Putting the “Pep” in Parliament
H. F. Gadsby
ONCE upon a time a smart reporter fixed it up with his city editor and the re-write man to do a political campaign in a new way. His plan might be summed up as thrift of production. Let me tell you you more about it, because it has a direct bearing on the methods I am about to suggest for putting the “pep” in Parliament.
He had noticed on previous tours, had this smart reporter, that the visiting statesman had two, or at most three, speeches which he delivered in regular sequence, only varying them by fresh “introductions,” which provided the local color, the apposite anecdote, the compliment to the resident member or the party candidat«, as the case might be, and whatever&Tackscratching the voter might need in ehch district. Outside of that, and perhaps a joke or two, the speeches were alwavs thé same, and could have been labelled Speech No. 1, Speech No. 2, Speech No. 3. and have been so printed in the daily papers, morning after morning, with small chance of making a mistake.
Another thing the smart reporter noticed was that, though the arguments might be interchangeable, among the three speeches, they were always the same
arguments and that each argument had its natural and inevitable come-back from the other party because, a^ you know, every question has two sides, or ought to have, if the earnest people would let it be so. As there were joint meetings at many of the stopping places the reporter had to take account of these come-back arguments in his plan to save time, labor and telegraph tolls. So he lettered the arguments on the one side and numbered them on the other. This was easy to do after the three speeches with their answers had once been reported in full.
Reduced to action his despatches read something like this: “Jarrett’s Corners, June 1.—The Hon. Billingsgate Smith spoke here last night to an audience which taxed Oddfellows’ Hall to capacity. Platform decorated with loyal bunting and leading citizens. Mottoes, “Beat Them To It,” “Let Smith Wín the War,” “Pink Pills for Pale Pacifists.” Addresses of welcome read by William Bull—notary public and life insurance, three chins and fluted neck.. Bouquet presented by Minnie Simpers—thin legs, white stocking»— supposed to be nine, but tall for her age —her father owns the bank here. Village band played “Tipperary,” “Oh Death
Where is Thy Sting-a-ling-a-ling, ’ and other popular airs. John Tootle blew a key off his cornet. Billingsgate Smith said (here follows two hundred words of local introduction). He used Speech No. 1, Arugments B. S. P. D. Q. F. K. X John Bunk, Opposition candidate, lean person with exposed teeth and ingrowing conscience, countered with Arguments 1, 6, 3, 5, 10, 9. Bunk expressed great horror of Sam Hughes and the High Cost of Living. He also used Jokes 1155 and 1189, which you will find in Humor Ancient and Modern, page 126. Bunk is a poor joker. Both speakers waved the old flag. Smith waved two old flags—the Union Jack for the war and the Stars and Stripes for free wheat.”
THUS in a compact little synposis of say five hundred words the smart reporter manages to convey as many facts and descriptive touches as will enable Jones, the re-write man,.who has imagination and a style to produce two columns of fresh reading matter which will be free from staleness, repetition, overlapping and other faults to which tired reporters listening to the same speeches night after night are apt to yield. The sample de-
«patch I make up to date, but the plan is at least six years old, and I am told that it worked well. The newspaper that put it in practice certainly had snappy accounts of the campaign. Good reporting, like good speaking, is always crisp and salient. If you don’t believe me read the story of Demetrius, the Silversmith, which you will find in the New Testament.
The point I have been laboring in my little parable of the Smart Reporter is that thrift of production is what counts, whether the speech be written or spoken. Pith is another word for it. Shakespeare uttered the root of the matter when he said that brevity is the soul of wit. The smart reporter acted on the same principle when he contrived a labor-saving device which made for economy of space in the newspaper and economy of strain on the reader.
THIS is what Parliament must come to—less space in Hansard and more place in public opinion. ' Long speeches tend to narrow views, because—well, because long and narrow are complements of each other. Similarly short speeches tend to broad views. To prove this you have only to look at some of our daily newspapers, whose editorials are twice as broad now that they are set doublecolumn. Joking aside I would say that the only way to broaden Parliament is to shorten it. I would shorten it wherever it can be shortened in general and in particular, in time and space, in the mass and in the individual.
Shorter sessions, shorter speeches — that is the way to put the “pep” in Parliament. Members of Parliament spend
far too much time at Ottawa, losing track of public opinion in their own little intrigues. Politics becomes a game instead of a duty. When the member i s too long away from home he loses touch with what the people are thinking. He mistakes the craft and guile of the politician s who surround him for the voice of the people. A sad delusion but
a very common one at Ottawa, notoriously the worst place i n Canada from which to gauge public sentiment. As far as possible w e should see to it that Par-
liament does not come between the member and hisA constituents. Antaeus, you will remember, got fresh strength to renew the fight every time he hit the ground. The way I read this fable is that Antaeus was a member of Parliament who went home as often as he could to get “pep” from the voters.
If a member of Parliament wants to keep his ear to the ground Ottawa is no place to do it. Six months at Ottawa and he is deaf for the rest of the year to anything but the hoarse boom of partisan controversy. An idea as ethereal as public service finds it hard to pierce the crass atmosphere of the capital where the finest feelings of the human breast are treated-* as counters in a game. A member of Parliament may not know that Ottawa is blunting his best instincts and spoiling his flair for public sentiment, and he may not feel bad about it when you do tell' him, not sensing his loss at the time, but when you point out that he is forgetting the voters’ first names and the current details of their family history, which are so handy^ when canvassing, he is apt v to wake up with a start and say, “Lemme go back!” There will be no trouble about shortening up Par-
liament so long as we appeal to the member on his practical side.] What he wants mostly is \o be elected again, and he can’t be that unless he spends the best part of his time at honje tending his fences.
THERE is some reason to hopd that a shorter Parliament is a blessing of file near future. F rom where I write I can see the new Parliament building rise Phœnix-like from its ashes. As a matter of fact the Phoenix has her Fast wing about half done and the rest of Her well on the way. John Pearson, the architect, savs he will have the roof on before another snow flies. Observe the gnila of this man Pearson. He sticks to the iGothic because those are his orders, and besides the Gothic is very beautiful. But he makes of it a modern and amended Gothi groups of five windows where onlj grew before. A tremendous light! That was the fault pf building—not enough light and nc| ventilation save of opinion. Well. Pehi changed all that. Wherever light there light is—oceans of light light to flood the minds of the| benchers.
With a new building and all light is it too much to ask for i noftiical methods of running Parlii Why should Parliament spend six at Ottawa, as it did before the the chatter out? Why should it sj months or even four months? make it three months? Three mol plenty in all conscience. Almo] group of men accustomed to big business could do, the work in three months and have days to spare.
To do it they would work according to schedule, have their business ready to
the minute and cut out the waits. This would be a saving all round. The members would save time, wind, money, and health. The Government would save trouble. The country would save millions because the practice of putting big corporation steals over in the last days of a jaded Parliament would be necessarily eliminated. Also that other baneful practice, called “concurrence,” by which Parliament, in its dying moments, nods a feeble assent to'perhaps a million a minute would perish.
How to bring about these reforms in the House of Commons? I say the House of Commons because the Senate waits on the Commons’ pleasure. If the Green Chamber does things right the Red Chamber follows suit. The tail goes with the dog, so to speak. That there must be reform geeè without saying. The House of Commons, which numbers two hundred and twenty members now, will presently number two hundred and forty. If the old rules and the old methods prevail the sessions of Parliament wiH be proportionately fifteen per cent longer—that is to say, seven months instead of six. Something must be done to stem the tide of twaddle. What?
NORTHRUP, of East Hastings, believes he has the remedy. Keep ’em at it, work ’em until they are dog-tired. Six days in the week, night and day, no Saturdäy off, no Wednesday night for prayer meeting—nose to the grindstone all the time. They’ll get sick of it soon enough.' The member for East Hastings has a motion to this cruel effect on the order paper right now. But there are ways more merciful.
To begin with, “supply” is a great timewaster. Supply may be a fine school for young statesmen to learn the details of their country’s business, but I would turn the school over to a standing committee, which would meet at the same time the other committees meet and go over the
estimates with a view to relieving the House of all scrutiny save of contentious items. Anyone who has ever seen the House drooling in supply, niggling for hours, perhaps, over cents and anon kiss ing millions good-bye in a minute, will agree that a small, well-balanced committee of members, chosen for their business ability, could do this work with more discrimination and greater speed". It is not too much to say that a Committee on Supply would save the House at least six weeks’ tiresome discussion. As supply is managed now it is much used by Governments, not to forward the business of the country, but to string things along. When a Government wants to wait a considerable time to see which way the cat is going to jump, supply is one of its chief dilatory artifices.
TWO OTHER favorite means of delay are the debate on the address and the debate on the budget. As matters stand they mav be for days, and they may be forever. There is no limit—except a physical one. One side’s wind gives out before the other’s and then the debate stops. So far as subjects go the debate on the address and the debate on the budget are interlocking. The same tripe does x for both. The rules of Parliament doinot permit a member to speak more than ojnee in the same debate, but it does not follow that he cannot speak twice on the same subject. Not at all. If he has forgotten anything in the debate on the addressj he can pick it up in the debate on the budjjret.
If he wishes to repeat or emphasize something that he said not weightily enough in the debate on the address, the debatel on the budget gives him an excellent opportunity to nail his message down.
The debate on the address and the debate on the budget, as they exist to-diay, are reciprocal nuisances, a happy hunting ground for the bores. They are the junk heaps of Parliamentary discussion. Everything goes into them. Once, I fe-
member, the Press Gallery kept tab on the topics touched more or less heavily in these two great wind-jamming contests Not counting repeaters, hang-overs, slight changes or disguise as from th. Active to the Passive voice, one hundred and twenty-five separate and distinct themes was the score. The choice of sub jects ranged, as I recall, from the vernal equinox to the precepts of Buddha and thence back to Armand Lavergne. These were only the high spots. The debate, of course, took almost everything in between
----everything, that is to say, except the
speech from the throne and the tariff. The tariff we have with us always. We can hammer it any old time.
I would deal sternly with the debate on the address. It is a survival of a more precarious age when responsible government was not, perhaps, as well entrenched as it is now. The debate .on the address was one of democracy’s outposts. The need for it has disappeared. I would give it one day—no more. The prize bores would haye to wait for the budget debate to get it off their chests. There is nothing in the debate on the address in reply for the simple reason that there is nothing in the speech from the throne and nothing multiplied by nothing gives the same. One’s pity goes out to the mover and seconder of the address in reply. If ever men make bricks without straw they do. They are given nothing to say and they sew frills on it. They tell me that Sir W’ilfred Laurier made his first reputation as an orator as the mover of the address It only goes to show what a great orator he is to have struck fire from that mud. However, it was many years ago and Sir W’ilfred was much stronger than he is now.
YES, WE can well spare the debate on the address. W’e might do without it altogether, but let us be kind to an old friend and give it a day. Make it a rule—put it in Mr. Todd’s little lx>ok— that a day is the limit. As much less as the House may see fit to use, but, on no consideration, more than a day, said day being from the time the House opens to the time it rises, and not necessarily a clock day of twenty-four hours.
Next comes the budget debate. Three days for it—make that a rule, too. Why” Well, for one reason, all the matters touched in the budget speech are liable to discussion in detail when the legislationis presented to the House later on. An other reason is that, after the Finance Minister, the Premier and the dozen or so leading thinkers on both sides of the House have spoken there is nothing left for _the small fry but to say the same things a great deal worse. Some cannot even do this—the poor fellows paw the air and make noises in their throats From this lingering = penanee a three-day budget debate would cut the House off. There ought to be enough ideas among two hundred and twenty members of Par liament to make a budget debate interest ing for three days, though sometimes I have had occasion to doubt it. Still a three-dhy limit would help some. It would tend to prevent overlapping. A member would harjlly have the nerve to trench on the time set unless he had a new thought, *>r a new light to present, or a better way of putting j»n old one.
So far 1 have been speaking of set debates l*arliamentary fixtures which
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Putting the “Pep” in Parliament
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can be dealt with by simple amendments in the Parliamentary rules. But how about the general business of the House? How to expedite that? Having shifted supply to a standing committee, and limited the debate on the address to one day and the budget debate to three days, what is the next step? Give the House regular hours—begin at ten in the morning and stop at six in the afternoon. No adjournment for lunch. Let the House work on till it adjourns. This is partly the practice in the British House of Commons which meets at three in the afternoon and rises as may be, but pays no official heed to the dinner hour, on the ground, no doubt, that he who serves the state is not supposed to, stop to eftt. However, the wise people do go out to eat about six p.m. and remain away, say, until half past eight, at which time the wisdom of the House begins to flock back again. Meanwhile the bores and young beginners have had a fine old time for two hours and a half.
There is no reason why the Parliament of Canada shouldn’t have hours of its own. British practice we can follow so far as ignoring lunch hours. The time period I have suggested, from ten in the morning to six in the evening—has many advantages. In the first place it means breakfast at eight, which is about the time the averáge member of Parliament takes it when he is at home. Breakfast at eight means rise at seven, which means go to bed at eleven. An eight-hour working day, with the evening for recreation. It makes for health, clear thinking and labor zest. Ottawa has killed many a farmer legislator by upsetting his regular way of life. Lie-abed habits, late hours, too much food, too many cigars^too little exercise—what do these spell but Bright’s disease?
Ten to six —and this is important—is also a favorite time period for the newspapers. The evening papers will get all the news they want in the shape of committee meetings and the morning proceeding of the House, while the morning papers will take care of the statesmen who speak late in the afternoon. Thus everything and everybody in Parliament will get their due share of publicity. In fact ten to six is the ideal time-period whichever way you look at it—health or convenience. Regular hours and regular habits will show results in clearer think ing on the part of the members. Besides it will bring Parliament in closer communion with the mass of the people to stop work with the daylight and go to bed at the same time as other Christians.
’['HE NEXT means of putting the “pep” in Parliament is the judicious use of the closure. This mighty weapon is seldom drawn—the Dreadnought debate is the last instance I can remember—but it ought to be employed oftener. No futile clamor about free speech should prevent the Government of the day from knocking babble on the head with this big club of theirs. The Mother of Parliaments, the British House of Commons, does it right along and there is no reason to suspect that free speech is less loved in Britain than it is in Canady. It is true the Opposition may rage, but it’s a safe bet that, once the Opposition has become the Government, it will riot put such a useful instrument as the closure up on a high shelf where they can’t get at it.
The closure should be used en bloc, so to speak, and in detail. By closure en bloc, I mean closure in the large—fixing a time limit for each debate, just as the British Parliament does with Home Rule debates and other important matters.
i Closure in detail would mean a time-limit j to the discussion of each clause or proup i of clauses so that no one phase of the ; support would be disproportionately dis-
Another form of closure would apply I to the members of Parliament—I mean a j time-limit on speeches. In the United I States Congress there is a five-minute I time-limit on speeches. If a member waits j to speak half an hour he must collect I five minutes each from five other members or stick to Tiis limit. If he wants to dej bate at great length he gets “leave to print”—that is, to spread his long speech on the Congressional Record, which corresponds to our Hansard, where it looks just as well to the folks back home as ! if he had actually spoken it. A stock anecdote is that a member once abused I this privilege to put the whole of Henry i George’s “Progress and Poverty” on the ; book, but that danger could be met by j making a rule that “leave to print” 1 speeches should not exceed ten thousand j words.
Ten thousand words are plenty. They represent fifty minutes raçid speaking by an orator as onrushing, say, as R. B. Bennett. It ought to be enough for anybody. Five thousand words would be better. It is surprising how much one can say in five thousand words. This article does not exceed that number and it aims to cover the subject fairly wfell. It might read better, perhaps, if I boiled j it to three thousand words. The editor ! may do that anyway. Who know’s?
ALL THE suggestions I make tend toward brevity. Brevity, as we remarked before, is the soul of wit, and the wit is the “pep” which we must get into I Parliament. It is largely a matter of ! condensation. The drift of the times is I that way. In the eighteenth century,
! Pitt, Burke, Fox, the giant debaters of j their day, were long-distance performers.
I Strong and hardy as that age was, j Burke’s monumental orations used to ! empty the House. Grand as their speeches j were the British House of Commons would j not stand for them to-day, when the style,
; even for the gravest deliverances, is a sort of enhanced colloquial and the time j taken even by front benchers is rarely more than three-quarters of an hour.
Similarly there was a time in the Canadian Parliament when five, six, seven and j even eight hour speeches were considered good form. Before a speaker got fairly launched on his subject he had to clean up everything, including his own personal and party grudges, between Lord Durham’s report and Confederation, from which point he progressed by easy stages to the case in hand. Those two hearty old Fathers of Confederation, Sir Richard -Cartwright and Sir Charles Tupper, were great hands for doing that same. Indeed, it was a general failing of their contemj poraries. There are some magnificent Philippics in Hansard by Edward Blake and the old masters of debate, but not one, 1 to my mind, that would not be improved j by being cut in two. Those old fellows i did not speak so much as march around j and around with banners and trumpets.
Roughly speaking this habit of proi lixity continued down to 1896, when it j perished through the disappearance of its chief supporters-from this earthly scene. When they died out it seems that longwinded babies ceased to be born. It is true that when I first joined the Press
Gallery in* 1899 there were a few oldtimers who still dripped declamation both dreary and long, but they survived feebly and if the tomb did not swallow them quickly enough they were buried in the Senate.
WITH one notable exception—George Graham’s speech on the National Transcontinental Railway Commission report—the eight-hour speech never bobbed up again. The last previous speech of that kind I heard fourteen years ago. when Sir Hihbert Tupper unbosomed himself to that extent on the Yukon Scandal. I don’t know what people thought about the Yukon scandal, but, as Sir Hibbert was defeated at the next general election, it looked as if public taste had set in against eight-hour speeches.
Life becomes more complicated. The pressure of the age, the high cost of living and like matters conspire to make us do more and talk less. This partly explains the growing tendency of Parliament to cut out the chatter and get down to brass tacks. Partly, but not altogether. Much is due to conspicuous examples. Even when the old turgid school of debate was still in vogue, John Charlton supplied a model of terseness and force. John Charlton believed in short speeches. His remarks always read like carefully edited magazine copy.* He was, for style and trenchancy, the nearest we had to John Morley. His reputation still persists as one of thé clearest, conciâest, and most effective speakers that ever graced our House of Commons.
FINANCE MINISTER FIELDING did
a lot to push the good work along when he introduced two-hour budget speeches. Before the Liberals went out of office Mr. Fielding had cut it down to an hour. When Sir Thomas White came in hé improved on a good example by making it thrçe-quartérs of an hour. Only the other day he achieved perfection and thé sincere thanks of the Press Gallery by trimming the budget another fifteen minutes. A half-hourbudget — Sir Thomas holds the record.
Indeed, brevity is a habit with all the front benchers. They do it for two reasons—it enlivens their style and it gives them a better chance to get into the newspapers. Brevity is carried to the extreme by the Hon. Frank Cochrane, who considers himself garrulous if he trespasses on his fifth minute. The Hon. 'Charles Doherty, .on the other hand, sticks to the old ambling circumlocutious methods. Mr. Doherty’s explanations are notoriously twice as long as the original trouble. If, when Mr: Doherty was a Judge, he imposed sentences as long as he delivers in Parliament, it must have always been a case of life imprisonment. Mr. Doherty puts a strain on syntax with his long sententies, which a Minister of Justice should avoid. There are, so I understand, four hundred million subjects in the British Empire, and yet Mr. Doherty frequently has trouble finding a single predicate. All this would remedy itself if Mr. Doherty strove to he brief, as his colleagues are now doing.
Needless to say Sir Wilfrid Laurier is in the fashion. His best speeches are not now more than an hour löng. In fact the front benchers on both sides make it their business to say it short, but say it well. The back benchers, of course, are not so advanced. It is still a habit with
them to make their speeches twice as long as they ought to be by using the last half of a sentence to deny what they said in the first half.
After the war I look forward to a great revival of candor which will do as much to put “pep” in Parliament as new rules for brevity. There will be a readjustment of parties. The issues—mainly tariff
ones—will not be new, perhaps, but they will be alive with a new urgency due to our financial conditions and our war burdens. Men will not be afraid of their opinions any longer. They will speak out because necessity compels. The truth will be more popular than it is to-day—and the truth always makes for brisk debating.