A Review of Developments at Ottawa

J. K. MUNRO April 1 1919


A Review of Developments at Ottawa

J. K. MUNRO April 1 1919


A Review of Developments at Ottawa


Who Wrote. “The Power of the West,"“The Rank and File," etc.

THE passing of Sir Wilfrid Laurier has long been heralded as the first symptom of the settling of Canada’s political war storms. Now Sir Wilfrid is gone. The greatest French-Canadian, if not the greatest Canadian, has given place to the hardheaded Scotch Presbyterian, McKenzie. And the storms continue to howl with unabated fury. As to Sir Wilfrid it need only be said that he died as he would have died—in the harness. Up to his last breath he was still the undisputed leader of the Liberal hosts, the idol of his own race and many another Canadian beside. He was full of years and honors. His was the dramatic ending of a picturesque life.

To say that his passing changed the political outlook is putting it mildly. Nothing so well showed his importance as a political factor as the vacancy he left. The effect of his decease may have been discounted to a certain extent for he was of a goodly age and physically frail. But the end left parties and factions gasping for breath and literally wondering where they were at. Statesmen of various degrees gathered in whispering knots to discuss the sad news and faded into hotel bedrooms to confer on even more serious matters. In the Chateau Laurier in one evening fully twenty keyholes were stuffed, behind which strong men wept and laid plans to save their country from impending ruin. In the corridors men eyed each other warily and spoke guardedly. For there were stories of trades and dickers and reunions and none could tell for a surety just what his neighbor might do on the morrow. Even Cabinet statesmen shared in the unrest. For there were reports to suit or sorrow all. And even some Liberal Unionist ministers were said to be studying safety-first signs and debating which life-raft would best carry their personal political belongings.

Then the news swept through the sorrowing multitude that peace on earth and good will towards Grits was to be the song of the Laurier Liberals and that pending a big barbecue, at which there was to be a round up of fatted calves, Hon. W. S. Fielding was to be the House leader. It was pointed out that Sir Wilfrid had called the wandering Liberals home; that at London, Ottawa and Toronto, conventions had been held to establish homes for the homeless and that Mr. Fielding, who had been the nearest thing to a Laurierite who had ever cast a conscription vote, was the logical man to bridge a gap over the chasm that yawned between the Liberal factions.

For nearly twenty-four hours everything looked lovely and Unionist ministers wore out a finger or two counting the Liberal Unionists who would stick and those who would flee to woes they knew not of. The latter found their woes all right. For young Quebec, who came into Parliament in no small numbers in the last election, threw logic to the winds and acted on that sentiment peculiar to the Celtic races. None but a man who had been true to the Old Chief at every turn of the road should lead them. Their cry was echoed back by many of the older die-hards, such as Hon. Charles Murphy. And the Fielding star faded and died.


E A N W H ILE Hon. Mackenzie King and Premier Martin of Saskatchewan appeared on the scene looking wise beyond their years and each listening eagerly for some kindly word that would indicate that, when the party wanted a real leader, it would bend a beckoning finger in their direction. Of the former it was said that the Old Chief loved him; while certain friends of the Saskatchewan prodigy remarked on the

4, ^ importance of

the great West and hinted at alliances that would give both the prairie and the home of the habitant all the blessings that political power affords. That of course was for the future.

But, as coming events cast their shadows before, it was meet that a temporary leader should be chosen who would not cast a blight over hopes for that future. Such a leader must be well and truly chosen. He must be strong enough to make the party look respectable before the country and weak enough to slip into the discard without a struggle when other and greater men were ready to take up his burden. It was a long, hard hunt. Such a man is harder to find than a genius. For, while Parliament is full of statesmen, modesty is seldom one of the recommendations that has endeared the statesman to his constituents.

It looked easy for a moment when somebody mentioned chief whip James Robb of Huntingdon. For,

let it be said right here, that while it takes as many, and probably more, brains to be a good whip as it does to be a distinguished leader, nobody ever looks on the whip as anything more than a useful piece of party machinery. Moreover Mr. Robb is not acutely ambitious. He is a successful miller with a fair share of this world’s goods to whom politics have been more or less of a diversion. So, for a whole day, Mr. Robb had the job almost to himself. But on the opening day of the House he acted as Liberal spokesman and behaved so well that sus-

picions began to arise that he was fitting into the position too nicely. Then a whisper went around that perhaps the modest miller might have more brains than a Martin and just as much undeveloped leadership as a Mackenzie King. And finally it burst on a party made up of lawyers that Mr. Robb was not a lawyer. That settled it. Another good man had gone into the discard. More conferences must be held and the amount of cotton batting required to stuff the keyholes threatened to create a corner in that commodity.

Then came the fatal Monday on which the choice must be made. It was made, but only after a long hard day’s work, which began shortly after breakfast and ended with the six o’clock whistle. Several whispers from the caucus room had prepared the press gallery for the shock, but I grieve to relate that with the formal announcement, “D. D. McKenzie, of North Cape Breton, has been chosen Liberal House leader,” there were bursts of ribald laughter from the cynical correspondents. None of them had hung any medals on the Nova Scotia Scotchman. None had ever heralded him to the world as a master of elocution, a leader of men or a moulder of policy. Truth to tell they had looked on him as a sort of serious joke—serious because of the unceasing industry with which he wedged legal


lore and scriptural quotations into the long drawn hours of the night—a joke because his biting tongue often provoked those outbursts of Unionist sniping that makes the House look more like a campaign rally than a solemn conclave of statesmen solving great national problems.

Perhaps it was because they had failed to discover the McKenzie that the gallery laughed. But the fact remains that they did laugh. That of course was before the aura of leadership had settled securely around the McKenzie head. Afterwards some of them, of the Liberal stripe of course, began to uncover streaks of greatness in this new leader that no one had heretofore suspected. Funny thing this matter of “office.” Take a man out of a railway cut and throw the robes of office around him and, before the sun goes down, someone will have discovered that adverse circumstances have worked overtime in making a hero handle a shovel. Yes and, sad to relate, if some of our statesmen were divested of their robes and clad in overalls you might pass them in a railway cut and never be able to tell them from the rest of the laborers.

McKenzie and the Fiery Cross

A NYWAY the McKenzie whose fiery cross will point the path that the best of Grits must tread is no joke. He is a hard-headed Scot of the canniest kind. He wastes not this world’s goods on the joys of the flesh. He is fervent in spirit and strongly addicted to scriptural quotations. He has a tongue that may stumble a bit but that bites like an adder—that is, if an adder is a good biter.

Daniel Duncan McKenzie is his full name, but it may as well be stated here and now that he is not a descendant of the late Alexander of sainted memory. He was born in Nova Scotia, where the statesmen come from, but, as his mother was a McMillan and

his wife is a Macdonald, he comes as near to being a gathering of the clans as one man can well be. He carries his sixty years easily in a stocky body surmounted by a bald head that is far from being destitute of brains. He is probably not a prophet, for he hath found honor in his own home town. Ten times he stood for municipal honors in North Sydney and never tasted the bitterness of defeat. For five years he was mayor. Three times the same district has cheered the returning officer who announced his election to Parliament. Once a grateful country appointed him county judge. A little over two years of judging satisfied him that politics was his favorite sport. That’s why he’s here. But it is only one of the reasons why he is leading the Liberals through the slough of despond with an eye ever fixed on the treasury benches beyond.

What kind of a leader will he make? Well his opening speech did not make him look like a popular hero. He has an anti-climax style of oratory, and when he stoops to the pathetic he generally punctuates it with a drink of water that somehow' washes away the effect. However he was at a disadvantage on that occasion. True to the kind of politics his native heath breeds he grows most eloquent over the woes of a constituent whom an unprincipled Government has robbed of a $50 a year mail contract. The new occasion was a sad and solemn one and did not provide free scope for this peculiar line of ability. Moreover you will agree that it would be a strange variety of Scot w'ho could be sad when he had just come into a job that tacked $7,000 per year on to his stipend.

The House has an unfortunate tendency to be sad when the McKenzie is merry and merry when the McKenzie is sad. When, on the evening of the great day on which he assumed his new' dignity he held out the olive branch to the wandering Liberal Unionists, part of the House laughed and the rest looked savage.

“The lamp is in the window', the latchstring is out, there is welcome for all,” he chanted.

But the invitation had the intonation of a sneer and the wanderers who had been turned from the door of the home of their fathers by his election were driven yet further afield by his words. Anyone who watched the House as this invitation went out could not but feel that a lot of wire entanglements will have to be demolished before the once great Grit party is again a happy family.

Life of Union Government Assured

ALL of this means of course that the Union Government is assured of its life for this session. It won’t be a peaceful or a happy life, but life of any kind is always sweet to those whose chief ambition is to sway the destinies of their country. There were early evidences that disgruntled Unionists and marauding Grits would start a guerilla warfare; but it will be annoying rather than dangerous. The Liberals would hardly care to go to the country under a temporary leadership and the convention to appoint a permanent chief w'ill not be called before July at the earliest. Nor is there any danger that the Government will appeal to the country in an effort to secure a snap decision over a disorganized enemy. The country at present is full of snares and pitfalls. There are Farmers’ Unions and Labor parties who are developing nasty habits of carrying constituencies. And then a large Government expeditionary force is at present occuping the diplomatic trenches at Paris—holding the fort as it were while Sir Robert Borden decides where Greece is at concerning Berat and prepares a curtain lecture for the boisterous Bolsheviks. To be sure Sir Thomas White looks neat and nice as he fills the vacant chair of the absent Premier w'ith the patient, soothing Maclean as his deskmate and fighting Frank Carvell hard by to open up with the heavy artillery on any filibustering band that may grow over-bold. But dark looks are bent in Sir Thomas s direction by the Ginger Tories.

They can’t quite forget that he was a Liberal from choice before he became a Conservative. And his chief advisers are still too Gritty by nature not to arouse new suspicions.

It may be these suspicions that have furnished the foundation for a report that Sir Robert Borden will never return to lead the Dominion Government. Sure it is that the story to the effect that the Premier had been offered a diplomatic job at Washington was taken as the first intimation of the severance of

the tie that binds. It was hard to believe that the offer had been made, for in the Old Land diplomacy is a trade. And even Sir Robert’s closest admirers do not claim that he is either a bom, or a trained, diplomat. But there was a sort of “Barkis is willin’ ” tinge to his refusal to discuss the matter—a veiled admission that he could be coaxed to leave Canada to her fate were his own future fully assured.

TT has long been felt that Sir Clifford Sifton and Sir Joseph Flavelle, the real men, so it is said, behind the Union Government, harbored a belief that Sir Thomas White would make an ideal Premier for the kind of Government they wish to run. Each is an artist in his peculiar line. United they are almost unbeatable. If they have enlisted the services of Lord Beaverbrook the world, or at any rate the Canadian part of it, is theirs. And if, as those Tories suspect, they really want Sir Thomas, w'hat better way to secure his succession than to put him in the Borden shoes and let him wield the Borden sceptre for a session at least? Nothing is so difficult, in this political world, as to displace a leader who had once settled into place. The whole political history of Canada is proof of that. It is almost impossible to displace that leader when he has at his disposal those gifts the hand of the Premier can bestow.

So in Old Tory circles the suspicion has grown almost to a conviction that Canada will never again see Sir Robert Borden in the chair Sir Thomas White fills with such satisfaction to himself and his constituted guardians.

That conviction is not a new source of Tory joy. It will not add to the peace and unity that should be behind a Government when its mind is weighted w'ith problems of magnitude. It will make rather for noisy prodding that may in turn induce the Government to pay attention to things around home as the Old Tories desire and leave Russia, Roumania and even Greenland to work out their own salvation.

So, if the Liberal ranks are rent, the Unionists are far from dwelling together as a happy family should. On the whole the old-time Liberals are the happiest men you meet. They are obsessed with an idea that they are the faction with whom all the others must dicker—that they are in a position to make the winning trade when the terms and conditions are to their liking. Meanwhile they will look on and smile while the Government sweats to satisfy a following and a country nothing could satisfy because neither wants to be satisfied.

CO there you have all the elements of an interesting ^ if noisy session. It will run largely to oratory but will not be lacking in action. The new members who last session sat and voted' silent votes found on their return home that their constituents had expected them to tear a few eloquent holes in the political sky. They’re going to do it this session, or die fighting for the privilege. The debate on the Speech from the Throne collapsed almost before it started last spring.

This year more than half a hundred members had indicated that they intended to contribute to the concentrated wisdom of the nation before the ink was dry on the original document.

Then those Western men got to holding caucuses almost before the steam heat was in the caucus room. They caucused by provinces and by sections and as a whole. They talked tariff. They didn’t want to embarrass the Government, they said, but they made it somewhat clear that they didn’t want the Government to embarrass them. And they would be embarrassed indeed if they couldn’t go back home with something to show that they had been in a raid that penetrated the first line of protection trenches.

Of course, the Government were not embarrassed but they were sure worried. The debate on the Speech fx*om the Throne saw things which this Canadian Parliament had never seen before. It saw ministers apparently going out to meet trouble. It saw Hon. F. B. Carvell usurp the privileges of the finance minister and make an embryo budget speech in the opening debate. It saw Hon. James Calder, the silent man of mystery, elbowing private members out of his way in order to break into the oratoi'ical limelight. And it heard the same silent James, generally labelled political expert of the practical variety, denounce the “vote hunting politician” as “the gravest danger the country has to face.” And, as it looked and listened, it also learned that winning the war was a mere side show compared to the great work of solving after-war problems. Almost with tears in its eyes it realized that the real heroes of this eventful age are not the sleeveless soldiers but the slaving statesmen who are practically picking the country up by its hair with the remote intention of once more setting it firmly on its feet.

Even the press gallery would be

impressed by the sad spectacle

were there not political comers

sticking out all over. But in

every move you can see the motive

behind. Some answer must be made to the sneering in-

vitations to come in out of the thx-eatening storm that

every Grit of the old school hurls acx-oss the floor. Some

chloroform must be administex-ed to the Western mem-

bers to keep them from gathering up on their hind legs

Continued on page 86

Opening the New Book

Continued f rom page 26

and hollering for the tariff reform their constituents demand. Something must be said to reassure a growling country that the Government that won the war can also demobilize, repatriate, reconstruct or do anything else that comes to its ready and ever willing hand. These things are being said’ by the ministers themselves. Truth to tell, everyone else around the place appears to carry a grouch of some kind and to be looking for an opening to unload it.

Will the Liberals Reunite?

AND what of the morrow? With the present admittedly safe for the Government what does the future hold? When the big Liberal convention meets next summer or next fall, will all the fifty-seven varieties of Liberals get back under one banner, elect a successor to Sir Wilfrid and the McKenzie, and with an unbroken front sweep on to victory? Perhaps. And perhaps not. Even such stalwart Unionists as Carveil and Calder are declaring that they are still Liberals and entitled to all the privileges of the party any time they want to assert themselves. Will they assert themselves? Will they stop being statesmen and become “vote hunting politicians” and “a danger and menace to their country?” They might. And provided the Liberals appoint a right kind of leader they may. If the convention’s choice should he William Melville Martin of Pile o’Bones, Saskatchewan, you could hardly expect James Calder to refuse to follow the man he made Premier in his own prairie province. If Hon. F. B. Carveil could get as part of his reward a seat in Quebec, patriotism might induce him to take a jump. Otherwise the country might be deprived of his services altogether. For he sits for Victoria-Carleton by grace of a Tory majority that loves him not and that was only induced to swallow him as a means towards winning the war. Also Hon. A. K. Maclean is said to believe in his heart that there is much to be said to the advantage of party Government. And, if party Government is to come again, as come it must, there is only one party to which he could conscientiously belong.

As for Hon, N, W. Rowell the parting of the ways offers nothing for him. The Tories don’t want him and the Liberals won’t have him. There was a rumor one day that the meek and lowly Wesley was preparing to lay an oratorical wreath on the memory of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Instantly there was hot rebellion in the Opposition ranks. The French members blazed forth with statements that if anything of the kind was attempted they would rise and leave the chamber in a body. It looked almost like a riot for a moment. Then peace came in the shape of a promise that Wesley would desist. And the gleeful glisten in Tory eyes showed that for once they were in complete accord with their Grit opponents. So, if this Union Government dissolves into parties, Mr. Rowell will have no place to stay and no place to go—unless indeed he decides to head a prohibition and uplift party. It would furnish all the opportunities for speech-making without the inconvenience of attending Parliament.

A Good Time to be Outside

SO there you have the situation as it stands. You have a Premier and four Cabinet ministers in Europe; and an acting-Premier and eight or nine ministers in the Commons; three Cabinet ministers in the Senate and a few more scattered over the health resorts and hospitals of the country. It is called Union Government. It doesn’t look it. Moreover the leading members of that Government, excepting the Premier, declare that they are Liberals. The others hardly know what to call themselves. For the Conservatives are now the Ginger group, constituting one

of the strongest of the various oppositions the Government has to face. •Cabinet ministers could hardly be expected to belongto that group and oppose themselves. Always again except Hon. Wesley. He is in a class by himself.

Across the floor are a crowd who confidently expect the country at their mercy in the course of a year or two. They are busy forming factions and arranging dickers that will give them in•dividually a fair share of the perqui■sites. Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King has visions of moulding them into a harmonious whole with himself as the leader. They’ll swap him as they would a jack-knife. The new leader will be a man who can carry a constituency. He will also be an Englishspeaking Protestant. Sir Wilfrid

Laurier impressed the necessity of this on his French followers during the late years of his life. They are agreed that it is only right, good politics and fair play. And whether or not W. M. Martin makes the grade it is a rattling good guess the new leader claims the West for his home.

But that is for the future. For the present we may expect a noisy, wrangling Parliament that will find increasing troubles as it blunders along. Hon. Bob Rogers dropped in for a day or two and took a look around. Then he packed his grip and departed. And as he said good-bye at the station, his last words were:

“This is a rattling good time to be on the outside looking in.”