A clarification from Paul Hellyer:
Almost all of the experts in 1948 were forecasting a depression with a capital D for 1950. I had come to the conclusion by then that they were not necessary, so I felt compelled to try to do something about it. I started lobbying for a nomination and after months of effort landed one in Davenport riding which had never voted Liberal since Confederation and was so hopeless that I was allowed to run when no one else was seriously interested. With odds against me at 15 to 1 on election day, I still got elected with a combination of St. Laurent pulling and George Drew pushing.
Then, of course, I learned the second lesson of politics. Just because your picture appears on the front page of the second section of the Toronto Star doesnt mean that youre a somebody when you get to Ottawa. Pierre Trudeau made that very clear, as you know. Not only can backbench MPs not influence financial policy, they cant influence policy of any kind except in the most unusual of circumstances.
In the event, however, the Korean War broke out in 1950 and the infusion of new cash as a result meant that the depression did not happen. On the contrary, the willingness of the Bank of Canada to help the government finance that war, too, with zero cost money, was a major contributor to the 15 golden years that followed.
My other big omission (from the interview) was the fact that I had persuaded Pierre Trudeau that I was right, but not until he was no longer leader of the party. We had lunch together at the Hilton Hotel in Montreal and I went over some of the essentials with him again. At first he didnt seem too interested but then I reported on some econometric results of simulations that had been done for me by Mike McCracken, president of Informetrica Ltd., and little by little he became very interested. He felt that the time had come when the party should adopt the policy and make it an essential issue in the election. He suggested that the party should find a seat for me and gave me the names of 3 or 4 of his top insiders that I should talk to. May God go with you, he said, in parting. (He actually paid for the lunch which in itself was historic.)
Unfortunately the insiders that he said I should contact included people like Coutts and Davey, who had been members of his inner circle, but no longer held a similar place with the Chr鴩en regime. So in spite of some very nice words from time-to-time as I did the rounds, nothing happened.
Finally, if I had had time, I would have answered the question as to why no one had undertaken the reforms before now.
For many years I used to give a medical analogy. It went like this.
In the mid-19th century a Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, was working in a hospital in Vienna. He became deeply distressed by the very high mortality rate from childbed fever. One day inspiration struck, and he was sure he knew the reason why. So he wrote a paper about it and showed it to his medical colleagues. The doctors were incensed. We are university graduates, they exclaimed, and you are not going to insult our intelligence with your simplistic solutions. They took away his license to practice and drummed him out of the hospital.
Almost two decades passed before first Louis Pasteur, and then British scientist Joseph Lister, authenticated Semmelweis discovery. The problem was that doctors had not been washing their hands when going from cadavers to live patients and from one patient to another. So for almost 20 years hundreds of women all across Europe died unnecessarily because the educated experts of the day were too stubborn to consider the possibility that they could be wrong.
I keep wondering how many more financial crises we will have to suffer, and how many more millions of lives will be disrupted or destroyed before the educated men in the financial industry finally realize that they have been wrong all along.
posted by Steve Paikin on 9 December, 2011 at 4:54 PM