When Can We Escape This Deadlock?
M. GRATTAN O’LEARY
THREE weeks of hectic, futile talk. Three weeks of struggle to gain office and to hold office. Three weeks of secret plottings behind green-baize doors.
Three weeks cf log-rolling and caballing, of backstairs intrigue and proffered bribes. Such is the tale of Canada’s Fifteenth Parliament, which has failed to function, and must continue to fail.
The oldest Parliamentarian has seen nothing like this. For what we are witnessing is a fumble by democracy, a breakdown in our political machinery, an unprecedented happening for which nobody was prepared, and with which our politicians are unable to cope. The result is a paralysis of Parliament.
A June election, or chaos! There is no other way out of the impasse which now exists at Ottawa, says O’Leary. “Parliament has no confidence in the King Government and the King Government has no confidence in Parliament. Mere change from Mr. King to Mr. Meighen would do no good.” That can mean but one thing—an election.
Out of the mist and muddle and miasma of it all, one public victory has emerged. This is the victory by which Harry Stevens secured a parliamentary inquiry into administration of the Customs department. Press reports of what Mr. Stevens charged have been so inadequate, and so blurred by the ihetorie of controversy that it may be well to summarize it here.
HIS in brief is his indictment:
1. That there have been “grave irregularities” and “gross mal-administration” in the collection of customs revenue.
2. That millions of dollars have been diverted from the public Treasury because customs dues were not collected.
3. That the government appointed “crooks and
criminals” to positions in the customs service with knowledge that they were criminals when appointed.
4. That T. E. Bisaillon, former preventive officer at Montreal, was retained in his position long after the government became aware that he was guilty of irregularities which should have brought his arrest.
5. That nine filing cabinets containing damaging evidence have been removed from the Customs Department to the home of an ex-minister of the government, and there destroyed.
6. That for a year the Prime Minister (MacKenzieKing) the Minister of Justice (Mr. Lapointe) and the Minister of Marine (Mr. Cardin) have been aware of irregularities.
7. That since the election, friends of the government have stolen from the exchequer millions of dollars, within the knowledge of the government—“encompassed by
their power, and those most guilty clearly known to the business world, and known to the government.”
8. That $350,000 voted by Parliament last year to prevent smuggling “was used largely for political henchmen during the election.”
9. That T. E. Bisaillon, “the worst of crooks,” is the “intimate of cabinet ministers and the petted favorite of this government”—he rolled in opulence while he debauched officials.
10. That Bisaillon was raised to the position of chief preventive officer at Montreal by the government after it became aware of his rascality.
11. That there is the most flagrant organized wholesale smuggling between Quebec and the United States carried on under legalized protection.
In a British country, governments, like individuals must be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. The MacKenzie King government will not be condemned on these charges without trial. But trial, and prompt trial, there must be. At the earliest moment, without opportunity for crooks to cover their tracks, without chance for criminals to veil their misdeeds, without peril of further destruction of evidence, these charges must be probed. It is something upon which all parties ought to and must agree.
In the meantime, what of the stalemate in the House? In all the confusion, three things stand fairly clear:
1. Neither this Government, nor any Government
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When Can We Escape This Deadlock?
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that Mr. Meighen could form, nor this Parliament, can carry on.
2. An election, at the present time, is impossible.
3. If chaos, or at least grave danger to the nation, is to be avoided, there must be an election in June.
Clamor for an election now, voiced by many newspapers, disregards realities. It disregards necessity for voting supply; for preparing, considering and passing estimates; for presentation of some sort of a Budget with the close of the fiscal year; for a half dozen other legislative things that are necessary, inescapable. To disregard these, to plunge into another election oblivious to the country’s ordinary requirements, could only make confusion worse confounded. We must pay our civil service. We must have money for public works; money for immigration; money for our railways; authority for a score of things necessary to administration. Parliament —even this Parliament—must function to that extent.
Then, again, an election cannot come over night. There must be some sixty days for legal processes; for writs, electoral lists, nominations and returning officers. And there must be a reasonable period for electioneering. A sixty-seven per cent, democracy—which is all Canada proved to be on October 29—requires education and persuasion.
And there is another factor—a party one. It is the factor of the sinews of war. In Canada, as the late J. Israel Tarte once observed, elections are not won with prayers. Neither are they fought with pious supplications. It is not that any number of voters can be purchased like so much soap. It is simply that electioneering, all the manifold and complex and inescapable things that attach to a campaign cost heavily in dollars and cents. It costs money to rent halls for public speaking. It costs money to import orators from long distances into a constituency. It costs money to get advertisements into newspapers; to print leaflets and pamphlets and handbooks; to have the services of movies and radio; to get an indifferent democracy to the polls. All these things have to be paid for—by the parties.
Few candidates can run a campaign in any riding in Canada to-day without spending at least $3,000. Many candidates, faced with difficult conditions, or with particularly strong opposition, pay out from ten to twenty thousand dollars. Mr. Marler admitted that it took $45,000 to beat Mr. Ballantyne in Montreal, in 1921. But, striking an average of $3,000 per candidate—an exceedingly low average—what does it mean? It means that to fight in 245 ridings of the Dominion each party has to find $750,000 for candidates alone. And that, of course, is not all. In addition there are headquarters’ expenses; salaries; and costs of organizers: national advertising that goes on bill posters and into newspapers and all sorts of periodicals all over the Dominion; salaries for writers of propaganda; stiff contracts for printing; wages for thousand^ of clerical workers; postage that costs tens of thousands. Even poets, during elections, make money.
Where does this money come from? There are good people, even sophisticated people, who believe that both parties have mighty war chests; that there exist gigantic secret funds • that mandarins of high finance provide political munitions, and that, later on, they control the puppets they have bought. That is the hoariest and most demolishable of myths.
It is simply born of the absurd charges that politicians hurl against each other in the midst of a campaign. It is wholly without foundation in truth.
When the Tories Were “Broke”
CONSERVATISM is usually spoken of as the party of wealth. It is the party associated with “Big Business.” Yet in the election of 1917, in the election of 1921, and in the election of 1925, the Tory party lacked funds. In 1917, when negotiations for coalition were on, one Liberal politician urged it on the ground that the Conservatives, with a gigantic war chest, would buy the election, anyway. Yet at that precise moment, with an election but a few weeks away, a certain building on Slater Street, Ottawa, was filled with Tory propaganda for which the printers had not been paid, and upon which the party could not pay postage from the Capital. In 1921, again, the Tory party was “broke.” Mr. Meighen, in fact, had difficulty in keeping his candidates in the field, so barren was the party of funds. Yet at the moment of this poverty, when every hour brought a coded message to Ottawa asking for aid in the ridings, Conservatives were being denounced as the agents of plutocracy seeking to corrupt the electorate.
It sometimes happens, of course— ! happens in both parties—that a few wealthy candidates are selected, in which case a corresponding number of ridings are removed from need, and pressure on the general fund relieved. But wealthy candidates, or candidates wealthy enough or generous enough to pay their own expenses, are few and far between. The vast majority of constituencies is financed from a headquarters fund.
This fund is not supplied by the railways, and the banks, and the big shipping companies, or by the big tiust companies, or the manufacturers. The idea that great aggregations of wealth shower the parties -—all parties—with wealth to promote some policy or project in which they are interested, is the sheerest nonsense. What actually happens is tha't people in all walks of life—manufacturers, bankers, farmers, lawyers, doctors, merchants, even workingmen—put up money for party funds. And why not? If an individual has conviction that a policy in wrhich he believes, and which a party is advocating, is good for Canada, and will prosper Canada, is his citizenship impeached if he be willing to contribute money to promote what he believes? The same man will often contribute money to build missions in China or Africa, or the South Sea Islands. Why shouldn’t he ' contribute to something which, according to his lights, will bring good to his own country? And, if he be sincere, if he has the right intention, why should the size of his contribution make it appear sinister?
In England, old and wise in politics, '
party funds are not considered evil. Thus, when the historic Liberal party met in England some months ago, with Lord Oxford and Lloyd George as joint chairmen, what was its first business? Its first business was to hear an appeal from Lord Oxford for a $5,000,000 fund. With Lord Oxford it was not a question of buying an electorate. It was a question of organization, a question of organizing and educating public opinionin the principles of his party. ‘We must,” said Lloyd George, “sell Liberalism to the nation.”
Both Parties Hard Up Now
THE plain truth is that, at worst, party funds are a necessary penalty of democracy; that, properly used, they are not necessarily an evil, and that, under certain circumstances, they may be used to high ends. More than that, it is doubtful whether in a country like Canada, and especially under existing conditions, the electorate can become adequately seized of the issues if the parties be lacking in funds. Every resource of electioneering, every facility for national debate, every resource of platform, of press, of telegraph, of telephone and radio, must be marshalled into a campaign of education if an intelligent vote is to be given.
And the parties to-day lack funds.
They have just returned from an exhausting struggle which must have had a combined cost of nearly $2,000,000. They are in the position of two opposing armies which, after a desperate conflict without decisive result, are unprepared through lack of munitions to renew the battle. Hundreds of candidates—some of them defeated—are still paying or trying to pay election debts; party headquarters are still being billed for printing and advertisements and oratory; hundreds who contributed to the last campaign lack dollars and enthusiasm for another. And so no urge exists for another contest —now. The plain fact is that all parties are impotent to do battle. To force them to fight now would not only be unfair to them; it would be unfair and harmful to the country.
There is something else. It is that a winter election in Canada, or even an early spring election, is a crime against democracy. It is simply disfranchisement of thousands of people who would otherwise exercise their vote. In this country there must be at least fifty constituencies where, under winter or early spring conditions, vast numbers cannot be reached. This is true of Northern Ontario, true of Northern Quebec, true of some of the remoter St. Lawrence ridings, true of large districts in Alberta and Saskatchewan. To stand oblivious to these facts, to make the most vital task of democracy more difficult than is necessary, to make the matter of the national verdict in an admittedly grave crisis more a matter of chance than is necessary, is to do violence to representative government.
In October last two months of hectic campaigning brought only sixty-eight out of every one hundred Canadians to the polls. Two months were spent in telling the nation that it was fronted with peril, two months in which platform and press and radio were marshalled into one tremendous campaign of propaganda, and in the end upwards of a million Canadians did not even bother to vote. Are we to court a more casual verdict, a less decisive verdict, by rushing into a haphazard, disorganized, half-hearted campaign this winter? The proposal is utterly indefensible.
An Election In June
BUT just as insuperable obstacles prohibit an election now, so also there exist imperative reasons for an election in June.
Parliament, as presently constituted, simply cannot function. It may tide over an emergency by voting supply. It may improvise for and adapt itself to an extraordinary condition for a few months simply because the King’s Government must be carried on and perilous chaos avoided. But it is folly, sheer madness, advocacy of everything that is little and mean and contemptible in a democracy, to argue that this Parliament can carry on into next year, or later. What we have in Ottawa to-day—and this would be as true under a Meighen Ministry as under a King Ministry—is the negation of responsible government. It is a condition under which, no matter whether Mr. King be in office, or Mr. Meighen be in
office, twenty-four Progressives—twentyfour men in a House of 245—are supreme. Representatives of fewer than 300,000 voters in a country in which 3,000,000 persons voted, are able, at any hour, on any day, to destroy the Government, to block any program or any policy they dislike, to reduce government to mere barter for a majority.
And that isn’t all. To grasp the grotesqueness of the situation one must visualize Liberals sitting on the Treasury benches, Progressives in control of the Commons, Conservatives dominant in the Senate. Thus we have a Government whose legislation must first run the gauntlet of Progressives in the Lower Chamber and then run the gauntlet of Tories in the Upper Chamber. What is meat and drink to the former is anathema to the latter— victory in the Commons means extinction in the Senate. What that is good, or strong, or enduring, can emerge from a Parliament like that?
Only evil has emerged from it thus far. Where formerly Governments advocated their policies in the Commons, standing or falling with them, this Government takes its cue from the corridors. Where formerly the fate of a Government and the verdict of a Parliamentary division depended upon the character of policies, they may now well depend upon the frailty of three or four men subjected to compelling temptations. Where formerly Governments took their policies from party caucuses and platforms, promoting them with force of majorities, we have Government inspired by corridor intrigue—with log-rolling and barter supreme.
It is not true that the King Government has the confidence of Parliament. The real fact is that Parliament has no confidence in the King Government and the King Government has no confidence in Parliament. If Mr. King had confidence in Parliament’s alleged confidence in him he would not find it necessary to adjourn Parliament at a time like this, to dam the whole stream of legislative enactment and administration while he endeavors to rebuild his decimated cabinet from a few handpicked constituencies in a few provinces only. He would go on and govern. The reality is that this Parliament lacks confidence in Mr. King, and also lacks confidence in Mr. Meighen.
How About A Little Work?
THE position is worse than imagined.
Although three months have elapsed since the election, the Government last week found itself ;n the position of not even having estimates ready to proceed with in Parliament. Although the Speech from the Throne bristled with proposed legislation—practically all of it concessions to the Progressives—not a solitary measure is yet in readiness for presentation to the House. There is a surplus of talk and propaganda about a wonderful new policy that is to finally bring us immigrants, but there is no Minister of Immigration. The peace of Locarno, which has brought more of stability and prosperity and purchasing power to Europe, and which should bring Canada expanded markets, finds the department of Trade and Commere without a guiding hand. We are faced with a fuel problem, a problem that makes action imperative, but nothing but interviews and statistics and talk comes from the department concerned. Questions of taxation, of the cost of living—higher now than a year ago—of transportation, of economy, of debt—all these lie untouched and growing increasingly aggravated while politicians devise new ways of holding on to office.
Mere change from Mr. King to Mr. Meighen would do no good. A Conservative cabinet, almost more so than a Liberal cabinet, would be powerless to function. Progressives would be hostile to it, and suspicious of it, and its first attempt to promote the first article of its fiscal faith would bring about its collapse. Mr Meighen simply could not govern.
What is required, and what is the only patriotic course, is that Mr. King should avoid all controversial legislation; should abandon thought of putting through his program, and, having done this, should bring down whatever supply is necessary, present a budget, and prepare to go to the country. Mr. Meighen, it is true, has a right to ask for recognition. He has a right to ask Parliament for a chance to present his program, and, what is also of some importance, he has a right to say
that he, and not Mr. King, should have the power of dissolution. That, however, is a constitutional question in which the country is not much interested. All that it wants, all that it ought to care much about, is opportunity to break up this deadlock.
It will not get this opportunity unless it bestirs itself. Let the electors make no mistake about it: this Government will try to hold on. More than that, there are influential men in all parties who will want this Parliament to live on. They will want to sit upon their indemnities, to avoid another test in battle, to see that they get back the expenses of their last contest before they adventure with the uncertainties of another.
They must be subjected to pressure from the constituencies. In a statement that has become historic CampbellBannerman once called upon Mr. Balfour to “stop this fooling.” That is what the country must say to all three parties just now. Every influence in Canada that cares for Canada, every newspaper that puts country before party, every Canadian who puts national existence and prosperity before party strategy and. advantage, every politician who takes the long as opposed to the short view—all must marshall their influence in favor of an election.
It cannot come now.
National safety dictates that it must come in June.