The IDLE HANDS OTTAWA
J. K. MUNRO
Who Wrote “The New Book," “The Poiver of the West," etc.
THE Union Government has weathered another crisis. That is part of its regular sessional program. At the spring gathering the farmers
caucused and caucused till the country sat up expecting to see them carve all traces of tariff out of the Budget. The cry of “Crisis” filled the air and friends of the U. G. were making wreaths to lay on its coffin. Then the vote came and the usual majority was in its usual place and the Union ship sailed serenely on towards that harbor which is labelled 1923.
But no ship sails a long voyage without meeting an
occasional squall. To an old sailor it may simply be a puff of wind. But to the land lubber it looks like sure death and a watery grave. So at the little “Indemnity Session” there was further cry of crisis. This session was presumably called to approve the Peace Treaty. It could have attended to that little chore in the same time it took another Parliament to approve the declaration of war—about five days. As a matter of fact the Treaty was approved and the result cabled to England in just about that length of time. But you’ll remember that in the spring session, when members were shying at the Budget and pretending they wouldn’t stay put there was a promise of some kind of increased indemnity. Well, the increase did not corqe along. But an allwise and discerning Government provided something just as good—viz. and to wit—a special session with an extra indemnity of $2,500.00.
Now be it understood that our Union statesmen, the common or garden variety of M.P., are paid by the session.
But in order to count as a full session the House must sit for thirty-one days.
If it sits for less than that time, members are paid at the rate of $20.00 per diem.
Consequently if the members “worked” for thirty days they would get just $600.00, while working for thirty-one days brings this well-earned reward up to $2,500.00. Under such circumstances patriotism requires that any special session worthy of the name shall sit for the full period of thirty-one days. This one did its full duty. It was hard work but the members were equal to it.
On many days there was no Government business, but the members crammed the order paper with resolutions on everything from
bran and shorts to the shortcomings of the Government and, by meeting late and adjourning early, they managed never to entirely run out of conversation. It was the most mournfully dull session in all political history. But the members stood it like heroes, each man “seen his duty and done it,” and all returned home carrying the fruits of patriotism in the shape of a $2,500.00 check.
The Old Satan at Work
BUT the same old Satan w'ho finds mischief for idle hands to do was on hand and working. Into the peaceful and patriotic gathering came rumors that the Unionist Party was drifting Torywards and a vague unrest came into the systems of the forty-four
Liberals who wear Union as part of their political identification arrd who gave up their old affiliations for their country’s good, seats in Parliament, the accompanying indemnities and other perquisites.
Then the Montreal press, or rather the English section of it, veered round and favored a return to the policy of Sir John A. Macdonald, his heirs and assigns. And the air grew thicker while the political barometer continued to fall when a leading French paper openly d eclared that the
country’s salvation seemed to lie in a presumably high protection party under the joint leadership of Sir Thomas White and Sir Lomer Gouin.
But things are never so bad but what they can get worse. This was proved once more when Sir Robert Borden fell ill and rumors came from his bedside that he was working on a platform on which the structure of the new Union Party was to be raised.
Carrying the fruits of patriotism in the form of a cheque.
It was right here that murmurings gave place to action. Just who raised the ringing call for all good Unionists to get together is a dark secret. But as Hon. Wesley Rowell and Hon. Arthur Sifton are the Liberal members of the Cabinet -who are opposed to the immediate formation of a permanent Union Party there is a rough guess that at least part of the blame can be laid at their doors. Anyway the caucus was called. It met and was attended by the Liberal Unionists, the farmers, with the exception of Messrs. Crerar and Nieburg, and even Johnston of Lost Mountain, the wanreding boy of the House. He is a versatile chap, this man Johnston. He sits with the Unionists, voted with the Grain Growers and attended the Grit Convention in August. Yes, they were all there. As usual they were unanimous on the only thing any faction of this Parliament can agree about. They didn’t want any election, so they just talked. And when it was all over a statement was issued that was a work of art. It is said to have been the handiwork of Hon. Arthur Sifton and carries traces of his rather saturnine vein of humor. They were Unionists according to this statement. They would remain Unionists. They approved the Government war policy. Also they had hopes. These hopes were to the effect that the Government would produce a progressive policy that would fit the after-wTar needs of the country. It was, in short, a notice to the Government to get busy but to remember that enough of its followers were Liberal to wreck any Government that did not give their view's due consideration.
BUT if one kind of notice was served on the Government, another was given to the old Tories, something over 100 strong, who form the major part of the Unionist following. They figured it out that the Liberal Unionist caucus had taken the Union out of the Unionist Government. Moreover, they had a suspicion that the new Borden Platform had been submitted to this sub-caucus of the party.
The fact that Wesley Rowell protested that the foundation of a Union Party had not even been discussed changed the suspicion to a certainty. Then they began to analyze the Cabinet, and they came to the conclusion that whereas over two-thirds of the Unionist following was Tory, about two-thirds of the governing was being done by Liberals. To be sure there were enough Tory members to make a showing. But when they sized up Doherty, Foster, Meighen, Kemp and that hustling chore boy, John Reid, and put them up against a wily trio like Calder, Sifton and Rowell, even if you didn’t count Mewburn Ballantyne and
Guthrie they figured that the Tories would be too busy watching their opponents to do much themselves. There was some comfort in an assurance that James Calder favored an immediate formation of a Unionist Party, while Sifton and Rowell were opposed to it. But not much. They couldn’t be sure which way James would be facing the next time they met him.
So, deep discontent burned in Tory bosoms and found expression in sulphurous mutterings. Not many of them spoke out loud. For there are several vacant senatorships, also there are other jobs not affected by the abolition of patronage that might help out a hard winter and serve as an insurance against a chilly reception by the electorate.
Still there was a certain suspicious indignation spread over those Tories which, taken in connection with the Grit growling, furnished all the ingredients that might make for an explosion that could blow up the Union boiler and wreck the Union ship. It looked like a crisis. It listened like a crisis. And true to its grand old principles the Government met the crisis by dodging it.
Meeting the Crisis
THE Cabinet met in council. Sir Robert
Borden braved the Doctor’s wrath and attended. He listened to the words of his advisers. And on the morrow the caucus of the whole Unionist following—it is not yet a party, you know—was called. Sir Robert Borden entered pale and wan and evidently suffering, for it is a form of rheumatism that is troubling him. Then the caucus rose as one man ani cheered. Sir Robert stated that he must take a long rest. The cheering was so loud that Sir Robert forgot to make his usual offer to retire from the leadership, Instead he told his enthusiastic followers that, under the circumstances, the time for organization of a permanent party was not yet. He had, however, under h’s hand and seal a platform which he thought would cure the country’s ills. Ha would read this platform to them so that they might take it home and ponder over it during the long nights when the voice of Parliament is hushed. And Sir Robert read. The^e was much of that platform that might be classified as camouflage. But two planks in it are
worthy of mention. It called for tariff for revenue. Also it declared for taxation of incomes to the bearable limit.
Now both of these planks are a bit “gritty.” They suggest that Sir Robert had help in formulating his policy and that he wrote with the soft voice of Hon. James Calder soothing his shattered nerves, while the deadly sweet accents of Wesley Rowell carried consolation to his troubled soul.
But for the present the crisis is passed. Another session will bring other clouds in the sky, other rocks in the sea. But the hand at the helm will steer the Union ship safely past them, for no one knows better than he that the strength of the Unionist Government lies in doing nothing. And no one does nothing better than Sir Robert Borden.
White and Rowell in Limelight
Aside from the “crisis,” the two features of the Indemnity Session were the reception accorded Sir Thomas White and Hon. Wesley Rowell’s flash into the limelight. Both were taken as matters of significance, though no one could exactly figure just what the significance really was.
Sir Thomas, who had just returned from a fishing trip, entered the House as a private member for the first time looking the picture of health and wearing the smile that captivated Grit and Tory alike, last ses-
sion. Just as he got inside the door a ripple of applause started. In a moment it spread over the Unionist benches, crossed the floor and gathered volume from the Opposition and finally broke into a cheer. It was a reception such as no private member and few Prime Ministers had ever received. It made Sir Thomas look like the biggest man in the Unionist Parliament.
It was only a few days later that Hon. Wesley Rowell flashed like a meteor across the horizon. Ernest Lapoint of Kamouraska had criticized the necessity_for Canada signing the Peace Treaty. He did it well from his viewpoint, for this big Frenchman is one of the ablest debaters in the House. When he had finished there was mourning on Unionist faces. It looked as if the last excuse for calling the extra
session that provided the extra indemnity had been annihilated.
Then arose Wesley Rowell. T o do him justice the President of the Privy Council is one industrious chap. He had the treaty at h i s finger tips and the constitutional rights of the Dominion fairly gushed from his lips.
The Unionists cheered him loud and long and when he q u i t at the right moment for congratulations, six o’clock, old Tories hit the sawdust trail to shake the hand of the new Billy Sunday who had brought them out of the darkness into light. A few days late Mr.
Rowell seized a n opportunity, during the absence of Hon. Charles Murphy, to r e-
fute that Irishman’s famous charges of nearly two years ago. He did it in a fighting speech and though he forgot to mention some things, the sawdust trail scene of a few days before was re-enacted.
For a few days there were only two men mentioned in the corridors, Sir Thomas and Hon. Wesley. Sir Robert was absent and ill. Would he retire? Would Sir Thomas succeed him and work out an oft-promised alliance with Gouin? What was Rowell aiming at? Had he leadership dreams? Or, as some of his friends suggested, would he go out in a blaze of oratory, live down his record in retirement and come back as a member of the Government of Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King? And as yet there is no answer to any one of these questions.
With Reference to These Men
BUT, even while statesmen are peering into the future and trying to figure the lay of the Promised Land on the further shore of this sea of turmoil and uncertainty, there are a few ministers of the Crown who pursue the even tenor of their way practically untouched by the present surroundings. Do you know that there are members of this Unionist Cabinet with whom a large proportion of the members of the House have hardly scraped a bowing acquaintance? Ask an ordinary backbencher who is Postmaster-General and he will scratch his head before answering and even then he won’t know whether to call it Blondin or Blond-an. Finally he may blunt out: “Oh, yes, that chap who shot holes in the British flag!”
But this means no disrespect. It simply shows that Canada’s chief Postmaster is known by his past rather than his present. The fact that he has atoned for that Nationalist past by leading a French Canadian regiment to England is not overlooked, but Colonel Blondin is simply remembered by the most striking incident in. his career. Nor is it that Colonel Blondin in unpopular with those who know him. He’s an upstanding chap with considerable courage, both physical and moral. But he is buried in the Senate and insofar as politics go he must be judged by his past and present. A member of the Senate has no future.
However, Colonel Blondin will probably go down in history as the man who took the PostOffice out of politics. Time was when the rural mail routes and country post offices were fertile topics of parliamentary conversation. In the good old days it was a positive treat to hear Hon. Wm. Pugsley and his confreres from New Brunswick grow eloquent over tVe crimes of a Government that had robbed a deserving Grit of an $8.00 a month’s mail route and
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hand it over to some wicked Tory follower. They spend the entire afternoon on the subject and prolong their wails far into the night. Now all is changed. A question as to Post-Oifice affairs brings the stereotyped answer from some member of the Cabinet: “I shall make inquiries and inform the Honorable member.” And the subject drops. The Minister is not there. He is in the Senate. Whyr disturb the sleeping or try to awake the dead?
There are other Ministers in the Senate. In fact it is a peculiar thing that the three departments of the Government which are at present in the public eye are all represented by Ministers sitting in the Red Chamber. These are Labor, Post-Office and Soldiers’ Civil Establishment. The Minister of Labor, Hon. Gideon Robertson, you have met before. Just recently, however, there has been a flash of the spotlight for him. Has he not been chairman of the Industrial Conference, that altruistic gathering that undertook to make the capitalistic lion lie down with the labor lamb without decreasing the supply of butcher’s meat? The net result of that conference appears to be that the capitalists discovered that in the matter of oratory the labor leaders had them beaten a block. As to getting any closer together on the matter of wages and hours of work—: well, nobody expected they would anyway. But that conference was a nice thing to hold. Also it made assembled labor and capital wonder why Sir Robert hadn’t selected a real labor man for Minister of Labor. For Hon. Gideon looked like a schoolboy when compared with many of the labor men he was supposed to represent in this Union Government that is supposed to be representative of all classes of the community. Probably he answers the purpose for which Sir Robert Borden picked him. Anyway, Sir Robert was never very much interested in the labor species of biped. There is another and different branch in the Senate—its leader, in fact is its representative— whom the Premier has studied with much greater interest. For Sir James Lougheed is the kind of man Sir Robert Borden admires. If you don’t think so, turn to Sir Robert’s other friends, Sir George Perley and Sir Edward Kemp. All are men of vast possessions, each knows the true value of every nickel of those possessions—and each is entitled to write Sir in front of his name, in token of Knightly deeds he may have performed or contemplated. Save and Conserve is the motto that might be written on the doormats of all thi-ee. And all are in the various stages of official holdings that Royal favor can confer. Sir James is still a Minister of the Crown. He is re-establishing soldiers and doing it despite their protests against his personality. Nor will
he allow protests to affect his judgment. He knows that money is power and he has money to throw to the birds, albeit he doesn’t throw it. He has that “public-be-damned” frame of mind that was translated into words by an American millionaire and that only a politician, who has found refuge in the Senate, can afford to carry. Few men even in that august if sleepy assembly would have the courage to state right out in open meeting: “If the Senate stands
for anything, it stands as the bulwark of vested rights against the clamor and caprice of the mob.” Yet Sir James said this calmly and without effort. Neither has he ever taken it back or apologized for any part of it. He just plods along and does “as he darned pleases.” Hon. Gideon Robertson may not be a good representative of Labor; but there is no question that Sir James Lougheed is a first-class representative of capital. If changing conditions ever demand a Minister of Capital Sir James should surely have the refusal of the portfolio. And withal Sir James has human traits. He plays golf at a medium priced club—and is more accessible to the average man than many statesmen with less work to do, less business ability and less money to keep from spending.
Two of the Knightly Ministers
DUT somehow you can’t refer to Sir
James without thinking of the other two—Sir George Perley and Sir Edward Kemp. It’s not that they are so much together as that they all possess in varying degrees the same kind of ability and the same lack of popularity with the general public. Of course Sir George is no longer in the Ministry but, as a personal friend and financial adviser of the Premier, he probably possesses more power at Ottawa than many a nominal member of the Cabinet. Moreover, he has been and will be again High Commissioner at London. While there during the war he helped to make Union Government unpopular with members of the C. E. F., not so much by what he did as by the way he did it. No matter what Sir George may be to his friends, to the general public he is about as warm and responsive as a graven image. He shares with Sir Robert Borden the ability to do a kindly act so graciously that the recipient rushes for the open air and halloas for help. Moreover he carries large rolls of red tape into every transaction and generally makes his office a place that it pays to avoid unless you really
have to go. A worthy man Sir George, who understands political economy.
Then there is Sir Edward Kemp. He too did his bit in England and stands as the reason why some of the soldiers will vote against Union Government. He has just come back and there is a strong possibility that he will finish his political career as Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. That position, by the way, was meant for poor old Frank Cochrane whose death caused more genuine sorrow in the House and in Ontario than the demise of any other Minister in many a day. Yes, Hon. Frank was to have been Lieutenant-Governor and, if he had lived to occupy the big house in Rosedale, he would have changed things a bit. “The chief would have made Government House a place to go to instead of a place to stay away from,” is the way one Ontario politician put it. For “Old Frank” was always “The Chief” among his old followers in Ontario and they gave him a homage it has been the lot of few leaders to receive.
However, Hon. Frank Cochrane is gone. When Sir John Hendrie moves back to Hamilton, Sir Edward Kemp will likely reign in his place—and it remains to be seen w'hether Government House will be a place to go to or a place to stay away from. For Sir Edward is also of the cold business type whom Sir, Robert loves to honor. He is sometimes called the Tin Pot King of Canada, for his sheet metal -works are large and their business is widespread. He built up this business himself and he has employed his business ability to his country’s benefit as chairman of the War Purchasing Committee and Minister of Militia in Canada and as Overseas Minister in England. He has straightened out many a business muddle left by more popular predecessors. But he may even be a sufferer from his own competence, for the traits that enable a man to make a business a success seldom endear him to his followmen.
But to return for a moment to the Cabinet situation. Sir George Foster and Hon. J. C. Doherty will probably postpone their retirement for the present. Hon. A. K. Maclean may do likewise, though personally he favors getting back to party lines and getting busy. Whether Hons. Tolmie and Drayton have been fully initiated the by-elections will have told ere this is printed. Anyway, so long as the present policy of doing nothing is adhered to it matters not whether an occasional portfolio is looking for somebody to hold it.