THE RISE OF MEIGHEN
Being the Tale of What Happened at Ottawa
J. K. MUNRO
THE political wheel has taken another turn. Just a month ago Sir Robert Borden had slipped back into his place looking healthy, well groomed
and at peace with all the world. It looked on the surface as if the Union Government had resumed its general drift towards 1922 and dissolution with nothing but distant mutterings to disturb its solemn and dignified calm. Not by word of mouth had the Premier indicated even to his colleagues in the Cabinet that be had the slightest intention of shuffling off the political coil.
To-day there is a new King in Ottawa. Hon. Arthur Meighen, who twelve years ago was a struggling young lawyer in Portage la Prairie, wields the sceptre. Everything is changed except the general drift. That goes on and on and continues to be the Union Government’s only asset. But pardon the slip of the pen. It is no longer the Union Government. It is now the administration of the National Liberal and Conservative Party. One of the last edicts of the good Sir Robert changed the name. But it is the old case of the rose under any other name refusing to give off a different odor. For the Cabinet contains the same old faces with one notable exception. Hon. Wesley Rowell has packed his uplift in his little truck and moved into a more congenial atmosphere. Of course Hon. Martin Burrill has also retreated to the Parliamentary Library. But he’ll create quite as much stir there as he did on the Treasury benches. For Hon. Martin is an inoffensive chap, a thorough English gentleman who plays a nice game of golf, but who will slip out of the political scenery without leaving even a vacancy that must be filled.
A Real Caucus This
BUT all this is ahead of the story. That story starts like some other chunks of Canadian history, with July 1st. Through the previous weeks, while the statesmen were spending millions for the country and picking off a trifle for themselves in the shape of increased indemnities, Sir Robert had intimated once or twice that the boys should stick around as there was to be a real live little caucus after the show in the big tent had closed down. Most of them stayed, more out of curiosity than from any fixed idea that anything would happen. They had become so accustomed to Sir Robert resigning and being coaxed back into the harness by the tears and cheers of the caucus that they rather looked on the whole performance as a bit of a bore. But they owed something to a Premier who had just granted a raise of wages all round. So they stuck and the Dominion Day caucus was somewhat of a success in regard to attendance. And those members who drowsed through the early part of Sir Robert’s hour long address sat up and began to rub their eyes towards the finish. Then and not till then did it dawn on them that, their ailing chief intended to resign and to stay resigned. For once in his life Sir Robert spoke in tones that none could fail to understand. He told of his failing health, that he might bear up under the burdens of office for a month or two or even a year or two but that, the break must come sooner or later. It might come during a campaign or on the brink of an elec-
tion. ’Twere better far to do their parting now than to postpone it ’til perhaps he was in the hospital and themselves in the throes of political dissolution.
For once the voice of entreaty was hushed. There was none so selfish as to ask his self-sacrificing chief to again lay himself on the altar of his country. Even good old Sir George Foster, the leader of the sob chorus, dried his eyes as he reflected that the man who was as much a casualty of the war as if he had stood in the front line trenches was entitled to demobilization now that peace had settled over a troubled world. Moreover, everybody was too busy wondering who the new Premier would be to give much thought to the old one. It was ever thus: the homage goes to the King who reigns. The dead one has to be satisfied with a notice in the obituary column and a nice marble tombstone.
The Tories Take a Hand
\ NYWAY that leadership problem was so perplexing Y*that the caucus took a couple of hours off to think it over. Parliament was prorogued as they thought but that did not interfere with profundity. It is one of the jobs for which a grateful country pays its GovernorGeneral.
Back in the caucus room the Cabinet made its first
move. It obligingly suggested that it relieve the caucus of the work of selecting a successor to Sir Robert. Strange to say the old Tory element, who form about 85 per cent, of the Unionist—beg pardon National Liberal and Conservative Party—demurred. They thought they were entitled to a voice in the selection. Moreover, in recent days their hearts had been troubled. They had seen their Premier swayed by LiberalUnion counsel in certain legislation ’til it looked as if he considered their feelings as secondary to those of the Liberal Opposition. This was particularly noticeable in the construction of the new Franchise Act, where Hon. Hugh Guthrie of Liberal extraction and Hon.
James Calder of the same ilk held fre-
quent conferences with the cohorts of Mackenzie King and made the Government following swallow the results thereof. Those Tories feared the same influence in the Premier-making. The muttered growl that went up warned the Cabinet to keep off the grass.
So they talked new policy for a time and Hon. James Calder explained the beauties of that new “National Liberal and Conservative” name. It is in sections you know. And gentle James smilingly demonstrated how it could be unjointed and taken apart to allow each section to be used in the constituency it best fitted. In a Tory hive the two front sections could be dropped. In a Grit stronghold the middle length could be used to advantage. And though Hon. James left something to be inferred it has'sinee been pointed out the “National” has on at least one former occasion worked wonders in Quebec. A platform’was of course a necessary part of the equipment, so the one Sir Robert submitted to caucus last fall was brought down from the attic, dusted a bit and labelled O.K. It may or may not have been read to the caucus. That was a working meeting and only the|idle read party platforms.
To Select a Leader by Secret Ballot
\I7"HILE all this harmless chatter was under way the V V busy brains of the Cabinet were at work and when opportunity offered they had a fresh leadership proposition ready for their not too loving nor even too loyal followers. Those followers, if left to their own devices, would select Hon. Arthur Meighen as their leader. They would do this partly because he was the only Tory of suitable age and acceptable qualifications and partly because they knew he was not wanted by the rest of the Cabinet. So the proposition came from somewhere that Sir Robert Borden should exercise his prerogative and choose the name to be submitted to His Excellency but that in doing so he should be guided by letters of recommendation written by his followers and mailed to his address.
To the assembled Tories this looked like a secret ballot for the leadership and they departed wearing on their faces smiles of content and in their hearts feelings of supreme confidence that the next Premier of Canada would be a good Tory, viz.
and to wit.: one Arthur Meighen. But later in the evening the smiles soured and the confidence turned to something akin to consternation. For it was discovered that while Sir Robert would be guided he was ¿by no means to be governed by the result of the ballot. In other words the letters were merely for Sir Robert’s information. He would read and digest them and then go ahead and appoint whom he blooming well pleased.
White Could Have Won?
TT was along about here that the wires began to hum and the old Tories started to howl. “We want Meighen” was the cry that went up from the latter, while the rest of the Cabinet hunted their political bargain counter for “something just as good.” They might have found it, too, had not their intelligence department played them false. That department reported that Sir Thomas White, who sometime ago sidestepped further participation in the affairs of the nation, could be coaxed back into the arena. Acting on this information the Cabinet chorus sung an ode to White. Also they cut loose from all other candidates. They made it a straight fight between White and Meighen. They would have won too but for one little thing. That was that Sir Thomas wouldn’t have this job.
Sir Thomas was dug out of the wilds of Muskoka, brought to Ottawa on a private car by the Governor-General's secretary and offered a Premiership set out on a silver salver and all tied up with pink ribbons. He pushed it away with his open hand. He would have none of it. He said he was a sick man. But at that he wasn’t half as sick as the statesmen who sat around and saw all their schemes go a-glimmer—who saw Sir Thomas turn down the .plum each would have given his soul to get for himself and a large part of his worldly goods to keep away from Hon. Arthur Meighen.
The Fight to Oust Meighen
TT was on a Wednesday, the nearest thing to Ash Wednesday Ottawa ever knew, that most of this happened. The news spread that Sir Thomas White had refused the Premiership and that all that was left was Meighen. But still Sir Robert and his ad-
visera wrestled with their grief and vainly sought for a way out. The personal advisers were Hons. Reid, Ballantyne and Calder. You’ll notice that they were twothird Liberal-Union. It might also be added that they were three-thirds anti-Meighen. They met in the old East Block that has sheltered a Macdonald and a Laurier and sought to saye the country from a Meighen.
When the newspaper correspondents made their rounds in the morning it was Sir Robert himself who shooed them out of the corridor. “I will make a statement at four o’clock,” he said, and his manner betrayed no symptoms of hospitality. When they went back at four it was to find the block hemmed in by a cordon of secret service men and in the face of each was written that which meant “No newspaper men need apply.” From the mystery chamber came the terse announcement, “Statement at 8 p.m.” But neither did that statement come at eight. At eleven o’clock a tired but still coldly smiling Premier met the press gang and briefly said, “I will retire Saturday. Hon. Arthur Meighen will be asked to form a Government.” In less concise terms the information was conveyed that the Cabinet, with the exception of Hon. N. W. Rowell, who months and months ago had decided to return to the practice of law, and Hon. Martin Burrill, who had found a job to his liking, would serve under the new leader.
Thus were the mighty humbled and made to lick the hand of their conqueror. Thus were the wiles of a Calder set at nought by the blundering of misguided friends and failure to provide his shock force with the right kind of supports.
Could Have Put Over Drayton
1TOR in inside circles the suspicion still lingers that if the " Cabinet had not staked their all on Sir Thomas White they could have “put over” Sir Henry Drayton. The inventor of luxury taxes had strong outside support. He was acceptable to Quebec and there is a growing feeling in safe and sane society that if the Farmer invasion is to be stopped the two old manufacturing provinces will have to forget their racial and religious disputes and—but what is the use? They fought for White and fighting fell. It is all over but the cheers for Meighen.
And be it said of that loyal Cabinet, they did their best to cheer, albeit there was not much enthusiasm in the noise they produced. During that awful Wednesday it had been borne in on them that no sacrifice was too great to keep their beloved country from the horrors of a general election. Also it may have occurred to them that a minister who doffs his toga loses not only his popularity with the greater part of the péople but his stipend as well. That stipend had been but recently raised to $14,000 by their own capable hands. Had they labored that others might reap the harvest? They had not. So when Hon. Arthur stepped around and offered each of them a further occupancy of his job he touched his hat with a grateful “Thank’ee, sir.” And the ship of state sailed or drifted on with a new skipper but the same old crew.
As this is being written the Cabinet has not yet been named. But it is well known that it will be full of old familiar faces, with only here and there a man about whom the public may be curious. Two of these will come from the Maritime Provinces. No new leader can afford to start out with a Cabinet that contains no representative from east of Montreal. So somebody has to be picked from Nova Scotia and somebody from New Brunswick. The principal qualification required of applicants will be safe constituencies. And sad, sad to relate safe constituencies are even much scarcer than are statesmen. At the time of writing who can name a really safe riding between the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic seaboard? Can you?
What Manner of Man is Meighen?
AND now that Hon. Arthur Meighen has achieved his ambition—for he was the only one of the lot that got out in the open and looked for the job that is supposed to look for the man -you may be asking what manner of man he is. He is small and spare and splits the air even as he is accused of splitting hairs. He has an almost saturnine countenance. He is merciless in debate and, like most others of that ilk, is very sensitive to criticism.
And yet withal he is human and has many characteristics that win him friends. Those who know him best like him most and his head has not been turned by his rather meteoric Sight to the seats of the mighty. Though Manitobaclaimshimfor herown, even if she may perchance refuse to re-elect him, he is originally from Ontario. He was born in the old stone town of St. Marys, of poor but honest parents, and the daily papers are still booming the bread his mother bakes. He took the royal road to political greatness—from the law school to the Saw practices and thence by easy stages the head of the law factory. He knows little of men and less of the science of politics.
Amusing tales are told of how that Professor of Politics, smiling James Calder,has worked on his credulity. And right here it might be poted that Mr.Meighen is a bad forgetter, as
Hon. James and others in the Cabinet may sooner or later discover. Just at present they are his honored colleagues. When the time comes that he can dispense with their services there will be a neat row of scalps hanging in a certain wigwam,while a yelping lot of statesmen will be feeling for their hair.
Will He Reorganize
A ND it may not be very long till that time arrives either.
For Hon. Arthur realizes that his party must be reorganized beneath the shades of Opposition. Also he must know that his peculiar gifts fit him for leader of the Opposition rather than for leader of the Government. In fact he has been heard to remark jocularly that he was not a candidate for the Premiership but for Leader of the
Opposition. Moreover he is a more or less humble individual, to whom $14,000 per as Leader of the Opposition looks ample for light housekeeping. So should his Cabinet colleagues fail to respond promptly to the crack of his whip he may at any moment throw them to the wolves, or in other words the elections, and start laying the foundations of his new household. In truth, the turn of the wheel has given Hon. Arthur the whip hand over his enemies and there is not too much of the milk of human kindness coursing through his veins to keep him from wielding it somewhat mercilessly.
From the foregoing you may gather some idea of the young Premier—he is the youngest Premier the British Empire has produced since the days of the younger Pitt, for he is in his 45th year. To sum up he is a fighter and so fond of a debate that he sometimes gets into an argument with himself. He is ambitious enough to attempt to rule a hostile people with the aid of a hostile Cabinet. He is a protectionist from the free trade West and protectionist Quebec extends to him an even more generous measure of hatred than it gave to Sir Robert Borden. His reputation as the defender of the indefensible in the House has not endeared him to the rest of the country. This Government he leads may have no future, but Hon. Arthur fondly believes that he personally has.
The Day of Young Leaders
WITH these few kind words we may leave the Premier to his troubles, only pausing to further remark that Hon. C. C. Ballantyne, who threatened to be the first to get out, was the first to be sworn in. Also to further point out that Hon. Arthur has no monopoly of those troubles which play so large a part in the lives of public men. Hon. Mackenzie King has a few of his own, while there are enough left over to keep Hon. T. A. Crerar from getting lonesome.
And the mention of these great men recalls that Canada is no longer looking to her older statesmen for counsel. Mr. Meighen is a young man as politicians go. The Liberal Leader is but a year older. Hon. T. A. Crerar is the youngest of the three, only forty-three years having passed over his head. With three youthful gladiators in the ring one would naturally look for lively times in Parliament. But if trouble comes it will bear the brand of the Meighen. Otherwise there must be a great reversal of form.
Hon. Mackenzie King spent the session dodging trouble. He made a lot of noise over unimportant trifles and either kept his mouth shut or dealt in ambiguous terms with the more important issues. The net result was that the
Unionists, as they still must be called owing to the high cost of paper and the extravagance of the new name, treat him with good-natured contempt. The most important thing that has happened to him is that he has been taken into Hon. Jacques Bureau’s political stable. In this connection it might be well to point out that in Hon. Jacques the Liberal party has found a new boss. The merry little Frenchman from Three Rivers packs quite a bundle of guile beneath his smiling exterior. He trained Ernest Lapointe, planted him in Laurier’s constituency and made him the acknowledged Leader of the Frenchmen in Federal circles. It has become a by-word at Ottawa; “If you want anything from the Frenchmen, you’ll have to see Jacques.”
The man who can swing the Frenchmen carries the Opposition in the hollow of his hand. Hon. Mackenzie King has taken time off from preparing set speeches to learn this much. So he is already halter broke. It was indeed funny to see Hon. Jacques steering his Leader during the debates on the Shipbuilding Bill and the increased indemnities. Jacques was for both measures, heart and soul. Mr. King would fain have gone against both, but his new boss sat in with him, kept him entirely out of the shipbuilding dispute and only let him go far enough against the larger pay envelope to make his attack look like the poorest kind of camouflage. As a matter of fact the new boss does not appear anxious to put Mr. King in well with the people, and it looks more and more as if Quebec would come back to a new Parliament as one of the largest groups and that its Leader would not be Mackenzie King but Ernest Lapointe.
As for Hon. T. A. Crerar he was out of the House for most of the session through illness. When he came back he played more or less the part of a spectator. This gave ground for suspicion that he is too decent a fellow to make a good politician. But this may be an under-estimation. With the Government making enemies at every turn and theOpposition overlooking all opportunities to gather them into their fold the Farmer Leader may have been wise enough to realize that all he had to was to sit still and let things happen. Anyway they did happen and are happening. He appears to be one of those lucky, or unlucky, individuals whom Providence has picked for high places. For such there is no escape.
Take the latest developments in Quebec for example. When Gouin went out and Taschereau came in Sir Charles Fitzpatrick practically secured control of provincial affairs in the Lower Province. Master of political intrigues Sir Charles may be, but he is no favorite with the Habitant.
Moreover, there is down there a Minister of Agriculture named Caron who is reputed to be the ablest and most ambitious man in the Quebec Cabinet. There are those who know Quebec well who predict that Mr. Caron will not pull steadily under Fitzpatrick-Taschereau guidance and that he may at any moment step out and form a little Farmer Party of his own. If he does look out for squalls that, will blow Hon. T. A. Crerar nearer and yet nearer to the Premiership. Caron stands well with his countrymen and with himself. It might be well to keep an eye on him. He may at any time make a move that will settle once for all the argument over which is to be the largest group in the Parliament following the general election that cannot much longer be postponed.