The Power of the West
Will the Prairies Hold Balance of Power?
J. K. Munro
Who Wrote “A Close-Up of Union Government," ‘‘The Four Factions at Ottawa," etc.
WATCHMAN what of the West? That is the cry that goes up to the lookouts on the political towers. Nor are signs wanting that the political generals turn instinctively to that part of the Dominion that lies beyond the Great Lakes when they take down their maps and concentrate their great minds on political strategy. To be sure there are only fiftyseven members from that favored portion of Canada while the remainder of the two hundred and thirtyfour are scattered, or rather, clustered elsewhere. But even in countries where majorities rule, or are supposed to rule, the tail sometimes wags the dog.
That is exactly what is expected to happen in Canada once the war cloud is cleared from the political horizon. That is the reason that political leaders are practically leaving the dog alone while they are trying to get both hands on the tail.
Are they doing this? Just note a few of the straws that indicate the direction and velocity of the wind. When Sir Robert Borden went to England he carried in his train three provincial premiers: Stewart of Alberta; Martin
of Saskatchewan and Norris of Manitoba. Also in this first contingent of overseas statesmen went Hon. James Calder and Hon. Arthur Meighen, both of whom are proud to claim the prairies as their home. Of course Hon. Wesley Rowell also went along and Hon. Sidney Mewburn; and Hon. C. C. Ballantyne happened along
It is hardly necessary to point out that the Western premiers are all Liberals and at least outwardly Liberal-Unionists. Neither has it escaped your attention that all the Dominion Ministers invited to make the trip are of the same political persuasion. All except Mr. Meighen, of ¡course. But he labored so earnestly in the formation of Union Government that he could safely be trusted not to do or say janything that might hurt His Master’s
ID Sir Robert Borden personally select his party? Or did the same benign j nfluences that so ably helped him to form 'Union Government, in their own unostentatious way, help him with the selection?
Was it all accidental or did somebody, >ay, Sir Clifford Sifton who knows the West even if he is not too popular there, >r Sir Joseph Flavelle who knows more Politics than he gets credit for, do a little nore of the same gentle prodding that :ept Sir Robert Borden so steadily on his vay to Union Government?
Did they figure that showing the Liberd Premiers the glories of the Empire in
company with Liberal-Unionists might prove a sort of insurance policy against any threatening disaster?
These, of course, are questions that even the future may not answer. But men like Sifton and Flavelle would hardly bend so much energy to the formation of Union Government without taking some measures to ensure its permanency. However that may be, there is a scurrying westward of ministers and others that shows that the Prairies are to have a Liberal, or perhaps Liberal-Union, education. Hon. Newton Wesley Rowell, whose sweetly-mournful voice was carried back from England practically unimpaired.
was first heard in Ontario. But by easy stages he reached Winnipeg. He probably just wanted to assure the wild Westerners that a childhood spent in Toronto law offices had not so contracted his heart that it did not beat for all of Canada. Hon. Frank Carvell also did the Western tour and there is an off chance that carefully stowed away in his grip were some of those free trade speeches that flowed so fluently from his well-trained tongue ere the trend of events hurried him out of the mire of New Brunswick politics into the more elevating work of winning the war. Of course Hon. T. A. Crerar had to go West for a look at the crops and a hurried glance through the books of the Grain Growers’ Grain Company. It is more than probable that he told his farmer followers how he longed to be back living the simple life and was persuaded that the great cause of agriculture and $2.21 wheat demanded that he stay put for yet a little longer. Hon. Arthur Sifton and Hon. James Calder heard the call of the prairies in their blood and answered it.
Of course Hon. Arthur Meighen also turned his face towards the setting sun and so did Hon. Tom Crothers. But, as pointed out before Hon. Arthur is safe while good-natured old Tom is a relic of other and Torier days. Anyway, he had troubles of his own with the labor men even as Hon. Arthur had his, trying to find an occasional section of land that a returned soldier could settle on.
Another who has found the West a new field for missionary work is Sir John Willison, Chairman of the Reconstruction Commission, an offshoot of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association, who gave the West the benefit of his erudite mind and the sunshine of his smile.
Naturally you start to look for reasons for this sudden political partiality to things western. And you haven’t got far to look. It seems assured that for some years to come Ontario will vote against Quebec and vice versa; that if Ontario votes Tory, Quebec will vote Grit or that If Quebec votes anti-Union, Ontario will perforce stick to the Union Party. The reasons are too obvious to require setting out. Laurier, while he lives, will be the chiefest among them.
That neutralizes the two greatest seatproducing provinces. Then, when you get to the Maritimes, you realize that they are not going to do much towards breaking the tie. You can draw a line through the centre of New Brunswick and find that every seat north of it is Liberal in
Provincial politics and that all save one or two are the same way in Dominion politics. They can be dependent on to stay that way with slight variations. Nova Scotia never suffered a severe relapse from party lines and is not likely to. That was evidenced by the fact that Premier
Murray after being enrolled in the Union Cabinet took a hasty glance at the safety first signs and decided to stick with his old job and his old party. He ought to know Nova Scotia for he has been its Premier for a long, long time.
So you turn your eyes from the east and the contiguous, look away across the waters of Lake Superior and realize that if the west comes down to Ottawa in close formation it has the rest of Canada practically at its mercy. Hon. Bob Rogers realizes this, for he has resurrected his Winnipeg Telegram and his wires are out to rescue some remnants of the old Tory party from what he always considered the Union muddle. He realizes that to be a power in the West is to be a power in Canada. And it is no secret that Hon. Bob still yearns to be a power in his native land—whether for good or evil, who shall say?
THERE is still another reason too why the West must be looked after politically. The crops out there haven’t been any too good. Next to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, prosperity has been the best friend Union Government has . known. When a man is making money and living in comfort or comparative luxury he can look on any kind of government with considerable equanimity. But once let him feel the pinch of hard times and it takes a particularly nice brand to please him. Why, down in New Brunswick, where they imbibe politics with their mothers’ milk, they're so busy with the potato-crop this year that they haven’t any time to give to their favorite topic of conversa-
In various sections of the West the harvest has been easily harvested. That leaves much time for talk about the duty on agricultural implements. Once that “duty” talk starts in the West, no one can tell where it will stop. Of course the West is loyal. It has given its sons to the battle line with a generosity not even equalled by Ontario. It has been closer to the war than any other part of Canada. But, unless all signs fail, the war will be out of politics before many more
months have passed. Once the Allies get fairly over the top, mouths will be opened that have long played a part in grim silence. And the West will take a large snare in the ensuing conversation. This conversation will not necessarily wait for the signing of the peace treaty. Once victory is assured, get ready to listen.
It is always well to remember too that the West is not afraid to ask for what it want s. Those men who live out amid the dry cold that you can’t feel are there for a
purpose. They did not go there for their health. They' went there to accumulate a competence and to do it with celerity. They are business men, quick to take advantage of a business opportunity. Before the Union Government reared its head above the political horizon they had pretty nearly made up their minds that they all wanted the same thing and that they wanted it all at once. That something sounded so much like the total abolition of tariffs of all kinds that you couldn’t well tell the difference between it and the freest kind of free trade.
They were in fact beginning tc voice a Liberalism that v as radical almost to Bolshevism. Knowles of Moose Jaw was one of the fiercest advocates of this new brand of Western Liberalism. His utterances caused some of his fellow Liberals to quail even as they brought derisive smiles from across the floor.
There was an inclination to treat his speeches as a new form of Western bluster and to laugh at various predictions that the West would send down fifty members thinking and talking along similar
It may be significant that Mr.
Knowles did not come back to the Federal House.
But what is more significant in the fact that Mr.
Knowles with Hon. tacked on in ,, , . . . - , . If the Big Job ever ROCH front of his name will lay a detaining hn
is a member of the Saskatchewan Cabinet —that Cabinet that is headed by Hon. Willie Martin and generally supposed to be owned by Hon. James Calder. Mr. Knowles evidently was not too radical for at least two of those firm friends of Union Government who were specially selected by Premier Borden to accompany him on his Empire-making expedition to England!
It is an old prediction that the tariff is the rock on which Union Government will wreck. Up to the present time this rock has been submerged by waves of $2 wheat. Even the storm, that the raised railroad rates promised to engender, died away before the fixed price of No. 1 Northern. But the waves of wheat have grown shockingly less; even the finish of the fixed price may soon be in sight. What then? DERHAPS that is the question that * silent James Calder is trying to find an answer for. James is a politician. Politicians do not lead. They figure out what the people are going to ask for next and beat them to it. Is silent James keeping his moustache-concealed mouth so tightly closed in order that he may with impunity lead the clamor that seems bound to come? Is there anything to the report that filters through occasionally that Hon. W. M. Martin is to be the successor to Sir Wilfrid Laurier when the latter finally decides to retire? Does Hon. James Calder dream of a West that loves not Ontario united to a Quebec that hates Ontario with himself pulling the strings that guide a nation? For Hon. William Martin would make a mightyfine figure head for a Federal Government, even as he does for a Provincial Government. He is tall and broad and fair to look upon. He carries all the earmarks of a good Presbyterian respectability He may not be overburdened with brains but then Silent James might furnish the brains. A man that can keep silent in enough languages to control the foreign vote in Saskatchewan may have almost any quantity of anything in his make up. Such may or may not be the dream of Silent James but others have dreamt it for him more than once. A grave injustice may '~z\ have been done ^ J x " him but those who knew h i m best believed from the start that he never would have come into the Union except to look for such a chance; They may have done the Western politician a great wrong. But, if they were right, sure it is that his opportunity is at hand— always supposing that he should prove equal to it. Many a man has made a reputation for shrewdness and sagacity by simplyi keeping his mouth shut.
“But where would HonArthur Sifton come in on a deal of this kind,” y o u naturally ask. And the promulgators of the Calder theory are ready witn their answer They assure you houidcr. that the Sifton
ambitions lie along judicial rather than political lines and whisper in your ear that Sir Charles Fitzpatrick may soon relinquish the ermine for vice-regal robes —that he will become Lieut.-Governor of Quebec and leave a vacancy at the head of the Supreme Court of Canada. What better place could be found for a man whose forte is giving sound judgments and giving them quick?
OWEVER, all this is more or less
the Union Cabinet is making sounds that might lead one to believe it expects to replace the old Conservative party and try to line up that part of the country opposed to Laurierism. If it does, it has every reason for getting busy in the West.
All four provinces are Liberal in Provincial affairs. In Manitoba and British Columbia some traces of the old Tory party may be found. But in Alberta and Saskatchewan the situation is perhaps best described by the dialogue between two lonesome old-time Tories who happened to strike the post office on the same day.
“We hear of Unionists and we hear of Liberals,” said one, “but what are we?”
“We’re souvenirs,” sadly replied the second.
Of course the virtual extinction of the Conservative party in these two provinces is largely chargeable to the foreign vote. When you realize that forty-seven per cent, of the population of Saskatchewan is of foreign origin and that 130,000 of her 640,000 people carry the blood of Germany and Austria in their veins you get some idea of what an important part the foreign vote can play in a country’s politics. Of course, the Wartimes Franchise Act spoiled the Federal voting qualities of large numbers of those aliens but they are still in good standing on the provincial lists and they have been fashioned into as nice a political machine as Tammany ever owned. Moreover, the last provincial elections both in Alberta and Saskatchewan found the Federal Conservative organization practically bankrupt. The provincial associations left without money couldn’t do much, the elections went practically by default and
all organization faded from the political map.
There is much evidence to show that it was the Wartimes Election Act, smashing the alien vote out of the Grit machine, that forced James Calder ct al. into the Union Cabinet. If that is so, the first step towards the disintegration o f that Cabinet will be the repeal of that Act. Sir Robert Borden never liked said Act. It was forced down his throat by certain of his followers with more political foresight than the Premier ever owned. But he swallowed it with a shudder and probably would not be hard to persuade to take it on the statute books. Also he might be brought to see that, if the West is to be placated, this is the best way to do it. It is reported even now that the Franchise Act is to be generally overhauled at the next session of Parliament. If part of that overhauling is the elimination of the clauses affecting aliens stick a pin in your political history at that point. It will be the beginning of the end.
OUT so various and divers and complex are the questions in connection with this Western problem that it is little wonder the politicians are giving it their closest attention. It must be remembered in connection with them all that the present parliament was selected rather that elected. Sir Robert Borden put his brand on a set of candidates and they were elected in spite of personality or previous
affiliations. For proof of this you have only to turn to the Toronto constituency of Parkdale. It’s the strongest OrangeTory riding in Canada yet the Borden brand elected a Liberal as its member. Now Sir Robert did not personally select the men on whom he placed the mark of his approval. Silent James Calder selected them in Saskatchewan ; Honorable Arthur Sifton picked them in Alberta and other lieutenants culled them in the other provinces. Thus it is only fair to presume that a certain number of members from West of the lakes owe their seats not to the people but to Honorable James Calder and to Honorable Arthur Sifton. If the Big Two from the West determine to cast in their lot permanently with the Borden Unionists they can to a large extent control these members. They may be able it r-it.fl enough of them so that no ether defection from the Union ranks could bring real disaster. They may be able to pacify their constituents with the argument that it is just as important that war debts be paid as it was that we should win the war. To pay war debts you must have revenue and one of the best ways to produce revenue is the imposition of tariffs. I’arliament has yet four years to live if the Government can continue to command a majority.
Sir Robert Borden is the kind of Premier who sits and waits for something to turn up. A year and a half ago you wouldn't have bet counterfeit money that he would now be Premier. Yet there he is and with a bigger majority than ever. He is credited with a desire to spend his declining years in England. Honorable Wesley Rowell is said to have his feet all nicely socked ready to slip into the Borden shoes. Honorable Arthur Meighen is convinced that, if the Big Job ever goes out looking for a man to fill it, it will lay a detaining hand on his shoulders. But they’ve misjudged their man. The best thing Sir Robert Borden does is nothing. He’ll just linger on. He likes his job. Any way you can, with the best of the politicians, turn your eyes to the West, satisfied that when you turn again to find Sir Robert Borden, he’ll be reading orders-in-council right where you left him.