BACKSTAGE

THE GROWING LIST OF “RESIGNATIONS” Alan Jarvis goes: who’s next?

BLAIR FRASER October 10 1959
BACKSTAGE

THE GROWING LIST OF “RESIGNATIONS” Alan Jarvis goes: who’s next?

BLAIR FRASER October 10 1959

THE GROWING LIST OF “RESIGNATIONS” Alan Jarvis goes: who’s next?

BACKSTAGE

AT OTTAWA

BLAIR FRASER

WHY DID THE GOVERNMENT fire Alan Jarvis, the brilliant and successful director of the National Gallery?

Officially he wasn’t fired, he just resigned without giving any reason. Jarvis’ appointment had only another eight months to run, and he stayed at his post through a very difficult period only a year ago. If he had intended to quit, that would have been the time. The obvious inference is that “resignation” is a euphemism. Speculation in Ottawa is not whether Jarvis got the axe. but why.

If this question is pressed in the House of Commons the reply may be an attempt to smear Jarvis. Already, vague hints have been emitted of complaints from Watson Sellar, the recently retired auditor-general, about the National Gallery’s accounts. There are also rumors about an unpublished letter from C. P. Fell of Toronto, who resigned in July as chairman of the National Gallery’s trustees, supposedly because of differences with Jarvis.

Neither tale is borne out by inquiry. Sellar did criticize the method of paying one gallery account for which parliament had not yet voted the money, but his criticism was directed at the treasury board, a committee of the Diefenbaker cabinet. He also let it be known, privately, that he considered the gallery’s bookkeeping methods somewhat old-fashioned and clumsy. Both complaints were minor and highly technical.

As for Chairman Fell, it's no secret that he and Alan Jarvis did have some differences, but Fell’s friends are positive that this wasn’t why he quit. His

major reason, they say, was his belief that the government went back on its word when it refused to go through with the purchase of two paintings by old masters last year.

One was by the great Dutch artist Pieter Breughel, the other by Lorenzo Monaco. Both are acknowledged masterpieces, such as the gallery had been buying for several years to the envious plaudits of collectors abroad. The chance to buy these two came up in the spring of 1958, when the Diefenbaker government was campaigning for re-election.

The reason why the National Gallery was able to negotiate for them at all was that the previous government, five years before, had given it authority to buy pictures up to a total value of two million dollars. When the change of government took place in 1957, about four hundred and fifty thousand dollars remained of this authorization.

The question was, would the new government renew the authority given by the Liberals? When the question was first put to the cabinet, the answer was no. A second request had better luck— Jarvis got explicit authority to buy at stated prices. If he could get the Breughel for three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, instead of the four hundred thousand dollars that was being asked, then he could also buy the Monaco for anything up to one hundred thousand dollars. He got it for ninety thousand dollars.

Jarvis never did receive this authority in writing. He got the word by telephone, but he took the precaution of

calling back and confirming it, in the presence of a witness. Chairman Fell and the trustees were convinced that he had indeed got the authorization, fully confirmed, before telephoning to London to say that Canada would buy the pictures at the agreed price. The next day, after confirming the telephone call by cable. Jarvis left on a long-planned trip to Europe.

A week later the cabinet reversed its decision. Jarvis was so informed, by transatlantic telephone, and instructed to cancel the deal. The art dealer refused to accept the cancellation and threatened to sue the Canadian government; it w'as this threat of legal proceedings that brought the whole squabble into the open, just a year ago. In the end the dealer decided not to sue and sold the pictures elsewhere, but meanwhile Canada had got a lot of highly unfavorable publicity.

Chairman Fell and some of his trustees considered resigning at the time, in protest against the government’s decision to welsh on the bargain, but they w'erc persuaded to stay on. Some argued that to quit then would give the impression that the trustees were in the wrong and none of them thought they were. Friends of Fell are convinced, though, that he never really changed his mind about resigning, and that this is why he did so last July, whatever additional reasons he may have had.

As for Jarvis, there were many in Ottawa who prophesied immediately that he w’ould be dismissed at the government’s earliest convenience. These prophets are now sure that they were right.

The irony is that it was Jarvis himself who suggested, to his then minister Jack Pickersgill, that his appointment should be for five years only. This was a new arrangement. Jarvis’ predecessor had beta a civil servant with all the normal immunities thereof; Jarvis, too, had come in by winning a civil service examination and was entitled to the same protection.

Probably it wouldn’t have mattered in the end. Mitchell Sharp, the deputy minister of Trade and Commerce, who was the first top man to leave the government service after the election, was never formally dismissed either. He, too, “resigned”—to accept another and better-paying job. But anyone who knows Sharp knows that he wouldn’t have left the government service for any amount of money, if he hadn’t been frozen out by his new minister, Gordon Churchill, who didn't trust anyone the Grits had trusted.

Most of the other notable resignations have been real. Davidson Dunton left the CBC for Carleton University, still on excellent personal terms with the CBC’s cabinet spokesman George Nowlan; Douglas LePan, the distinguished Canadian poet who was a senior official in External Affairs, accepted an offer from Queen’s University, and so on through a lengthening list of departures. Some at least would probably have taken these outside opportunities anyway, even if the government had not changed.

What worries some Conservatives is not that these brilliant men have left, but that they are not being replaced. The old flair for picking the right man, which built a civil service in which all parties now take pride, has not yet been developed by the newcomers to office. They have resisted, in the main, the temptation to bring in political hacks, but even their most virtuous appointments have not always worked out well.

The CBC is the outstanding example. Here the new government behaved perfectly, so far as appointments were concerned. Davidson Dunton, the old chairman, left of his own accord; the Conservatives made no attempt to use his job as a political plum but simply promoted the next two men in line. But the result of this impeccable course, by a combination of bad luck and bad judgment, has been disaster.

Now there are some indications, mere straws in the wind so far, that the Tories may have some more vacancies to fill before they have time to complete their search for a pool of talent. Some ministers have been growing restive as deputies and division chiefs refuse to give contracts to anyone but the lowest bidder, or jobs to anyone but the winner of a civil service competition; some deputies have been growing even more restive, fending off suggestions that they change this policy.

Probably the biggest question mark, though, and the man on whom most eyes are fixed, is one who up to now has been entirely content. General Hugh Young, a happy deputy minister of Public Works with Liberal Robert Winters and Conservative Howard Green, now has David Walker as his boss. If Walker is as deaf as Green used to be to appeals from backbenchers for political patronage, then Conservative MPs will be horribly disappointed. If. on the other hand, he starts listening to pork-hungry politicians, Hugh Young will be very unhappy. It will be interesting to see what happens, -fc