One very pleasant benefit of campaigning for Robert Stanfield for Prime Minister—through three failed elections nearly forty years ago— is the continuing warm hospitality of Liberals and progressive political observers in Toronto and Ottawa. To many conservatives, he was The Greatest Prime Minister We Never Had. Generally he’s honoured as a paragon of Tory virtue. Lawrence Martin, in closing a column on right wing brutes in revolt in the US and in office in Ottawa, concluded “if Stanfield were alive today, he’d roll over in his grave.” (www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/anti-intellectualism-political-venom-moves-north/article1719331/)
I don’t want to sour relations with any of you, but using his name to argue for greater civility, especially by Conservatives, can go too far. Probably, he would welcome less stridency in our politics. However, his political outlook would not necessarily make him a closet Liberal today. Stanfield was trustworthy, but he also campaigned, often with biting humour as well as argument, to defeat Pierre Trudeau and many of his signature liberal causes. He worried about the work ethic as well as high unemployment; he believed the federal government must co-operate with the provinces and not override their jurisdictional responsibilities; he rejected confrontation with Quebec and Alberta and consistently called for closer relations and more trade with the United States.
Stanfield called for greater humility and compassion in politics, but he hardly expected to receive it in public in return. His time was also fouled by anger and demagoguery--for instance, about immigrants, French Canadians, and corporate and student “welfare bums.” I doubt he’d be intimidated or seriously offended by today’s parliamentary loudmouths.
I often hear it said that, in private, politicians were nicer to each other in the seventies than they are today. I don’t know. Certainly, the times then may have been a little more relaxed, if only for the fact that in Ottawa and in Ontario the “naturally governing” parties were naturally in charge, their opponents calmly listened to as honourable losers.