The Inside Story of the Union
The Why and How of the New Government
H. F. Gadsby
UNION government is now an accomplished fact in Canada.
The union government consists of eleven Conservatives and nine Liberals, which is as near as one can expect to get to a fifty-fifty proposition and still give Premier Borden, the foster parent of the union idea, the casting vote
Union government represents the traditional deference of this country to British precedent. England has a union government as a war administration—Canada must have one, too.
It also represents a fashion. Most of the democratic countries who have been in the war for any length of time—France, England, the great overseas states of the British Empire—have gone in for union government. Canada must go in for it too.
It is even on the cards that the United States will meet so many troubles before it goes much farther that President Wilson will make his a union government, too.
But union government, in Canada chiefly, represents a necessity. The paramount purpose of union government is to win the war, to support our men in the trenches, and to keep Canada up to its present high mark of achievement in the great struggle for freedom, humanity, and progressive civilization. Union government is a combination of all the talents, courage, and moral force to be found on both sides of politics, likely to solve not only the problem of conscription, but also the inter-bellum problems of finance and taxation with which Canada is confronted. It aims, moreover, to avoid a bitter election contest with its contingent evils of racial and religious strife.
It is doubtful whether this hope will fructify. Quebec will be more solid for Laurier than ever. Controversy will be wicked. In spite of certain clauses in the Military Service Act, stump speakers and party newspapers of the extreme type may be expected to do their worst. Union government, though it appeals to the good sense of all fair-minded patriots, will have to fight ancient prejudice and entrenched hatreds the Dominion over. My guess and my hope is that it will win. Its strength, as the poet puts it, is as the strength of ten because its heart is pure. The majority will probably be about twenty-five.
TT is precisely because its heart is pure A and because Premier Borden has taken great pains to make it so, that the dark forces in both parties are opposed to it! And not only the dark forces but also the unenlightened innocent who find giving up their old party grudges as hard as drawing a tooth. In the big cities where thought marches fast the union government idea is readily grasped. But the
rural districts are harder to convince. The Whittle-Stick Club at Jarratt’s Corners will display the usual aversion to voting for a “gosh durned Grit” or “a dod-binged Tory” until union government educates them up to the new standard of compromise for the general weal. Between now and the general election the people of Canada must learn the lesson of give and take in party politics if union government is to be a success.
This ought to be as easy for the general public as it is for men of such high moral purpose as Frank Carvell, T. A. Crerar, and Newton Wesley Rowell to swallow the War Time Election Act, for instance. The War Time Election Act by the way is a good example of the effect of union government on questionable measures. The immediate result of the entrance of nine aggressive Liberals into the union government is largely to neutralize the unfair advantage which the War Time Election Act gave the Borden government. It goes without saying that the Liberal end of the union cabinet will see that it gets a square deal on the War Time Election Act and that neither party will profit unduly either by the disfranchising or enfranchising clauses of this experiment with the suffrage. In short, things will be much as they were before the Act was passed. If there was a sting in its tail the sting has been removed by union government. The same
may be said of the Military Voters* Act. The votes in dispute will not get an unfair tilt toward the party at present in power. livery chance will be given to both ends to work for the middle — and right there, in the middle of the road, is union government.
It may go hard with staunch Liberals to forego the mountain of scandal they had heaped up against the Borden government just now, as it goes hard with the thick-and-thin Conservative to throw away the cold deck with which he expected to win the election. But the sacrifices are about equal, and all loyal Canadians will agree that it is a sweet and becoming thing that old discontents and quarrels should be buried so long as the Hun is thundering at the gate, and that we should forego the pleasant pastime of tearing each other’s eyes out until the Blond Beast is chained.
'"T'HIS brings us back to the fact that the first and foremost plank in union government’s platform is— conscription. Conscription is not a popular measure, as the exemption appeals abundantly prove. But neither are taxes popular, or death, or coal bills, or a hundred other inevitable institutions. Conscription is not popular but it is vitally necessary if democracy is not to perish from the earth. To remain free we must surrender part of our freedom to those who are ruling us for our ultimate good. In a word, we must have peace, even if we fight for it; and to fight we must have the men. To have the men we must have conscription, voluntary recruiting having shot its bolt. Union government, if you care to picture it that way, is simply the people setting their teeth to go through with a hard job on which the life and well-being of the nation depends. Canada has done her bit nobly and she has her reward in the admiration of a world in arms—a splendid advertisement for the future prosperity of this country, if we look at it in no higher light. But Canada has not done her bit completely—will not have done it, indeed, until this war ends in victory and the whole tribe of Kaisers is fettered for ever and a day. To win the war, that is the first purpose of union government— and to that end it must win the election.
As far back as six months ago the penetrating mind of Sir Clifford Sifton realized that winning the war was the duty of the hour and that the only way for Canada to do her part was to elect a union government with anybody else than Sir Wilfrid Laurier at its head. Sir Clifford, who has an instinct for power, wisely refrained from seizing the reins himself, but rather unwisely, as I think, spread his views in print and signed his name ta
them. Sir Clifford is a strong man and would himself make a splendid war-time premier. His genius for big operations is unequalled in Canada and his gift of crisp statement makes those operations as simple as ABC to the man on the street It seems a great pity that Canada may not have his high-power, diamond-clear mind at the head of affairs, but he is probably content to be the Man Behind.
At all events that is the position allotted to him through circumstances over which he had no control — old resentments against him, the prairie West which he was supposed to have crucified when he fought reciprocity in 1911, the Jealousy of the Laurier Liberals, and other such matters. Sir Clifford’s famous letter to the press back-fired to the extent of drawing the Laurier cohorts together and turning the Winnipeg convention which promised to be a walk-over for win-the-war into a triumph for the Old Chief. It was a catch-as-catch-can triumph to be sure and was ultimately revised by the sober second thought of the people, but still it was a triumph for the time being. After that Sir Clifford was satisfied to go about it more quietly, to be the guide, philosopher, and friend of union government, but always under the rose. The splendid aggregation of moral force, intellectual ability, and debating talent which Premier Borden has succeeded in getting together as a union government is largely due, as I take it, to the shrewd advice and untiring effort of Sir Clifford Sifton who is in politics as much as a man can be who has been out of them for the last six years. The name Sifton is represented in the union government by Sir Clifford’s brother, Premier Sifton of Alberta, who is known as a strong man in those parts, given to silence, deep thought, black cigars and drastic action. Sir Clifford is not included in the cabinet but he is a good enough patriot to lend it his beat assistance and support from the outside.
UNION government is a big combination and bespeaks a big organizing mind behind it. So long as union government dealt with little names and little men, the Laurier Liberals could afford to laugh at it, and did. It was a case, as the genial Fred Pardee might put it, of the deuces running wild. A union government with a forty per cent, infusion of two-spot Liberals was a thing to be despised, but when men like Carvell, Crerar, Calder, A. L. Sifton, Rowell — all statesmen of high standing—swung in-—that was another story. When big business in the shape of C. C. Ballantyne took a laboring oar it became a moral certainty that union government was out to do its best. Nova Scotia — home of rockribbed Grits — held aloof for a while, Premier Murray, preferring not to abandon his kingship down there, but when A. K. Maclean, backed by the prestige and support of W. S. Fielding, fell into line it was conceded that the combination was splendidly rounded off and that union government, so far as the personnel of the cabinet was concerned, was a complete success.
Premier Borden’s idea of union government was something with which to enforce conscription and maintain Canada’s footing in the great war. That was his intention—simply that and nothing more. The premier is transparently earnest and honest His efforts toward union government were without guile. It was a subtler mind than his that suggested that to win the war it was necessary to win the election and that to win the election it was necessary to isolate Quebec and split the West. It was the same subtle mind, warming up to its task, that developed the thought that a good job could be made of it by splitting the East too—at least as far as Liberal opinion went. Premier Borden's was the single eye, but the fine political headwork was contributed by someone else.
Sir Robert Borden tried for four months to bring about coalition with the Opposition in Parliament, at first with Sir Wilfrid Laurier, then with his humbler associates. He offered Sir Wilfrid half the seats in a union cabinet, but Sir Wilfrid refused, feeling that to accept office in a government already pledged to a policy of conscription would lose him the solid Quebec, which is his obsession.
Sir Wilfrid fears Henri Bourassa with a mortal fear, and Henri Bourassa is ever waiting just round the corner for one weak word from the Old Man, in which event he will pounce upon Quebec and deliver it over to the reactionary forces of race and religion.
CIR WILFRID was not afraid O that the Liberal party would commit suicide by joining a union government—the Liberal
party is too strong for that — but he did hate to see Quebec in the hands of a race and creed bigot like Bourassa. When all is said and done there was true patriotism in Sir Wilfrid’s refusal to join a coalition government—he did not want to betray Quebec to a man whose ideal is not national unity, but an independent republic on the banks of the St. Lawrence. It is the grimmest irony of fate that Sir Wilfrid Laurier who was, above all, anxious to keep Quebec in touch with the rest of Canada, should do so much to isolate it by his actions. And just here is the place to state that Sir Wilfrid Laurier will have his solid Quebec—every seat but three— in the next general election and something more. If signs go for anything the Old Man will come back to Parliament with a personal following large enough to put union government on its very best behavior. Incidentally it was a sectional influence in Nova Scotia which kept Premier Murray at home. He did not want to jeopardize his local popularity for a more or less precarious adventure at Ottawa.
When Premier Borden failed to effect a coalition with Sir Wilfrid Laurier or any of his leading supporters in the House of Commons he took the matter out of doors, as it were, and peddled it among some very small fry indeed, much to the displeasure of the straight, old-line Conservatives, who considered that he was dragging the dignity of a great political party in the mud. However, Premier Borden, having a high purpose in mind, kept on with his well-meant efforts for union with anybody or everybody who had winning the war at heart.
MEANWHILE the big manoeuverers were at work in another direction— splitting the West. There were fissures there already. Many of the Western Liberals in and out of Parliament were sore at Sir Wilfrid’s immovable attitude on the tariff. It was the cue of the manipulators to widen this breach and the
Winnipeg convention looked like a good starting point. That convention met and passed the usual advanced resolutions on freer trade, lower tariff, British preference, and broader suffrage, but the real question at the back of all minds was conscription. The original purpose was to load up the Winnipeg Liberal convention with win-the-war delegates who would vote for conscription and shout “To hell with Laurier!” But in this matter the win-the-war managers were cleverly double-crossed by the good players from the machine who loaded the convention up the other way. To bring this about Frank Oliver and the Hon. Charles Cross had to get together and for the first time in many years was witnessed the spectacle of these two fierce lions lying down together. The convention, much to the surprise of the union government makers, was a hurrah for Laurier. It expressed a keen desire, indeed, to win the war in any way or by any means, but when Turriff of Assiniboia came out with a flat-footed motion for conscription it turned him down cold. It did more than that. It drove Michael Clark, the trumpet-voiced apostle of free trade, from its midst, not perhaps because he was in favor of conscription, but because he had not dealt tenderly with Sir Wilfrid Laurier when he said good-bye. It looked as if Laurier had a pretty solid West when a convention of the four provinces rounded on a man who voiced its favorite sentiments in the matter of free trade. At all events the West was still unsplit when the Winnipeg convention broke up.
The union government makers claimed, as events show, with good reason, that the packed convention at Winnipeg did not represent true Liberal opinion, and negotiations were again opened with Western Liberal leaders, who thought perhaps that more could be gained for the West by hooking up at once with a union government than by the slower process of waiting for enough Western members to be elected to Parliament to force their
low tariff view on a high tariff administration. Winning the war may have been the first consideration with the Western leaders, but lowering the tariff and emancipating trade was certainly the second. Their patriotism was on top but the main chance was not far behind.
THE renewed negotiations with the Western Liberal leaders were successful to this extent. The Western leaders offered to serve in a union government provided Sir Robert Borden was not kept on as Premier. Four names were suggested, as alternatives, two Liberals and two Conservatives, one of whom was Sir George Foster. The two Liberals waved away the crown and Sir Robert Borden offered to resign in favor of Sir George Foster, a proposal which was tumultuously rejected by the Conservative party caucus in Parliament. They said Sir Robert was good enough for them and told him to go ahead with the good work of knitting up the ravelled sleeve of union government.
This was the state of affairs when Parliament dissolved. The Western leaders were still holding aloof, but obviously they were open to conviction. Sir Robert Borden and his clever coadjutors in the background were getting along. The West was in a fair way to be split—if it can be called splitting to make a breach first and close it afterwards, which same has been done in Saskatchewan where both the party organizations have disappeared to be replaced by a National Government Association. This, by the way, is one of the first fruits of union government — the Hon. M r. Calder certainly swings his Saskatchewan. In Alberta the split is more apparent, the cohorts of Cross and Oliver being on Laurier’s side, and the cohorts of Sifton with Dr. Michael Clark as gonfalon bearer on the other.
The outstanding fact of this “split" in the West is that split may be its name, but that closeup-the-ranks is its nature. One way and another the West is being kept solid for Liberalism both in the provincial and federal arenas. It is conceivable, for instance, that the Hon. Arthur Meighen did not embrace with joy three Liberal champions like Sifton, Calder and Crerar who would insist I on an equitable enumeration when the voters’ lists came to be prepared and to a great degree neutralize the clever arrangements of the War Time Election Act which was Mr. Meighen’s war baby.
THERE can be no doubt whatever that considerations like these had great influence with Messrs. Crerar, Calder and Sifton — that the W’est should remain Liberal, moreover, that it should remain solidly Liberal even at the price of getting rid of Sir
Wilfrid Laurier. The feeling in the West against the Old Chief is not due to his race or his religion, but to the general impression that he is a standpatter on the tariff and that a government with Sir Wilfrid at the head of it might be expected to do quite as little for free trade as Premier Borden and his high protectionists had done. Sir Wilfrid, indeed, had given evidences of stand-patting, as late as the last session of Parliament, when he told certain Western rebels in his party that the time to discuss the tariff was after the election had been won. This was not good enough. What the-progressive Westerners wanted was a positive platform, not the clever system of indecisions which Sir Wilfrid relied on more and more the older he grew'.
Sir Wilfrid's advanced age w'as another factor. Rightly or wrongly the West had got into its head that the Old Chief was asleep at the switch and that nothing in the w'ay of a brisk policy for this earth could be expected from one so near heaven. Moreover there was the certainty that when the Old Man died or quit the scene the Liberal party as at present constituted w'ould fall to pieces, as the Conservative party did, to some extent, when the commanding personality of Sir John A. Macdonald was removed. Sir Wilfrid calls himself a Liberal, but he is really a Whig. A Whig is one who is Liberal in thought but Conservative in action. That is to say, he is sane and moderate, leans heavily on compromise—perhaps too often and too heavily—and has no quarrel with the vested interests. In fact, Sir Wilfrid is a statesman of the Old School and the Old School does not meet the new' requirements of the West. The two great political parties of Canada are now fifty years old—which is a long life for a party as parties go—and they are due to die and be born again. It was the idea of the Western leaders that, when the Liberal party was born again, it would not be Sir Continued on page 80.
The Inside Story of the Union
Continued from page 43
Wilfrid Laurier who would be the midwife. In brushing aside Sir Wilfrid before the next general election they simply anticipated what death or old age or political circumstance might do to him shortly after the election was over. Events have simply forestalled Sir Wilfrid in taking his political burdens away from him before he was quite willing to lay them down. When the inevitable shake-up occurs and union government separates into its original elements, the Liberal party must choose a new leader, but Sir Wilfrid will not be in the choosing. The opinion prevails that he has had his day and that a new day means new hopes and new leaders.
For a while indeed there may be many leaders in the Liberal party. The jangling factions which have been kept in order for so many years by Sir Wilfrid may probably each have a leader of their own. The free-trade, grain-growing, radical West, where initiatives and referendums and things like that flourish as green bay trees, will have a leader. The uplifting, moral-reforming, Quebec-hating Ontario will have a leader. The high tariff, psuedo-Tory, manufacturing East will have a leader. The ultramontane, British-baiting, Bourassa-driven Quebec will have a leader. The socialists will have a leader. Every shade of liberal and illiberal thought will have a leader and the people will look to the East and look to the West and choose the very one
they love best and it will be a mighty confusing job. And, when the leaders have quarrelled long and often enough, they will unite and choose a leader of the leaders—in a word a hegemony.
The prospective hegemonists among the Liberals are simply jockeying for position when they take their places in a union government. When the real race starts they are in a good spot next the
MUCH has been said as to the motives of the Liberal leaders, east and west, who have gone into the union government. The truth is that whatever their personal motives may have been, their collective motive was the ultimate good of the Liberal party. The Westerners aimed to keep the West solid for the Liberal party and the Easterners aimed to keep the Liberal party solid for the Liberal party, meanwhile joining in an earnest effort to win the war by all possible means and to pull Canada out of a financial hole by concentrating the best brains of the country, regardless of party, on the grave problems with which we are confronted.
The larger Liberalism—that was their cue. As W. S. Fielding has put it, the larger Liberalism could not brook the “Quebec attitude.” As standing for, if not actually encouraging that attitude, Sir Wilfrid had to go. For many years to come the returned soldier is going to be as big a factor in Canadian politics as the
G-A.R. was in the United States. It was simply unthinkable that the Liberal party should put itself in a position of hostility toward the soldier, which would have resulted in its wandering in the wilderness for the next quarter of a century. If Quebec stood in the way of a complete understanding and close friendship with the heroes who had fought, died, and suffered for us on the blood-stained battlefield of Europe, then so much the worse for Quebec. Another thought the larger Liberalism had in mind was that now was the time to get rid of the French hump, to prevent Quebec ever again exercising the balance of power, and to entrust political leadership to leaders who were prepared to do their full duty in this war by Canada and the British Empire. The calculations are that there will be fifty-seven varieties of Liberals in the next Parliament. Union government will be a sort of island completely surrounded by Liberals. When the shake-up comes, these Liberals will all be dressed up and have no place to go—but home.
The Conservatives have similar expectations. The party system is not dead yet and will not be until Canada is a scientific state ruled by love and sweet reasonableness—which is some distance off. Some day we may arrive at the perfect wisdom which says parties when real issues exist and no parties when the issues disappear. Meanwhile both parties aim to keep themselves intact against the great day when they will begin to tear each other’s eyes out as usual. Union government is, so to speak, an emergency ration, not a steady diet But, emergency ration or not, it is what Canada must live on for the next three years, or longer if the war lasts.
PUBLIC interest naturally centers around the Liberal newcomers jn the union government, of whom the West furnishes three; Ontario, three; Quebec, one; and the Maritime Provinces, two. Of these, seven represent strong additions to the debating talent, which with one or two brilliant exceptions, was one of the things the Borden government lacked. C. C. Ballantyne, of Montreal, who holds the portfolio of Marine and Fisheries, is a business man and no orator, but his shrewd common sense and economic clairvoyance will be a great assistance at the council table. Major-General Mewburn. Minister of Militia, is a practical soldier whose organizing ability has been recognized from the start. He has the respect and confidence of the soldiers—an invaluable asset always and particularly so in war-time.
Before union government was formed neither Mr. Ballantyne nor General Mewburn had any experience in politics and the chances are that politics, as such, will not botffer either of them much just now, but that the efficient performance of their duty will be their whole concern. They are in the union government, not for their politics, but for their merits which are undeniable. They happen to be Liberals, were, in fact, born that way, but they have never allowed party to stand in the way of clear thinking.
The Hon. T. A. Crcrar, Minister of Agriculture, is another recruit to union government whose past is a white page. Crerar entered the cabinet on the advice of Attorney-General Hudson, of Manitoba, who recently retired from public life after a career of achievement of which any Liberal might be proud. It speaks
highly for Crerar's worth that he should have the imprimatur, so to speak, of a stainless publicist like Hudson. As President of the Grain Growers’ Association, Mr. Crerar represents a body of opinion aggregating fifty thousand members, and let it be known that the Western farmer knows his politics and the reasons for them like a book, being quite different from his Eastern prototype who is somewhat slow and indifferent to public questions. Crerar has behind him the good will of this army of farmers and consequently brings great strength to the union government. He is in politics, not for politics sake, but for the sound causes he has to champion. He carries the flag, around which the West rallies most readily. Mr. Crerar was once a schoolmaster, but there is nothing magisterial in his manner. His personal charm is such that he makes friends without effort. One drifts into weather terms in describing the new Minister of Agriculture—he is, so to speak, fair and warm.
Messrs. Mewburn, Ballantyne and Crerar exhaust the business additions to the cabinet; all the others are seasoned politicians. Premier Sifton, of Alberta, has been in politics for twenty-five years and has been a premier for ten. Alberta is a hard province for premiers—it takes some guessing—but Premier Sifton has always been one guess ahead. He possesses in full measure the brains which have made his brother, Sir Clifford, famous.
The Hon. James Calder, of Saskatchewan, impinged first on Western affairs as an educationist, in which respect his career resembles very much that of the lijte Sir George Ross, who graduated from school inspector and school teacher to statesman. Mr. Calder delivers forcible speeches—-forcible in manner but astute in statement He is conceded to be a great party organizer with a long head for detail. His talents as a speaker and as a practical politician will be a great help to union government, especially in the West Mr. Calder is spare of frame, walks like a caged tiger, and has a pair of keen blue eyes that can see as far into a millstone as the next man.
Newton Wesley Rowell is known all over Canada as a prohibitionist and moral reformer. It was his courage and earnestness that pushed prohibition along in Ontario and also gave it impetus in the other provinces. He has done more to forward this movement than any other two men in Canada. His honesty is equal
to his zeal, and his ability as a thinker and speaker lends point to his moral qualities. Mr. Rowell will probably be acclaimed as the prize orator in the new outfit. No one excels him in the matter of parking a speech with big thoughts no wind, no foam, always the condensed extract of wisdom. One ventures to predict that it will not be long before Mr. Rowell’s hand is seen in economic and social reforms which will conduce to winning the war by enabling people to live simply and at a reasonable cost. Mr. Rowell enters the larger field at Ottawa from a sense of public duty. The hopes he has sown among Ontario Liberals must fructify under a leader of the same high mind and character.
The Hon. Hugh Guthrie, SolicitorGeneral, has long been recognized as one of the most brilliant advocates in Parliament. He was booked for high honors in Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s cabinet if the Old Chief should prove successful. Mr. Guthrie, however, took his fine prospects in hand and followed his convictions to the union government side where his merits and bis courage as the first one to take the plunge were promptly recognized. Mr. Guthrie is one of the best stump speakers in Canada—a veritable whirlwind of energy and persuasion.
The Hon. Frank Carvell, who is given the most important portfolio in the union government, that of Public Works, has long heen known as the crusader of the Liberal party. He never went out after a man that he didn't get—and the people of Canada may expect a similar performance from him when he goes out after entrenched abuses anywhere. Fighting Frank has the jaw of his type. He is always cleared for action, like a torpedo boat destroyer, a machine of war, which his long, lean line of body abundantly suggests.
The Hon. A. K. Maclean had a brilliant career in Nova Scotia politics before going to Ottawa. He is what the Scotch call ca’ canny—slow of utterance, deliberate in manner. His speeches have an academic tinge and are more suited to the sophisticated atmosphere of Parliament than to the hustings. Mr. Maclean has the Scotch head for figures and when W. S. Fielding quit the scene he naturally became the financial critic of the Opposition. Mr. Maclean’s long suit is caution—he looks before Tie leaps and he looks long, a proof of which is that he was the last Liberal of prominence to throw in his lot with union government.