(Editor’s note: Arch MacKenzie, a longtime Parliament Hill reporter and Canadian Press bureau chief, died of pneumonia in 2014 at age 88. In his last interview MacKenzie recalled parliamentary personalities – good and bad – from the 1950s. Following is an transcription of his interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan on October 14, 2009)
The Press Gallery today is huge by comparison to what it used to be. We had about 75 members in those days. It was a much cosier club, and on better terms with politicians. I don’t think publishers who ran the newspapers expected to see blood on the floor.
The worst MP I ever saw? John Blackmore.* People couldn’t understand how he kept getting elected in Alberta – except it was Alberta. He was a kook, just out of control, and a blatherskite. He became a figure of fun in the Press Gallery because of the silly things he did, but with a dark, racist tone.
Anti-Semitism was not uncommon in those days. They would not put a Jewish Minister in cabinet. David Croll became the first Jewish Senator in 1955. There were about a dozen people who did any work at all in the Senate at that time, and Croll was one of them.
This was a very capable man. He’d been mayor of Windsor, an Ontario cabinet minister. He had a voice and tried to get things done, but they wouldn’t put him in the federal cabinet. He was the only Liberal MP elected in Toronto and they still wouldn’t put him in cabinet – because he was Jewish.
There were personalities in those days, and reporters were close to them. John Diefenbaker was an old criminal lawyer and a very effective one; the sense of the courtroom never left him. He was emphatic in the extreme!
Reporters would flock around him after cabinet meetings and Diefenbaker would hold court. He’d hold court in the Commons lobby after Question Period. He was not particularly friendly with media – there were a lot of people he didn’t like – but he always seemed to be surrounded by reporters. That’s how it worked in those days. Relations between the press and the Commons were much more congenial.
I liked Lester Pearson. He was a very genuine fellow. I remember him in election campaigns – I remember his warmth, and what seemed genuine appreciation in meeting people.
They gave him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957; this was a first for Canada. In those days people were proud of anybody who got out on the world stage. I think Pearson was effective; he was the best-known Canadian in the world.
Like I say, reporters were closer to their subjects in those days. That’s gone now, I guess.
(*Blackmore, a six-term Social Credit MP from Lethbridge, was defeated along with the entire Socred caucus in 1958. Blackmore in 1954 sought a federal commission to probe an “imperialist conspiracy of Eastern European Reds of Mongol and Turkic affinities”, and was once cited for using his House mailing privileges to distribute anti-Semitic literature. He died in 1971)