Andrew Thompson, Liberal Party Reforms and the Engagement of Ethnocultural Communities, 1957 to 1961

By Falconer, Thirstan | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Andrew Thompson, Liberal Party Reforms and the Engagement of Ethnocultural Communities, 1957 to 1961


Falconer, Thirstan, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


INTRODUCTION

Former Pearson Advisor Richard O'Hagan remembers Andrew Thompson as a charming and captivating political operative. "He had these friends in high places" O'Hagan recalls "who were influential and who helped him" (O'Hagan, 12 December 2015). Thompson was hired by Lester Pearson to repair the Liberal Party's relationship with ethnocultural communities. The Belfast-born Social Worker rose to prominence with his strong oratory skills and his knack for political organization. Most importantly though, Andy, as he was known to his friends, was well liked, especially by Pearson and his close advisor Walter Gordon.

In the wake of the 1958 federal election, the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition against a large and inexperienced Progressive Conservative majority government. P.E. Bryden explains that in an election where the old guard of the Liberal Party had been rejected by the Canadian electorate, Pearson's Liberals "engaged in a quiet battle for control of the party." This conflict emerged as the Liberal Party's old guard spent much of the time after the election "discussing the relative shortcomings of the new Pearson party, offering advice, and seeking influence" (Bryden 1997, 47-48). These debates happened while the party undertook serious organizational and strategic reforms. While these reforms were discussed early on, including after the 1957 and 1958 defeats, they continued after the arrival of Keith Davey as the National Director in the spring of 1961 (Davey 1986, 29). This article argues that the hiring of Toronto-area Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament Andrew Thompson as Ethnic Liaison Officer for the Liberal Party is one aspect of overall reform that the Pearson Liberals attempted in opposition. The Liberal Party debated the ways in which to include ethnocultural communities in the parliamentary system and election process. By matching the efforts of the Conservatives, Canada's two mainstream political parties redefined the typical English and French contours of Canadian politics. Thompson, the Liberal MPP for Dovercourt in Toronto, designed and began the implementation of reforms that targeted the recruitment of support from ethnocultural communities. The Liberal Party believed that voters from ethnocultural communities played a role in their defeats, and that work was required to woo them back. Historian C.P. Champion was the first to examine Thompson's efforts to engage ethnocultural communities in his broader study on the decline of British Canada. Champion argues that both the Liberals and the Conservatives "sought to win over New Canadians in a process that contributed to their integration into civic life" (Champion 2010, 163). Though the Liberal Party understood that Thompson's efforts were necessary to wrestle the allegiance of ethnocultural communities from the Tories, the Liberal Party treated ethnocultural communities as a niche, avoiding any overlap with the rest of the campaign structure. Thompson and the Liberal Party appealed to ethnocultural communities and constructed groupings to reorganize ethnocultural categories. This process of grouping, an analysis proposed by sociologist Rogers Brubaker (2002), was a political process that allowed for the emergence of ethnocultural communities as voting blocs. Unlike Champion, who examined the party's courtship of ethnocultural groups at the macro-level, this article examines the process at its inception. By using Brubaker's understanding of ethnicity and groupism, this analysis unpacks these ideas and adopts new areas of investigation to understand how the party conceived of voting blocs. The article also illustrates how the Liberal Party constructed groupings from categorizations purely in terms of gaining votes at the ballot box.

Several scholars have examined the Liberal Party's efforts for reform in the wake of the 1957 and 1958 federal elections and focused on its period as the Official Opposition. Political scientist Reginald Whitaker notes that "the manpower turnover within the party from 1957 to 1963 was tremendous" because "a brief period of defeat. …

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