The Play Re-opens at Ottawa

GRATTAN O’LEARY April 1 1926

The Play Re-opens at Ottawa

GRATTAN O’LEARY April 1 1926

The Play Re-opens at Ottawa


THE second act of the Parliamentary drama at Ottawa, is, if anything, more tragic than the first. When, as in the beginning, members were merely talking, the cost to the country was but $30,000 a day. Now, when members are still talking and the Government is attempting to legislate, the $30,000 a day cost goes on, while, in addition, the Ministry is asking the House for $345,000,000, including $3,000,000 for the Hudson Bay Railway, and is fathering a number of vote-trapping measures that will pyramid both taxes and debts. One might have thought that, having so narrowly escaped the grave, this government would have repented of extravagance and done something for atonement. But not so. The habit of profligacy is so ingrained in it, is so much a part of the bone and marrow of present day Ottawa politics, that it still asks for unnecessary millions from the pockets of the taxpayers.

Last year the amount asked for in the estimates was $351,000,000. This year $345,000,000 is demanded—with the supplementaries still to come. How much these will be, it is impossible to say; but it is certain that they will be in the vicinity of $10,000,000, which means that the Ministry, untaught by the debacle of October 29, will probably spend more in 1926 than it spent in 1925.

For the tax-payer this is ominous. It means, more than anything else, that taxation relief, long hoped for and long promised, is nowhere in sight. We are doomed, unless an election intervenes to save us, to another year of tax to all but war peak.

Flaws in the pattern upon which Premier King has based his efforts at Cabinet reconstruction, the refusal of Hon. Charles Murphy to make way for a new Moses from Ontario and the renewed outcry from the Montreal citadels against Mr. Meighen are three of the targets at which O’Leary looses his darts in this article.

Nor does much hope come from any other quarter. Mr. King is back in Parliament with but the skeleton of a

cabinet. Departments that are really vital—trade and commerce, and immigration—are still without heads. In four months the best that Mr. King has been capable of is riddance of the Right Plonorable George P Graham for C. A. Dunning, and a new, untried minister in the Department of Labor.

The Labor Department did not require a minister. It is simply a branch of government, devoted to little but routine; it should be but a branch of the Department of Trade and Commerce. Most of its effort, even of a research character, is duplication of work by more important departments. But Mr. King is but the creature of accidental circumstances. What confronts him is the fact that he cannot get ministers elected. Safe seats are at a premium. So he is compelled to buttress his ministry, (Mr. Dunning excepted) by second rate men, who, owing to their inexperience, are incapable of filling other than minor departments. The branches of government that are worth while are left to “muddle through.”

Desperate effort was made to get stronger material. J. W. Dafoe and Sir Clifford Sifton succeeded in getting one of the leading Liberals of Ontario to agree to enter the ministry, but they reckoned without one thing. Just as an eminent British statesman once “forgot Goschen,” so these two eminent Warwicks forgot the Honorable Charles Murphy. Advent of the new Moses who was to lead Mr. King out of Progressive bondage and other things involved Mr. Murphy’s departure. But Mr. Murphy was not in a departing mood. That colorful Celt is not celebrated for either forgetfulness or forgiveness. And so the negotiations—the most piquant that even these strange times have seen—broke down.

Nor has Mr. King found it possible to get seats for Vincent Massey and Herbert Marler. Mr. Massey still hovers about Laurier House and is occasionally seen in the parliamentary lobbies, but his star is by no means in the ascendant. It is even rumored that his heart is lacerated at the thought of Mr. King’s inability to get him into the Cabinet.

Hurt, also, is Mr. EulerMr. Euler believed that he was fit to be Minister of Railways, at least as fit as Charles Dunning, and when Mr. King seemed to think otherwise, and gave Mr. Dunning the iob, Mr. Euler, it is told, departed for his tents to reflect on the ingratitude of politics.

Last, but by no means least, is Herbert Marler Marler, a year ago, was a rising hope of Liberalism. He had youth and brains and culture and ambitions and could debate creditably with Mr. Meighen. He knew a great deal

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The Play Re-opens at Ottawa

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about railways and tariffs, and, what was most important of all, was one of the darlings of Lord Atholstan. But something happened. It is said, indeed, that when Marler broke the news of his promotion to the noble lord, Atholstan complained that such news was not of sufficient importance to disturb an exciting game of golf. Whether this be true or false, one cannot tell ; but in any case the Montreal Star suddenly found a new idol in the gigantic person of C. H. Cahan, who came forward to defeat Marler where Marler had defeated that other promising statesman, C. C. Ballantyne.

Mr. King, of course, was sorry. He was sorry, and he promised to take care of Mr. Marler. But there is something puzzlingly elusive about Mr. King’s promises. At all events, Marler saw the days roll into weeks and the weeks into months, without Mr. King coming to his rescue; and when finally, Mr. Dunning was brought in, and Mr. King himself got a safe seat, Marler, sadder and wiser, betook himself to the Bahamas, where one can see him standing on a lonely and secluded rock looking out over the ocean into the engulfing night. Such are some of the tragedies in the careers of great men.

Some Proposed Legislation

\\7E ARE to have a measure of rural VV credits. Precisely what it is to be, how much the rest of us are to be gouged for it, is not known—except to Progressives. For more than a month now the Government has been trying to meet their wishes. The original bill, drafted by Dr. Tory, did not meet with their approval. They added to it and subtracted from it, dotted its i’s and crossed its t’s, and sent it back to the Cabinet. Only Mr. Robb, the Finance Minister, protested. Mr. Robb, who has to find the money for such things, and who in addition to being a conservative-minded man, has some sense of public responsibility, endeavored to legislate sanely. Accordingly, he got Mr. Finlayson, the head of the Insurance Department and a man with wide experience with mortgage companies, to submit a new scheme. But the Progressives were intractable. They were not anxious for a

bill that might mean financial risk for their constituents, but insisted on a bill that involved risk for us all. In other words, they wanted something for which the Government, i.e., the Canadian taxpayer, would shoulder responsibility. What the consequences have been, remains to be seen. But a safe prediction (the measure is not down at this writing) is that Mr. Robb—and the country—will pay the piper.

We are to have, too, a scheme of old age pensions. Messrs. Woodsworth and Heaps, who presume to speak for Labor, can offer only two votes, but in these strange times, when majorities hover perilously near zero, two votes are not to be despised. And so our Government, which in one breath tries to get immigrants by telling the world that this is a land of milk and honey, is forced to rather weaken the boast by advertising that, milk and honey notwithstanding, Canada has to pension her aged. True, what is proposed is not radical. In order to secure a pension a man must have lived in Canada for twenty-five years, and must have been a naturalized Canadian for fifteen years. More than that, the bill will not apply to provinces that do not want it. Nevertheless, the first step has been taken. The principle of pensions has been placed on the statute books, the thin edge of the wedge has been inserted—the Labor vote will look after the provinces and the inevitable more costly provisions.

Finally, we are to go on with the Hudson Bay Railway. The Canadian Nattional Railway is still piling up deficite; the Transcontinental, which was built specifically to haul grain, is a white elephant; the ports of Halifax and St. John, upon which we have spent millions, are grainless; Alberta’s wheat is now being shipped through Vancouver; we are putting millions into warehouses and elevators at Prince Rupert; the Saskatchewan Co-operator Elevator Company is building a new elevator at Buffalo; and we are talking quite confidently about the St. Lawrence waterway. No matter. Although we have more grain outlets than we can use, and more railway deficits and taxes and debts than we can pay, we prepare to spend millions more upon a new grain outlet. And it is useless to protest. One can argue until one is blue in the face that economically, nationally, and from the standpoint of maritime feasibility, the Hudson Bay Railway is madness. One can fortify such contentions with proof that seems almost overwhelming—in vain. Progressive faith in the project has an elasticity that soars above facts. What Ontarió and Quebec Continued on page 1,8

Continued from page 1^6 and British Columbia and the Maritimes think about the scheme does not matter in the slightest. What financial men, and 4 shipping men, engineers and navigators think about it is not of the merest consequence. Twenty-four Progressive votes in the House of Commons, plus a Government purchasing office, are the only things that matter.

MEANWHILE, Mr.‘Meighen treads no path of roses. Rebels in his party may be few but they are extremely active and some of them are powerful. Albert Carman, editor-in-chief of the Montreal Star, sits in the Press Gallery and, day after day, sends his paper letters which ridicule the Conservative leadership. Carman may not be a political strategist, but he can forge bitter sentences on a typewriter, and such sentences appearing day after day in a newspaper which is regarded as a Conservative organ, must be a trial to Meighen. Nor is the Gazette consoling. It shuns the open attack of the Star, but it adopts a sort of stepmother attitude that must be as hard to bear as Carman’s abuse. The simple truth is that Meighen is anathema with the gentlemen who sit behind rosewood desks in St. James Street, and its environs. One of these magnates once said that Meighen was a “dangerous Socialist,” and many of them evidently believe it. They have never forgiven him for his railway policy, and they regard him as being too much of a realist and too stubborn in his convictions to be comfortably suitable to the ideas of the Mount Royal Club regarding a proper Prime Minister.

Conservatives Must Share Blame

What the outcome of their antagonism will be, remains to be seen. Meighen, one can be certain, will never bow the knee to them—there is a militant Ulster strain in him that prohibits that—but there are other considerations. There is the consideration, for example, of another election not yielding a Conservative victory. In that case the “Meighen-must-Go” campaign would grow. The Lord Atholstans and their puppets^-there are some of them in this Parliament—would come more in the open; a change of leadership would be probable. Truly, the next election holds possibilities important and many.

NOR is blame the sole property of one party. It is true that Liberals launched the project in 1909. It is true that the Laurier Government, just prior to the 1911 election, contracted for the first Hudson Bay Railway mileage. And it is but fair to state that the three million dollars which a Conservative Government put into the road in 1914 was to pay for that Liberal contract. But between 1914 and 1918, when the war was in progress, and Canada needed every dollar, the Borden Government and the Union Government kept on throwing millions into this scheme—kept on until over twenty millions had been taken from the treasury. The plain truth is that the Hudson Bay Railway is one of the penalties of “Pork Barrel” politics on a large scale, one of the expense items of patronage partizanship, and when it comes to that sort of thing in our political history no one of our parties may cast stones.

That Customs Probe

And so—unless an election can intervene—we are in for this Hudson Bay adventure. Most of the Conservatives, of course, will fight against it, but one has but to read the election speeches of Manitoba Conservatives to know that they will fight it neither unitedly nor wholeheartedly—the money will be voted. Good money will be thrown after bad money; the argument that having spent so much we have got to spend more, will be strengthened; we shall be committed to something which, on a conservative estimate, will add tens of millions to our taxes.

THE Stevens Customs inquiry continues a farce, if not a tragedy. Day after day it is the same. The curtain rises on half a score of lawyers wrangling about evidence. Official reporters take down tens of thousands of irrelevant words that will be consigned to oblivion. Government members of the committee spend hours cross-examining witnesses about things remote from the charges. There is

Mr. Meighen’s Troubles

a deadening procession of precedents and technicalities and objections and rules. What Mr. Blackstone thought about evidence takes precedence over what Mr. Boivin thought, or did, about the Customs.

The truth is there are too many lawyers, not to mention party politicians, on this committee. One listens to their interminable logic-chopping to recall Butler’s Hudibras:

“They could distinguish, and divide A hair ’twixt south and south-west side;

On either which they would dispute, Confute, change hands, and still confute.”

And one despairs of their getting anywhere. Enough may be disclosed to terrify future Governments and Ministers into at least temporary betterment, but unless the committee mends its ways, unless there is more willingness and capacity to make this a probe instead of a poke, the nauseous mess on the border will to a great extent remain, smuggling will continue, and the leakage in public revenue go on.

What of the Future?

HOW long the session will last, what it will bring forth, and how it will end, no one can possibly foresee. And the

reason is that ordinary standards of judgment cannot be applied to this Parliament. Three months ago anybody holding that the KingMinistry could go on would have been considered a lunatic—an election seemed inescapable. Yet the King Government has held on. By methods which a few years ago would be unthinkable, by a Parliamentary situation without precedent, through a record of confusion and chaos, the full significance of which is only appreciated by those who are closely observing it, it is sticking to office, and, what is more, will attempt to continue in office. Whether it will succeed remains to be seen. Faith in public sanity, a lingering confidence in the integrity of politicians, compels one to still hope for an election. But it must be confessed that as time goes on that hope grows fainter and fainter. The country, it would seem, is incapable of being aroused. It is aware, or ought to be aware, that there is paralysis of Government. It is aware, or ought to be aware, that this Parliament cannot function efficiently. Yet, although vital issues are being shirked, although national effort and action lack leadership or direction, notwithstanding that trade problems and taxation problems and debt and railway problems press relentlessly, the public seems incapable of rising above a level of hopeless pessimism and lethargy. Only a calamity, it would seem, will suffice to stir it to the necessity of an early election.