a right to demand, that his opponent do the same thing. He has a right to serve notice on him in advance, and say, "My friend, is it to be peace or war? Will you play the game according to rules or shall I make you?" Play it with two clean machines in the field, and the best man wins. If an honest machine is up against a dishonest machine, and one candidate agrees to fair play and the other won't do it, what is lie to do? Do? He has simply to show the other man no mercy. Personation can be stopped, as I showed here by the descriptive cards. Bribery is usually detectable, but, unfortunately, it cannot be discovered until after the fight is over. If your election has been taken from you by corrupt means, protest your opponent and unseat him, and if you carried your own election cleanly, you have no fear of a counter petition, and no fear of a protest, and when a man is in a position that he can look the whole world in the face and say, "In my election there was no rascality, if you stole the goods, sir, step down and out," then he is able to claim what belongs to him, and insist upon getting it, and if a seat is stolen from an honest man it is his business to follow the thief until he drops the goods. If I had an election fund of five thousand dollars to spend, I would put half of it in the bank for that purpose.
Now, I want to speak just a word of an interesting experiment. Only three months ago, in Montreal, we had a by-election in St. Anne's Division. The good people of this Division have for many years taken a pleasurable interest in the exciting, and from their point of view, harmless sport of personation. They found it invigorating and not without its emoluments, and as both sides engaged in it to the fullest extent of their ability, nobody was presumed to be seriously aggrieved. But we had a by-election there in the month of November, and we decided that we would not have any personation, just by way of a refreshing experiment. So there was organized in Montreal what was known as the "Volunteer Electoral League," drawn from both political parties in about equal proportion.--A Liberal member of the Local House, and a Conservative member of the Dominion House, were the two honorary presidents. This organization served word upon both candidates, that if they would eliminate personation from their calculations they would provide them with the necessary scrutineers and see that the game was played according to the rules. Both candidates consented, and in every poll there was placed a Liberal and a Conservative scrutineer; and those two men saw that the vote was honestly cast in that Division, and not one personation occurred during the entire day. Now, we have no hesitation in Montreal, we Conservatives, in putting a Liberal in to watch the poll. There is nothing on the descriptive card that shows the sentiment of the elector. I don't care whether my scrutineer knows in advance who are the blues, and who are the reds; all I want of him is to see to it that the vote is honestly polled and fairly counted. If he will do that he can be anything he likes. Now, I believe that is an evidence of an honest machine, doing one particular bit of work. If two other organizations, a Liberal and a Conservative, each equally honest, were doing the rest of the work, we would have the ideal election.
Some time ago, I wrote an article along these lines for the Canadian Magazine, and it was followed by an anonymous article, signed by " A Politician," who raised two objections to the plan which I advocated; the first, that it was a very costly method, and second, that it required a large number of volunteers. Perhaps I may devote just a moment to this criticism, because it is a very pertinent criticism. It is a trifle costly, that I admit. City constituencies are large, the vote is constantly changing. Anyone who has been in such an election knows that if you want to get out the vote, even spending your money legitimately, it requires a considerable amount. But unless I am wrong in my concept of the situation, a clean candidate who desires to serve his country is not frightened at the amount of his subscription so much as he is at the fear that it will be corruptly used and exposure and disgrace will follow. Now, I do not think you would find very much difficulty here in Toronto in getting the men who are able to represent you in the various Assemblies to stand as candidates and put up their own expenses, for that matter, if they felt perfectly positive that every dollar would be legitimately and honourably spent, and if they did not have hanging over them the fear of the Court; the fear of unseating and disqualification; the fear of newspaper notoriety; of ignominy and disgrace; and if you have such candidates, so eminently fit to represent you, but who are not blessed with this world's goods to bear their own expenses, I am sure there are plenty of loyal men in Toronto glad to subscribe if they felt that the money, every dollar, every cent of it, was used honestly and legitimately and properly.
Such an organization as I have described requires many volunteers. Yes, it does. If I remember rightly, in my constituency we had three hundred volunteers. It ought not to be difficult to get volunteers if your cause is good. It was not difficult for Jerome and Folk and Weaver in the great moral reforms that swept the cities of the United States. It was the great volunteer enthusiasm that carried them through, and broke the machines that stood in the way. That is not the difficulty. The difficulty is that you try to mix oil and water. You ask a clean young Canadian to work alongside of a thief and a thug. He won't do it, and you don't blame him for not doing it. And do you suppose that our politicians elect to have dishonest and dishonourable men run their elections? Do you think they do it because they like it? That they enter into entanglements and make promises which they blush to acknowledge because they enjoy that sort of thing? They do it because they are forced to do it, because they cannot get any other kind of worker. Just so soon as the honest men of this or any other community are prepared to volunteer and are prepared to take up the organization that has been carefully prepared for them, and carry it trough to a successful finish, every politician will gladly discard that element which has previously run his election and will accept the loyal volunteers' support.
Just a word and I am through, and it is this. We here in Canada are upon the threshold of a new century and are entering upon a year, I believe, of great development and of great prosperity and success. We have phenomenal advantages and our national assets are as yet uninventoried, but there is a danger and a great danger. It is the danger that we forget what it has cost to get for us the liberty we enjoy; that we forget the struggles of centuries whereby these liberties have come down to us; that we forget the long years between the Magna Charta and the Restoration; that we forget the 150 years' struggle to wipe out the rotten boroughs and widen the franchise of England; that we forget the nineteenth century in which the successive Acts were passed in order to take political corruption out of England; and that we forget what happened in our own land and the struggles of those who got for us truly representative and responsible government. And now we have got it, and the people are supreme, and the ballot is the method by which they choose their representatives, are we going to allow that instrument whereby we elect the men who make our laws, whereby we determine who shall rule this country--are we going to allow that right and privilege to slip from us? I trow not, unless I mistake the sentiments which actuate the men whom I see before me here today. And yet that is the danger, and how is the danger to be met? A man says, "I would not be guilty of a corrupt act in elections, indeed I would not; I always poll my vote and I poll it conscientiously, and my duty ends there. What more can I do?" I will tell you. Every man is individually responsible not only for the evils he commits, but for the evils he might prevent. Are you preventing all the electoral evil that you are able to in the city of Toronto, each man of you here today? Are you doing it? If you are, you are living up to that responsibility. If you are not, you are failing in that responsibility.
I believe that careful organization such as I have described can be made in any constituency in the Dominion of Canada. I believe that when the machine has been put in order it can be run by the clean and the decent element of Canada. I believe that every candidate who is fit to represent you in any elective body would rather have you run his machine than to have the corrupt element run his machine. Now, gentlemen, it is up to you, whether you are going to take into your own hands this electoral organization or whether you are going to leave it to men of whose acts you cannot but be ashamed. You ask me how it is possible to stop electoral abuse. It is possible when the honest and decent men wake up to the fact that they are interested in it, and take their part side by side, shoulder by shoulder, in manning the political organizations of both parties and insisting that those organizations shall be run honestly and truly in the fear of God. And when that comes about you will get the best men the country can offer, who will be willing to stand for office.
You sometimes wonder why you do not get the best men. You can see why you don't get them. A self-respecting man doesn't want to stand the chances of being dragged through an election Court and having his family and everyone throughout his own connection blush for him; but if he felt that behind him there was a body of men who felt as he did as to the value of the ballot, and that such men would rally to his support, the very best men on both sides would present themselves. The other day I heard that the Liberals were organizing in my constituency. I said, "Who are organizing?" They told me. "Good," I said. "These are the kind of men I want to see run the machine in my constituency, and if they can beat me, they are welcome to the seat. Let the best man win." And that is the way pretty nearly every politician that respects himself will look upon it, if you will give him a chance, and the support which he deserves. For we can eradicate from this political system of ours the corruption that has crept into it. If we can elect by clean, honest means, the right kind of men, our country will be guided out into a great and wonderful future, and we will step in and possess the land which God in his great bounty has given to the people of Canada. Gentlemen, I thank you.