THE opening of a new era in the political life of Canada is virtually assured now that Mr. Mackenzie King, addressing the National Liberal Federation at its recent annual meeting, reiterated his desire to be relieved of the leadership of his party, which he has held since 1919. He advised the party to hold a national convention without undue delay. True, following his habitual practice, he hedged his pronouncement with some mystifying reservations which can be interpreted as indicating a willingness to be "drafted" by the convention for another spell of office; but his intimates insist that he has no real desire for a fresh mandate, and arrangements for holding the Liberal convention in the late summer are now being made.

It would be premature to attempt any final appraisal of the value of Mr. King's contributions to the fortunes of his country since he came to Ottawa as a civil servant in 1900. Some years must elapse before the full fruits of many of his actions and policies can be garnered and judged on their merits. But even his bitterest opponents will admit that with the possible exception of Lloyd George the British Commonwealth has not in this century produced his peer as a political technician. Only a supreme master of the arts of political legerdemain could have achieved the remarkable and paradoxical feat of securing, mainly by the support of Roman Catholic conservatives (as most of the voters of French Canada are), a prolonged ascendancy for Liberalism in an age when it had ceased to be an effective political force in other countries. Only a virtuoso endowed with superlative dexterity and tireless pertinacity in the craft of manipulating public opinion and suppressing unpleasant issues could have survived three grave political scandals which occurred while ministries led by Mr. King were in office: the customs scandal of 1925; the scandal of the so-called constitutional crisis of 1926; and, worst of all, the scandal of the Beauharnois power contracts, involving valuable power rights on the St. Lawrence and a contribution of over $700,000 to the Liberal Party's campaign fund before the 1930 elections. These episodes would have ended the career of most political leaders, but Mr. King was fortunate in the blunders of his opponents and secured fresh mandates.

The cold eye of history will nevertheless take scant account of Mr. King's amazing success as a winner of elections when it examines the record of his statesmanship. That record has some blemishes. The gravest count against him will be in the field of foreign policy, of which, as Minister for External Affairs, he took personal charge in all his administrations up to 1946. During the decades between the two world wars he was the only Liberal, apart from Field Marshal Smuts, who enjoyed real political power in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Succumbing to the influence of the isolationists of Quebec, this leader of Canadian Liberalism gave only lukewarm support to the League of Nations, which was a great liberal experiment, and in 1935 he actually dealt a deathblow to its authority; for after the Canadian representative in Geneva had moved a resolution for the enforcement of oil sanctions against Italy, Mr. King's Government repudiated his action, with the result that the resolution was withdrawn and a chance of curbing Mussolini's aggressions was lost.

By profession, Mr. King was and is an ardent nationalist and anti-imperialist, but in his relations with British Governments he has all too often been a timorous colonial. If, when he regained power in 1935, he had made one brave speech insisting that the British Commonwealth must uphold the system of collective security with all its combined resources and stand up to the dictators before it was too late, the British Government then in office, dominated as it was by Conservatives, who always profess great concern about the attitude of the Dominions, would not have dared to persevere with the calamitous policies of appeasement upon which it had embarked. Mr. King's reinforcement of Mr. Churchill, Mr. Attlee and other opponents of these policies would have been decisive. Instead, fearful of the consequences of a European war for his own domestic political fortunes, Mr. King was content to acquiesce complaisantly in the fatal retreat before Fascism, engineered by a Tory Ministry, the worst that Britain has known since the days of Lord North. As a war leader he was reasonably effective, for he had the good sense to give efficient ministers a free hand for managing their departments; but his vacillating courses about recruiting policy for the armed forces of Canada revived in acute form the racial cleavage which has so often bedevilled Canadian life.

By far the greatest item on the credit side in Mr. King's balance sheet is his lifelong interest in industrial problems and social reforms. He has been able to remedy in some degree Canada's backwardness in the latter field. And it was also fortunate during the war that Canada had in office a statesman who had always favored close coöperative relations between his own country and the United States and was able to promote them by his personal friendship with Franklin D. Roosevelt.

On the surface, the parliamentary position of the Liberal Party, which has been continuously in power since 1935, looks very precarious. In a House of Commons of 245 members it has only 127 reliable supporters. In reality it is reasonably secure, because the wide cleavage between the ideologies and practical programs of the three opposition groups -- the Progressive-Conservatives, the Coöperative Commonwealth Federation and the Social Crediters -- makes the combination of the three on any important issue very difficult. Indeed, in any division one of the three can usually be counted upon to vote with the Government. At the last general election the Liberals won a parliamentary majority with a minority of the total popular vote, but recent by-elections and Gallup polls reveal that they have still a substantial lead in popular favor over any of the opposition parties.

But this situation does not prevent deep misgivings among sincere Canadian Liberals about the moral health of their party, and they would fain have seen the eloquent dissertations of Mr. King about the glorious principles of Liberalism matched by firm anchorage for them in the policies of his Government. There have been many grave departures from them, such as the failure to exercise the federal authority's right of veto against the monstrous "padlock law," passed by the Duplessis Ministry of Quebec, which obliterated fundamental freedoms of the press; the denial of elementary rights of justice to the persons arrested for complicity in the espionage activities of the Russian Embassy at Ottawa; and the harsh and unjust treatment meted out to the Japanese nationals of Canada during the war years. Nor has there been much fidelity to Liberal tenets in the economic sphere. The drastic trade restrictions of the King Ministry's new austerity program have lately been branded by the Winnipeg Free Press, the leading Liberal paper of Canada, as "viciously protectionist." "What's wrong with the Liberals?" was the theme of an article written for Maclean's Magazine by a prominent Liberal, Major C. G. Power, M.P., who has sat in the Commons since 1917 and who during the war was an efficient Minister for Air before his resignation from the King Cabinet in 1944 on a question of principle. He arraigned his party for "expediency and backsliding," which he traced to "the office-holding mania."

Though personal popularity has always eluded Mr. King, the fact remains that he has led one of the historic parties of Canada for 28 years and held the office of Prime Minister longer than any of his predecessors. This inevitably has given him the halo of a political Nestor, and his retirement will leave an enormous vacuum in Canada's public life. Great changes are to be expected.

The Liberal Party is fortunate in having a number of competent and experienced politicians available for its leadership. On the score of seniority in the ministerial hierarchy, Mr. Ilsley, the Minister of Justice, and Mr. Gardiner, the Minister of Agriculture, have both strong claims; and Mr. Howe, now Minister of Trade and Commerce, would be a popular choice with the business and financial worlds. But now that Mr. Louis St. Laurent, the Minister for External Affairs, has decided to remain in public life and has intimated his willingness to accept the leadership if it is offered to him, he has a clear lead over all other competitors. At a Liberal convention he could count upon the solid support of his racial compatriots from French-Canada, whose influence in the councils of Canadian Liberalism can be gauged from the fact that out of the 127 regular supporters of the King Ministry in the present House of Commons no fewer than 80 are either French Canadians or owe their seats to a solid bloc of French Canadian votes. Moreover, since Mr. St. Laurent, whose mother was Irish, is singularly free from the extreme racialism which afflicts so many French Canadian politicians, and speaks English with the same facility as French, he will get the votes of many delegates from the English speaking provinces. These realize that a leader who is certain to carry all but a fraction of the federal seats in Quebec, increased from 65 to 73 by the latest Redistribution Bill, could lay a good foundation for another Liberal victory. His one serious disability is his age, 66 on February 1 of this year. Many of the younger Liberals in English-speaking Canada would prefer to entrust the destinies of the party to a leader on the right side of fifty. But all the omens indicate that unless Mr. King changes his mind Mr. St. Laurent before the end of 1948 will become the second French Canadian to be Prime Minister of Canada.

Mr. St. Laurent is by far the ablest and most attractive politician that Quebec has sent to Ottawa since Sir Wilfrid Laurier died and Henri Bourassa retired to private life. He rose in his profession to be a recognized leader of the bar of Quebec and enjoyed nationwide prestige as a first-rate counsel, but although he had always been a strong Liberal he had never sought public office or taken any active part in politics until in December 1941, when he was on the verge of his sixtieth birthday, Mr. King persuaded him to leave his large law practice and take the post of Minister of Justice. Within a year he had effectively refuted the common theory that eminent lawyers who take to politics late in life seldom attain the front rank. He became one of the most formidable debaters on the ministerial front bench and no lawyer of his quality has been in charge of the Department of Justice for many a long day. Mr. King came to regard him as his ablest colleague, and in 1946 when he found that the burden of the Ministry of External Affairs was too heavy to carry along with the duties of the Premiership, he handed over the former to Mr. St. Laurent. In the arena of international politics Mr. St. Laurent has so far acquitted himself with marked credit.

The Liberal Party under Mr. King has followed a path right of center, and under Mr. St. Laurent, whose work as a counsel for large corporations has given him kindly feelings for "big business," it will not be allowed to move far leftward. On the tariff issue he can be classified as a moderate protectionist and he is strongly opposed to socialistic experiments; but he has been a consistent advocate of the Government's social security program, of which one item, the system of family allowances, is very popular in Quebec, where families are notoriously large. As a devout Roman Catholic he disapproves of the liberalization of the divorce laws of Canada, which are absurdly archaic, but in politics he is no docile lackey of his Church, as he proved when, in defiance of the wishes of the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Quebec, he voted in the Assembly of the United Nations for the condemnation of the Franco régime in Spain.

Mr. St. Laurent may not be able to match the skill of Mr. King as a political mechanician and under certain circumstances might have difficulty in preserving the unity of the Liberal Party, but he will lead it with ability and distinction and maintain the best traditions of Canadian public life. He will have to reorganize the Cabinet, as some of its older members want early release from the cares of office, and he will inherit the difficult economic problems involved in the maintenance of Canada's present high scale of prosperity. He has been one of the architects of the drastic new austerity program, devised to cope with the acute crisis produced by the shortage of American dollar exchange, which has impaired the popularity of the Government. Its measure of success will have an important bearing upon the fortunes of the Liberal Party at the next general election. There is likely to be a swing of the pendulum against a party which has been in power more than a dozen years; and failure of the austerity program might well give the extra momentum to this "normal" swing and terminate the long ascendancy of the Liberals.

II

In 1941 the Conservative Party of Canada prefixed the word "Progressive" to its name -- a sign of the serious recession in fortune which it had undergone from the position enjoyed by it for nearly 70 years after Confederation. During that period it was always able to compete on even terms for the popular vote with its historic rival, the Liberal Party, and to secure an equal share of power. The decline in its fortunes began in 1917. At that time its French Canadian supporters, who in the days of Sir John Macdonald had been the most solid core of its voting strength, became so antagonized by the imposition of military conscription by a Coalition Ministry headed by a Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, that they seceded almost en masse to the Liberal Party, which under Laurier opposed conscription. Since then there has been no recovery by Conservatism of its lost legions in Quebec. Only in one federal election, that of 1930, when special circumstances enabled the late Lord Bennett to carry some 24 seats in that province, has the Conservative Party been able to make any serious dent in the walls of what has been for 30 years the chief stronghold of Canadian Liberalism. Today the Conservatives have only two representatives from Quebec in the federal House of Commons and not a single spokesman in the provincial legislature; and its organization is for all practical purposes defunct in many constituencies in the province. The cold unescapable truth is that as long as votes for the Progressive-Conservative party of Canada cannot be drawn in substantial numbers from the fundamental reservoir of conservatism, which is French Canada, there are not enough Conservatives available in the rest of Canada to provide a working majority at Ottawa.

After the retirement and departure for Britain of Lord Bennett in 1937 the fortunes of the Conservative Party deteriorated steadily under leaders of inferior caliber. An effort was made to repair them at a national convention of the Party held in Winnipeg in 1942, when a new program which moved the Party slightly leftward was adopted and the progressive label was affixed. A surprising choice of a new leader was made in the person of Mr. John Bracken, who, styling himself a "Liberal Progressive," had made his political reputation by an uninterrupted tenure of the Premiership of Manitoba for 20 years. The motive behind this choice of a politician whose only previous sign of sympathy with Conservative policies had been his outright condemnation of the recruiting policies of the King Ministry, was reasonably intelligible. In the urban communities thousands of industrial workers, whose interest in the protection of industries had made them vote Conservative, in recent years had been allured by the Socialist program of the C.C.F. The managers of the Conservative Party cherished the idea that Mr. Bracken, who had been head of an agricultural college before he entered politics and who had been a persistent champion of the cause of the western agrarians, would be able to compensate the Party for its loss of urban support by attracting to its banner a large number of Liberal agriculturalists.

At Ottawa Mr. Bracken has proved himself an honest and industrious party leader, but he has so far failed to capture the imagination of the country. Moreover, the small number of rural seats which the Conservatives gained in the general election of 1945 did not measure up to the hopes of his sponsors. The Party did nevertheless at that election secure some reinforcement of both the numbers and the quality of its representation in the House of Commons. During the last two sessions of Parliament it has performed with creditable efficiency the duties of an official opposition, for which it showed deplorable incapacity during the war years. In its policies it lays greater stress than the Liberals upon the maintenance of the solidarity of the British Commonwealth and the encouragement of immigration, and it also favors a higher scale of tariff duties; but the other features of its program are almost indistinguishable from the prescriptions of Liberalism and, lacking any definite philosophy as a guide to its actions, it has exposed itself to the charge of barefaced opportunism on a number of issues.

One wing of the Party would like to raise issues like the encouragement of immigration from Britain, which would make the next election turn upon the domination of French Canadian influence at Ottawa. But Mr. Bracken, a very cautious man, has preferred to disregard the numerous rebuffs received at the hands of the French Canadian voters and to persevere with an assiduous wooing of Quebec. For this enterprise no headway can so far be recorded. But at the same time the Progressive-Conservatives have a potential ally in Quebec in the shape of the Union Nationale Party. This, as the main opposition force to the Liberals in Quebec, has filled the vacuum created by the virtual disappearance of the older Party except in a few urban constituencies where English-speaking voters are in a majority. Under the astute leadership of the present Premier of Quebec, Mr. Maurice Duplessis, it secured control of the provincial legislature in 1939 and held it for more than three years; and after an interval of opposition it regained it in 1944. Recent by-elections indicate that it has gained rather than lost favor with the Quebec voters.

Premier Duplessis was originally a Conservative and his attitude towards workers on strike and some of his measures like the notorious "padlock law," previously referred to, would seem to brand him as a thoroughgoing reactionary. Yet he is tied to no fixed moorings of principle and not long ago, despite his persistent fulminations against Socialism, he brought under public ownership the Montreal Light Heat and Power Co., the largest power corporation in the province. On the war and other issues he has been an inveterate enemy of the Liberal Ministry at Ottawa, but so far he has preserved complete neutrality in federal elections and refused to put the well-disciplined machine of the Union Nationale Party at the disposal of the Progressive-Conservatives who pleaded for his help. Now, however, he has come into sharp collision with the King Ministry over its scheme for a much greater centralization of financial control at Ottawa. The theory behind this plan is that the benefits of the ambitious program of social security which the Liberal Party has sponsored must be distributed on the same basis to all the citizens of Canada and that this aim can be achieved only through the agency of the federal taxing power; in no other way could the wealthier provinces be made to contribute to the needs of the poorer. Naturally such a scheme appeals to the poorer provinces and seven of them have been induced to sign agreements with the Federal Government. Under these agreements they have undertaken to withdraw completely from certain fields of taxation, income tax and death duties, in return for a very substantial enlargement of the annual subsidies paid by the Federal Treasury to the provinces under the pact of Confederation.

But Ontario and Quebec, which between them contain more than two-thirds of the total population of Canada and hold within their bounds an even larger proportion of her wealth and industrial power, do not relish the idea of functioning as milch-cows for the benefit of the poorer provinces. As a result, the Duplessis Ministry of Quebec and the Progressive-Conservative Ministry of Colonel Drew in Ontario have made common cause in refusing their acquiescence to this plan. Both Mr. Duplessis and Colonel Drew take the ground that, if control of two of the most important sources of provincial revenue is handed over to the federal authority, the provincial governments, reduced to the status of pensioners of Ottawa, will be tied hand and foot in the formulation of policies on many questions. As a result, they argue, the basic structure of Confederation, which sought to provide a large measure of local autonomy for the provinces, would be irretrievably undermined with disastrous results. This argument is particularly powerful in Quebec, where the French Canadians have been traditionally jealous of their provincial rights; and Mr. Duplessis has been ringing the charges upon the thesis that if any further aggrandizement of Ottawa's authority is permitted the appetite of the centralizers will be whetted for more power and sacred French Canadian rights in religion and education might soon be in jeopardy. The evidence of recent provincial by-elections in Quebec, in which Mr. Duplessis, an able demagogue, intervened personally to make this question of greater centralization the main issue, has indicated that his attitude is popular with the French Canadian voters; for the Union Nationale Party captured what was regarded as a safe Liberal seat and increased its majority in another. Meanwhile in Ontario Colonel Drew has been crusading on similar lines and a recent deal about power developments on inter-provincial rivers is interpreted as further evidence of the rapprochement which has developed between the two provincial premiers.

At present the Progressive-Conservative Party at Ottawa has contented itself with criticisms of the details of the King Ministry's scheme, largely because Mr. Bracken's endorsement of its chief features, when he was Premier of Manitoba, debars them from outright opposition to it. But a considerable element in the party feel that not only is Mr. Bracken's commitment on this issue a great handicap but that his general leadership is not sufficiently forceful. They would like to replace him as federal leader with Colonel Drew, a much more aggressive politician. The hope would be that if Colonel Drew, as leader of the opposition at Ottawa, could make provincial rights the dominating issue of the next general election, Mr. Duplessis would bring into action for it in Quebec his well-oiled provincial machine and that between them they could sweep their two provinces which together will return 156 out of the 255 members of the next House of Commons; they then could install a Progressive-Conservative Ministry at Ottawa.

Such an alliance has obvious possibilities, but its permanence would be doubtful. For one thing, Colonel Drew is an ardent imperialist who wants to solidify Canada's connection with Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth, while Mr. Duplessis is an equally ardent isolationist who went so far as to oppose Canada's participation in the late war. Again, Colonel Drew, challenging the authority of the Federal Government to control immigration, has been bringing in British immigrants to Ontario by air and Mr. Duplessis must take cognizance of the ingrained hostility of the French Canadians to any special encouragement of British immigration. But even a Liberal paper like the Winnipeg Free Press says it would welcome in the national interest some invigoration of the policies and leadership of the Progressive-Conservative Party.

III

The Socialist Party of Canada bears the clumsy title of the Coöperative Commonwealth Federation and is popularly known as the C.C.F. It has a valuable asset in its leader, Mr. M. J. Cold-well, a native of England, who is by common consent the ablest parliamentarian in the House of Commons and is highly respected throughout the country. He has the rare gift of being able to present radical views in moderate language, and though he remains an idealist he has also mastered the arts of politics. His party's contingent of 28 members in the Commons is not a fair representation of its popular strength, but it cannot offer any serious challenge to the two senior parties until it increases its present negligible following in the territory lying east of the Ottawa River, which returns about two-fifths of the present membership of the federal House of Commons. Recent by-elections show that it has been gaining ground in the Maritime provinces, but in Quebec the frowns of the Roman Catholic Church upon Socialism keep it a feeble plant.

The C.C.F. had drawn its chief support from the urban areas and mining areas and made little headway in the rural districts until in 1944 the voters of Saskatchewan, of whom two-thirds are agrarians, not so much through enthusiasm for Socialism as from disgust with the activities of a discredited Liberal political machine, ejected its local controllers from office in a provincial election and gave the C.C.F. the first chance in Canada for the practical application of a Socialist program. The C.C.F. Ministry was headed by a Scottish-born clergyman, T. C. Douglas, who had made a good reputation in the federal Parliament. His Ministry, living up to its pledges to build a new economic order for Saskatchewan on collectivist lines, has already passed a series of measures which are viewed askance in financial and industrial circles in eastern Canada.

The Douglas Ministry has inaugurated a state medical service, gone into the insurance business, established a Power Commission which aspires to control all the power plants in the province, and set up a transportation company to run bus services. It has also embarked upon state-owned enterprises for manufacturing woollen goods, footwear, boxes, clay products and tanned goods and has created timber and fish boards and a fur-marketing service. From its inception, the Power Commission has been able to show good profits; and spokesmen of the Ministry, while admitting a few failures among the other collectivist ventures, claim for the majority of them a creditable success now that initial handicaps created by shortages of raw material and skilled labor have been overcome. But critics of the Ministry contend that its accounting methods in connection with these enterprises are not in conformity with the practices of sound business management and that the effort to emancipate the people of Saskatchewan from subservience to the eastern manufacturing interests will in the long run prove very costly. Nevertheless, on the evidence of by-elections, it seems still to have the approval of the agrarian voters of the province; while the Liberals, now under a new leader, Mr. W. E. Tucker, seem to have so little confidence in their ability to win the next provincial election on their own account that they are now adopting tactics followed successfully by their brethren in Manitoba and British Columbia and trying to work out a cooperative arrangement with the local Conservatives. Meanwhile, the C.C.F. leaders in Canada are finding that the difficulties of the Attlee Ministry in Britain and the superabundant prosperity of the United States under a system of free enterprise handicap their efforts to make converts to their creed. If the slump predicted by Moscow descends upon the North American continent, it would bring grist to the mills of the C.C.F.

The C.C.F. has no more bitter enemies than its two smaller competitors for the Leftist vote of Canada, the Communists and the Social Crediters. The former, who now disguise themselves under the label Labor-Progressive, have no longer any representation at Ottawa, since their solitary member in the Commons, Mr. Rose, was sentenced to imprisonment for his activities as an agent of the Russian Embassy and subsequently expelled from Parliament. His complicity and that of other Communist leaders in subversive plots has brought their whole party into disrepute. It still has a hard core of fanatical supporters, who toe the line dictated from Moscow, but its membership has shrunk seriously and its recent attempt to start a daily paper in Toronto has proved a complete fiasco and been abandoned. So at the moment the Labor-Progressive Party has only a nuisance value.

The Social Credit Party has controlled the provincial government of Alberta and carried most of the federal seats in the province regularly since it made its sudden debut in a provincial election in 1935. It has given reasonably honest and efficient administration to Alberta and the popularity which its compulsory cutting of interest rates on public and private bonds has earned with the debtor classes has helped it to gloss over its complete failure to inaugurate any system of Social Credit. Blame for this failure is placed at the door of a sinister conspiracy of the Federal Government, the eastern financial interests and a servile biased judiciary, which has pronounced much of their monetary and other legislation unconstitutional. Up till two years ago, the Social Credit Party had few followers outside of Alberta, but it has now created for itself a nationwide organization and seems to have made a substantial number of converts in French-Canada, where some of the younger Roman Catholic clergy, forbidden by their superiors to espouse the Socialist cause, are attracted by its bizarre creed. At any rate, a year ago a youthful candidate who professed the Social Credit faith and was backed by a local organization called "La Union des electeurs du Pontiac" created a political sensation by wresting from the Government the Pontiac division of Quebec, regarded as a safe Liberal seat. Encouraged by this success, "Unions des electeurs" have emerged in other constituencies in Quebec, and the Liberal press charges that the Progressive-Conservative leaders, despairing of gaining any seats in Quebec with their own candidates, are giving surreptitious encouragement to this new movement as a potential ally against the Liberals. But outside of Alberta and Quebec the Social Credit Party has suffered in prestige from the sorry figure cut at Ottawa by its present contingent of 14 members, led by a gentleman of the Mormon faith called Solon Low. They weary the House with their persistent advocacy, in an unintelligible jargon, of their pet panacea for the social and financial ills of the world and their contributions to debates on other subjects have been pathetically puerile. Their favorite thesis is that a gang of wicked international financiers hold the whole world in its baneful grip and that the United Nations and its affiliated organizations are simply instruments devised by these villains for the perpetuation of this control. Most of them, believing that Jews dominate this sinister ring of financiers, are violent anti-Semites; their antipathy to internationalism in any shape or form makes them ardent imperialists; while their loathing of Socialism makes them hot-gospellers of the system of free enterprise and opponents of collectivism.

One of Canada's great needs is the creation of a vigorous leftist party commanding nationwide support; but this cannot be accomplished as long as the voters of the Left split up into three separate factions which waste their energies in mutual warfare. In these feuds personal enmities play a considerable part, but some day, helped by the operations of mortality, a consolidation of the leftist vote of Canada behind a single party will be achieved. When that time arrives, the Liberal and Conservative politicians will move swiftly to terminate their present competition for the rightist vote and merge their parties. Beneficial results will be the restoration of the bi-party alignment which prevailed till 1921 and the establishment of a healthier condition in Canada's political life.

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  • J. A. STEVENSON, formerly Canadian Correspondent of the London Times and leader writer for the Toronto Globe and Mail
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