Saturday, June 30, 2012

Robert Borden's Unknown Rank and File, 1917

An enthusiastic reception for Rt. Hon. Sir
 Robert Borden and Lady Borden. 1912
Library and Archives Canada / C-009665
John English's The Decline of Politics (1977), has little praise for Sir Robert Borden.  Borden's long neglect of the Conservative party machinery and rank and file, is shown to have decimated the party for years to come.  In 1911, Borden gathered the unlikely bedfellows of English Canadian imperialists, French-Canadian nationalistes, and provincial premiers into a group-government for the win at the ballot box.  By 1917, however, the "false pretenses" that won the French-Canadians had worn off, and the Union government allowed the Laurier Liberals to reform a solid Liberal Quebec.

The result of the unholy Union between the Conservatives and Liberals in 1917 was a party that Borden hardly recognized.  As journalist Arthur Ford noted, "after the Unionist election of 1917 Sir Robert never learned to know by name or by sight half of the supporters of the new government." (Cited in English, p. 206)  John English cites an amusing anecdote which reinforces Borden's neglect of the grass-roots of his newly formed alliance:
On one occasion, a flabbergasted new member of Parliament, undoubtedly intoxicated with the eminence of his new office, had a letter thrust into his hands by Borden with the instruction that he should deliver it to a minister.  Seldom has a member been mistaken for a Commons page boy, but then seldom was a party leader so remote from his party as was Borden after 1917. (English, p. 206)

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