The Western Socialist
Vol. 36 - No. 272
No. 6, 1969
Shortly after the New Democratic Party took office in Manitoba following its win over the Conservative Party in the June general election, the new Premier, Mr. Schreyer, and his Minister of Finance, Mr. Cherniack, purportedly received telephone calls from companies doing business with the Government wanting to know to whom to now send the 5% contribution usually made to the governing Party in appreciation for business received from it. Mr. Schreyer 'accidentally' disclosed this in a fifteen second aside during a forty-minute interview with a group of reporters in Vancouver, where he was speaking for the B.C. New Democrats, and next day the dirty and offensive word "kickback" made the front pages of the daily press across the Dominion of Canada and beyond. It also precipitated a storm in the local Winnipeg political arena and brought on "one of the wildest scenes in the memory of senior members of the Legislative Assembly." Many innocent electors have since expressed horror and dismay in letters to the press and on by-lines that public men and political parties could be so callous and dishonest. They had come to look upon their elected representatives as being above such sordid dealings. The Winnipeg Free Press, in a short editorial, said quietly "The next step (for Mr. Schreyer) is for him to back up his claim with names and facts and let the chips fall where they may."
But this was not done. The Premier had gone as far as he wanted to go. He had made his point and a very damaging one against his parliamentary opponents. Both the Conservatives and the Liberals were now suspect, and the episode will have cost them many votes for some time to come. In the meantime the uproar, horror and dismay has abated. A. deadly silence has fallen over the incident, so much so that the Free Press could say on Oct. 4th., "The kickback issue is dying." There was an almost audible sigh of relief, and all parties, including the Free Press, are glad it is out of the way.
But kickbacks and bribery in capitalist politics is a very old and continuing issue. The old-timers in the business were not as squeamish about the charge as are their counterparts of today. The politicians who drew up the Constitution on which Canadian Confederation is based were a hard hitting bunch of schemers, self-seekers and swindlers. Let us look, for instance, at the following "private and confidential" letter and memorandum sent by Sir George Cartier to Sir Hugh Allan on July 30th, 1872.
"The friends of the Government will expect to be assisted with funds in the pending elections, and any amount which you or your company shall advance for that purpose shall be recouped by you. A memorandum of immediate requirements is below."
Sir John A. Macdonald $25.000.00
Hon. Mr. Langevin 15.000.00
Sir G.E.C. (Cartier) 20.000.00
Sir J.A. (add) 10.000.00
Hon. Mr. Langevin (add) 10.000.00
Sir G.E.C. (add) 30.000.00
(see report of Royal Commission, Pacific Railway, etc., 1873, pp. 136-137 of testimony).
On Aug. 7th, 1872, Sir Hugh Allan wrote, "I have already paid away about $250.000.00, and will have to pay at least $50.000.00 more before the end of the month. I don't know as even that will finish it, but hope so." (see Sir Richard Cartwright's "Reminiscences," page 377, Appendix E.)
Sir Richard also contends in the above mentioned book that there was an influential body of contractors "who resented being held fast to their engagements and longed exceedingly for a renewal of the regime under which comfortable repayment in the shape of liberal extras could always be reckoned on in return for a subscription to Party funds at the right moment." see pages 189-191. He continues by painting a dismal picture of the state of the public mind of that period and in his view the general public "had given up expecting anything like honesty or honor in politics from public men." see page 256.
Sir John A. Macdonald, called as a witness before the Royal Commission investigating the Pacific Railway, 1873, admitted that he "had received funds from Allan for use in election purposes." His testimony also indicated how Allan and others would "recoup" these funds.
It is evident from the foregoing that the "statesmen" in power at the time of Confederation had little regard for the sensitivities of the electorate in their methods of raising funds, and the methods used in spending the money to win elections were even more crude. Even as late as the Sir Wilfred Laurier - Sir Robert Borden "reciprocity" election of 1911 votes were being bought in the saloons and bars of the City of Winnipeg for five dollars apiece. It was a practice just as open as the opportunity to place a two-dollar bet on a horse is today. It was at this time that a wave of moralizing on the behavior of a person selling his vote gained momentum. Men had fought and died in earlier struggles to win the right to vote and the secret ballot, and to sell this right for money became almost a hideous crime. In any case, World War I brought the practice to an end.
Capitalist parties today use "bag-men" very extensively to collect funds for their election campaigns. These agents are given lists of prospective donors to call on and there can be little doubt that some pressure is resorted to at times to make the call worth while. Bruce Hutchinson, editor and correspondent, and long time contributor to the Winnipeg Free Press, said on Sept. 5th, that "corporations are regularly shaken down against their will." Be that as it may, we do know the capitalist class spends large sums to ensure that representatives of their class retain control of the parliamentary apparatus, because it is through this institution that they are able to govern society and maintain their privileged position. When the workers realize this they will begin electing their own representatives to public office, not to patch and reform the existing vicious setup, but to bring it to an end.
Note: The information and quotations used covering the period of the 1870s were taken from Gustavus Myers' fine book "A History of Canadian Wealth," Kerr edition.
A. Shepherd, S.P.C.