The Decline of Party Revisited
Mt. Royal College
In his study of the National Liberal Federation, Reg Whitaker focused on the organization and financing of the so-called government party. Relying on Weber’s four part typology of political parties — party in government, party in the electorate, organization and finance –he reintroduced into the study of Canadian parties an emphasis on institutions and organization that had been lost in the rush to societal based explanations of political life.0
Without denying the importance of the social context of politics, Whitaker described an autonomous role the Liberal party played in Canadian politics. The party, he argued, was not only affected by society, it affected society. Its existence depended not only on the existing class structure and social conditions but also on the nature and structure of the party as an institution. While the Liberals were a part of the wider society, they were a collection of rules and regulations and procedures and people that defined and defended their collective interests. In other words, the Liberal party was a political actor in its own right.
This perspective has been lost in the debate over the decline of party. Those individuals who posit that political parties have declined, are dysfunctional, or are simply irrelevant have focused on the party in government and the party in the electorate. They have either ignored or down-played the significance of party organization in the apparent transformation of parties in the industrial democracies over the last thirty years. As a consequence the concept of a decline in the importance, strength and relevance of parties must be re-examined.
Political parties in North America may have changed in their relationship to the electorate, face competition from new social movements, and must abide by new rules that have altered their place in government but they have they declined in terms organization? What changes have parties undergone in their efforts to incorporate new technologies, new techniques, new rules, and new voters. These changes may have made parties stronger and consolidated their position as essential actors in the political life of industrial democracies or they may have weakened them by alienating membership and creating factions that have torn them apart. It is the contention of this paper that various efforts to maintain the significance of parties in political life have not succeeded; the adaptation to new rules, new technology, and new techniques has seen the erosion of party organization.
The Decline of Party Thesis
Parties have different structures in different institutional settings. In the United States, for example, the loose party organization reflects the division of powers inherent in the congressional system of government. In a parliamentary system such as Canada’s the tradition of responsible government creates a much more cohesive political organization. Nevertheless, there are similarities in the function and the operation of parties between political systems.
Political parties in both the United States and Canada, for example, have undergone a number of changes in their relationship to the electorate that have underscored the changing nature of their roles. These changes in Canadian and American political parties have been labelled as the “decline of party”. Although the idea of the decline of political parties has been restricted, for the most part, to discussions of the American party system, Canadian parties have undergone many of the same changes in functions and structure.1
The concept of party decline is based on a functionalist notion of parties that is specific to the post- world War II era in Europe and North America. Declinists identify six functions of political parties which are used to track the failure of parties in western democracies. These functions include: structuring the vote, the integration and mobilization of the population, the recruitment of political leaders, the organization of government, the formation of public policy, and the aggregation of interests.2 Despite their importance to the political process, declinists see parties as having failed, as having violated these arbitrary functions in democratic life.
The first effort to identify the changes occurring in political parties was James Q. Wilson’s The Amateur Democrat. Written in the early 1960s Wilson recognized some of the transformation happening in American parties. He described the battles within the Democratic party in the United States between the reform clubs and the party establishment. He claimed that American voters were increasingly “discontent with a politics of interest, of favoritism, of ethnic recognition, and of localist concerns.”3 Wilson argued that Americans were more and more trained to think in terms of large issues, causes, and principles. Because the machine politicians of the time seemed to avoid such questions, preferring to speak in vague generalities instead of offering specific solutions to the important questions of the day, voters had become dissatisfied with the existing political structure and wanted to reform their parties.
In 1972 David Broder described what he saw as the stagnation of American political life. As a self- described member of the Nixon generation he was concerned with the inability of the American political parties to address many of the issues facing the country. According to Broder this inability of the parties to find solutions led to a malaise in the American people. Voters were, he thought, uncertain about the future of their country. As a result, there was “a clear danger that the frustrations will find a `political’ solution that sacrifices democratic freedoms for a degree of relief from the almost unbearable tensions and strains of today’s metropolitan centers.”4
In the 1970s a number of books and articles appeared echoing the theme of party decline. One of the major works from this period that helped to establish the decline of party as a dominant theme in political analysis is Jules Witcover’s Marathon.5 Witcover argued that the campaign finance reforms of the post-Watergate era had fundamentally eroded the status of parties in American political life. Parties could no longer raise the money necessary to run a national campaign. Moreover, the increasing number of primaries had further loosened any control the parties may have had over the selection of their presidential nominees.
In 1981 Larry Sabato described the changes occurring in the American party system in his book The Rise of Political Consultants. Sabato argued that political consultants had “masterminded the modern triumph of personality cults over party politics in America.”6 His purpose was to understand these changes not to offer alternatives. Nevertheless, he did outline what he saw as the continuing decline in the two major American parties.
Nelson Polsby argued that the various reforms that political parties undertook in the early 1970s as well as the changes in campaign financing laws both at the state and federal level in the aftermath of the Watergate scandals had a negative effect on the parties. Although these reforms were meant to broaden democratic participation and take the presidential nominating process out of the hands of the party bosses they had unexpected consequences that made elections more susceptible to the money and influence of interest groups. The individual candidate, he concluded, now dominated the political process and the parties were left with little to do but organize the presidential nominating convention every four years.7
In 1984 William Crotty stated in American Parties In Decline that the American electorate was “turned-off.” Focusing on the party in the electorate and the party in government, he claimed that low levels of voter participation, a lack of party loyalty, and an increase in voting swings from one election to the next were the result of a decline in the importance of parties in the American political system. He blamed much of the decline on changes in the way elections were run. These changes which included campaign finance reform and an increase in the number of party primaries, increased the power of interest groups, saw the rise of single issue voting, created political action committees, and necessitated the introduction of new technologies and techniques in campaigning. As well, Crotty attributed much of the loss of party support to the rise of single issue groups which led to what he saw as the revival of conservative politics in the United States.8
Crotty also described a second aspect of the decline of party. This was the decline of party in Congress. Various rule changes eliminating the seniority system lessened party solidarity in both organization and policy within Congress. Loyalty to party was no longer essential for advancement in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Individual performance and support from colleagues and single issue groups were what counted in the new era. Any sort of context for policy-making was lost. The lines between the parties had become so nebulous that voters could not distinguish between them.
Martin Wattenberg in his book The Decline of American Political Parties 1952-1988 addressed the question of alignment and dealignment among the American electorate. Starting with the 1952 presidential election, Wattenberg measured the decline in support for either of the two major parties in the United States. There had not been, he argued, an increase in the number of individuals who claim that they are independents. Instead, he found voters expressing “no preference.” Criticizing the methodology of traditional electoral studies, Wattenberg argued that many of the so-called independents have a party preference and in some sense still identify with a political party. Even the election of Republican presidents in 1984 and 1988 failed to alter the distribution of party identifiers in the electorate. He concluded that support for the parties has waned because voters no longer see them as crucial to the democratic process.9
Although the concept of “decline of party” originated in the United States, it has been used by several Canadian authors to explain the increasing volatility of the Canadian electorate. For example, John Meisel in “The Decline of Party in Canada”, “Howe, Hubris and ’72”, and “The Dysfunction of Canadian Parties: An Exploratory Mapping”, outlines what he thinks are the reasons for the increasing disillusionment with partisan politics in Canada. Meisel claims that the rise of the bureaucratic state, interest group politics, federal-provincial negotiations, the electronic media, opinion polling, the domination of economic interests, and one party dominance especially at the federal level, had all contributed to a feeling of frustration and disinterest toward parties on the part of the Canadian electorate.10
Although there is general agreement that something has happened to political parties there is no agreement on what exactly the various changes have meant. Joseph Schlesinger in “The New American Political Party” offers another explanation for the new style in the two major American parties since the 1950s. He argues that the “decline of party” thesis is correct in one sense — parties have changed since the early 1950s. He claims that the Progressive era reforms of the early twentieth century combined with the post-1896 party system produced weak, loosely organized parties. Nevertheless, changes within the Republicans and the Democrats since the 1950s have produced stronger partisan ties among party activists as well as greater organizational effort.
Schlesinger constructs a theory of parties “that accepts them for what they are rather than imposes on them impossible norms such as those implicit in the responsible-party model, or theories derived from the study of aspects of politics peripheral to parties such as public opinion or voting behaviour.”11 He applies his broad theory of party development to the twentieth century American party system, distinguishing between the period leading up to the 1950s, which he calls “the `old’ party and that which has emerged since the 1950s.”12 He concludes that a new party system has emerged in the United States, a party system that has adapted to a set of institutional arrangements designed to weaken partisan alliances.
Another critique of the “decline of party” thesis is provided by Xandra Kayden and Eddie Mahe Jr. in The Party Goes On. Like Schlesinger, they argue that the American party system “has risen from the ashes of turmoil a half generation ago.”13 American political parties have, they claim, changed dramatically over the last twenty years. The new parties are professional organizations “that provide more resources to campaigns than any other single participant in the electoral process.”14 As well, they represent a generational change in American politics. Those who work for the parties bring to their jobs a new set of values and expectations.
For three decades academics and journalists have tried to explain what they saw happening to political parties in Canada and the United States. Although they all agree that something has happened, they cannot agree on the causes and consequences of these changes. Their arguments are varied and, at times, contradictory. While some focus on voting, others try to describe changes in party government, various new campaign techniques, or the impact of the electronic media. Still, both the “declinists” and the “renewalists” agree on one thing: there has been a fundamental change in political parties throughout North America and this change has been reflected not just in political parties but in society generally.
The New Party
Ronald Reagan won the 1980 Republican nomination as the embodiment of the new ideological content in American politics. Deeply committed volunteers worked at the local level to capture the party organization from the party professionals and from elected officials they felt were uncommitted to the new agenda. They took the party by storm. Although Reagan was surrounded by a team of highly skilled professionals, he seemed — at times — as much concerned with ideology as with victory. The individuals who formed this new movement were to a large degree free-market ideologues who refused to listen to pleas from other party leaders for moderation and compromise. Reagan’s supporters saw themselves as committed to a set of ideas, to an individual, and to a cause. They were not committed to a broadly based coalition of different interests.
Unlike the previous candidates with specific agendas for reform such as Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Democrat George McGovern in 1972, Ronald Reagan was spectacularly successful. And while the Reagan did not gain control of the House of Representatives and he did not prove as ideologically oriented in action as in rhetoric, David Broder’s wish for a clear alternative in American parties had emerged. Reagan and his advisors had produced a new political party, a political party that did not resemble the old brokerage parties but one that was exclusionary and ideological.
This change from a brokerage model to the new ideological, cadre type is bound up with the emergence of the “decline of party” thesis. What some scholars and journalists have referred to as the “decline of party” is, in fact, the deliverance of political parties from their role as brokers of ideas selecting, as John Porter described it, “among those that are current in the society the ones that appeal to the largest calculable number of voters.”15
The mass-based party that works out deals and compromises gave way to a structure made up of relatively few people who raise the funds, work with the candidates, and argue over policy and ideology. When the brokerage party began to falter, their leadership was challenged by factions committed to ideology, adaptation and innovation. Although not successful in every case these new technocrats have changed the nature of party life in Canada and the United States. The failure of brokerage politics, the rise of faction, and new forms of organization constitute the “decline of party”.
However, there has been no sustained effort to test or refine the “decline of party” thesis in the Canadian context. Although Meisel and others have attempted to use this idea in their descriptions of Canadian parties it remains an empirically barren concept. No rigorous, historical study of a Canadian party has yet been done that incorporates the notion of “decline of party”. This is due in part to the lack of precision in the definition of the concept. By providing a brief overview of the evolution of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario in the 1970s and 1980s a better understanding of the changes that have affected political parties over the last thirty years — what scholars have described as the “decline of party” — may emerge.
The Ontario Conservatives in Transition An examination of the organization of the Conservative Party of Ontario may provide a more comprehensive understanding of the changes that have occurred in political parties in terms of organization since the 1960s. While change in organization is no proof of necessary or causal connection, strong a priori grounds can be adduced for the proposition that there is some kind of necessary relation between the success and failure of the Ontario Conservatives and their organizational arrangements. This perspective can lead to some general tentative conclusions about the nature of the changes in the Ontario Conservatives in particular and political parties in general. As the 1960s ended, the Ontario Conservatives entered a new era. The highly centralized structure that had been the hallmark of party organization for thirty years began to come apart. The current leader and premier, John Robarts had let membership decline, had overlooked the value of patronage and had failed to reconcile the two dominant factions in the party — the urban reformers and the more conservative rural elements. His fascination with questions of national unity had distracted him from provincial political life.
Within party ranks frustration with Robarts’ leadership — his neglect of the party and province — had led Alan Eagleson to seek the post of Progressive Conservative Association president and had strengthened the faction in the party that sought to halt the increasingly interventionist tendencies of the provincial government. The internal pressure for change initiated by Eagleson and those opposed to the leadership was complimented by external factors in the political environment. Ranging from the implementation of election financing laws to the introduction of new campaign techniques and technologies such as direct mail fund-raising and television advertising, these external variables contributed to the so-called decline of the reigning Tory oligarchy. Not only were party politicians in the style of A.D. McKenzie made obsolete by these new devices but anyone with knowledge and money could use them. The party leadership’s monopoly on information and organization had been broken by the changes in political organization.
With their tools of manipulation diminished, these changes meant that the party hierarchy could no longer dominate party finances, patronage, or policy. The leadership was openly challenged by a faction that sought to reverse the policies and programs of the previous thirty years. While such divisions had existed in the past, they had, since the late 1930s, been successfully contained. The changes that began in the last years of Robarts’ premiership and continued under Bill Davis, allowed different factions in the Conservative party to compete for patronage, nominations, and control of the organization.
In the January 1971 leadership race to replace Robarts, candidates brought with them a more sophisticated and technologically oriented attitude to the party than had previously been seen. This was especially true of Allan Lawrence campaign. Two of Lawrence’s key backers, Dalton Camp and Norman Atkins, were advertising consultants. Camp and Atkins were able to bring their expertise to the Resource Minister’s campaign.
Atkins, for example, developed a television image for Lawrence that made use of his rather stilted speaking style. Instead of sounding awkward and confused, Atkins was able to portray Lawrence as a capable and thoughtful individual through the use of short video clips that concealed his inarticulate manner. Atkins also brought his market survey skills to the task of tracking delegates. He created a system of telephone banks and electronic communications with the convention floor in Maple Leaf Gardens.
These innovations gave his candidate a distinct advantage in the struggle to solicit delegate support. Atkins was able to monitor the whereabouts of the undecided delegates and intercede if he thought an opposition organizer was making too much progress with the uncommitted vote.
While the other candidates continued to rely on more traditional approaches to election campaigning, such as printed pamphlets, candidate speeches, and the support of party notables, the Lawrence group used innovative technologies to pursue their goals. They waged an aggressive campaign that used to advantage Lawrence’s image as a party critic and attracted many in the party ranks who felt displaced by the Tory elite. Although they were unsuccessful, this new group of technocrats influenced the party organization in a variety of ways.
Although the Minister of Education, William Davis, emerged triumphant over Lawrence, he faced the difficult task of uniting the party. Whereas major changes in the cabinet were left until after an election, the premier’s staff and the party’s inner circle underwent profound change. Davis brought with him several individuals who would act as his advisors, confidants, and troubleshooters. The most important of these was Hugh Macaulay. Macaulay was the younger brother of Robert Macaulay, the Davis campaign manager and former Minister of Energy and Commerce and Development under Robarts.
One of Davis’ first acts was to name the Hugh Macaulay “Chairman of Organization”.16Although he received no remuneration for his services Macaulay’s influence with both Davis and the party was enormous. Working from an office at Queen’s Park he directed party affairs throughout most of Davis’ tenure as premier.
Although the Davis group was now firmly in control of the party, there remained serious divisions within the Conservative ranks. Lawrence’s supporters had come within forty-four votes of taking the leadership in a very hotly-contested race and the bitterness they felt toward Davis and his advisors was profound. On the other hand, Macaulay and others in the Davis camp disliked the tactics and arrogance of those individuals who had run the Lawrence campaign. If the party were to survive the electoral challenges of the 1970s a way had to be found to bring these two groups together, yet neither side wanted nor anticipated a quick reconciliation.
The first moves to bring the two factions together occurred a few days after the convention. Dalton Camp worked behind the scenes to ease tensions. Camp was now concerned about party unity and winning the next election. Also working in the background was Roy McMurtry. A friend of Davis from their days at the University of Toronto, a back injury had kept McMurtry, a Toronto lawyer, hospitalized for much of the leadership contest. Both Camp and McMurtry were in a good position to bring the warring factions together.
Immediately after the convention McMurtry approached Hugh Macaulay. With Camp’s assistance, he persuaded both Davis and Macaulay that a meeting between the two groups would be for everyone’s benefit. Macaulay arranged a meeting between the two factions. Picking the neutral ground of Toronto’s National Club in Toronto, the two sides met for dinner. As the evening progressed it became obvious that the divisions of the recent campaign could be mended. During an after-dinner conversation at the Sutton Place Hotel, Davis asked Atkins to manage the coming provincial election campaign for the Progressive Conservative Party.17
With an election expected anytime, Allan Eagleson, as party president demanded that the Conservative association play a major role in the campaign. He was, however, unable to persuade Atkins and Macaulay to let the membership have any significant role in the election. While there had been an attempt at reconciling the Davis and Lawrence factions within the party, the Davis supporters had not yet forgiven Arthur Harnett, Eagleson’s friend and executive director of the provincial Conservative Association, for the debacle over voting machines at the leadership convention. As a result, the party headquarters staff found themselves with little to do in the election.18
Nonetheless, the party association did have a major impact on Conservative fortunes. After the leadership convention Atkins, Macaulay, and Davis found that most of the Progressive Conservative candidates had already been nominated. Eagleson and Harnett had visited every riding and had found individuals to run under the Tory colours. They would bring a potential candidate to Toronto for a meeting with Robarts in an upstairs room at a Toronto restaurant. The object of these encounters was “to assess the guy’s ability as a politician; his true interest as a Tory; whether he was in politics for the wrong reasons.”19 Once it was decided “which candidate the party wanted the next step was to persuade the riding to have an open nominating meeting, making sure it was an event rather than a haphazard occurrence — to make sure there were good speakers and hundreds of people there.”20
As well as selecting candidates, Harnett and Eagleson had organized a series of campaign schools across the province. In the spring of 1970 they established the first campaign schools for Progressive Conservative candidates and their managers in the party’s history. While there had been other attempts to teach candidates and party workers the skills needed for electoral victory this was the first organized effort. A year before the election was expected teams of three to five party organizers from Toronto, including Harnett, longtime party worker Hugh Latimer and a new assistant Darwin Kealey, would move into a riding and conduct a campaign school over a three- day period, covering everything from the proper methods for door-to-door canvassing to where to place lawn signs.21
Without the ability to choose their own candidates or even place many of their own people in positions of influence Davis, Atkins and Macaulay found their ability to control the Tory election campaign somewhat circumscribed. Their attentions focused, instead, on the more immediate strategies of the election. Using techniques developed in commercial advertising, Atkins produced the most sophisticated advertising campaign ever seen in the province.
With an emphasis on the party leader, Atkins created a series of television advertisements that featured Davis in various surroundings from his summer cottage to his family home. It was a campaign focused almost entirely on the party leader. Moreover, Davis was seen more than he was heard. Atkins and the small group of consultants he hired decided to project an image of the new leader rather than have him explain policies to Ontario voters. Atkins understood that Davis’ poor speaking style had been a handicap during the leadership campaign.
Former Lawrence campaign manager Ross DeGeer was put in charge of the day-to-day operations of the campaign. Using knowledge gained from the leadership race, DeGeer, brought in a group of friends and acquaintances from the business community to help the Tories. Each brought particular organizational skills that Atkins and DeGeer thought valuable to the new style of controlled campaign. Recruited from the business community they wanted no part of formal party activity:
Unofficial organizations in a curious way tend to be more effective than others. They were not office seekers, they did not want to be involved in the formal structures. They wanted to do the job and go back to business.22
Motivated by a dislike of the New Democrats and their leader Stephen Lewis, the “dirty dozen,” as they were called, used the American Republican party as their model. Contacts with American political parties had increased throughout the Robarts era but the Ontario Conservatives were now consciously using strategies and techniques imported from the United States. One of these American imports included Republican pollster Robert Teeter. Although Teeter had been hired by Jackson as early as 1967 he was now working for the Tories on a regular basis. The use of the Republicans as a model was a major shift for the party. In the early 1960s Robarts and his organizer, Ernie Jackson had focused their attention on the Democrats, borrowing many of their campaign innovations — especially an emphasis on television advertising. Now they looked to Nixon Republicans for inspiration. This change of focus had a profound impact on Conservative thinking and organization. While the Democrats were a diffused collection of clubs, groups, and interests the Republicans, under the leadership of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, became a highly centralized, oligarchic structures. They were, in fact, the prototype of a new type of political organization in the United States.
These changes had a profound effect on the way political parties operated. Xandra Kayden and Eddie Mahe were the first to recognize that the Republicans were simply responding to various institutional changes in the American political system — campaign finance laws, internal party reforms, and minority and gender quotas — that opened up the political process. While this process was more sympathetic to individuals and groups previously excluded, it also meant that the various candidates vying for power in the party did not need the support of the traditional elites within the national organization. Instead, these new groups brought their own people and ideas into the party, supplanting the party establishment. Simply put, the diffusion of power at the local and state level allowed opposing factions to challenge the Republican leadership.
Atkins, DeGeer, and others in the newly-established Tory inner-circle learned from their American cousins. They were determined they would control events. Where Robarts and Jackson had neglected the party, Atkins, DeGeer, Macaulay came to see control of the party apparatus as essential to the maintenance of Conservative power.
With a majority in the legislature, Davis began a massive reorganization of both the government and the party. While he needed experienced cabinet members from the Robarts’ years to help him implement his reforms, functionaries in the premier’s office and government were either replaced or reassigned. The party staff had remained virtually unchanged over the past five years. When Alan Eagleson had become party president, he installed his friend Arthur Harnett as the executive director of the party. With a staff of six Harnett had laboured for nearly four years to build a cohesive party organization.
At this time, Davis and Atkins undertook personnel changes in the party. Their first major act was replacing Arthur Harnett. Although the post of executive director was a prerogative of the party president, Davis was determined to appoint Ross DeGeer to the position. Harnett was considered too closely aligned with Allan Eagleson and had made a number of enemies among Davis’ supporters. Although he was technically without constitutional authority to do so, Davis appointed DeGeer executive director of the Progressive Conservative Association of Ontario on 1 January 1972. DeGeer saw his appointment as part of Macaulay’s effort to put “effective political organization in the premier’s office, party, and government members’ bureau.” It was, he claimed, a “three-member stool” of party, premier’s office and caucus.23
DeGeer’s first task was to restructure the headquarters operation. Within a few months the party office had expanded from eight to nineteen full-time staff. These individuals included DeGeer as executive director, Darwin Kealey, information and research director, and a number of paid field organizers including Patrick Kinsella in Northern Ontario, and Bob Harris in the central region of the province. There were also several individuals who were given specialized jobs within the party. For example, a special-events organizer and an executive secretary were hired. Not since the retirement from the party in 1961 of H.M. Robbins had the party retained a permanent public relations assistant. There was even a secretary for the area organizers and a special youth organizer.24 Along with this increase in staff came a number of innovations that would change the nature of political life in the province.
As executive director of the party DeGeer began a series of contacts with both the Republican and Democratic Parties in the United States. Early in 1972 Kealey communicated with the two major American political parties and a number of consultants associated with the Republicans. He even wrote to The Conservative Tide at the University of Alabama asking for information about their publication. The result of this correspondence was the creation of the party newspaper, Momentum and an information sheet for candidates and other party workers, called TIPS. DeGeer was anxious to reestablish communication between the party offices in Toronto and the constituencies.
Kealey also wrote to the Republican direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie about “the use of personalized computer letters and all aspects of Direct Mail Services in Political Campaigns.” A pioneer in direct-mail fund-raising, Viguerie was an emerging power on the right-wing of the Republican party and the growing new-right in the United States. In August 1972 Kealey travelled to Miami Beach to observe the nomination of Richard Nixon as the presidential candidate of the Republican party. Impressed with the organization of the event Kealey wrote to Jerry Gilbreath, chairperson of the Young Republicans, asking for information on youth workshops and media techniques targeted to first-time voters.25 In February 1972 an up-and-coming American political consultant, Roger Ailes, wrote to Kealey offering his services. Ailes’ consulting firm had handled several major political campaigns “including all the live and tape television for Mr. Nixon in 1968.” Ailes had been informed by an acquaintance in Connecticut that the Ontario Conservatives were interested in putting together a media training program for elected officials and thought he could help. Unwilling to commit his party to an inappropriate and costly exercise, Kealey wrote to Ailes in August 1972 asking if representatives of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party could attend one of his media training seminars as observers. Ailes agreed to this suggestion but the October 1972 federal election prevented the Tories from sending anyone.26
At the same time that Kealey was making contacts with various American political consultants DeGeer began a reorganization of the party at the constituency level. Two things, he thought, were clear after the 1971 election: first, organization at the riding level was generally weak; second, there was a general concern among party workers about the policy direction the Conservatives were taking. In response to these concerns DeGeer organized a series of area caucus meetings for key workers in the various ridings. With cabinet ministers chairing them, the sessions were intended to create a two-way flow of information. Although the meetings were advertised as consultative processes, the party’s representative — usually a cabinet minister — was expected to explain the government’s policies to the membership, It was an obvious effort to thwart dissent in the party and prevent the formation of factions. Unlike the Robarts’ era, the new leadership was very interested in party organization.27
The party association did not play a significant role in the early years of the Davis government. Increasingly, it was dominated by Atkins and the small group advisors appointed by Davis. While DeGeer was establishing his control over the party bureaucracy, the association executive was shut out of decision making. At meetings of the Association executive DeGeer would announce appointments to the party headquarters staff and lay out his plans for the future. There was little or no debate on these occasions. With the support of Macaulay, Davis, and Atkins, DeGeer was able to check the power of the party association and its president, Alan Eagleson.
A series of scandals that implicated Davis and other party elites led to several other organizational changes. First, long-time party loyalist and campaign organizer E.A. (Eddie) Goodman was recruited to the provincial party. An advisor to Frost and Robarts, Goodman had spent the much of the last decade involved with the federal Progressive Conservatives. As a trusted party operative his experience was seen as a valuable asset to be exploited. Having quit as federal party chair in 1971, Goodman was asked to assume the role of chairman of organization and advisor to Davis. Goodman argued that it would be impossible for him to jump into the position; resentments and jealousies would prevent him from doing his job. Instead, he would join the informal meeting of party officials, advisors and friends that met every Tuesday morning at the Park Plaza Hotel for breakfast.
The Tuesday morning group consisted of Atkins, Macaulay, William Kelly, DeGeer, Dalton Camp, Allan Eagleson, Davis’ executive assistant Clare Westcott, Edward Stewart, the new deputy minister in the premier’s office and, of course, Bill Davis. Much to Goodman’s surprise there were no cabinet ministers invited to these sessions.
The addition of Stewart and Goodman to this informal advisory group proved pivotal. Goodman insisted that senior members of cabinet including the Provincial Treasurer and Minister of Justice be included. As well, Stewart, with his long association with the provincial bureaucracy — he had been deputy minister in Ministries of Education and Universities and Colleges under Davis in the 1960s — was able to convince Davis to use the expertise of the provincial civil service for questions of policy and administration. Enlisting the civil service to the government’s cause and bringing members of the cabinet into the premier’s inner circle of advisors avoided conflict between the cabinet and caucus, on the one hand, and the party’s ruling elite, on the other.28
The second major change resulting from the turmoil of the scandals over the previous three years was the creation of a commission to inquire into election expenses. Consisting of three members, Douglas Fischer, Dalton Camp, and former provincial Liberal Leader Farquhar Oliver, the committee recommended sweeping changes to political financing in Ontario. On 13 February 1975 Davis introduced the Election Finances Reform Act in the legislature.
The legislation had a dramatic impact on the three major provincial parties. It established a Commission on Election Contributions and Expenses to oversee all contributions to and spending by political parties and required every constituency association to appoint a Chief Financial Officer (C.F.O.) before 15 March 1975. The C.F.O. was responsible for all matters relating to financial records, contributions, and reporting.
Second, the Act required that all funds held as of 3:00p.m. 13 February 1975 for the purpose of a constituency association and funds raised prior to 15 March from a fund-raising event, had to be reported to the new Commission on Election Contributions and Expenses. While every constituency had to register with the Commission in order to receive donations, every contribution in excess of ten dollars had to be made by cheque or money order with the name of the contributor printed legibly on it and the Chief Financial Officer had to record every contribution in excess of ten dollars, or any series of contributions more than ten dollars. The practical effect of this measure was that every contribution, large or small, had to be recorded. As well, a contributor could give up to $2000 in any calendar year to the party but not more than $500 to any one constituency association and anonymous contributions could no longer be accepted. If anonymous donations could not be returned they had to be handed over to the electoral commission.29
The impact of these changes was dramatic. As the party fundraiser, William Kelly could no longer solicit large donations from corporations or rely on wealthy contributors. While most in the party’s inner circle claimed they welcomed these changes,30 their effect was to weaken the central party apparatus and create large pools of funds in the constituencies. The local associations, therefore, became less dependent on the provincial party.
The weakening of ties between the provincial party and the constituencies made it very much more difficult for the leader and his advisors to place candidates in the ridings. Constituencies no longer had to listen to what the party organizers had to say. They could nominate whomever they wanted and suffer only a minor financial penalty, if any at all.
Local issues and the concerns of the associations members began to be the primary concerns surrounding party nominations. No longer did the provincial party have the ability — except in the most extreme circumstances — to impose a candidate on a reluctant riding. A provincial perspective was replaced by the parochial concerns of the local membership. The constituency associations, however, did not immediately revolt against the centralized party structure. It took several years and the implementation of several unpopular policies for them to realize and exercise their new- found strength.
After suffering the humiliation of a minority government in the 1975 provincial election DeGeer stressed the importance of having a candidate and organization in place. The ideal constituency organization, he emphasized, had at its head the local candidate. The candidate, in turn, was supported by a campaign manager. Under the campaign manager were the Chief Financial Officer, legal advisors, and a campaign auditor. Helping these individuals in their functions were a Policy Committee and a Campaign Advisory Committee. There were also a speech writer, a public relations officer, and chairs of scheduling, youth, committee room, and canvassing. The organization was further divided by DeGeer into five zone captains. These zone captains were responsible for five area zone captains in urban centres and eight in rural areas or townships.
In consultation with Atkins, Goodman, and Westcott, DeGeer created another level of organization within the party. In the priority ridings and areas — ridings lost by one thousand votes or less — the responsibility of preparing the organization and the candidate for winning the next election belonged to the field organizer. This was viewed as a formidable task, beyond the ability of any one individual and as an aid to the field organizer’s activities DeGeer assembled small bands of party loyalists referred to as Area Election Strategy Groups or “Movers and Shakers”.
Established in each priority riding, these movers and shakers consisted of people with whom the field organizer had some confidence and with whom he or she was comfortable. The terms of reference stated that each group had a concern for and knowledge of the riding or ridings and was prepared to assist in solving these problems. An example would have been a particular riding that suffered from a lack of expertise in fund-raising. The movers and shakers would work with the riding and assist with ideas and suggestions on fund-raising.
This group of local notables also served to identify difficulties and issues and bring them to the attention of the field organizer. As well, the area election strategy group worked for a resolution of the problem. The premier, moreover, met with these groups on an area basis. This dialogue opened channels of communication with the Tory leadership and provided information to the party on the state of organization in a region. Efforts were made to have monthly meetings of these groups with the appropriate field worker so that he or she could be kept up to date on matters of concern and develop an appropriate strategy.31
In the early 1970s most of the party’s fundraising activities centred on Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa. A vice-president of Consumer’s Gas, William Kelly was named the chair of the Progressive Conservative Ontario Fund when Davis took office in February 1971. Kelly’s first task, like that of Macaulay’s with patronage, was to install a formal system of accounts for party fundraising. The PC Ontario Fund was soon established and the party’s bookkeeping systematized. The purpose of the PC Ontario Fund was to open a line of credit with the major banks in order to finance increasingly expensive party activities, including headquarters operations and election campaigns. When the Election Expenses Act was introduced in 1975 there was no problem meeting the required changes; a system of financial accounting was already in place.
The PC Ontario Fund was a separate operation from the regular party. Although they worked closely with party headquarters, Kelly’s two assistant, Helga Paide and Duncan Greene, maintained a respectful distance. Along with the two paid assistants there was a number of fundraisers in the community. Metropolitan Toronto, for example, was covered by two prominent Conservative supporters, John Eyton and J.J. Barnicke. These regional fundraisers were appointed by Kelly with the approval of the party leader.
Individuals on the patronage lists would be contacted by the party fundraiser, William Kelly, or one of his assistants, for a contribution to the Progressive Conservative cause. The system was further divided by occupation. A lawyer would be given the task of soliciting from other lawyers while an architect was assigned to seek donations from his or her professional colleagues. Despite these innovations in techniques and technology all was not well in party circles. Eddie Goodman, for example, described Davis as “a pragmatist who did not approach government with an inflexible philosophy of the right or the left.” Davis, Goodman claimed, believed that the role of government “was to provide the province with careful, steady reform of its institutions.”32 Yet these were reforms initiated by the party hierarchy. Davis, Goodman, Westcott, and Macaulay would write amendments to legislation without consulting either cabinet or caucus and this type of arbitrary decision-making created resentment against Davis and his inner circle within the membership, caucus, and cabinet. DeGeer’s contacts with American political consultants also increased after the 1975 election. Several meetings were arranged between party staff, members of the premier’s office, members of the national party organization, and consulting firms from the United States. One such meeting occurred in July 1976 at the Albany Club in Toronto with Nancy Brataas Associates, a consulting business based in Minnesota.
A major change occurred in party personnel at the party’s 1976 annual meeting. Feeling he had become a member of the party’s old guard, Alan Eagleson stepped down as party association president. He was replaced by a lawyer from Sault Ste. Marie, Gerald (Geri) Nori. Nori was popular with the party membership and had served as a first vice-president on the association executive; still, he was not a member of the inner circle surrounding Davis.
Travelling back and forth from Sault Ste. Marie every week, Nori lacked the support necessary to be an effective advocate for the membership. While not excluded from the Tuesday morning meetings at the Park Plaza Hotel, Nori was not a regular participant and during his tenure the party association lost whatever influence it had in the party decision-making process.
While Nori’s election signalled the triumph of the party elite, there was no- one left in the Tory oligarchy to express the views of the membership. The party leader and his advisors were increasingly isolated from the membership and resentment was growing in Conservative ranks.33
When the association executive and the party leadership gathered at Deerhurst Lodge in the fall of 1978 several of the familiar faces of the past few years were missing. Along with Allan Eagleson, Ross DeGeer, did not attend the meeting. In July 1977 DeGeer had been appointed principle secretary to Davis and in July 1978 he took the post of Ontario’s Agent-General in the United Kingdom.34 He was replaced by the party’s field organizer for Northern Ontario, Patrick Kinsella. A former insurance agent from London, Ontario, Kinsella continued DeGeer’s interest in organization and fundraising. With DeGeer in the premier’s office and his former employee, Kinsella, executive director of the party, the leadership’s grip on the Conservative organization appeared stronger than ever.
Kinsella was different from DeGeer in one important respect; he made very little effort to appease the party association. He was, in the words of an association vice-president, “an example of an executive director knowing to whom he reported.” Unlike DeGeer, who saw part of his job as communicating the wishes of the party association to the premier, Kinsella ignored the association executive. He preferred to work on his own, using the staff at party headquarters. At meetings with the party executive he would inform them of decisions and actions already taken.
The executive felt emasculated and resented Kinsella and the group of advisors and functionaries surrounding Davis. Many on the executive believed they represented the party membership while Kinsella and other members of the Big Blue Machine frustrated their efforts to bring the concerns of the rank and file to the leadership. Kinsella’s antipathy to the elected members of the association alienated many in the party and caused factional divisions not seen since the 1940s.35
With the government again in a minority situation after the 1977 election, the party membership began to speak out against various Conservative policies. In the early 1980s, for example, the Conservatives introduced legislation permitting the compulsory check-off of union dues. Many party members and some on the association executive opposed this legislation. One party vice- president and chairman of the Muskoka region, Hugh MacKenzie, felt it was a violation of civil rights. When he criticized the legislation at the party’s annual meeting in front of several newspaper reporters, Mackenzie was called to the premier’s office. With the premier’s principle secretary, Hugh Segal, present, association president Geri Nori reprimanded MacKenzie for disloyalty. MacKenzie was told his actions were irresponsible and that the check-off provisions had been given as a concession to the unions in order to obtain a secret ballot on the final offer of contracts.36
The Tory leadership had not counted on open and forceful opposition to their policies. The swift reaction to MacKenzie’s comments — the meeting at which he spoke out he was chosen first vice- president of the party — revealed a tension between those who wanted the membership to have greater influence and the leadership who wanted to keep a tight grip on power.
After the 1977 election Atkins had recruited the national party’s pollster, Allan Gregg.37 There had been some dissatisfaction with Robert Teeter’s inability to translate his findings into the particular cultural and institutional context of Ontario. As a result, the provincial leadership was willing to embrace Gregg and his company, Decima. A one-time Canadian associate of Teeter’s, Gregg conducted a series of polls for the provincial party between 1977 and 1981.
Gregg’s work soon became critical to the Conservative government. For example, using a random sample of voting age Ontarians, Gregg conducted a telephone survey between 5 and 21 September 1979. The results of his finding were presented to the party in October of that year. If the leadership had been thinking of calling an election in an effort to achieve a majority government, Gregg’s results deterred them. While support for the Ontario progressive Conservative was growing it was not stable enough to ensure a majority in the legislature. The party had the support of only 40.2 per cent of voters.
Gregg’s poll also revealed that support for the New Democrats was declining and that most Liberal and NDP voters were more attached to their party than to their leaders. Davis, on the other hand, was more popular than his party. This was a clear indication to the party elite to focus their campaign and organizational efforts on the premier rather than on the party and its policies.38
A growing discontent in the party was evident at the September 1983 party meeting. Youth delegates displayed their disdain for the government by opposing amendments to the province’s human rights code and demanding a greater voice in party affairs. Along with older members of the party, the youth delegates held the faction around Davis in contempt, accusing them of liberal values and of pandering to the left. While Davis, Segal and Greg warned the party of the dangers of abandoning its pragmatic, centrist position — initiated by George Drew in his 22 point program of July 1943 — unease with the leadership’s reformist tendencies was evident.39
The purchase of the oil company Suncor by the government and Davis’ support of the federal constitutional initiative were, however, only minor irritants compared to the question of funding for Roman Catholic separate schools. The question of the funding of separate schools had been a divisive issue in the province since the creation of Upper Canada in 1791. Drew had used the issue against Hepburn in the 1936 Hastings East by-election and in 1971 the possibility of extending full funding to all grades of the Catholic school system had forced Davis to make a public declaration that the government would not increase funding for separate schools. Yet in private meetings with the premier, the province’s Roman Catholic Bishops continued to press for additional money.
On 12 June 1984, Davis announced the extension of full funding for separate schools, many in the Conservative party were outraged. Only the Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Emmett Carter, the premier’s private secretary, John Tory, and Davis knew of the decision. The party membership had not been consulted, the issue had not been discussed in caucus, and the cabinet had not debated it. Even several of his key advisors opposed the move.
As speculation of Davis’ imminent resignation rose, those disaffected from the current leadership clustered around three potential candidates: Gordon Walker, London South MPP and Minister of Consumer and Corporate Relations; Frank Miller, Industry Minister and member from Muskoka; and Dennis Timbrell, the provincial Health Minister and MPP from York Mills.
Since the 1981 election Miller, Timbrell, Walker, as well as Larry Grossman had put together organizations for possible leadership campaigns. Miller, for example, had begun the process as early as 1978 when he hired both Jan Westcott and Michael Perik to put together a campaign. On several occasions Davis was forced to ask his possible successors to cease their activity.
As the governing party the Conservatives had very little trouble raising the funds –approximately $2 million a year — necessary to run their headquarters operations. After the 1975 election they had a surplus of almost $1 million and individuals and corporations were willing to give the maximum allowed under the new regulations. As well, DeGeer’s direct-mail fundraising began to pay-off. By the late 1970s the party had become less dependent on large individual and corporate donations.
The 1977 election, however, put the party into financial hardship. In a world of limited contributions and small donors Kelly was expected to finance two provincial election campaigns in a period of twenty months and maintain the two million dollar operations of party headquarters. When the costs for the 1981 provincial election were calculated, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party was almost $2.5 million in debt.40
The party membership was unaware of the money problems. The campaign finance legislation did not require disclosure of party finances; only the amounts donated by individuals and corporations were divulged and these were not disclosed until six weeks after the election. The actual state of party finances remained a secret and only Kelly and Davis were aware of the problems facing the party.
With dwindling resources and increasing expenses the provincial party no longer held monetary control over the constituency organizations. Prior to the Election Finances Act the provincial organization would support candidates in the ridings. Because the provincial organization controlled the funding of elections, the amount of money given to each candidate varied — sometimes according to the needs of the candidate, sometimes according to the preference of the party leadership.
The introduction of a system of tax credits for political donations, however, allowed the constituency associations to build substantial surpluses so that by 1983 the Conservative riding associations had a combined surplus of $2 million — enough to pay out the provincial party debt.41 But the disclosure requirements were of little help to the provincial party or the constituencies.
Many riding associations refused to reveal the names of their donors to the provincial party and Kelly refused to give the names of his contributors to the local organizations. While the provincial party and the riding associations could buy each others’ lists from the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, they were not made available until six weeks after a provincial election — too late to be of much use to a provincial campaign struggling to raise money.
Without the incentive of money, provincial party control over the constituencies diminished. The constituencies no longer had to worry about funds being cut — there was nothing to cut. Because there was no financial penalty for disagreeing with the party leadership, it became more difficult for Davis and his organizers to impose either their candidates or policies on local associations. This was, however, a gradual process. It was not until after the 1981 election that the constituencies emerged as financially independent.
Throughout the fifty-year period 1935 to 1985 there was never a complete list of Conservative party members. The local associations did not send their membership lists to party headquarters and the provincial organization did not reveal its contributors or members to the constituencies. The party was divided in terms of both membership and fundraising between the local associations and the provincial organization.
With the introduction of limits to political contributions in 1975 the constituencies were able to use their membership as a base for fundraising. The party’s fundraising capabilities went from Kelly to the ridings and the provincial organization was forced to give the ridings the authority to issue tax receipts. With a seventy-five per cent tax credit on the first one hundred dollars and a fifty per cent credit on the remainder this was a powerful tool in the hands of the ridings to increase their financial position within the party.
Subject to the financial influence of the ridings the influence of the Tory elite had diminished while the constituency associations were quickly becoming more powerful. By 1983 the provincial organization was borrowing money from the constituencies. The constituency money was available from the PC Ontario Bank on twenty-four hour notice and the provincial party paid the market rate of interest to the ridings. As well, with thousands of small contributions there were demands for accountability. The provincial organization had become dependent on the local associations for funding.
While the constituencies were on their way to financial independence, the party executive director, Bob Harris was seen as weak and ineffectual. While he carried on the work of DeGeer and Kinsella he was not able to control the party in the same manner as his predecessors.42 Within the context of increasingly strong riding associations and a weakened central party apparatus, the contest to replace Bill Davis began.
After Frank Miller’s victory in the 1985 leadership race, his executive assistant, Michael Perik, quickly seized control of the premier’s office. Although he had won the leadership promising a more democratic regime, Miller excluded members of both the Davis inner circle and his own campaign. Even Hugh MacKenzie, a party vice-president and Miller campaign worker from Muskoka, found himself on the outside. Although John Tory and Ed Stewart stayed on, they were resented by the new premier and his staff and their influence was minimal. As defeated leadership candidate Larry Grossman stated: Miller’s support was anti-big bluers, right-wingers. People supported him because he was organized three weeks before anyone else. I lost before I declared my candidacy. Miller’s support was made up of caucus support. He offered cabinet jobs — supported by those who could not read or write…. 43
Miller was torn between the advice he was getting from Davis and other members of the old leadership and his own inclination to clean house. Only a token effort was made to bring Grossman’s supporters on side and even less of an effort had been made to use the skills and experience of Atkins and other in the party oligarchy. For example, after asking Atkins to be campaign chair for the up-coming election, Miller rescinded his offer. Instead, he appointed Patrick Kinsella. The faction that had dominated the Ontario Conservatives since the 1930s had been excluded by Miller’s conservative rural-based faction. It was a mistake that would cost the party in the next election.
Perik was also doing his best to keep information and individuals from the new premier. He kept tight control on who saw Miller and barred all those who he considered disloyal. It was a very awkward environment in which to call an election. But this is exactly what Miller did. On 25 March Miller announced an election for 1 May. With Allan Gregg telling him the Tories were at 46 per cent in the polls, he felt it was the right time to face the voters. He had dismantled the Conservative organization that had led the party for the past fourteen years and replaced it with a faction that wanted to redirect the party to a more conservative agenda. Although autocratic, the party elite of the Davis years had maintained an effective electoral apparatus that could match or better anything the opposition parties could muster. The focus of opposition to the Big Blue Machine, Miller had attracted those in the party opposed to Davis and his organization.44 The election campaign was a disaster for the Progressive Conservatives. Perik’s and Kinsella’s carefully planned strategy came apart. In the face of a strong efforts from the Liberals under David Peterson and the New Democrats led by Bob Rae, they were unable to present Miller as a viable successor to Davis. Both the Liberals and New Democrats were better-organized and ran effective campaigns attacking the Conservative record.
Miller’s government had won 52 seat and 37 per cent of the vote. The Liberals, on the other hand, had earned four fewer seats — 48 — but were slightly ahead of the Conservatives in the popular vote with 37.9 per cent. Bob Rae came away with 23.8 per cent of the ballots and twenty-five of the 125 seat in the legislature. Within four weeks the Conservative dynasty of forty-two years came apart when the government lost a vote of confidence and was replaced by the Liberals. The organization that had proved so crucial to party success had been dismantled and replaced by a group with little experience in campaigns and strategy.
The history of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1970s and early 1980s illustrates the impact of new campaign technologies, changes in finance rules and new election techniques on party organization. While the party may have been in decline in terms of the government and electorate — much in the way that Meisel has described the decline of party at the national level — it was also in decline in terms of its organization and finance.
The attempts by the party oligarchy — those individuals who acted as advisors to Davis in an official and unofficial capacity — to maintain control of the Tory organization failed because the rules of finance had changed as had other aspect of party life. The introduction of regulations governing party finance in 1975 altered the fiscal structure of the party in such a way that the central party apparatus lost control over one of its most important levers of power — money. Combined with new campaign technologies and techniques that ranged from sound bites of the leader to direct mail fund-raising, these factors all contributed to an example of the decline of party. While John Robarts had let the party organization deteriorate in the 1960s, the efforts of Atkins, DeGeer, and others in the 1970s and 1980s to revitalize the structure could not stop the rise of factions and the eventual disintegration of the party. The loss of control by the leadership allowed opposition to the party elites to coalesce behind a candidate who promised to open up the decision making process to the membership. This restructuring was a reflection of a decline in the organization of the party.
The 1970s and the first half of the 1980s was a transitional phase for the Progressive Conservatives. They moved from a brokerage style of politics under Davis to an ideological model under Miller. In other words, the inclusionary style of pragmatic politics of Davis was eclipsed by an exclusionary ideology where content dominated. Correcting for obvious institutional differences this change in the Conservative party imitated the prototype of party organization that Reagan had established in the United States in the late 1970s. These changes reflected a transformation in campaign finance, campaign technology, and organization which have been identified as the decline of party.
RETOOLING THE BIG BLUE MACHINE THE DECLINE OF PARTY REVISITED
DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE MOUNT ROYAL COLLEGE
Presented at the meeting of the British Columbia Political Science Association, Vancouver, 4,5 May 1995
Draft Only: Not For Quotation.
After the 1977 election Kinsella hired Michael Perik to do an analysis of some of the ridings the Conservatives thought they should have won. In the Toronto riding of Beaches-Woodbine, for example, Perik was blunt in his assessment. The main problem, he stated, was the candidate, Thomas Wardle. Wardle was a successful municipal politician who was shrewd enough to win the Tory nomination in June of 1976 and avoid any problems with party headquarters or any other organized competition. Overconfident, Wardle thought he did not need any help to get elected and attributed his 1975 defeat to Davis’ unpopularity.
This overconfidence, Perik argued, was reflected in the type of campaign he ran. It was based on his municipal experience — a campaign office staffed by a few friends and lots of lawn signs. Canvassing was not on his priority list. He did only a partial canvass, using what was described as “very poor literature.” On the other hand the sitting MPP, New Democrat Marion Bryden, had been an effective member who utilized her constituency organization rather well. Although her campaign was described as mediocre it was far superior to Wardle’s efforts. Perik concluded that the lesson “learned in Beaches Woodbine is that a solid municipal name will not necessarily guarantee a victory.” The party, Perik believed, should look for someone who can build an effective organization and who can bring in new ideas and enthusiasm to a riding.45
In his discussion of Essex South, Perik was even more direct. “The biggest mistake,” he wrote, “in this riding for 1977 was having Frank Klees as the candidate.” Klees was seen as “too slick, too arrogant, and too presumptuous.” The candidate lost in his home town because his poll and canvass organization were extremely poor. Moreover, in an area that had a large number of individuals with an Italian heritage Klees came across as bigoted. It was hard, Perik stated, to find anything the candidate did right. In order to win the riding the Conservatives would have to find “an electable candidate and not a man who becomes the main issue in the campaign.”46
The highlight of my career was coming second to Miller in the first leadership race. There was a dose of anti-semitism. One should not misunderstand there was a lot of campaigning on the floor. It was heard by my people. “Larry, a really good speech, you’re too smart to be premier.” The comfort factor is always important. Frank Miller was comfortable. What isn’t comfortable was a too well-dressed, smart, Toronto, Jewish lawyer. If I walked, talked, and had Dennis Timbrell’s name, a Jewish guy would have won. Made the guy who was nervous about Toronto even more nervous. Religion was a part of the leadership race. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx When Leslie Frost announced his resignation in 1961, his Minister of Education, John Robarts, was not given much chance of success. He was not as well known as the other candidates and had amassed no legislative record on which he could convince party members of his worthiness for the province’s top political job.
Robarts drew on his London base for support. his campaign manager, the former London South MPP Ernie Jackson resign his position as president of the Western Ontario Progressive Conservative Association to become his campaign manager. While his campaign seemed to falter, Jackson and Robarts had been approaching delegates on an individual basis away from the press. This strategy had built considerable support in the party. Moreover, Harry Price, the party treasurer, gave his support to Robarts. Price was close to Frost and his inner circle.
Although Frost was to remain publically neutral it was clear that he, and others in the party hierarchy did not want Roberts as leader.47 As a result Gardiner, the powerful chairman of the Metropolitan Toronto Council and the chair of the convention Policy Committee, gave his support to Robarts.48 Other members of Frost’s inner circle began to work quietly for Robarts. While Gardiner was canvassing the legal community for support and Price was promoting Robarts in business circles, E.A. (Eddie) Goodman had also thrown his support behind the Minister of Education.49 These individuals were key to Robarts’ success. While Robarts and Jackson believed that Frost was neutral they understood that the support of key party figues such as Gardiner, Price and Goodman was crucial to achieve their goal. It was not enough to scour the province in search of delegate support. Only sixty per cent of the delegates to the leadership convention would be elected by constituency organizations. The rest would be appointed by regional associations, the Association executive, and the party leader. With their hold on the party Frost, Gardiner, Price, and Goodman could ensure that Robarts had the support necessary to win the leadership.
When the leadership convention opened in October 1961 the Robarts organization was ready. Using the Park Plaza Hotel as their headquarters Jackson parked a telephone equipped trailer outside Varsity Arena to facilitate his on-site information network. Data could be relayed to Robarts workers stationed on the convention floor giving them an advantage over their rivals.
The use of the American model in the Robarts leadership campaign signalled a change in the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Jackson, Robarts and others associated with the new Conservative leader would no longer look to the British example for guidance in their political deliberations. While an important element in the party would remain in the mold of the loyal British subject the new imperial power for the Ontario Tories was now Washington. As Robarts’ chairman of organization, Jackson brought an awareness of new campaign techniques and strategies that revolutionized Ontario political life. From trailers parked outside the convention hall to the first efforts at delegate tracking Jackson incorporated techniques borrowed from the national parties in the United States.
Intent on modernizing the party Jackson established contacts with political consultants in the U.S. including Robert Teeter in Detroit and Richard Wirthlin in California. The Conservative meeting in the Orange Hall had become a whirlwind of polls and strategy sessions that bore little resemblance to the intuitive and impressionistic methods of McKenzie, Drew, Frost and their generation of political activists. If ideology had not been entirely abandoned pragmatism was now the focus of the new leadership.
On 8 November 1961 John P. Robarts was sworn in as premier of Ontario. Robarts had won the leadership for two reasons. First, his campaign had been technically superior to those of his rivals. In a low-key effort, Jackson had incorporated many new methods of the American national parties. This was essential to propel a relatively obscure cabinet minister from London to the position of party leader and premier. Second, the Robarts campaign bested their rivals because of the support of the existing party oligarchy. While Frost had not openly supported Robarts several of his close associates including Harry Price and Fred Gardiner, were openly campaigning for Robarts. This gave the Robarts campaign the credibility it needed to overcome his substantial opposition.
Robarts had both an efficient and technically superior organization and the support of the party oligarchy. While these two elements may not have assured his victory they played a large role in it. It is no surprise then that Robarts’ defined his tenure as party leader in terms of technocratic competence and political continuity.
While Robarts had made only a few superficial changes to the cabinet the party organization had undergone a complete transformation. The death of long time party president and organizer A.D. McKenzie in 1960 had meant that the positions of party president and chairman of organization had to be filled. A friend of McKenzie’s, Elmer Bell, was picked to fill the post of president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Ontario and Hugh Latimer, a party apparatichik and McKenzie’s assistant, was named as chairman of organization.
Bell, however, was unable to spend a great deal of time in Toronto. His law practice in Exeter kept him busy. For the first time since 1943 the party did not have a president who lived in Toronto and who was not a full-time party operative. Latimer had been named chairman of organization by Frost a few weeks after McKenzie’s death but when Robarts assumed the party leadership he appointed his long-time friend and former London South MPP, Ernie Jackson, as the party organizer. Bell agreed with Robarts and Jackson that he would confine his activities to the party association and leave questions of organization to others.
A generational change had occurred in the party leadership. They were a generation younger than the Frost leadership. Although they had fought in a world war their experiences and perspectives differed from those of their predecessors. Robarts considered himself a technician. He was a self- styled management man who considered planning an essential part of government. Most problems, Robarts believed, had solutions if the proper structures were in place. Questions of ideology, he thought, were becoming irrelevant in this new technocratic age. The great ideological questions had been settled; the battles had been won. Everything was possible if only the right method was found. It was a very different approach to governing and party affairs than under his predecessors, Frost, Kennedy, and Drew.50
Unlike his predecessor A.D. Mckenzie, Jackson was content to leave party matters in the hands of constituency officials. He saw no need to maintain centralized control of the party apparatus. Instead, Robarts and Jackson preferred to rely on local riding associations and regional party executives. They saw no need for regional organizers controlled from Toronto. Local and regional associations were now assigned a prominent role in party affairs. Although A.D. McKenzie had relied on information and advice from constituency associations he had ignored the regional associations preferring to direct party business from the top. The new regime was much more decentralist in its approach to questions of organization.
The new party oligarchy differed in other ways from their predecessors. The friendly, informal briefings that had characterized Frost’s relationship to the press came to an end. Jackson and Robarts appointed former Globe and Mail reporter William Kinmond as the new premier’s press secretary. Kinmond was given the task of reforming government-media relations. He allowed cameras at press conferences and began a program of distributing recorded news items to small radio stations around the province. Seen as one way to get the government’s message directly to the people, these early sound-bites heralded a new era in Ontario political life. Jackson was looking more and more to the United States for techniques, ideas, and methods in the operation and organization of a political party. Examples were not hard to find. With President Kennedy in the White House connections and interest began to grow in the new ways of campaigning in the United States. Using Theodore White’s book, The Making of a President 1960, as his model, Jackson began to transform the style and substance of Conservative party organization in Ontario.
This new approach to party organization reflected the business like attitude that Jackson and Robarts brought to government. The image they wanted to project was one of efficiency and competence. Jackson understood the power of television and began to use it in various by- elections. Moreover, he became much more concerned with controlling the flow of information from the party to the media. Access to Robarts was severely limited and press conferences were managed to present the premier and his ministers in the best-possible light.51 Yet the informality of the previous government remained.
Robarts was not inclined to change the nature of party organization anymore than was necessary to ensure the continued dominance of the Conservative party in Ontario political life. He and Jackson still relied on friends and contacts around the province for support and information. As Robert Macaulay states, “Robarts was lazy. He was interested in national issues. The party seemed to deteriorate under Robarts.”52 While the new techniques employed by the party were useful in elections Robarts and Jackson neglected the local and regional associations. They were satisfied that the use of new strategies and techniques would ensure continued success.
As a result of his efforts to modernize the Ontario government Robarts became preoccupied with questions of financing the new responsibilities that were forced on his government. This preoccupation inevitably led to a concern with increasing revenues and the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. With a new found ally in the Liberal Premier of Quebec, Jean Lesage, Robarts pressed for more provincial autonomy and control over spending in order to accomodate local or provincial concerns. While these issues were of great importance the work of party organization was ignored.
Instead of maintaining a coherent and active party structure Robarts came more and more to rely on a close group of friends from London for political advice in the operation of the Conservative organization. This close group of Robarts insiders included Jackson; Harry White, a close friend from London; and William Stewart the MPP for Middlesex and Robarts’ Minister of Agriculture.53 This lack of interest in party organization led to its inevitable deterioration.54 Moreover, Robarts neglect of internal party affairs opened up political space for alternatives to the established party leadership.
Although Robarts was “a solid Tory” his pragmatic style and business like approach to question of government shattered the underpinnings of old Ontario. As A.K. McDougall describes it, Robarts transformed the government of Ontario “from the personal, rural-dominated administration of Leslie Frost to the professionally administered, urban-dominated regime of William Davis”. Even though his government was committed to a policy of non-intercession, Robarts led the province into an era of massive state intervention. This is the same phenomena that others have referred to as a decline of party — but it is no such thing. This period in Ontario political life signalled the introduction of a variety of new campaign technologies. The organization remained essentially untouched by Robarts and his advisors.
Yet there were contradictions in Robart’s appraoch to government and politics. While his interest in government was unquestionable his concern with party organization declined sharply. He left the responsibility for the party to Jackson. While the government was able to meet the challenges it faced, the party lacked direction. After the Robarts’ leadership victory and the 1963 election Jackson failed to give the Conservative organization the attention it required. Although the party did not immediately suffer from this neglect, problems were soon apparent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 0 Whitaker borrows these categories from Max Weber. See Reginald Whitaker, The Government Party. Organizing and Financing the Liberal Party of Canada 1930-58 (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1977) xiii-xix. 1 John Meisel, “Decline of Party in Canada,” in Party Politics in Canada 6th ed.. Edited by Hugh G. Thorburn. (Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice-Hall Canada, 1991) 179; Grant Amyot, “Democracy Without Parties: A New Politics”, in Parties in Transition 2d ed., edited by Alain-G. Gagnon and Brian Tanguay. Scraborough, Ont: Nelson, 1995. 2 Anthony King, “Political Parties in Western Democracies,” Polity 2 no.2 (Winter 1969): 111-141. 3 James Q. Wilson, The Amateur Democrat (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1966), viii. 4 David Broder, The Party’s Over The Failure of Politics in America (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1972) xxiv. 5 Jules Witcover, Marathon. The Pursuit of the Presidency 1972- 1976 (New York: The Viking Press, 1977). 6 Larry J. Sabato, The Rise of Political Consultants, (New York: Basic Books, 1981) 3. 7 Nelson Polsby, The Consequences of Party Reform, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983). 8 William Crotty, The Decline of American Political Parties 2d ed. (Boston and Toronto: Little Brown and Company, 1984). 9 Martin P. Wattenberg, The Decline Of American Political Parties 1952-1988 (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1990). 10 John Meisel, “The Decline of Party in Canada,” in Party Politics in Canada, 5th ed., ed. Hugh G. Thorburn (Scarborough: Prentice-Hall Canada, 1985); John Meisel, Howe, Hubris and ’72,” in Working Papers on Canadian Politics, ed. John Meisel (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975) and John Meisel, “The Dysfunction Of Canadian Parties: An Exploratory Mapping” (Paper delivered at the First Annual Workshop, Work Group on Elections and Parties, Committee on Political Sociology, IPSA/ISA, Paris, 10-12 April 1989). 11 Joseph A. Schlesinger, “The New American Political Party,” American Political Science Review 79 (1985): 1152. 12 Ibid. 13 Xandra Kayden and Eddie Mahe Jr., The Party Goes On. The Persistence of the Two Party System in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 1985) 3. 14 Ibid., 4. 15 John Porter, The Vertical Mosaic. An Analysis of Social Class and Power in Canada, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965) 374. 16 Hugh Macaulay, interview with author, Toronto, 14 June 1988. 17 Norman Atkins, interview with author, Ottawa, 28 July 1988. 18. Darwin Kealey, interview with author, Toronto, 20 June 1991. 19 Arthur Harnett, interview with author, Toronto, 15 June 1988. 20 Ibid. 21 Arthur Harnett, interview with author, Toronto, 15 June 1988. 22 “Albany Club Dirty Dozen Syndicate”, n.d., Progressive Conservative Party Papers, Provincial Archives of Ontario, box 1, and John Laschinger, interview with author, Calgary, 30 October 1992. 23 Ross DeGeer, interview with author, Cobourg, Ontario, 14 August 1989. 24 P.C. headquarters staff, Provincial Archives of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, box 11, “PC”; Minutes of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Association Executive Meeting, Provincial Archives of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, box 2, “Mr. Sonny Suehner”. 25 Darwin Kealey, interview with author, Toronto, 20 June 1991; Darwin Kealey to The Conservative Tide, University of Alabama, n.d., Provincial Archives of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, box 13, “Correspondence Carbons Day-To-Day from: Jan 4, 1972”; Darwin Kealey to Olga Gechas, Director, Direct mail Fundraising, Democratic National Committee, 18 July 1972, Provincial Archives of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, box 13, “Correspondence Carbons Day-To-Day from: Jan 4, 1972”; Darwin Kealey to Richard A. Vigueire, 21 July 1972, Provincial Archives of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, box 13, “Correspondence Carbons Day-To-Day from: Jan 4, 1972”; Darwin Kealey to Jerry Gilbreath, Young Republican Chairman, 30 August 1972, Provincial Archives of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, box 13, “Correspondence Carbons Day-To-Day from: Jan 4, 1972”. 26 Darwin Kealey, interview with author, Toronto, 20 June 1991; Roger Ailes to Darwin Kealey, 17 February 1972, Provincial Archives of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, box 13, “Correspondence Carbons Day-To-Day From: Jan 4 1972; Darwin Kealey to Roger Ailes, 31 August 1972, Provincial Archives of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, box 13, “Correspondence Carbons Day-To-Day From: Jan 4 1972”. 27 Memorandum, n.d., Provincial Archives of Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, box 18, “Ross DeGeer”; Darwin Kealey, interview with author, Toronto, 20 June 1991; Ross DeGeer, interview with author, Cobourg, 14 August 1989. 28 E.A. Goodman, interview with author, Toronto, 30 June 1988; Edward Stewart, interview with author, Toronto, 18 June 1990; and Edwin A. Goodman, The Life of the Party. The Memoirs of Eddie Goodman, (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1988), 222-228. 29 David Johnson, “The Ontario Party and Campaign Finance System: Initiative and Challenge,” in Provincial Party And Election Finance In Canada, ed. F. Leslie Seidle (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1991), 39-88. 30 Senator William Kelly, interview with author, Toronto, 16 May 1988; Hugh Macaulay, interview with author, 14 June 1988; Ross DeGeer, interview with author, Cobourg, 14 August 1989. 31 “Area Election Strategy Group (Movers and Shakers)”, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, Provincial Archives of Ontario, box 18, Ross DeGeer. 32 Edwin A. Goodman, Life of the Party, 240. 33 Hugh MacKenzie, interview with author, Kingston, 7 May 1988. 34 Ross DeGeer, interview with author, Cobourg, 14 August 1989. 35 Hugh MacKenzie, interview with author, Kingston, 7 May 1988. 36 Hugh MacKenzie, interview with author, Kingston, 7 May 1988. 37 William G. Davis, interview with author, Toronto, 18 July 1991. 38 “Decima Research, Ontario Province Wide Study October, 1979 2071 Analysis,” Progressive Conservative Party Papers, Provincial Archives of Ontario, MG2, box 14, Decima Research, Ontario Province Wide Study October, 1979 2071 Analysis. 39 Rosemary Speirs, Out of the Blue, 13-16 and “Activities Over The Last Four Years,” Progressive Conservative Party Papers, Provincial Archives of Ontario, MG2, box 32 P.C.H.Q. Activities 1981 — Early ’85,. 40 David McFadden, interview with author, Toronto, 4 May 1988. 41 Ibid and Larry Grossman, interview with author, Toronto, 28 April 1988. 42 Frank Miller, interview with author, Toronto, 17 May 1988. 43 Larry Grossman, interview with author, Toronto, 28 April 1988. 44 William Davis, interview with author, Toronto, 18 July 1991. 45 “Beaches-Woodbine”, Progressive Conservative Party Papers, Provincial Archives of Ontario, MG2, box 23, “Election ’77”. 46 “Essex South”, Progressive Conservative Party papers, Provincial Archives of Ontario, MG2, box 23, “Election ’77” 47 E.A. Goodman, interview with author, Toronto, 30 June 1988. 48 A. Kelso Roberts, Thirty Years of Ontario Political Action (Toronto, 1969), 127. 49 Edwin A. Goodman to Robert Macaulay, 28 October 1961, Clare Westcott papers, Provincial Archives of Ontario, F-2094, box 1, Macaulay: Leadership Convention. 50 Scott Young, “…and now the hefty, handsome, whiskey-and- steaks, third undefeated, true-blue Tory…”, Globe and Mail Magazine, 20 July 1965, 1-13. 51 Ernie Jackson, interview with author, 21 July 1991. 52 Robert Macaulay, interview with author, 14 June 1988. 53 Robert Macaulay, interview with author, Toronto, 14 June 1988. 54 Ibid.