SAFE IN THE SADDLE?
J. K. MUNRO
Who Wrote “Opening the Neiv Book,” ‘‘We Aim to Please,” etc.
"EYES West” was the single sentence on the orders of the day when Parliament swung into its steady stride for the session. No sooner had the statesmen selected their boarding-houses and unpacked their trunks than they got busy asking. “What are those Grain Growers going to do?”
And the Grain Growers did. From the railway trains they headed straight for the caucus room, and from behind its closed doors came echoes of terrible things that were about to happen to the tariff. It was to be hanged, drawn, quartered, and its mangled remains smeared on the doorposts of Eastern manufacturers. The caucus developed into caucuses. The horny-fisted farmers got up early and burned the late lantern in order that their work might be done. The delegation from the Prairies, taking pattern from the Peace Conference, elected a supreme council and subcommittees, in order that some might continue to caucus while others ate and slumbered. And all the while the telegraph wires from the West never ceased to hum. Little yellow envelopes rained in on the tariff wreckers. Their one refrain, sung in solo and chorus, was “No compromise. Let no single tariff remain. Your duty is to smash the duty.” They shouted as only telegrams can shout: “We, the United Farmers
of the Great Untramelled West, are sitting up nights to see that you do not falter. We’ll hold up the spring plowing, if necessary, to uphold your slaughtering hands.” Many of these yellow messengers were prepaid. Many others emphasized their senders’ earnestness by being marked “collect.”
Wearied press gallery men talked of “cockeyes,” a newly coined plural for caucus, and a wag hung up a sign which read: “Western members will caucus daily
at 9 and 11 o’clock a.m. and at 3, 5, 7, and 9 o’clock p.m. Official notice will be given of special meetings. Mr. Mackie of Edmonton will open each session by resigning his seat as a protest against the Government’s tardiness in meeting the views of the West.”
Nor was the excitement confined to the caucus room and the corridors. A rumor that a farmer was about to speak in the debate on the address was enough to fill the House and press gallery. And when the Western men took the floor correspondents sat with pencils gripped and mouths open, ready to record the first symptoms of rebellion. Dr. Michael Clark was the pace-maker, and also the first of the peace-makers. Red Michael was eloquent as always, but he sneered at the Liberals opposite, their policies, their practices, and their new leader. His was not an inspired utterance, but it fairly shrieked: “Liberal Unionists, you have
nothing to hope for across the floor. Keep the Union Government alive that the soldiers may be demobilized and the country’s business reconstructed.” Cabinet ministers were of one mind and not afraid to express what was in it. Red Michael had made the greatest speech ever delivered from the floor of the Canadian Parliament.
Still the “cockeye” continued; still the telegrams poured in ; more and more they happened to be marked “collect.”
Henders, president of the Manitoba Grain Growers, was the next man up. He, too, raised the banner of reconstruction and repatriation, and owned to a deep and abiding faith in Sir Thomas White as the greatest of tariff makers.
It was then the storm broke in all its fury. The rain
of telegrams from out the West became a yellow blizzard. Mr. Henders spent sleepless nights; so did a number of his colleagues. Every time they dozed off the telephone bell signalled another telegram in the offing. And it was under these adverse circumstances that Maharg, the curly-headed boy statesman from Maple Creek, raised his voice. Mr. Maharg is president of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers. Also he was born in Dufferin County, which gave to the world President Halbert, of the United Farmers of Ontario. How could man be better fitted to give voice to the woes of
a down-trodden and tariff-burdened yeomanry! He did it. Reading the famous platform of the Council of Agriculture, he planted both feet on it, endorsed its every principle, waved his hat around his head ami yelled for more. He told the Government that the war was over. He intimated that the Great West was hungry for its pound of flesh. And he hinted at wholesale resignations in Prairie constituencies unless the enraged voters were pacified by a clean-swept tariff sheet. He held the Western gun at the Union head already cocked and uttered the customary “Stand and Deliver” without a stutter. And throughout the land some excitable newspapers shouted: “The
fate of Union Government trembles in the balance.”
But the only noticeable effect on the House was that Col. J. A. Currie stood up in his place and placed on Hansax-d a regular old-time Tory Protectionist speech. The Union Jack flew from every corner of it, the old National Policy breathed in every sentence, and, if the shade of Sir John A. Macdonald was working his oui ja board in the twentieth plane at the time, he must have spent a pleasant afternoon. Also, since guns were going, the Colonel reached back and proceeded to show that he travelled “heeled.” His ultimatum was brief and might be translated: “If you Unionists
monkey with the tariff we’ll call the old Conservative party into convention. If funerals are in order we always carry our private graveyard as part of our personal baggage.”
And again the temperamental pi'ess shrieked “crisis,” and called upon all and sundry to keep their ears open for nation-shaking news. Instead came the long-expected tariff caucus. It had been saved up as a safety valve. In its alleged secrecy twenty-five members poured their surcharged feelings into seven-minute speeches. And when it was all over Sir Thomas White broke the news to them gently, but none the less firmly.
No Hope For Extremists
By the time this is in print the budget will probably be down and the Commons chamber will surely be full of the howls of disappointed extremists. For though that time is still weeks ahead you don’t need to be a political prophet to foretell what is going to happen.
There will be a bit of tariff tinkering. It may hui't the feelings of some ardent protectionists. It won’t come near meeting the wishes of various telegram writers in the sorrowing West. There will be no general tariff revision till times have returned to normal. That somewhat indefinite date is not found in the almanac, but you will be prepared for its coming by tariff conferences held at different centres at which all sides to every question will be heard.
That much Sir Thomas White whispered to his muchly mixed following. They took it in such good
part that the air was cleared, and everybody could see with half an eye that there never was, nor is there likely to be, such a thing as a crisis. Three or four Unionists may attempt to save their political hides by jumping across the floor, but the great majority of Unionists, whether they be protectionists or free traders, will go right on demobilizing and reconstructing under the Union banner. The Union Government is here for this session—and next session and other sessions—till it expires through the effluxion of time or appeals to the country through the will of its ministers.
The Hold of Sir Thomas
There are many reasons behind this prediction. But the greatest of all these reasons is Sir Thomas White. Gentle reader, as Sir Walter Scott would say, I have never been charged with being a hero worshipper. I have looked through the official robes of many a political wonder and seen but common clay in the man beneath. But I would have to be stone blind, and deaf as well, not to admit the wonderful hold Sir Thomas is getting on the members of this House of Commons.
Right from the start Sir Thomas appeared to see that the war that had been fought for democracy had not been fought in vain. Stepping down from the pedestal on which premiers and acting premiers have been wont to pose, he proceeded to treat mere members of the back bench variety as men and brothers. He had a glad hand and ready smile for all. Mox-eover, his democracy appeared to have communicated itself to his colleagues in the Cabinet. Whereas ministers had had the habit of wrapping themselves in their dignity and treading a x-ather solitary path to glory, they now appeared to realize the joys to be found in the society of their fellows. At any hour you could see a couple of them shaking hands in the corridors, and if you glanced into Room 16 you might even see spoiled pets of political fortune helping the boys tell stories or looking on at the euchre game. But, let there be no mistake, Hon. Newton Wesley Rowell was not one of these. Life is still a very serious matter with Newton Wesley.
But the others kept at it religiously. Old members who complained that last session Sir Robert Borden never even nodded to them enjoyed ten-minute conversations with the acting Premier. They told him their troubles and got sympathy, if not l-elief. They began to discover virtues in Sir Thomas they never before suspected, and—well, just a year ago now Sir Thomas White was in California, and it is whispered that he had to hurry home to rescue his P fiance portfolio from the Hon. Arthur Meighen, who Vjas walking around with it in his pocket. To-day, iLSir Robert Borden
wants to keep his job as Premier, he had better do a bit of hurrying home himself. For in other days, when there was talk of finding a new leader, it always came to a full stop with “Who are we going to put in his place?” The Unionist following has answered that question by inserting the name of Sir Thomas White.
But the impression still continues to grow that Sii Robert Borden does not intend to return except temporarily. Those who know him best are satisfied that his solid dignity would find lasting peace in some overseas job to which a peerage is attached. The continued rumors that he is to be British Ambassador to Washington won’t wash, but they are taken to mean that someone is industriously looking for a job for him “over there.” If it is Beaverbrook he is as good as placed. If it is Sir Clifford Sifton his chances are still good. If both are at work then the Canadian Premier is assured of something real good.
But to get back to Sir Thomas. Not only has he caught the fancy of his followers, but he is also gathering the respect of his opponents. He is a fine figure of a man. is Sir Thomas, and when an exalted being who looks the part treats you with respect and consideration you think a bit the better of both yourself and him. And then even his worst enemies are beginning to admit he has brains. In fact a glance at his career compels the admission.
A Glance at His Career
It seems only the other day that tall and somewhat self-confident young man called Tom White was chasing items for the Toronto Telegram and drawing down the princely salary of nine dollars per wreek. Being possessed of ambitions he looked around for other fields that could be cultivated for larger financial returns, and found a job in the assessment department at Toronto City Hall. From that vantage point he studied law, contributed “specials” to the Telegram, and added to his daily amusements by teaching night school. The day he graduated from Osgoode the new National Trust Company laid a detaining hand on his shoulder and made him its manager, He is reported to have taken a prize for oratory at the law’ school, but even those who can be made to believe this do not hold it against him.
Once Tom White’s feet had fairly hit the financial pathway, he got to running and, by the time the reciprocity election came along, he was rich enough and prominent enough to be one of the Sixteen famous— or notorious (depending on w’hich side of politics you are)—Grits, who went over to the protection party in a body. With the election won Sir Robert Borden reached out a long arm, plucked Tom White from political obscurity and made him Minister of Finance. There were heart-burnings among the Tories over the picking, and some went so far as to charge that the Finance Portfolio was the price paid for the flop of the muchly-mentioned Sixteen. Also others whispered that he was a bankers’ pet, propelled into the Ministry to attend to such odd jobs as they might want attended to.
When Tom White arrived in Ottawa and tacked the
prefix Hon. to his rather unpretentious name he was a bit bumptious. He affected the personal pronoun to a degree hitherto discouraged in political circles. This habit caused a press gallery man to propound the conundrum : ‘What is the difference between Tom
White and the sky?” And the answer came in chorus: “The sky has only a million eyes.”
But the reporter—assessor—financier—statesman has adaptability as well as grey matter. The “I” has largely disappeared from the later Hansard reports of his speeches. Also he gathered that urbanity wras part of the equipment of a rising young statesman, and he laid in large quantities of it w’hich in turn he ladled out in such quantities that he wTas sometimes accused oLslopping over. But he kept right on learning. Now he knows how to be nice. Nobody does it better. In short, he’s coming—coming with a rush. And the question most often asked is: “Will Sir Thomas White
arrive before Sir Robert Borden is ready for him?”
The Voting “Bulge”
So there is one reason why the Union Government is here to stay. Another, perhaps equally good, is that members who might desert have no place to go to. The Liberal Party across the floor is neither very large nor very liberal. And it is more or less leaderless. The Mackenzie lends little to his new job except a Scotch name and an unquestioned Presbyterianism. Sure it is that accession to the leadership appears to have affected his voice. Time wras when he w’ould lead the House in a laugh over one of his own dry Scotch jokes. Now' he does not even quote the Scriptures or the Shorter Catechism. The death of Laurier took a statesman out of the life of Canada; it also lost to Parliament one of the few peculiar personalities on the Liberal side. For the Mackenzie is lost in his new’ job.
But, even if the free traders had some place to go to, there are hardly enough of them to make the going worth while. When the Western tail started in to wag the Canadian dog it overlooked a detail or two. First of all it should have been sure the tail w’as intact. Then it should have picked a Parliament that was not so abnormally lop-sided. As things are now the West is by no means a unit. Saskatchewan cries wildly for free trade. Alberta may be equally earnest, but is not so vehement. Manitoba is split up to a certain extent, and British Columbia is partly protectionist. Counting it all up, the West may count perhaps thirty to thirty-five really rampant free traders. But even if they all jumped the Government would still have a small majority—it has 73 to the good at the present time. And all of them won’t go. So all or nearly all will stay.
Then there is that indemnity. There is said to be a solemn promise, given in caucus, that the yearly stipend of a member of Parliament will be raised to $4,000 a year. And when a member seeks the solitude of his bedroom, examines the contents of his pocket and asks himself w’hether the country needs an election w’orse than he needs the $4,000, he is apt to look before he leaps. If there were enough of him to line up behind a Liberal leader and form a new Government without an appeal to the country, it might be different. But there isn’t. And again things are working a bit crosswise. For whereas it was figured that the Union Government’s big majority was a source of danger, that big majority is now' proving to be its salvation.
The Antics of Sir Sam
With the Union Government safely set in the saddle, unless some unforeseen contingency arises and the tariff is wiped off the slate of crisis-producing probabilities, you can turn to take a look at other people and possibilities with some sense of security. And right away your eye rests on Sir Sam Hughes. Sir Sam started in early to create sensations w’ith charges that Sir Arthur Currie had sacrificed the lives of Canadians to enhance his own glory. That speech flashed over the country with an electrical effect little suspected by the House. For those who know the “greatest driving force of all
time” best pay least attention to his utterances. Everybody likes Sir Sam. His egotism is so pure and undefiled that it no longer repels. It is simply a natural attribute of a peculiar personage. When he rises to speak in the house everybody settles back for a pleasant afternoon—that is everybody except Sir Thomas White and Hon. F. B. Carvell. These two are his pet aversions. He has a suspicion that the former had something to do with his dismissal from the Cabinet. He knows that the latter was behind the charges that brought on the fuse investigation. He never fails to fire a volley in their direction when the opportunity offers. That volley always brings a laugh from the Opposition and a quiet smile from the Government following. And statesmen don’t like being laughed at.
But laughter is the tribute that Sir Sam’s speeches always bring. When he starts an oration you listen first for the laugh from the Opposition, then for the laugh from the Government, then for the laugh all together. And you never fail to hear all three. Had the charges against Sir Arthur Currie been made by some one other than Sir Sam, Parliament would have stood aghast, and an investigation would have followed at the earliest possible moment. But it was only Sir Sam! And but for the effect on those w’ho do not know the w’arrior those charges w'ould have probably gone unanswered—but for that and one other thing. A grateful country is preparing to give Sir Arthur Currie some substantial recognition of his services. It may even be, you know, that Sir Arthur may pull down a peerage. And a Canadian peer who had to get out and rustle a job would disgrace this young country in the eyes of an enlightened aristocracy.
So Colonel Cooper of Vancouver was put up to take the first sting out of the Hughes oration. And this introduced to the house an entirely different kind of soldier—the top-hole chap. Like many of his kind who never got to Parliament, Colonel Cooper did good' service at the front, and as a character witness for Sir Arthur ho was all that could bo desired.
Colonel Peck to the Front
Thon ore afternoon the House got up and cheered as Colonel Peck, V.C., entered the chamber and found his way to a seat. Fresh from the wars he came, und he looked the part. With his face in repose and just a trifle more droop to his moustache he would pass for “Old Bill” in “The Better ’Ole.” His tunic was decorated with all the ribbons valor can gather, while his nether limbs were covered with a tartan almost as noisy as the bagpipes. In short, he was all Sir Sam Hughes would like to be.
And hardly was his seat warm when he was on his feet defending Sir Arthur Currie. Nor had he uttered more than half-a-dozen sentences before the House discovered that it possessed a brand new personage. He knew what he wanted to say and said it so that all!
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could understand. He had a wit all his own. He was jealous for the honor of his overseas comrades, and served notice that if any more aspersions were thrown around he would make somebody wish he never were born. It was a fighting speech from a fighting man and may be just teeming with possibilities.
The Strength of Crerar
But outside the soldier class, which is evidently going to have amusements all its own, Hon. T. A. Crerar is probably attracting most attention. The Farmer Minister makes a friend of almost everyone he meets. There is a boyish frankness about him that is as unusual, in this political atmosphere, as it is attractive. Hon. Rodolphe Lemieux bumped into it rather unexpectedly one night. He was having a lot of fun with the mixed opinions represented in the Union Cabinet, and got quite' personal
with his questions as to what each minister thought of the famous platform of the Council of Agriculture. What did the Minister of Agriculture think of it?
“I pause for an answer,” he said.
And he sat down dramatically, feeling that the only answer would be a strained silence. But he didn’t know Crerar. With a boyish smile twinkling in his eyes the minister rose.
“Two years ago I helped to draw up that platform,” he said quietly. “I thought it was a good thing then. I think so still.”
Then he sat down while Mr. Lemieux covered up by declaring that Mr. Crerar should resign from the Cabinet. A few minutes later the Minister, to a group of friends in the corridor, explained: “I couldn’t get up in the morning and find the newspapers shouting that I had gone back on my own people.”
Hon. Janies Calder, when he had the same question thrown at him, dodged and ducked in the best political style. And the funny part of it is that the Crerar stock has risen by comparison while Hon. James Calder appears to have suffered. It may all mean that Canada is demanding a new brand of politics in which there will be a larger proportion of frankness and honesty and less of smoothness and political trickery.
As expected, Hon. W. S. Fielding is the man to stand by himself and to whom may flock some of the free traders who cannot find what they want on either side of the House. His speech on the debate was unique. He boxed the political compass and left himself on a little island between the Government and the Opposition. He’ll be there when the big Liberal convention meets next summer. If by that time his following has grown to a respectable size who knows but that he may be the Liberal Moses—or at all events have the naming of the man who will lead the Liberal hosts into the promised land?