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Jimmy Gardiner

Jimmy Gardiner: Relentless Liberal

Norman Ward
David Smith
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 389
  • Book Info
    Jimmy Gardiner
    Book Description:

    James G. Gardiner had an exceptionally long career in public life. In fact, he had two careers of almost equal length, from 1914 to 1935 in provincial politics, and from 1935 to 1958 in federal. In Saskatchewan he sat as a back-bencher, cabinet minister, premier, and leader of the oppostion. In Ottawa he served as minister of Agriculture, minister of National War Service, and a leading member of the opposition. Drawing heavily on Gardiner's excellent papers, the authors of this volume have charted his public life.

    As a key figure in the Liberal party at both levels of government, Gardiner's influence permeated the country's politics for nearly half a century. He was present at the founding of the province of Saskatchewan in 1905, and participated in the exuberant period of western settlement before the First World War. His public policies helped to ease the ravages of regional drought and depression some twenty year later.

    He held public office during two world wars, both of which witnessed strong campaigns for conscription which he passionately opposed. The nativist revolt in Saskatchewan in the twenties led by the Ku Klux Klan, which he likewise condemned, contributed to his only election defeat.

    Gardiner was a principled politician whose principles won him friends and enemies. First and foremost he was a party man, who believed that only through unremitting attention to the details of organization and administration could responsible government be assured.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7641-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
    Norman Ward and David E. Smith
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xii-2)
  5. 1 The Way In
    (pp. 3-18)

    A man destined to become premier of a western province, and in due course a contender for the prime ministership of Canada, could hardly have chosen a sounder background than did James Garfield Gardiner. On both sides of his family he came from industrious Scottish stock, in whose history he became increasingly interested as he grew older. The family migrated to Canada in the mid-nineteenth century and settled at Farquhar, on the boundary that divides Huron and Perth counties in south-western Ontario, the clients of a land company that emphatically did not want idlers or remittance men taking up its...

  6. 2 Back-bencher
    (pp. 19-38)

    The province to whose affairs Gardiner committed himself in 1913 had been host to one of the greatest migrations of modern history. The area that became Saskatchewan had a population of less than one hundred thousand in 1901, almost all of it, except for some scattered settlements around Prince Albert, in the south-east corner; by 1911 settlement had spread across to the Alberta boundary, and the population had grown to 492,432. By 1916 it was 648,000 and even at that the settled area averaged only two or three persons for each square mile.¹

    The miracle of the migration lay not...

  7. 3 The Ascent Continues
    (pp. 39-54)

    The federal and Saskatchewan elections of 1921 pointed up for Gardiner one of his favourite themes. If one meets a threat to the Liberal party as an unashamed Liberal, one can win, as the provincial party did; but if one waffles, or compromises, or fails to field a full company of candidates, one gets trounced, as did the provincial parties in the other two prairie provinces, and the federal party in Saskatchewan. That federal wing, as Gardiner observed, found that it was hard to organize in 1921 where no straight Liberal had run in 1917, and let five of the...

  8. 4 Reaching the First Summit
    (pp. 55-72)

    Jimmy Gardiner, reminiscing in his last days, recalled an assessment of Mackenzie King by Laurier: while King might get elected to Parliament once, no constituency would return him twice. Down to 1926 his judgment of the electorate was almost completely vindicated, and by the twenties King was well on the way to becoming one of the most travelled members in parliamentary history,¹ with several federal seats behind him.

    Neither Laurier nor King could have been aware of the electoral skills of James Gardiner and his Saskatchewan guerillas, since down to the 1920s they had hardly started to operate. Gardiner’s handling...

  9. 5 The Uses of Power
    (pp. 73-86)

    The stability of Saskatchewan in Gardiner’s first year as premier is attested to by a single statistic: he assumed power on 26 February 1926 but saw no cause to have the legislature summoned until 18 January 1927. Of his three predecessors, only Scott had let as much as six months elapse before meeting the assembly, and he had the excuse that until the first provincial election in mid-December of 1905 there was no assembly to meet. Both Martin and Dunning, appointed premier in 1916 and 1922 respectively, took office with a legislature already in existence; but both met the legislature...

  10. 6 The Loss of Power
    (pp. 87-106)

    Gardiner would have approved of Winston Churchill’s dictum, ‘No part of the education of a politician is more indispensable than the fighting of elections’; and Churchill, interestingly enough, was one of the authorities Gardiner consulted after the Saskatchewan general election of 1929, because he happened to be in Regina.¹ But an election is only a means to an end, and every successful politician has his hands full as soon as it is over. Gardiner’s short-lived premiership from 1926 to 1929 required a good deal of attention to party organization, but as premier he had to cope primarily with issues that...

  11. 7 An Uneasy Succession
    (pp. 107-122)

    As Gardiner sat in his office on 7 June the calmness with which he had notified King’s office of his defeat began to be overtaken by a number of nagging queries about exactly what had happened. He had lost; but to whom, and on what issues? The non-sectarian schools on which Anderson had harped so much were not mentioned in the Conservatives’ platform; that document cited only ‘thorough revision of the educational system of the province,’ assigning it equal weight with ‘furtherance of scientific research’ and ‘eradication of bovine tuberculosis.’ Freeing the schools from sectarian influence was a specific clause...

  12. 8 A First Taste of Opposition
    (pp. 123-142)

    ‘I am today,’ Gardiner wrote to Mackenzie King on 9 September 1929, ‘awaiting the arrival of Dr. Anderson who is to take over the Government this afternoon.’ He expressed satisfaction with developments since the election, and thought even the votes in the legislature, the one part of the proceedings the party had not controlled, ‘will benefit the Liberal Party to a greater extent in the future than any other Party.’¹

    The Liberals’ final fling before Anderson took over was of course to sink into insignificance in the face of the onslaughts awaiting the prairies. Gardiner could not have known that,...

  13. 9 A Government in Depression
    (pp. 143-160)

    Anderson’s first speech from the throne, read by the lieutenant-governor on 6 February 1930, was a brave document.¹ It did not attempt to minimize the seriousness of unemployment and poor crops, but opened with references to them. It then proceeded through other major topics, most of which Anderson touched on in debate. In speaking to the address in reply, Anderson devoted more time to education than any other subject. Gardiner interrupted him frequently; he had been Anderson’s immediate predecessor in the education department and was inclined to chafe under Anderson’s comments on the political influences he claimed to have found...

  14. 10 Triumph
    (pp. 161-172)

    Gardiner was so sure of victory in the forthcoming provincial election that in December 1933 he told a friend that the children did not want to move back to Regina ‘next year.’ In the same letter he denounced the platform of the CCF as unadulterated nonsense, observing that ‘if we have many more experiments in this western country under the name of farmer governments we will all have to move out.’ He had not yet received any literature on Social Credit, but with his usual eye for possible opponents he had asked William Aberhart to send him some; when Aberhart...

  15. 11 The Politics of Triumph
    (pp. 173-194)

    Gardiner’s position in the Liberal party in 1934 was a strong one. He was personally undefeated in twenty years, and had gained a party-wide reputation as an expert at organization. He had delivered the national leader’s seat in Prince Albert in successive victories. When he had faltered, as in the provincial election of 1929 and the federal one of 1930, it was at a time when the party generally was faltering. But Gardiner had also lost the only provincial election he had fought as premier, and taken the Saskatchewan party into opposition for the first time in its life. In...

  16. 12 Arriving at an Unknown Destination
    (pp. 195-212)

    Or was it? Gardiner’s position in 1935 was not unlike that in 1926, when he feared that if he did not move into federal politics he would be doomed to remain indefinitely in Saskatchewan. In 1935 he had to decide whether to go to Ottawa at once or face the possibility of never getting there at all. ‘In many political matters,’ he told an associate in another connection a few months later, ‘the only time to act is at the moment.’¹ Thus in 1935 Gardiner argued that a delay in getting down to Ottawa might give some newly elected Saskatchewan...

  17. 13 Settling In
    (pp. 213-230)

    Gardiner’s move in 1935 meant a major upheaval for his family, as federal politics always does except for the few parliamentarians whose homes are in or near Ottawa. The Gardiner children ranged in age from sixteen to four, growing up in a home whose life had been divided between the farm at Lemberg and the compact city of Regina. Ottawa was considerably more than twice the size of Regina, several days’ drive from Saskatchewan. Although the farm was to remain a focal point for the family, and Gardiner returned to it so often that his cabinet colleagues commented on his...

  18. 14 A Politician at War
    (pp. 231-246)

    Gardiner’s belief that Liberalism and war hardly went hand-in-hand did not make him anti-war. In 1935, when King believed that war in Europe soon was a possibility, he noted that Gardiner ‘thought we ought to go into war.’¹ Gardiner’s faith in the British empire (he never did become comfortable with the word ‘Commonwealth’) was such that he could not contemplate a Britain at war without Canada. Besides, it was safer to have any war there managed by Liberals rather than unreconstructed Tories, with their disposition towards restricting freedom even in peacetime.

    Gardiner’s imperialism was rooted in his upbringing and education....

  19. 15 War and Agriculture
    (pp. 247-268)

    Whatever evaluation might be placed on Gardiner’s tenure as minister of national war services, there was no ambiguity about his effectiveness as wartime minister of agriculture. Here his achievements were indisputable. Of this fact he was confident, as were his supporters, many of the general public, and even some opponents. Years later, in the general election of 1958, of ten accomplishments he chose to list in an open letter to the voters of Melville, five dealt with wartime agricultural policies and two with such related pre-war activities as the reorganization of the Department of Agriculture in 1935 and the extension...

  20. 16 A Less than Perfect Organization
    (pp. 269-292)

    The Liberal government’s public declaration in 1939 to set aside wartime partisan differences proved fateful to so partisan a politician as Gardiner. After a quarter-century of combating coalitionists, independents, and co-operators, as well as out-and-out opponents, Gardiner was neither intellectually nor emotionally disposed to bury political animus just when a major battle was about to begin. At its start, no one could know the course or outcome of the war, although little foresight was needed to predict another division of opinion over conscription. The argument that national unity required a political truce carried slight weight with a campaign veteran who...

  21. 17 Region and Nation
    (pp. 293-316)

    Mackenzie King said ambition drove Gardiner to seek the Liberal party leadership in 1948, ambition so overweening, complained the prime minister, that Gardiner actually ‘work[ed] to secure the position ... for himself.’¹ Looking back, Gardiner maintained that he had a different motive: to challenge party orthodoxy, which said Liberal leaders should alternate between ‘French and Anglosaxon Canadians.’ Such practice he viewed as detrimental to the party’s interest because ‘there are more Canadians now who are neither than there are of either’² and because it excluded large numbers of western Canadians, thus betraying the tradition of national Liberalism that stretched back...

  22. 18 Defeat and Retirement
    (pp. 317-324)

    Had Gardiner been leader of his party and prime minister in 1957 and had the election results that faced St Laurent faced him, Canadian political history would have to be rewritten, for he would not have resigned before meeting Parliament. The returns gave the Liberals 44 per cent of the popular vote to the Progressive Conservatives’ 39 per cent but with 105 to the Tories’ 112 seats in a House of 265. The CCF with 25 seats and the Social Credit with 19 seats (plus four ‘others’) thus held the balance. Gardiner thought the third parties, as in Saskatchewan in...

  23. Epilogue
    (pp. 325-340)

    A quarter of a century after Gardiner’s death, and particularly in western Canada, criticism is often heard about inadequate representation in Parliament, about the inability of westerners to get their opinions heard. Such language implies that politicians are vessels to be filled with regional or other discontents which they then pour out in national debate. That was never Gardiner’s view: for him, the politician interpreted particular, local matters in terms of the larger interests of party and nation. As a result, leaders must be active, not passive. Here was the source of his boundless energy, and of his Liberal nationalism....

  24. Appendix
    (pp. 341-344)
    James G. Gardiner
  25. Notes
    (pp. 345-380)
  26. Index
    (pp. 381-389)