The Four Factions at Ottawa
A Review of the Political Possibilities
J. K. Munro
Who Wrote “A Close Up of Union Government,” etc.
LOOKING for the opposition to this Union Government of ours reminds one of wandering in among a flock of prairie chickens. You know what that is like if you have been lucky. First one goes whirring out of the grass with the faint thunder that sets the hunter’s blood atingle. Hut even as you bring your gun round for a hurried shot comes another whirr to the right or left or behind; then another and another till, if it’s your first experience, you’re finally left standing there with a full gun, an empty game bag and a silent wonder as to which one you meant to shoot at.
So the only real opposition that developed last session came from behind and to right and left of the Premier who often gazed over his glasses at some new disturber in a sort of mild amazement. Now it was a Western radical who took a jab at the tariff; again it was one of the old hard-shell Tories who snorted at the array of ancient enemies in the front benches and hinted that the boys at the front were not receiving enough support; and then again it was a scattering fire from guerilla bands of sharpshooters who feared that democracy was about to be submerged by the shower of titles or that the ancient and inalienable rights of Parliament were being ground into sausage meat by the order-in-council ma-
Across the floor, where in normal times all real trouble finds its birth, sat Sir Wilfrid Laurier with his remnant of a following around him, waiting and watching but generally silent. His orders were written in the faces of his lieutenants so that even the stranger in the gallery might read:
“Keep still and let the other fellows fight.”
For the Plumed Knight has not ploughed the political field for half a century without learning a few things.
And one of these is that there are enough divergent interests represented in the Union following to de-
velop jealousies and rows that may finally grow to conflagrations and wind up in a grand explosion. Anyway the war was at its most critical stage.
It was no time to further estrange his native province and people from the rest of Canada by tactics that might prove groundwork for charges that he was hindering th? carrying on of th » war. So as I said before, he sat and watched and waited. Occasionally he argued learnedly on a constitutional point or, picking well his opportunity, he waved the Union Jack and floated in those patriotic nothings that flow from his lips with such eloquent fervour.
FOR, to give the old warrior his due, he is the one “figure” in the House. If he hadn't taken politics as his trade he might have made Sir Henry Irving look to his laurels. He has that personal magnetism that keeps an audience at his mercy. In the bad old party days when the Tories thumped their desks so vigorously every time Sir Robert Borden resumed his seat, I've seen Laurier rise to reply amid thunders of Grit applause that added to the general din. With one gentle and graceful gesture he stilled follower anopponent alike till his first words, delivered scarcely louder than a whisper, could be heard in every corner of the chamber. He can hold his audience too. . Put when you come to read your notes vou find he has given you little to report. You finally compromise by quoting his opening words and his peroration and let it go at that. And as you do it you remark to your neighbor: "He didn’t say a thing.” And the neighbor doesn’t even look un from his work as he answers: “Uh-huh!
But he said it d—1-d well.”
But Sir Wilfrid is humar to some extent. 11» has all an actor’s vanity. Neither has it been diminished by the idolatry of three generati o n s of French-Canadians and at east two of Scotch P r e s b y-
terians. He, the man who offered to make a bonfire of his title, is an aristocrat to his finger tips. He is the Grand Seigneur of Quebec and expects and receives the homage of the habitant. His unspoken word is their written law. He would have all instinctively know his wishes and observe them so that he can be at once a tyrant and a kind and indulgent master. When he gave his followers the right to follow the dictates of their own conscience on the conscription issue he may have known that some of them would use that right but he was surely disappointed when they did. He gives to Carvell, MacLean et al. the utmost courtesy and even casts an occasional sunny smile in their direction. But he hasn’t forgiven. And their knowledge that he hasn’t forgotten and never will forget is one reason why Sir Wilfrid Laurier is the strongest tie that binds the Union Government together. Another reason is that every old Tory in the House, when he comes to a jump that is not to his liking, takes one look at Laurier, swallows hard, and takes the jump. Sir Wilfrid Laurier is seventyseven years of age' and none too robust. If you could figure how much longer he can carry the cares and worries and salary of leadership you could make a rattling good guess at how long the Union Government will last.
The Tories don’t like it for they realize that, the longer it lasts, the more dilapidated their old party organization becomes. But they love Laurier less. The Western Liberals are suspicious of it for it is utterly devoid of that radicalism so dear to the Western heart but they fear Laurier for their own future and for the country if they again accepted a Laurier leadership. Moreover, one would almost believe at times that Sir Wilfrid himself is not ready for a reconciliation that would bring him back to power. It may be that he is just a bit vindictive or even that he is not the good politician he has been acclaimed. For thrice during the last session he either made or was responsible for moves that tended to keep the Union ship afloat.
THE first time was when the Ginger Group forced a discussion of the Quebec riots in the House. Col. J. A. Currie and Stevens of Vancouver, who headed that “bull-moose” movement, were gunning the Government over its lax enforcement of the Military Service Act. Yet, when the Premier side-stepped by turning the fire on Quebec, Sir Wilfrid played into his hands and a race squabble followed in which the original objective was forgotten.
Again, on the night of the titles debate, when Sir Robert Borden had delivered himself of that terrible threat to quit cold unless his wishes re decorations were acceded to, it was a man close to Laurier who relieved the tension. Levi Thompson of Qu’ Appelle had just made an impassioned appeal that private members be allowed the right to think. As he sat down you could almost feel the crisis in the air. Into the breach stepped Hon. Chas. Murphy than whom none is better qualified to drive the Unionists into line. Hon. Chas, could make the Unionists vote against any one of the Ten Commandments by simply speaking in its favor. So, by the time he had poured out about half an hour of words, the crisis had passed. Sir Wilfrid could have stopped Mr. Murphy by the movement of a finger or an eye. But neither the finger nor the eye ever quivered.
Then, in that last awful week when millions of estimates were pouring through the House while cabinet ministers were busy packing their trunks to go to England, he seized a spiteful moment to make the solid Union family stand up and vote for the War Times Election Act. It was an amendment he moved to a little bill intended to remove some technical shortcomings in the Lanark elections. The issue was straight. There was no dodging it and you could see a gleam in the Laurier eye as one by one, in answer to their names, Calder, Sifton. Crerar, Carvell et al, stood up and put themselves on record as favorable to the disfranchisement of the aliens—
Carvell who had hoped, and hoped out loud, that he “would not long have
to apologize for that iniquitous legislation”; Calder whose political machine in Saskatchewan had been smashed by that Act even if it was the lamp that lighted his feet into the Union camp; Sifton who had used those German votes in his own Alberta and might need them again ; and Crerar who knew he must be on dangerous ground by the dark looks on the faces of his colleagues—and many another besides. They all voted—all stood put— had they not been elected, to support the Government that was winning the war? But they all cursed Laurier in thenhearts. It was a grand little forenoon’s sport for the Plumed Knight. But it was sorry politics for any man who ever hoped to be at the head of a re-united Liberal Party.
AS you realize that Laurier cannot be the hope of any faction that can ever expect to turn the Unionists out, your eye wanders along the front row of Liberal benches and finds nothing in the way of leadership timber. There is Lemieux, pompous and prosy, MacKenzie of Cape Breton ready to quote scripture with a Scotch accent or laugh at his own
jokes and Hon. Chas. Murphy who was never popular but once and that the time that he made rude remarks anent Newton Wesley Rowell. You can mark them off the list without a second thought. There are two jolly Frenchmen of more than ordinary ability at the end of the row—Ernest Lapointe of Kamouraska and Hon. Jacques Bureau of Three Rivers—and they’ve got more than average ability too. But they’d hardly do for leaders even if they didn’t come from Quebec. And the next Premier of Canada will be of the Anglo-Saxon race. The E n g 1 is h speaking provinces can forgive but it is too soon to expect jlt them to forget.
Behind Sir Wilfrid are a lot of clever young Frenchmen, eager and ambitious, but with a lot to learn about the political game. It will be years yet before they ripen. Also there is Sam Jacobs of Montreal, the only Hebrew member of the House, a man of standing at the Quebec bar and an authority on bankruptcy law. Who knows but that with these special qualifications he may be a future Minister of Finance. William Kennedy of North Essex may also catch your eye. A new man who can make the best speech in the Budget Debate, do it in twenty minutes and then sit back and look on for the rest of the session shouldn’t be passed over too lightly.
But, as you turn away to look elsewhere for someone on whom history may hinge, you have a feeling that it was not altogether to let the Unionists fight that Laurier held his following in leash. The Lord only knows what might have happened if he had turned them loose. The whole outfit remind you of a theatrical troupe—Laurier the star, a few fair vocalists for the minor parts and a fair but untrained chorus. There is one vacancy that resembles a cellar. There is no manager. Fred Pardee used to have that job. As chief whip he was probably without a peer in Canadian political history. A natural politician, who loved his leader and commanded the respect as well as the friendship of the rank and file of the party, he played the game because he liked it—played it cleanly and unselfishly, doing the work and furnishing a large share of the brains and letting all the glory go to his beloved Laurier. But the conscription issue awakened him to the fact that politics was something more than a game. When he had to choose between sending help to a brother in the trenches or sticking to a leader to whom he had become almost as a son he did some hard thinking and he sat up nights to do it. When he finally decided that his path lay with the conscriptionists it was a hard blow to Sir Wilfrid. The latter has never forgiven nor has he been asked for forgiveness. And you may have noticed that when F. F. Pardee had a hard light on his hands in Lambton it was made yet harder by the appearance of a Laurier candidate in the field. Also it is an open secret that Sir Wilfrid wired at least one of his lieutenants to go into the riding and campaign against his former favorite. That the Conservative candidate was withdrawn and the Laurierite lost his deposit
is beside the question. It was a much more reserved Pardee who sat on the Unionist side of the House last session. But don’t lose sight of him entirely. He has a small but compact following on both sides of the House and will be sitting in the game when the big hands are dealt. It is also a fact that he has refused a Union portfolio not once but several times. But he won’t do for leader. He lacks the ambition, vanity and selfishness.
But, as you look away from the Opposition to the cross benches, your eye instinctively rests on a little grey man who might fit in nicely behind a business or editorial desk. And if you let your gaze sweep over the House you’ll notice that a lot of other eyes are fixed on the same man. He is Hon. W. S. Fielding, former Minister of Finance in the Laurier Government. And if you keep your ears open for a few minutes you are almost sure to hear some Liberal, Unionist or hard-shell, whisper: “If Fielding wasn’t so old and had better health, he’d mighty near be Premier some day." All of which may or may not indicate that Fielding is the man around whom Grits of all brands will cluster when war has lifted or partially lifted its shadow from the land. Certain it is that he will have a large following of Liberal-Unionists at the next session. For Fielding, whether from craft or natural inclination, has played his game well. He is one of the smoothest, easiest talkers in the House—and by easiest I mean easiest to listen to. Elected as a Unionist and by acclamation he has stretched rather than broken the ties that bound, or rather bind him, to his old colleagues. Seated on the Liberal end of the cross benches he has given his unswerving support to the Government on all war measures. But he has not failed to speak out, if gracefully none the less plainly, on most other matters. In the debate on the Yukon election case he took the Laurier end of the a r g u ment, that the matter should be settled in the courts, and h i s speech stands as the cleanest cut and most
pleasing oratorical effort of the entire session. And though the amendment voted on was his own he paid his old chieftain the compliment of letting him poll the first vote for it.
There is no getting away from the fact that Hon.
W. S. Fielding sticks out among the untied Liber a 1-Unionists. His age and his health may be against him. But he may do to bridge a gap.
'T'HAT brings you -*■ around to that unholy jumble known as the Union party you immediately begin to wonder about that old line in the copybook which says, “In Union there
is strength.” You know it is all split into factions and that most of the ministers are not on more than speaking terms with most of the others. Last session they talked at all angles but the sound of division bells brought them all to heel. They had been elected to win the war. They were there to make good their pledges to the people and to redeem the debt of gratitude they owed to Sir Robert Borden for putting on them the brand of his approval. But they didn’t showmuch enthusiasm over some of the votes they had to poll and many of them whispered loud enough to be heard. “Wait till next session.’’ We’re waiting. Also wondering. What they’ll do is a guess—and your guess is just as good as mine.
But one thing may be expected and that is that the Old Tories will pull off into a separate faction in order that they may have some control over the general trend of legislation. That should make four distinct factions in the House next session.
1.—The standpatters behind Sir Robert Borden and the Cabinet.
2. —The Liberals under Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
3. —A section of Liberal Unionists, under Hon. W. S. Fielding and F. F. Pardee.
4. —The old Line Tories, Who will lead the Tory
crowd? Well. Hon. Bob Rogers is playing for the job though the chances are that Hon. Bob would accept some one else for leader provided he were allowed to sit in close behind and pull the strings. Anyway, Hon. Bob imperilled his chances w-hen
he let Sir Clifford Sifton chase him out of the Cabinet. You’ll remember what a mess Jim Jeffries made of trying to come back. Sir Sam Hughes too would like the job. But he hasn’t a chance. You could count Sir Sam’s followers in the House on the fingers of a man who has lost both
If Sir William Mackenzie succeeds in keeping Hon. Frank Cochrane from becoming head of the National System of Railways, the latter looks like the man to whom the Tories would gravitate. All the boys like old Frank. His health is none too good and he’s no orator. But his brains are still in good working order, his heart is in the right place—and after all orators are cheap. He can pick up one who can be as eloquent in public as he himself can in private, albeit the language might be slightly different, and go right ahead. How many followers could he muster? Well, Capt. Tom W’allace could probably whip up between forty and fifty for a starter and the others would drop in one by one as they got too tired looking at Calder, Sifton, Carvell, etc. Col. J. A. Currie would be along to take a hand in the fighting. The Colonel kept up a guerilla warfare all through last session and finished a lot stronger than he started. He appears to have a natural instinct for picking the right side of a question and, as a rough and tumble fighter he has few equals.
BESIDES these four factions you can look for a lot of individual “Bullmoosers” but you’ll never be too sure where each or any of them will line up when the band begins to play. There’s Red Michael Clark, with a toneue that can paint the lily or tear the hide off a rhinoceros, who would talk free trade if he were bound hand and foot and gagged. But aside from that he’s harmless. There’s W. F. Nickle of Queen’s or rather Kingston—clever, tenderhearted and pedantic—who will weep with the proletariat and vote with the politicians. And there’s many another beside.
Sizing it all up what have you got? You don’t know. Neither do I. It is Canada’s latest experiment in parliaments and only thing you can be sure of is that it is a curiosity. Last session with its mandate straight from the people and the
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The Four Factions at Ottawa
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guns of the German offensive thundering in its ears, it talked more independently and voted just as abjectly as its predecessors. Will it do it again? That is a question that can be answered by: “Well, not quite.” But how far will it break away from traditions? How many Liberal-Unionists are tied hand and foot to Calder who had the naming of them for Saskatchewan? To Sifton who named them in Alberta? Or to Carvell who named them in New Brunswick? So far as Hon. N. W. Rowrell goes you know that his personal following totals two— Mow'at of Parkdale and Harold of North
There is another factor that enters into the equation : It costs money to run elections and the sitting members have so far drawn only one indemnity. All of them are not statesmen though most of them are patriots. And when it comes to cast-
ing a vote that may mean another general election some of the patriots will have those election expenses and that $2,500 a
year somewhere in the back of their minds.