16 - POLITICS
by BERNARD A HODSON
I first decided that I should get involved with politics when I was in Alberta with Imperial Oil, and decided to join the Liberal Party. In Canada the parties operate at both a Federal and Provincial level. In Alberta the party was moribund and not very popular so I soon became involved at the senior levels of the party in that Province. Alberta was also used as a training ground for people with potential for higher levels of political involvement. One example was Jim Coutts, a lawyer close to thirty years old, who looked to be about eighteen. He later became the chief aide to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Other party members at that time included Earl Hastings, who became a senator, Harry Hays, a one time Mayor of Calgary, later a senator, Don Cameron (from the Banff School), who also became a senator, one of the Cohen family (a prosperous family across Canada), Tony Abbot, the son of a former Canadian Finance Minister, and others.
I became involved in three main areas. The first, which was really nothing, was becoming a member of the Provincial "Shadow Cabinet", in the unlikely event that the Liberals would achieve power in the Province. The second, which bothered me a great deal, was that I became a member of a committee which selected Judges for the Province (this was where the Federal Party, which was predominant in Canada, had more power than the Provincial party). I was uncomfortable in this role because I did not feel I had the right qualifications to make an informed decision. The third role was far more interesting, as I was in charge of planning for the visits of all Federal Ministers to the Province. This usually involved setting up meetings for them with companies that wanted to do lobbying for one thing or another, and escorting them on their visits. I met a few interesting ministers this way.
The most interesting event was to arrange a luncheon speaking engagement for Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who held the Nobel Peace Prize. We weren't sure how many to expect at the luncheon, which I scheduled for the Palliser Hotel, as the Liberal Party was not overly popular in the Calgary oil patch. I discussed it with the Head Chef of the hotel and said that there could be a minimum of 250 people for lunch, but that it could go over 500. The chef decided to cater for 650 and I was to count the arrivals and let him know how many showed up with their paid tickets. When the event took place people started to pour in, much to our surprise and delight. I was counting 200, 300, 400, 500, 600. When it reached 650 I advised the chef that people were still arriving. I think the final number was close to 1000, but the latecomers did not get a meal for their money (they did not seem to mind). I visited the Prime Minister afterwards in his Hotel suite, and he very graciously thanked me for the very successful luncheon meeting that I had organised. He was a very quiet and unassuming person, but well versed in the issues of the country.
When I moved from Calgary to Winnipeg I had introductions to the Liberal Party there and was soon involved. Manitoba (the Province in which Winnipeg is located) was much friendlier to the Liberals and I was soon quite active, although did not serve on committees the way I had in Alberta. One of the parties, Gil Molgat, later became the Premier of the Province and later still a Federal Senator. I was most involved with two of the Party, Doug Everett and Jim Richardson. Doug and his brother ran a successful car dealership in Winnipeg, with Doug being a senior member of the Party there. He later became a Federal senator. He was the one who thought that I should be nominated as the next President of the University of Manitoba. As such things soon become known it might have been one of the reasons for the unpleasantness towards me of the Vice President Academic of the University, whose ambition it was to be the next President. Jim was a member of the establishment Richardson family and I later helped him to be elected to the Canadian Parliament, where he eventually became Minister of Defence.
There were two hot political issues on the Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta), both being connected with the grain trade. One had to do with the freight rates for grain through the Crow's Nest Pass in the Rocky Mountains, for the transport of grain to the West Coast, the other to do with how grain was collected from the farms. I was briefly involved with the first issue when I was asked to serve on a committee to decide on freight rates. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) claimed that they were losing money hand over fist with low freight rates, and were not amused when it was pointed out to them that there was a one to one correlation between their profits and the size of the grain harvest. They claimed they could not break down their costs to identify grain carrying, which was absolute nonsense. I worked on that particular issue with a prominent member of the Conservative Party.
The second issue was one in which I took the initiative. Across the Prairies the collection of grain from farmers was done across the board, in that some grain was taken from each farmer with a view to making sure that all farmers were able to get a portion of their grain to market without any deterioration in the crop taking place. Politically this was a hot potato, a sacred elephant, but a highly inefficient transportation activity, one which tied up valuable freight cars for weeks on end.
My proposed solution was to develop a freight collection model in the form of a computer program, which would optimise the grain collection procedure to give maximum collection in minimum time, a typical computer simulation. I argued that in order to be fair to those farmers whose grain was collected later (when some deterioration might have taken place) that there should be an assessment at the time of the harvest which would be the determining factor in establishing the revenue to the farmer.
I called a meeting of CPR and the Canadian National Railway (CNR), of concerned Federal and Provincial government bureaucrats, and senior members of grain handling companies, and of the University. I was also asked to present these ideas at the Annual meeting of the Manitoba Liberal Party, at which I presented a paper entitled "The Farmer and the Processing of Grain". While there was a lot of interest in my ideas the political situation was just not ripe enough at that time for the ideas to be implemented. It was at least ten years before these ideas resurfaced and a subset of these ideas was introduced. As this was a typical simulation problem, as well as a typical Canadian problem, I will give some a few details on this proposal.
Most farmers would not go back to the farm conditions of 1900 -- without electricity, without mechanised farm equipment, without any guarantees of sales and payments. Of course they wouldn't. And yet, in a relative way, this is exactly where they were at that time in the handling of grain.
The method of collecting grain at that time was inefficient. A box car here, a box car there, filled according to a quota system that did not take into serious account the needs of the farmer or the needs of the country. I advocated assessing the crop just prior to reaping with an interim payment to the farmer based on this assessment of quality and yield. The farmer would then reap his crop and store it either on his farm or in the local grain elevator. This information would then be transmitted to a central computer system.
With interim payment assured it would then be possible to collect the grain for overseas shipment in an optimal manner, keeping in mind the volume and quality of grain in any area and maintaining the farmers' interest in getting his crop sold at top grading.
With better utilisation of box cars the railways would have a more profitable operation and it would reduce the pressure to increase freight rates. Grain would be shipped to terminals according to the best strategy, integrating the now centralised grain data operation with the box car distribution system of the two railways, also tied to the system containing the shipping companies schedules of ship availability. The potential sales from each shipping port and terminal facility capacities would be included on this master program.
The net result would have been the stability of freight prices, a maximum amount of grain shipped to the terminals, and extra profit to the farmer.
There was also a third phase possible with significant potential to the grain economy and to the country as a whole, a simulation of the grain industry, to take into account crop estimates from other countries, sales policies of other countries. import/export policies of other countries etc.
A computerised model would have been developed of the Canadian grain industry. By inserting into this model the possible policies of other countries we could have determined their effect on this country (just as Imperial Oil was able to thwart its competitors with its WDS). Having the data suggested it would be possible to determine sales strategies that give a maximum return to Canada and hence to the farmer. No longer would the Country have flown by the "seat of its pants" or by expediency as had happened up to that point. With the model the effects of adverse weather conditions in different parts of the world and country could be studied ahead of time and strategies developed for drought, rain and other adverse conditions.
As an example the effect of a U.S. change of pricing policy on the Canadian economy would immediately be known and our reaction thought out ahead of time.
I also did political work with a fellow professor called Lloyd Axworthy, and with another professor called Peters. Lloyd later became Minister for External Affairs with the Chretien Liberal government, a position he still holds in the year 2000. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize for his work in seeking the eradication of land mines by the countries of the world.
While in Manitoba there was a leadership race for the Federal Liberal Party, to be held in Ottawa. The lobbying in Manitoba proved to be very entertaining. One of the leadership candidates was Allan MacEachen, who hailed from the Province of Nova Scotia. While he had no real following in Manitoba I arranged to be his Campaign Manager in the Province. Whereas Canada is generally bilingual French and English Allan was bilingual English and Gaelic. During the leadership convention, when it was obvious he was not going to win, he threw in his hat with Pierre Trudeau and later held Ministerial posts in the Trudeau Cabinet. I attended the leadership convention in the role of observer rather than as a voting delegate, so enjoyed all the excitement without influencing the result in any way.
Following the leadership convention there was a general election and I seriously considered running in Winnipeg South Centre, against a fellow by the name of Duff Roblin, who had been the Premier of the Province, and was well known. When it became known the inimical Vice president Academic was not amused and expressed his displeasure. My decision not to run was not influenced, however, by his displeasure, but by the fact that Roblin was a high profile candidate and I felt I would be wasting my time and money. As it happened Trudeau mania swept the country and even a dog could probably have been elected, so popular was he. Roblin was soundly defeated. For the election I chose to help Jim Richardson win the seat for Winnipeg South.
I was not able to do much further in active politics when I moved to a government position in Ottawa, but did get chance to write two speeches for a Minister, related to computing. In the first I wrote what had been asked, and the speech was well received. In the second I wrote what I thought the Minister should be addressing in policy, rather than what his advisers had asked for, and this speech was even better received. It was interesting to see how the policies I had advocated actually filtered down through the bureaucracy for implementation.
There was one thing that bothered me in Canadian politics, however, which can best be explained by reproducing a letter I wrote to Pierre Trudeau, following his election as Prime Minister, which generated a reply. Here it is, edited slightly.
"Once upon a time a young man decided that as a citizen interested in his country he should become interested in politics. Not having any strong feelings one way or another, and there being only two parties of any consequence at the time, he decided to investigate them both. His mind was very quickly made up, but not by study.
At the time in question the young man was working in the capital for an American owned company. Now it so happened that also in the company was the son of an organiser of one of the parties. It also happened that about the same time a key government position became vacant and the young man was asked who, to his knowledge, might be suitable to fill the vacancy, and who would, at the same time, be favourably disposed to the American company in question.
Correspondence ensued, but with no company headings on the letters and with nothing to identify the senders. Being a citizen interested in his country he felt that a party that was willing i:o sell out to the Americans by allowing them to influence a government appointment was not worthy of his attention and he decided to become interested in the second party. His decision was confirmed, at least to his thinking at the time, when in the course of some studies within certain Government Departments he found that any rational decisions that might be made by a department could be overturned by politicians of influence indicating that SO and SO or SO and SO must get the contract, regardless of whether or not a reasoned decision for a different choice had been made. Soon after that the young man pulled up stakes in that city and moved out to another, determined in his resolve to become active in politics.
He decided to join the "young" branch of the party of his choice, although it took him a considerable time to determine, at a later stage, just what defined a "young" party member. It soon became evident that the party of his choice was pretty well dead on its feet, at least as far as the "young" section was concerned. He was appalled by the apathy of people and by the very few who had any real interest in politics, except at election time.
Being an organiser he was soon able to stir up things a little and actually get some activity going. Had he so desired he could have, so he thought, gathered a group of dedicated people around him and taken over the youth group of the party. Although accepted as a worker and although a member of this and that committee, certain "key" positions always seemed to be filled by certain members, constituting a rather closed group, made up largely of lawyers with some business groups represented. In the senior echelons of the party the same groupings were observed but with more emphasis on certain key business figures within the community.
One thing that began to disturb him was that most, if not all, of committee meetings seemed to be held in the homes of a few, obviously very wealthy, people. At no time did there ever seem to be any relationship with the everyday people who make up the bulk of society. Whether this situation caused the apathy or whether apathy caused this situation, he found it difficult to determine. At certain times, however, the party came to life, usually a few weeks before an election. At no time prior to the election was any effort made by the party to communicate with the people. Candidates seemed to be selected at the last moment, had a brief star burst of glory and disappeared into oblivion again. In many cases their names had appeared before the public, business (usually legal) had benefited, and they were content.
The young man enjoyed elections, they were exciting, but wondered just how the ritual of an election contributed to the well being of the country. At no time prior to the election (except for some three months or so) and at no time after the election was any attempt made to communicate with the people whom those elected were supposed to govern. As the now slightly older man progressed he was invited to become a member of a committee which was to plan the party organisation for the next election and found himself among a rather interesting group of people. Although not directly involved in fund gathering, he began to realise where some of the party funds originated and wondered how a party could remain true to its democratic principles when it was so dependent on the support of a relative few with obviously vested interests. It also transferred at this time that some judicial appointments needed to be made and that this committee had as one of its functions the recommendation of persons to become judges. Once a judge was appointed, of course, he was no longer an active politician but it made a nice sinecure for some of the party faithful. They even boasted that on one occasion several years ago they had recommended someone on merit who had no party connection. It seemed strange to the young man with no qualifications that he was in a position (at least it seemed that way) to influence the judicial system of the country.
In the allocation of responsibilities he was put in charge of organising the visits of cabinet ministers and other leading government party members. He was even assigned to organise a luncheon for the Prime Minister. He found this all rather exciting and felt that at least he was doing something to bring the government to the people. Even so he found it rather disturbing that certain key business people found reasons to have specific and private interviews with cabinet ministers. On occasion he even knew what the discussions were about.
It was also interesting to him how so many of the party members who were lawyers belonged to firms in which there was an equally prominent member of the other party. Apparently, this was done so that the firm would benefit from Government handouts of mortgage and other business whichever of the two parties happened to be in office.
At a later stage the young man moved to another city. It was soon after this move that he noticed that a number of the party faithful in the previous city, his friends, had been elevated to the Senate. It was a well earned sinecure for those who had put in many hours of work for the party but he wondered at the value of a Government body whose members qualifications consisted of having worked on behalf of the party. Considering that some of his elevated friends were in their thirties, he felt it was a pleasant age to retire on a five figure pension plus other privileges.
Having been a member of a select committee in the previous city the young man was welcomed into the inner sanctions of the party again but, being a newcomer, the sanctum was not quite as "holy" as the previous one. Again he found the same "group type" in control of the party, again he found that meetings were mainly held in the home of the very wealthy, and again he found virtually no contact with the public at large. But he found in this city a situation which he had not had occasion to observe in the previous city, although no doubt it existed. This was that the "control group" of his party, along with the "control group" of the other party not only represented mainly certain legal and business interests but also controlled the boards of universities, hospitals, charities and other public institutions, also being well represented in Government departments.
Moreover, if anyone crossed swords with any member of the established group, he soon knew that the information had been spread by the establishment grape vine and that whisperings, telephone calls, smears and rumours, would cross the city. The party continued to cater to the wealthy. In order to raise funds it organised dinner parties in which the cost per plate put it beyond the reach of all but those with well-lined pockets. Not for the people at large the opportunity to have a personal meeting with the Prime Minister, only those whose personal fortunes had been made. Similar principles continued to be followed in the selection of candidates at election time. The wealthier the person interested in running for office, the greater the chances of his becoming a candidate.
In considering whether or not he should run for office in a particular constituency the young man was advised that the local selection committee would consider only a wealthy member of the establishment and that it was pointless of him to try as the deck would be stacked against him.
Policies, too, continued to be developed by small groups of carefully selected people, not by the party at large. Policy conferences often were by authorised delegate ticket only or by specific invitation. Even at "public" policy conferences resolutions were carefully screened and only specific ones were judiciously put forward for public discussion.
The young man's party eventually had a leadership conference and it was perhaps at that point that the low point was reached in his disillusionment with party politics. Not for the party at large the selection of its new leader but only for a very select few. Of course the federal and provincial party hierarchies (the senior committees) would be allowed to vote, (remembering who they are) also the successful and unsuccessful candidates from the last election (remember how they were selected). For the rest only a limited few would be allowed from each constituency. Admittedly, there was a vote for these positions but sometimes the positions were filled by the "packing" of the meeting at which the voting candidates were selected, by supporters of the richest or the best organised leadership candidates. At least it served to break up party friendships as specific power groups fought each other but the young man wondered whether it was the way in which the next Prime Minister should be chosen.
He had fun at the leadership conference, it was an interesting psychological observation, but it certainly seemed to him that it was the same small, rich, privileged group that was making the selection and that the people at large were not really being represented. The young man still considers himself a member of the party and was even asked whether he had thought of becoming leader of his provincial party. He is convinced, however, that if the democratic parties are to survive then they have to get back to the people. If they don't, then they can only blame themselves if they are swept under the rug and replaced by "who knows what".