GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1938
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1938

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

THE GREAT expectations stage of the session has been passed, the disillusionment stage reached. Two months ago they talked of a “stirring session.” We were to get unemployment insurance, a new trade treaty with the United States, a momentous budget, great debates. Now, with two months gone, the yield of the session looks less stirring, with a possibility that its harvest will be rather scant. Unemployment insurance is in the lap of the gods, or. what is perhaps worse, in the laps of Messrs. Duplessis and Hepburn. There is a chance at the time of writing that the Canada-United States agreement may not come from Washington until too late. And the budget doesn’t promise to be momentous.

If Mr. King could wean Mr. Hepburn away from Mr. Duplessis, get him to support his B. N. A. Act amendment, all might be well. But Mr. King, at this writing, has no assurance of that. That Toronto-Quebec axis appears to lx* tough. Just what it is Mr. I )uplessis wants, or just what it is lu* fears, or professes to fear, nobody in Ottawa knows. Mr. Lapointe, badled and impatient, can’t see any threat to Quebec’s “autonomy”

(about which Mr. Duplessis talks) in adding two words to a clause of the B. N. A.

Act. Mr. Duplessis doesn't heed him. Mr. Duplessis

just says “No.” and that is à MBJMA ^ that, and please don’t §

Which is maddeningly a awkward. Making it more ™

maddening and more awk■ ward, of course, is that Mr. »

I Iepburn takes sirles, or 1 seems to, with Mr. Duplessis. Were Mr. Duplessis alone in his intractability.

Mr. King might go ahead without him. But Mr. King can’t easily go ahead without Mr. Hepburn, too; without Ontario and Quebec. the two big industrial provinces: the provinces

mostly concerned. Mr.

King, therefore, may not go ahead; may chuck unemployment insurance. Chuck it for the time being, at all events.

The Canada-United

States treaty? The job. on a business basis, was harder than expected. And Washington and Dindon, like Ottawa, came to want it on a business basis. It was splendid, of course, for idealists to talk of the agreement's political significance: of what it might mean as a gesture to the dictators. Such talk, it came to lx* realized, might lx* a little dangerous; might stir up sleeping "isolationist” dogs; might do other things. The real businesslike propositions that followed have taken a little more time.

So it may be summer before Canada’s part in the bargaining has its t’s crossed and its i s dotted; which would mean that Mr. King, instead of bringing it to Parliament, would wait for a nice July day to announce it. with the bargain going into force without Parliament at all. Mr. King did that with the last treaty; can. of course, do it with this one. All this, of course, assuming that Parliamento home lx-fore June.

The budget? Well, whatever it brings, I’m pretty sure it won’t bring lower taxes. The estimates tell that. The main estimates with special and supplementary ones still to come call for little less money than they called for last year. Mr. Dunning can’t pick that money off the lawns of Parliament Hill. Therefore, unless he budgets for a bigger deficit next year than he is going to have this year (it will range all the way from fifteen to twenty-five millions this year) he will leave taxes severely alone. Mr. Dunning, as a matter of fact, aims for a balanced budget next year.

Power Export

PARLIAMENT’S headlines therefore must come from power export, radio, possible enquiry into electoral corruption.

Thus far Mr. King has washed the Cabinet’s hands of responsibility for exporting jx>wer. He has put the responsibility upon Parliament. Hereafter, if anybody wants a license to export power he must get the permission of the province in which the power is generated, the permission of the province whence it is to be exported, and, finally, somebody to introduce a bill in Parliament asking authority to export.

It is a circuitous way to do the thing, in some respects a strange way. The Cabinet, in possession of all the relevant data, advised by its experts, ought to be in better po^on than Parliament to say whether power should be exported or should not be. Yet Mr. King’s idea seems to be that the Cabinet should shirk the responsibility, that it should “pass the buck” to the House. As somebody has pointed out. such a principle, carried to its logical conclusion, would lead to the abolition of our whole Cabinet theory. There would be no need of Cabinets. Or of Cabinets as we have . them.

The real Donnybrook over power exports will come when Mr. Hepburn, acting under the new order, makes application to export power. The thing will be a free-for-all, with every body at liberty to vote as he pleases which ought to be interesting. How it will please Mr. King himself to vote, and a lot of Mr. King’s ministers (this in the light of certain recent happenings) will certainly be worth watching. The odds on the outcome, it may be added here, have changed in M|r.. Hepburn’s favor. He is noy an even-money bet to get his power wishes.

“Political Corruption’’ is an Old Cry

NO ONE need expect nt

Utopia because Prime Minister King (in a verbal joust with Mr. Bennett) promised a better election law. Changes will be made, of course (the Election Act was up for revision, anyway) but. unless our statesmen have all reformed overnight, become as holy as one might think them to lx* when they are talking for Hansard, recipients of Government contracts will continue to pay party tolls, and individuals big and small to put up election money. That way it has been from the beginning, and. unless a near miracle happens (an aroused public opinion is something of a miracle) that way will it be to the end.

Mr. Bennett’s charges were not, it must be reported, taken too seriously. It is not merely that nobody believes Mr. Bennett. It is simply that Parliament, having heard so many of these charges of political corruption over so many years, has become “hard-boiled” about them. Moreover, an enquiry by a Parliamentary committee wouldn't get anywhere. It would degenerate into a competition in name-calling.

The trouble with investigations into electoral corruption is that they are mostly in the nature of a trial of one party by the other party. The party making the charges becomes the plaintiff; the accused party the defendant. With the inevitable and perhaps*human end that the who}e business becomes shot through with legal quibbling anéytypocrisy.

No progress will ever be made with the removal of campaign-fund chiselling until the two major parties get together on the matter, decide tú end it for their common benefit. If this could be done, if the parties Could meet on fair grounds, both admitting their sins, and both determined to make election laws and election practices ¿Setter and more honest and fairer for everybody, the thing might get somewhere.

Norman Lambert, journalist turned Senator, and knowing his ballots (he is president of and chief organizer for the National Liberal Federation) thinks we should have compulsory voting. That, argues Lambert, would at least “get out the vote”—one of the chief reasons given for the need of party funds. Whether Lambert will get his way or not remains to be seen. Personally, I am not counting on him. Elections, I greatly fear, will never be won by prayers.

Radio Reverberations

NATIONAL radio threatens to be in the Parliamentary spotlight for some time. Through it we were going to save Canadian air channels for Canadians; keep out United States programs; keep out United States advertising. Canada was to have another BBC.

Now there’s the “morning after.” We haven’t a BBC in Canada; we haven’t kept advertising off the air; and instead of keeping out American programs we’re paying taxes to bring them in. Canada’s national radio, with the public purse behind it, is now competing with the newspapers in newspaper business; and, so far from keeping advertising off the air, is putting more advertising on the air. and American advertising at that.

The whole business would be funny—if it weren’t a bit tragic. The radio problem will grow worse before it grows better, for CBC is starting to build up an overhead as our railways built up an overhead.

We have newspapers shouting now that the “politicians” must keep their “hands off the radio.” Mostly they are the same newspapers who shouted a few years ago that the politicians must “keep their hands off Thornton.” They had their way then, with the result that, while the hands of the politicians were off Thornton, that brilliant but somewhat expensive gentleman proceeded to load us with debt. That, if Parliament isn’t careful, will happen with radio, unless Parliament or Government sees to it that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is limited to certain Continued on page 65

Continued from page 14

expenditure, cutting its radio coat according to our financial cloth, and getting away from foolish notions about “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Will Tories Get Together?

rT'HAT pow-wow of the Tories? At this writing we don’t know what it plans to do, will do, or can do. Obviously, because of its very composition, it can’t do much. No one believes that thirty Conservative M. P.’s, plus a couple of dozen Senators, plus a few organizers from the provinces, can speak for the Conservative Party, nor set a course for it. Not if it’s a democratic party. Moreover, the Conservative Party, judging from what is being said here, there and everywhere by prominent Conservatives, has become a loose union of conflicting ingredients. There are Leftist Conservatives; Rightist Conservatives; Middle-of-the-road Conservatives. And all talking. There is Mr. Herridge, preaching reform. There is the St. James Street and Bay Street crowd denouncing reform. There is the “ins-and-outs” group, just waiting for office. When, on session’s eve, Mr. Herridge preached reform in Toronto, many thought it the voice of Mr. Bennett. But when Mr. Bennett followed in Parliament, the Herridge accents were missing. True, he did mutter something about the “money power,” but uncomfortably, as though afraid of its sound. The reactionaries breathed easier.

They had better not breathe too easily.

Mr. Bennett’s reform and revivalist instincts may be smothered often by his background and environment; they exist nevertheless. They will never permit him to take orders from his party’s anthropologists. Besides, Mr. Bennett knows too much of the history of progress.

Our guess, for the present, is that this Conservative gathering (this is being written on its eve) will leave policies and programs alone, contenting itself with organization. Which would be sensible. A national party’s first need, if it is to go anywhere at all, is a national organization. A man need not worry much about, what road he should take unless he has a car. So with a party.

Meanwhile, with the passing of Lord Atholstan, Mr. Bennett may have fallen heir to the support of a newspaper the Montreal Star. Mr. J. W. McConnell, the Star’s new publisher, is a Conservative. I le will make the Star Conservative. Already, it is told, he is seeking an editor to succeed Albert Carman, a veteran seeking retirement; with the new editor to preach Conservatism.

Yet the legacy may have a catch in it. Mr. McConnell’s Conservatism is not the Conservatism of Mr. Herridge. It is more the Conservatism of Mr. C. H. Cahan. What if the price of the Star’s support be that Mr. Bennett should fall in for unification of railways? That, remembering Mr. Bennett’s 1930 war cry—“competition ever, amalgamation never”—might be embarrassing. We shall see.