Struggle for Power: Canadian Politics 1972
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Feb 1972, p. 229-243
Newman, Peter C., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Political values: commitment and integrity. The role of "Maclean's." What Canadians want. Nationalism. The upcoming election. Canadians and the "psychology of surrender." Canadian weakness. The pace of change and how Canadians deal with it. Changing profile of the electorate. A profile of the kind of political leaders that Canada needs. Brief profiles of Robert Stanfield and Pierre Trudeau. Young Conservatives. Trudeau's government. The criteria by which prime ministers should be judged.
Date of Original
10 Feb 1972
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Full Text
FEBRUARY 10, 1972
Struggle for Power: Canadian Politics 1972
AN ADDRESS BY Peter C. Newman, EDITOR, Maclean's Magazine
CHAIRMAN The President, Henry N. R. Jackman


Peter Newman has been described as perhaps the greatest journalist in Canada today. His by-line has become synonymous with a clarity of expression that would do credit to the greatest newspapermen in history his books have been read by hundreds of thousands--his articles and commentaries by millions.

Born in Vienna some forty-two years ago, he came to Canada at the outbreak of the Second World War. He was educated at Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto where he received his Masters degree in Commerce.

On graduation, he decided upon a career in journalism, joining the "Financial Post", serving in increasingly senior capacities until he became an editor of "Maclean's Magazine" in 1956.

Those of you who are subscribers to "Maclean's" Magazine know of the traditional high quality of its Ottawa Bureau which gained national prominence in the early 1950's under the late Blair Fraser. By 1958 with a new Conservative Government firmly entrenched, Blair Fraser's close connections and sympathy with the discredited Liberal establishment may have become a liability to him as a newspaperman, as doors which were once open to him--now appeared to be closing. Perhaps with some encouragement from the new Conservative hierarchy, "Maclean's" may have felt that their Ottawa Bureau would be better served by a younger and fresher face. Whether or not the Conservative hierarchy had anything to do with Blair Fraser's departure is a moot question. But if it were true, it may well have been John Diefenbaker's first major mistake as the new Ottawa Editor for "Maclean's" was none other than Peter Newman.

The ensuing decade in Ottawa for Peter Newman, first with "Maclean's" and then with the Toronto Daily Star, coincided with the most hectic and tempetuous years in Canadian political life--a period which saw five general elections in ten years, four of which were inconclusive and returned minority governments. This period which has now been immortalized by Peter Newman on the C.B.C. television program--"The Tenth Decade", was a period unprecedented in its partisanship and perhaps in the futility of its political struggle.

Those years obviously had a strong influence on "Maclean's" young Ottawa editor. In addition to his articles and commentaries, our guest wrote two best selling books "Renegade in Power"--the story of the Diefenbaker years and its sequel--"The Distemper of our Times" which continued the narrative up to 1968.

His writing perhaps more than any other reflected the disillusionment of an age. No period of Canada's political life has been the subject of so much comment as those years that Peter Newman spent in Ottawa. Perhaps no period in history have the press and the media had such an impact in shaping public attitudes. Some have suggested that the media, by turning the searchlight on Ottawa, rightfully exposed to Canadians the weaknesses of our parliamentary system and the inadequacy of its leaders. Others have suggested that the cynicism of the Press Gallery was unwarranted and came through to the voters too strong--and that the cynicism of the Gallery became the disillusionment of the Nation and was itself the cause of the minority parliaments and the consequent long decade of less than effective rule.

Whatever the answer, the power of the media became firmly entrenched as a political force during our tenth decade. Peter Newman more than any other, represented to the public this new force.

By 1968, the old adversaries, John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson had retired and Peter Newman came back to Toronto, first as Editor-in-Chief of the "Toronto Daily Star" and now in a similar position with "Maclean's Magazine", the place from whence he came. I know, however, that in the years ahead, Canada will hear much more from Peter Newman and that our understanding and appreciation of events will be further enriched by his writing. It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Mr. Peter Newman.


Let me begin by defining my own political views. While I do have some strong preferences among individual politicians, it seems to me that the measure of commitment and integrity a man brings to the political wars is far more important than the banner under which he travels. Commitment and integrity--these are the political values that really count.

In other words, I am politically neutral. I attack everybody.

Now, before I talk about the election we're all expecting, I want to say a word about Maclean's.

Being Editor of Maclean's is not a job. It is a calling. Canada's national magazine is woven into the dreams and memories of this country; its stated aim for 66 years has been to provide a platform that allows the nation to speak to itself. At no time in our history have we ever been in so desperate a need for just such a platform. Only in a constant interchange between the segments of our fragile society, flung across this unlikely hunk of geography, is there hope of continuing unity. The distinguishing characteristic of Maclean's has been an uncompromising attempt to record and authenticate the Canadian experience for the Canadian reader. I have tried for the past year to put out a magazine that would paint a monthly portrait of the perceptions, personalities and portents that shape the Canadian reality. In a country with 10 provinces, five regions, two languages, and no possibility of a truly national newspaper, only a magazine like Maclean's has the facilities, the time, the space and, hopefully, the talent to pull together for a national audience the essential interpretations of a world that seems to be changing as we walk in it.

There are no average readers; there are only common interests--issues and events in which all Canadians have a common stake. Sometimes it is the country of the mind that we explore on our monthly journeys, more often, the country of the spirit. Our writers send us despatches from the nation's power centres, as well as its brawling outbacks. There is such a thing as a Canadian culture (using "culture" in its broadest meaning) and Maclean's is its house organ.

Turning now to the 1972 election, I believe it will come this spring and that one of the chief issues will be the various party policies on what's come to be called Canadian nationalism, though a more correct description would be the issue of Canadian independence. My brand of nationalism is based on my love for this country, pure and simple. I'm well aware of the fact that nationalism can degenerate into unreasonable hatred of foreigners. I believe any such development would be fatal to Canada. The links of friendship which bind the peoples of Canada and the United States together are very old and strong. Any political movement which is based on hatred is certain to run into massive popular opposition and to fall flat on its face. And in its failure it may discredit all rational attempts to preserve Canada's national identity. Canadian nationalism, in the kind of sensible manifestations I support, is not based on anti-Americanism. Its goal is simply to take control of our industry, our economic life and our educational and cultural institutions into our own hands and to curb undue influence by foreigners, whether from the United States or any other country.

Nearly two centuries ago, the people of Canada chose to stick with Britain rather than join the American revolution. Today, after gradually and peacefully acquiring the attributes of a nation, we find ourselves facing a more subtle but no less definite challenge to decide where we stand in relation to the United States. Our choice is to be either a favoured colony of that dynamic power or to gain as much independence as we can in an interdependent world. The purpose of achieving a greater degree of economic independence today is to keep open our options for the future, granting the Canadian people the assurance of whatever choice they wish to make as an autonomous community. Nationalism, as I see it, means quite simply . . . the determination to assert national identity, national dignity, and national freedom of action. Who can be against that?

Now, the real problem, it seems to me, is that Canadians have, for generations suffered from what I call "the psychology of surrender". The conquest of any nation, it seems to me, takes place not on battlefields, nor in business boardrooms, but in the soul of its people and the minds of their leaders. Colonization is not an isolated act. Conquest requires surrender. (Without surrender, colonization is ultimately impossible, as in Vietnam, for instance.) The choice between surrender and resistance is dictated not by material resources or available manpower, but by a state of psychological abdication.

Northrop Frye, the eminent literary critic, once noted: "Our country has shown a lack of will to resist its own disintegration. Canada is practically the only country left in the world which is a pure colony--colonial in psychological terms as well as in terms of mercantile economics."

Novelist Hugh MacLennan has taken another approach, comparing Canada to an about-to-be-ravished woman. "When a Canadian says, 'No'," he has written, "it's said the way a woman says, 'No'- or 'Yes', for that matter. And you have to know a woman pretty well before you can accept her statement as an affidavit. There's something feminine about the Canadian mentality. And then, too, there's the wellknown saying that you might as well relax and enjoy it."

The unhappy fact is that if the American conquest is based on American strength, the Canadian surrender is based on Canadian weakness. Surrender is essentially the admission that something is lacking and a willingness to take the chance that the conqueror will be able to supply it.

The Americans are in the process of taking us over not because they want to be our conquerors but because we want to surrender. It's that terrible ingrained uncertainty in us, the absence of knowing who we are and why we are here, that is gradually depriving us of our nationhood. And it's that uncertainty that we will have to dispel.

Another, closely related issue of the forthcoming election campaign is going to be the relationship between the business community and the government.

For generations, business thought that it could exist in a separate world from government. But no longer. Benson, Basford and Mackasey may be gone, but their successors will continue to extend their mandate into the private sector.

The relationship between government and the business community in this country has been, to say it in one word, lousy. But the fault hasn't been all on the government side. Too often, businessmen are still motivated solely by profit, too often they feel little, if any accountability to the public they serve. Too often they take the attitude (to twist one of Mr. Trudeau's dictums) that "the government has no business in the boardrooms of the nation". I much prefer the attitude of J. K. Jamieson, a Canadian who is now chairman of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), and wrote in Fortune (which is hardly a radical rag) recently: "No longer is it tenable to maintain that 'the business of business is business' and let it go at that. The marketplace remains the basic guide to corporate behaviour, but the market will function satisfactorily only with guidelines reflecting public objectives. Our antennae must be sensitive to these objectives if we are to remain viable in the long run."

Another issue of the coming campaign will be to find some accommodation within the federal framework for the serious and growing urban problems of our cities. The party which first turns itself into a political expression of our new, metropolitan society will inherent this country's political institutions.

At least some of the leaders of the future will receive their political training in the mundane confrontations of Municipal councils. "This is the age of the urban crisis," J. K. Galbraith has written. "The day is coming when no one will be considered really ready for higher office until he has been a successful mayor."

The problem in trying to predict the outcome of the 1972 election is the fact of the acceleration of history. The present is becoming the past very much more quickly.

Change is becoming the function not of decades, but of days. The fact is that the world is changing faster than we can change ourselves. We can no longer apply the habits of the past to the present. Governments are no longer transforming the world. It is the fertility and anarchism of the people. All that most governments are doing, it seems to me, is rushing around trying to keep up with the consequences of what's happening outside their offices.

In the teens and twenties of this century, Canada had an electorate that was still largely uneducated, still plagued by class differences; in the thirties an electorate that was numbed by depression; in the forties, an electorate that was diverted by war; and in the fifties (or most of them) an electorate that was fat and groggy with boom; in the sixties, an electorate diverted by the Pearson/Diefenbaker feud.

But in the seventies, Trudeau, Stanfield and Lewis have to keep balancing themselves on top of an electorate in turmoil, a society undergoing the most rapid and most radical technological changes in the history of man. What these leaders have to deal with--even if they seldom seem to realize it--is an electorate that figures it has a right to know . . . to know not just what is decided, but how it is decided; an electorate that wants genuinely to participate in government; interested not in unctuous words, but in facts. People--particularly young people--increasingly demanding to know not just the news, but the action. They don't want excuses, or even reasons. They want results.

Elections freeze the political landscape of a nation at a given moment in time, so that its results provide a temporal portrait of the emotions, the tensions, the aspirations of the people. Heritage fights impulse, the tug of the past competes with the pull of the future as each voter adds his ballot which, like a fine brush stroke, becomes part of the final canvas.

Most of our past elections, as waged by nearly every party leader from Sir John A. Macdonald to Lester Pearson, were sandstorms of half-truths, quadrennial assaults on reason.

But now, the burden is on the party leaders to reach into the circuits of the nation's psyche and capture the subconscious allegiance of the people--not through grandoise promises but with an understanding appropriate to this particular moment in our history. This is essential. It seems to me that what Canada needs at the present moment is political leaders who are capable of making very sophisticated judgments which do not lend themselves to the great passionate movements which have stirred this country in the past.

The issue that will really count in this campaign, is, of course, Quebec. It seems to me that as a nation we face four major options. One is to perpetuate the status quo and I suggest that anyone who has the slightest knowledge of what's happening in Quebec right now, would have to reject this choice out of hand. At the other extreme, there is the option of Quebec gaining its independence and as a Canadian pledged to the survival of this country, I cannot accept such a possibility. Besides, I wonder how the U.S. would react to having a socialist republic straddling the St. Lawrence Seaway. The third option, is the one that Ottawa exercised once before: to send in the troops, and again, it is an option I reject. We are left, therefore, with only one choice: to renegotiate the terms of confederation in such a way that Quebec can stay in Canada with honour. In the age of moon flights, I suggest this is not an impossible undertaking.

The election is shaping up as a campaign of paradoxes, with Trudeau, the French-Canadian, campaigning on a get-tough with Quebec platform, while Stanfield, the WASP, running on a conciliate-the-French-Canadians ticket.

The approach of the two men to this most vital problem of national unity is different enough that by choosing one or the other, Canadians will be casting their ballots for one of two widely divergent, almost contradictory views of the Canadian future.

Trudeau has set a clear line of demarcation beyond which the federal government won't go. He may be willing to surrender some federal perogatives, but only if the provinces give Ottawa something in return. He sees constitutional negotiations as a purely political process, resolving through a series of confrontations between Ottawa and the Quebec administration.

Stanfield's position does not so much challenge the Trudeau view as move beyond it. He seems willing to go some way (how far, isn't clear) toward granting Quebec a different status from the other provinces.

It is difficult to guess how the electorate, particularly in Quebec, will react to these blandishments. Quebeckers disliked Mackenzie King intensely, but they voted Liberal because they knew that only in this way could they dominate the nation's ruling party. Similarly, in 1958, while they had no love for John Diefenbaker, they realized that he could form a government without them and that only by giving him their overwhelming support could they get a share of the power that would be distributed from Ottawa.

It is impossible to predict what will happen in Quebec during this campaign. A recent poll showed that on the provincial level, an incredible 56% of voters are undecided about how they would vote the next time, and I suspect the federal figures are about the same. Yet the Quebec results could decide the 1972 election. It seems to me that the Liberals are bound to lose at least ten of their 27 seats in B.C. and the Prairies, plus another one or two in the Maritimes. There is simply no way the Liberals will be able to hold the Conservatives down to the 17 Ontario seats they got in 1968. (Even in the Tories' darkest days, they always held at least 25 seats in Ontario.) So that could mean a loss of 18 or 19 Liberal seats, excluding Quebec. It would take the loss of only 22 seats to put the Liberals in a minority position. In other words, as far as the Liberals are concerned, their Quebec strength must hold. They now have 56 seats.

In the last election, though they collected 20% of the votes, the Tories elected only four members in Quebec, but in 10 ridings they were within 5,000 votes of the winner. They just might be able to hold the Liberals down to a minority, though at this point, this seems like a dubious proposition. Their antics have reminded me of a comic operetta, or perhaps I should say opera, straight out of Wagner.

There is also the very real possibility of the Creditistes increasing the 14 seats they now hold in Quebec, and that, too, could hive the Liberals into a minority position. I might add, that I am not predicting a Liberal minority, I only claim that it is a possibility. It will all depend on the ability of either the Tories or the Creditistes to weaken the Trudeau-Bourassa-Drapeau axis.

The Quebec crisis has developed with incredible swiftness. Only seven years ago, George McIlraith, then the minister of transport, was patiently explaining to the House of Commons why despite Quebec nationalist demands, the name Trans-Canada Air Lines could not be changed to Air Canada. The main reason he gave was the cost of the extra paint, and his explanation was accepted without too much comment. We've come a long way since then.

"The meaning of revolutions," Arthur Koestler has written, "becomes clear only after fifty years. It is like a process of distillation; the fumes evaporate, while the essence of the brew slowly gathers at the bottom." The Quebec revolution is no exception. No one can predict how it will end or what course it will follow. It is not a phenomenon that proceeds step by logical step, but by explosions, confrontations and eruptions of unequal period and unpredictable intensity. The only safe forecast is that by the time it has exhausted itself Canada will have been transformed into a quite different country. I am reminded of Gunnar Myrdal's recent assertion that "Through my studies I have grown more and more convinced . . . that often it is not more difficult, but easier, to cause a big change rapidly than a small change gradually".

To conclude, I would like to draw brief profiles of Robert Stanfield and Pierre Trudeau.

The former Nova Scotia premier embodies, both in his person and his declarations, the Conservative tradition in Canadian life and politics. His is a philosophy that aims to change society by action from within the established system, that views history as a slowly evolving process which can be prodded through gradual improvements. He has a passionate respect for the past and sees in the reaches of history clear guideposts for the uncertain future. A government headed by Robert Stanfield would be honest, meticulous in its regard for federal/provincial jurisdictions, and probably extremely capable in managing the economy.

But he has not been a good Leader of the Opposition. Political parties, when they're in opposition, carry a double burden of responsibility. They must mobilize resentment against those in power by constructively criticizing their legislative proposals and, at the same time, they must act as a believable alternative government that not only is prepared to seize the reins of authority but appears to be prepared to do so. As Dalton Camp, an expert on these things, has noted: "The party system cannot function, much less can parliament, when the condition of the alternative is of doubtful viability."

It's more than four years since Robert Stanfield was chosen national leader of the Conservative Party. But he has yet to appear to be anything more than a Nova Scotia Tory--a mere eddy in the political mainstream, swimming out there in currents beyond his depth. He has been woefully ineffective in his attempts to construct the kind of latticework party structure that can help those who want to involve themselves in Conservative politics to climb to positions of influence.

Young Conservatives across the country languish in a state of apathy, vaguely talking about the need to "skip a generation"--their generation--before the Conservatives can hope to regain power. Meanwhile, their leader appears unable to assert his own political imperatives. Robert Stanfield is turning into a tongue-tied Willy Loman who has lost his territory.

Pierre Trudeau, of course, is a bird of a very different kind. The Prime Minister has a shimmering intellect, he is the most resolute political leader this country has ever seen. But in his tendency to stifle dissent there is a deep fallacy that may yet prove tragic for Canada. Tolerating dissent is an essential means by which a society comes to terms with change. The Prime Minister and his inner court seem to believe they can impose logic on events; that they can govern the country through legalisms and reshape events to fit those legalisms. But the events themselves--history, in other words--are not logical; they're born out of harsh realities and even harsher emotions which can't be cut to fit a leader's wishes.

Too often, Trudeau and his inner circle have equated the slightest sign of dissent with disloyalty or stupidity or worse. Perhaps the Prime Minister is suffering from the conflict that faces every intellectual who enters the world of politics, for it is a world oriented toward different ultimate values than the one he was used to: the intellectual seeks truth; the politician, power. Yet, truth distilled from many viewpoints has a message that can never become irrelevant to the exercise of power. Before he became Prime Minister, Trudeau travelled the country on the slogan that he was seeking "new guys with new ideas". In office, he has behaved as though he wanted "the same guys with the same ideas" the same as his own.

Pierre Trudeau's cabinet reminds me of a troupe of shy acrobats performing in a half-illuminated circus tent before the audience is admitted. Here, in unassailable privacy, they do their tricks for one another, then bask in their own applause. But when their elaborate ploys are tested in parliament before a live audience the acrobatics seldom work, and many ministers end up doing a flop-dive into the safety nets.

A prime minister's main problem is always to chisel power out of the bedrock of other men's self-interest without being accused of absolutism. "Given a government with a big surplus, a big majority and a weak opposition," Sir John A. Macdonald once remarked, in what must stand as the ultimate definition of his office, "you could debauch a committee of archangels." It is a good quote to remember in the coming election.

Still, it would be dangerous to underestimate Trudeau's charisma. Just as Lester Pearson managed to march his party backwards through every election campaign (usually starting with 45% of the vote and six weeks later, after exposing himself to the nation-at-large, ending up with 37%), so Trudeau may just do the opposite and march his troops back into power with an even larger majority than 1968.

Let me conclude by setting out my criteria by which successful prime ministers must be judged. The function of democratic leadership, it seems to me, is to respect the past, convince the present and enlarge the future. My ideal prime minister would be a man attuned to change, both economic and social. He would have that special brand of courage which Ernest Hemingway once called "grace under pressure". He would be aggressive without being contentious; decisive without being arrogant and compassionate without being confused. He would respect ideas, but not substitute them for action. He would be a master of prose, but not become intoxicated by his own.

He would be pragmatic, but only up to a point, so that he would always know when to spurn the arithmetics of expediency. He would be articulate and forceful enough to involve the people, including his opponents, in his struggles on behalf of Canadian nationhood.

Such a leader would set out clear goals for this country and its two great societies, on the basis, not of public opinion polls, but from his own strong sense of national necessities. Instead of participating quietly in the lottery of history, he would be capable of gripping events on the move and have the kind of impact that would reveal the character of the country to itself. The very force of his personality would become a unifying influence for the nation at large. What we need in this country is a man who can help all of us find a way to grow, both as individuals and as a nation.

Can we select such a man?

I don't know. I hope so.

At any rate, I remain a firm optimist about Canada and its prospects. It's a quiet, gentle kind of optimism, and the only way I can describe it is by telling you of an encounter I once had with a farmer in a small village where I spend part of my summers. He was a tall, laconic man, and I didn't quite know how to start a conversation, so I said: "Have you lived here all your life?"

He pondered this question, sucking at his pipe, for a long time. And then he said: "No. Not yet."

Thank you very much.

Mr. Newman was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club of Canada by Mr. William Kam.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Canada's 29th General Election was held on October 30, 1972. The issues centred around unemployment, inflation and the Government's management of the economy. Prime Minister Trudeau and his Liberal Party maintained their position in Quebec but suffered serious losses in English-speaking Canada, particularly in Ontario and British Columbia.

Once again (the fourth time in the last ten years), Canada elected a minority Parliament with 109 Liberals; 107 Progressive Conservatives; 31 New Democrats; 15 Social Credit; and two Independents (including the Speaker). After the Election, Mr. Trudeau decided to remain in ofce and face his new Parliament. Most observers believe, however, that it is not likely that the present House of Commons will last its normal four-year term.

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Struggle for Power: Canadian Politics 1972

Political values: commitment and integrity. The role of "Maclean's." What Canadians want. Nationalism. The upcoming election. Canadians and the "psychology of surrender." Canadian weakness. The pace of change and how Canadians deal with it. Changing profile of the electorate. A profile of the kind of political leaders that Canada needs. Brief profiles of Robert Stanfield and Pierre Trudeau. Young Conservatives. Trudeau's government. The criteria by which prime ministers should be judged.