Party Gunners Seeking Range
M. GRATTAN O’LEARY
AMIDST the oratory, manifestos, statistics and propaganda that have thronged through the first three weeks of the session, a number of clear facts can be definitely located. They are:
1. The Ministry has not yet decided
whether the election shall come this spring, this autumn, or next year.
2. In the meantime it is preparing for possible early battle by calling a halt to tariff tinkering (for the benefit of the East) and by promising lower freight rates on land and sea (for the consolation of the Maritimes and the West).
3. Neither the Speech from the Throne, nor the utterances of ministers, nor the latest financial statement, hold out the feeblest hope for a reduction of national taxation.
4. The threat of Senate reform, heralded as a headliner of the session, has tapered down to a pious hope for a provincial conference to discover what can be done.
5. Mr. Meighen, confirmed in the Conservative leadership by a party caucus, and sitting more
firmly than ever in the saddle, has brought the National Policy more into line with presentday requirements.
6. The majority of Progressives, speaking through Mr. Forke, have reiterated their demand for lower freight rates and lower tariffs (though in a tone subdued and cautious).
The Government’s Programme
SPEECHES from the Throne—always read by the Governor-General, but always written by the Prime Minister—are curious pronouncements. That read by Lord Byng on February 5 was decidedly not an exception.
For example, it solemnly conveyed the information that the cabinet had the cost of living “in mind.” That reassuring intelligence made known, it went on to say that the same body (the cabinet) had become convinced that “the most rigid economy”—save the mark!—could not reduce prices; hence a decision to topple freight rates both on land and sea. How this was to be doné on land, seeing that Canadian National deficits are still reaching millions, information was not vouchsafed; but a measure of light was given as to the methods to be followed at sea.
Through W. T. R. Preston, a gentleman not unknown to Canadian politics, the Government has discovered that
Atlantic rates are fixed by a huge combine. Mr. Preston, pen as sharp as tongue, tells how shipping magnates every once in a while meet in New York, and there, behind closed doors, decide what the rest of us shall pay for shipping our goods,on the sea. And, Mr. Preston adds, that always the rate is higher than cost or justice would warrant.
An amusing part of this information—it is really not very new, for a committee headed by Andrew McMaster charged the same thing a few years ago—is that Canada’s government-owned Merchant Marine has been a part of the combine. It has not actually been sitting in at the New York conferences; but it adhered to the rates; and, if Mr. Preston be right, we have been in the glorious position of paying millions in déficits each year for a
merchant marine helping to bleed us with high rates. Of course, there is another side to the story. It is a side summed up in the simple question: If the rates have been so unduly high, how does it come that our own ships, getting their full benefit, have been losing millions of dollars? Certainly if the tyrannical schedules which Mr. Preston speaks of brought no more profit to the White Star and the Cunarders and the C.P.R. than they brought to our Merchant Marine, then somebody is
woefully out in arithmetic and conclusions.
However, the Government believes Mr. Preston. It believes him so much that it has set out to do two things. It is going to withdraw our Merchant Marine from the combine ; and it is going to subsidize Sir William Peterson a million dollars to provide ten ships of 10,000 tons each to bring down the rates.
Ottawa, quite frankly, is puzzled by these gestures. It does not want to be hyper-critical until further facts are known; but from what it does know it feels that Mr. King is fighting a dreadnought with something like a'rowboat. What difference can Sir William Peterson’s ships, plus our Merchant Marine, make to Atlantic commerce? If all of them worked steadily, without delay or mishap, for a year, hauling Canadian wheat, they could not possibly carry more than twenty million bushels. What, then, is going to happen to the remaining 230 million bushels of grain that Canada exports? What, then, the fate of all the rest of the millions in exports that we send: across the seas?
But that is not all. Our Merchant Marine, despite alleged exorbitant rates, has been losing millions of dollars. How much will it losewhen, with the Peterson line, it hauls our freight more cheaply? That is a question of some concern to Mr. Burdened Taxpayer. Consequently misgivings exist regarding the Government’s enterprise; especially when it is remembered what happened to Australia’s attempt in a similar direction; not to speak of the fate of the more recent effort to bring down rates on the Lakes. And the misgivings are not helped by Sir William Peterson’s admonition to his stockholders to hold on fast to their stock.
For those who have been crying out against taxes and extravagance, the Speech from the Throne was cruel. Economy was not in its lexicon. Only once was the blessed word mentioned, and that was to inform us (Lord Byng read it quite solemnly) that the “most rigid economy” was not enough to lower the cost of living. And as though that were not hard enough, a blow the next paragraph said—like the first drum-beats of an election—that we must expect further expenditures upon our harbors and ports. The sad truth is that the battle for economy at Ottawa has been fought—and lost. The agitation of last year has passed into oblivion; Mr. Meighen concentrates
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Tweeklie Prize Competition
COME boy or girl, under fourteen years of age, is going to be for^ túnate enough to be awarded the Ten Dollar prize offered by MacLean’s Magazine for the best letter on Tweeklie and Uncle Hopalong. Already several letters have reached us, but answers which are received on or before March 12 will have an equal chance of winning the prize. Letters must not be more than 300 words in length, and should contain the writer’s opinion of these verse stories and suggestions for their improvement. Mark your envelope “Tweeklie Competition” and accompany your letter with a certification from one of your parents, or a guardian, that it is entirely your own work. The competition closes March 12, and the decision of the judges must be accepted as final.
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on other things; and^fAuditor-General Gonthier, who was to'Jsave us tens of millions, is never heard of now. Only the announcement in the social columns that he appeared at the opening of the session “in resplendent uniform and with sword,” tells us that he lives.
So, too, with Senate reform. As I write now my mind goes back to that sultry day last July when Mr. King, rising in the Commons, whipped his party into frenzied cheers with a threat against the Senate. He, the grandson of William Lyon Mackenzie, would bow no knee to autocracy! In this glorious democracy the people would rule—it was an exalted moment for Liberalism. “So fleet the words of men.” For now, after a period of brave hopes, comes”this announcement in the Speech:
“You will be asked to sanction the calling of a conference between the Federal and Provincial Governments to consider the advisability of amending the British Nor h America Act with respect to he consti ution and powers of the Senate, and in other important particulars.”
Those who know Ottawa know what that means—conferences and still more conferences; legal opinions; controversies; disagreements; futility. Certainly the Senate’s lease of life may continue.
Mr. Meighen Still Leads
MR. MEIGHEN has been confirmed in his leadership and has revised his gospels. Before the House met he gave to the press what amounted to a party manifesto. He demanded an immediate upward revision of the tariff; a permanent tariff commission; preferences conditional on the use of Canadian ports; conservation of Canadian raw materials; and aid to railways to cheapen long freight hauls. In other words, the National Policy of ’78 brought into focus with the times. Having done that, having tried to show that he is not what his enemies say he is, namely, a purely negative leader, without capacity to build, Mr. Meighen summoned his followers and said to them, in effect: “Here is my policy, and here—if you want it—is my resignation.”
Perhaps it was just a coincidence that on the same day the press announced that Mr. Meighen had been offered $30,000 a year by the Metropolitan Insurance Company. At all events the caucus showed no inclination to get a new leader. On the contrary, it clamored unanimously and vociferously that he must stay; and one of his lieutenants—mentioned as a possible successor—declared that a change was unthinkable. So Mr. Meighen stays. Yet, the party caucus notwithstanding, his enemies will not down. The Montreal Gazette did not deign to notice his manifesto; while Lord Atholstan’s Star had an ungracious editorial captioned: “Stealing Mr. Marler’s Thunder.”
Marler, by the way, will repay being watched. In 1921 he earned the gratitude of all Liberals and of not a few Tories by beating Mr. Ballantyne in St. LawrenceSt. George, Montreal. But when he appeared in the House he was anything but popular. One cabinet minister, addicted to strong language, called him “that damned Englishman in spats”; and to others he appeared too much like a boy spoiled by praise at College and spoiled worse thereafter by success. Tall, slim, immaculately groomed, a bit disdainful, his slightly English accent and manner (he is really a Canadian) coupled with reputed wealth, made him anything but a favorite. Yet he has won his spurs. He was not afraid last year to speak and vote against the budget; he prepares his speeches carefully and delivers them well; and he has become the darling of the Montreal Star. Men like that get into cabinets and are heard of in cabinets afterwards.
A Battle of Statistics
THE debate on the Address was ordinary, lop-sided and futile. The duel between Mr. Meighen and the Prime Minister was nothing but a battle of statistics. Mr. Meighen, in the role of a Savanarola, preaching repentance or ruin, unleashed battalions of figures to prove
that under Liberalism there was nothing but Niagara ahead. He had statistics to show that trade was bad; statistics to show that unemployment was rife; charts to show that prices were high; figures to prove that'emigration was terrible; data to conjure blue ruin. Then came Mr. King—with statistics of his own. Mr. King, in fact, had more statistics than Mr. Meighen. With the same chart that Mr. Meighen had used to show that prices were high, Mr. King showed that prices were really low; and, in the role of a Mark Tapley, he kept on with a regular orgy of arithmetic to show that instead of being in the doldrums we were really all happy and rich.
Mr. King, as a debater, has improved. He is dropping his propensity for platitudes; puts more iron into his speeches; gets a better grip on facts; and is infinitely more rapid in repartee. His reply to Mr. Meighen, was, all things considered, a quite creditable performance.
“When I come into pow-er,” said Laurier in 1896, “you will not need statistics to prove that you are rich ; you will have the cash in your pockets.”
Canadians may not have the cash in their pockets now; but hearing Mr. King one feels as though they must have. The speciousness of the arguments, the sophistry of the reasoning, was forgotten, as the Premier, with masterly marshaling of figures, proved we were rolling in wealth.
There was one other noteworthy speech —that by Dr. Manion. This curly-headed Irishman from Fort William takes to politics like a snipe to a Connemara bog. He was a Liberal, is a Conservative, and is often called an apostate. But the charge of apostacy does not worry him any more than shells in Flanders frightened him; and to his accusers he recalls Howe’s confession that there w-as nothing in the world for which he had less respect than his opinions of yesterday. Manion is a hard, clean and gallant fighter. He studies hard, thinks clearly, and speaks with the magic of lucidity. “The people cry for bread—and the Premier gives them statistics.” His capacity for biting phrases like that, plus a fine appearance and a charm of manner make him 8 formidable debater.
FOR a party dedicated to agitation against wrong, the Progressives are astonishingly inarticulate. Mr. King’s “pause” in tariff reduction was expected to challenge its antagonism; but, apart from a cautious reprimand from Mr. Forke, there comes no sign of hostility. It was said of the late John Redmond that his fault lay in becoming a statesman before it was desirable that he should cease being an agitator. Mr. Forke has ceased being an agitator. He still wTants low tariffs and low Freight rates; but he wants them with speeches that lack reality, that are totally inadequate to compel a response from a House that needs fire to arouse it.
Nor is his party more formidable. On the surface it looks about as united as the League of Nations. Mr. Crerar, who was Mr. Forke’s political godfather, now looks like his political step-mother; Mr. Hoey looks over-conscious of his new fame as a preacher of secession; Miss McPhail serves notice that she is the “pale shadow of no party”; while radicals like Garland and Coote and Spencer sit there like Ishmaelites, the Tim Healys and William O’Briens of the Agrarian party.
There are those who predict that Progressivism is headed for disintegration ; that many of its present members will be retired by the party conventions; that others will pass over to L beralism; that a few will even find a place in the bosom of Mr. Meighen; and that the balance will drift into an insignificant group, sectional and radical in character. Certainly the storm that Crerar unloosed in 1919 and abandoned in 1922 appears to have spent its force.
What of An Election?
WHAT of an election? The signs, so far, are confusing. The character of the Speech from the Throne, the evident anxiety of the Ministry to get over with the session, the bint of harbor expenditures
—all these are on the side of a contest. But the rank and file want delay.
“There’s as many reasons against an election,” said Harcourt once, “as there are members in the House.”
And so it is in Ottawa. The average member, being human, would like just one more session with its four thousand indemnity—all the more so if his riding is unsafe. And so while the cabinet and the chiefs of staff may plan upon June or September as the time to strike—ana they will be right—the caucus will stand staunchly for delay. With it, the reasoning will be that of Gladstone who, when told that trouble would come sooner or later, said “by all means let ,t be later.” We shall have to wait and see.
The Conservatives, certainly, want anything but an election—now. They
have been passing through the shadow; they are suffering from schism, from rebellion against their leadership, from lowered morale through by-election defeats, from absence of organization and party funds. And so they reason, and quite rightly, that time is on their side. What they clearly desire is time to mend their lines, to reorganize their forces, to replenish their war chest, to preach and make known their new policy.
The session promises to be brief. There is promise of little legislation; there will be no tariff changes to lengthen the debate on the Budget; the estimates appear to be ready; and the Progressives, unless they alter their mood, will do little in the way of obstruction. However, in politics, as at a race track, one can bank on very little.