The UNDERCURRENTS

J. K. MUNRO June 1 1919

The UNDERCURRENTS

J. K. MUNRO June 1 1919

The UNDERCURRENTS

J. K. MUNRO

THIS Parliament of ours suffered from the spring fever. Along through April it resembled nothing so much as that uncertain month itself. It had its splashes of sunshine and its fleeting clouds and through its general drowsiness you could always feel that there was warmer weather ahead. And more than all it was a session of waiting for something to turn up. It saw little that was exciting and nothing that was portentous, but it developed the facts that Sir Robert Borden and not Sir Thomas White is still the controller of Union destinies and that Daniel Duncan McKenzie is more of a leader than his nominators thought or wished. And it proved yet again that the crack of the whip will still bring the Government forces to heel on any or all questions.

They’re great talkers, those Unionists, and the habit is growing on them. The quietest afternoon is liable to develop an oratorical windstorm should some careless member stub his toe on something that gives any sort of a pretext. Even Dr. Michael Clark, the king bee of every talking match he takes part in, is growing loquacious. Time was when he made one or two great speeches during a session and let it go at that. Now he talks on everything in an evident attempt to prove that he is as prolific as he is magnetic. Most people can find an excuse for him. But there are others men like Nicholson of Algoma, Vien of Lotbiniere and Pedlow of Renfrew—who should hire a hall. They probably think they were sent to Ottawa to enlighten the nation They forget that it costs $10,000 a day to run this law factory and that there are other ways of practising economy besides buying thrift stamps.

But this talk habit is epidemic. It starts with the acting Prime Minister and extends clear through to the back benches on both sides of the House. Sir Thomas White has, in fact, been one of the worst offenders on several occasions. Nobody blamed him when he juggled figures for hours in discussing the War Extension Bill. That’s a Finance Minister’s privilege. He has to prove that he knows his end of the game down to the last cent. And when you’re whittling hundreds of millions down through the decimals it takes time. But when he treated titles and the Smart-Pratt charges in the same extended fashion people began to ask what was the matter. And the new popularity of the financial Knight found him his excuse. It was pointed out that he was handling troubles that weren’t his own. In the titles argument he was travelling under orders cabled from headquarters in Paris that further additions to the Canadian aristocracy must be considered by a committee. In the Smart-Pratt charges he was defending appointees of a Government of which he was temporarily in charge. He did the best he could under the circumstances and, if he did stammer a bit and lapse into his old partiality for the personal pronouns, who shall blame him?

The Temper of Parliament

BUT that titles debate taken in connection with the Daylight Saving fiasco did much to reveal the temper of Parliament. The House as a whole was more strongly in favor of the abolition of titles than it

was against the adoption of Daylight Saving.

But in the latter case it was allowed to vote as it pleased, while in regard to titles, though Sir Thomas White stated that the question was in no sense a party one, the report was spread at the last minute that repudiation of the Borden orders meant the resignation of the Government. How they did scurry for cover and what a sigh of relief went up when the clerk’s count showed that the Union flag was still flying at the masthead!

For on just one thing is the whole House as one. Individually, severally and unitedly it doesn’t want an election. There are men in the Cabinet who believe that, if the Government would take the bull by the horns and go to the country on the tariff issue, it could come back with a good working majority. For be it known that Quebec is not more free trade in sentiment than is Ontario, that British Columbia is not in accord with the farmers’ fetch, that Manitoba would not split worse than fifty-fifty and the Maritime Province electors can be depended on to vote as their fathers did before them. Then why not go? And the answer comes: “Why go?”

THIS Parliament has in addition to the present session three long years of life. Moreover, it is practically insured against premature or sudden death.

“There are too many political orphans in this House for the Government to fear defeat,” remarked a wise old Liberal-Unionist who comes from a Free Wheat constituency. He might also have remarked that there were a number of Ministers among the “political orphans.” For, in case of a realignment of parties, where would Hon. Wesley Rowell, Hon. James Caldei, Hon. A. L. Sifton or Hon. A. K. Maclean get off at? So the political orphans will keep the Government alive not only that it may work out the great problems of reconstruction but also that it may try to build up a home for the politically homeless. Also it has interpreted its mandate from the people to mean that, besides winning the war, it was to put the country back on a peace and prosperity footing. And, having announced that it so understood its mission, it could hardly change, its mind and go back for a fresh mandate. Moreover, Sir Robert Borden is its Premier. Whether he intends to continue as such or to use his elevated position as a vantage point from which to step into a more permanent job is beside the question. In either case he’ll hang on. And all the more so that he never moves unless someone is pushing him. At present those who might push are holding him back.

But if Sir

Robert and his orphans do not want an election —and the Opposition are just as anxious to stave one off till after their August convention anyway— it must not be imagined that all is as peaceful in the political depths as the sunsurface would

indicate.

ny

Praying For Night or Blueher PARLIAMENT had up to the end of the Easter * recess been in session for nine weeks or just as long as the entire session of a year ago. During that time it had hardly nibbled at the Government program. To be sure it passed Hon. Wesley Rowell’s bill creating a Health Department, but not till it had cut out the social welfare part of it and been assured that the total number of members of the Cabinet was not to be increased. But it balked on the Highways legislation. Western members wanted to build railways instead of roads, while Tory members, whose patronage had been cut off, just couldn’t see the fun in handing money over to be spent by Provincial Governments of the Grit persuasion which were not converts to the principles of civil service or any other variety of reform. And, with that measure held up, the Cabinet simply lay down on their jobs and started praying for night or Blueher—Mr. Blucher’s other name being Borden.

Never in the history of Parliament has so much time been spent with so little to show for it. And yet nobody seemed to worry much. It was a goodnatured House that talked by day hnd schemed by night; and the scheming had more to do with the future of parties than the welfare of the country. But they were all busy. At least two factions of Grits and three of Unionists were keeping their ears to the ground and trying to figure what every echo meant. There were early rumors from Quebec that prominent Unionists were trying to negotiate with Sir Lomer Gouin with a view to bunching commercial interests to combat the farmer offensive. Then young Lucien Cannon, the Dorchester fire-eater, blazed out with a denunciation of conscription and all connected with it that was interpreted as a counter-offensive calculated to fan race hatred into a brighter flame. This gave W. F. Nickle of Kingston an opportunity to come back with the greatest speech of the session. But while that speech made conscriptionists cheer it did little towards bringing Ontario and Quebec closer together. And the net gain lies with those who are scheming to have the big Grit convention declare for free trade and then, in conjunction with the farmers of the West, sweep the country. To do this Quebec must be held practically solid for the new doctrine. And it can only be held that way by keeping its hatred of Ontario at the highest possible temperature.

The Closest Watched Man in the House YUOULD the West enter into such a compact? That VV remains to be seen. Politics make strange bedfellows and when polities and business coincide they grow stranger still. Anyway for some time past Hon. J. A. Crerar has been the most closely watched man in the House. He represents the West in the Cabinet. Of course Hon. A. L. Sifton, Hon. James Colder and Hon. Arthur Meighen also imagine that they are Western representatives. It is admitted too that they hail^ from somewhere beyond the Great Lakes. But that is all. istn ««o hnt. Círprnr renresents Prairie sentiment. He’s a farmer, the best of the Grain Growers, and frankly admits that he helped to draft the platform of the Council of Agriculture. Moreover he says with equal frankness that he thought it was a good platform two years ago and thinks so still. Most people thought he would be out of the Cabinet e’re this—he may be in fact before this is printed—but at the time of writing he is a business man and is going to get all he can for his people before he makes the jump. Nor is it at all likely that he will jump clear across the floor when he finally hands his resignation to Sir Robert. He is not so much of a boy as he appears, this sun-tanned, youthful looking statesman from the Prairies. Also he has something besides brown hair beneath the soft felt hat that he pulls down over his eyes in the House. He took hold of the Grain Growers when one stenographer and an office boy were all the help he needed to handle their affairs. Now he’s head of one of the biggest concerns in Canada. And he didn’t get there through trading his birthright for a mess of promises.

The Vest has had its fill of being lulled to sleep by pledges made for election purposes. It is looking for something more substantial at the time of writing. It will take what it can get from the Union Government— and then it would appear that Hon. J. A. Crerar will wander forth in search of more. Where is he going to find it and how? Not, you may be sure, by tieing himself up to a Liberal Party that has given no evidence of seeing eye to eye with the M^est on this matter of tariffs. Still, there are those who expect him to do just this.

On the evening of a day’ that had been a bit stormy in the Commons the rank and file were asking: “What

is Hon. F. B. Carvell going to do?” The Fearless Fighting One had suffered from an attack from the rear. Butts of Cape Breton and Douglas of Glace Bay had charged him with letting a “force” contract for airplane sheds at Sydney, N.S., to a Grit undertaker. They had followed up with statements that the undertaker wTas head of a ring composed of several Grit politicians. And the spectacle was unusual, to say the least— a Minister attacked by his own followers and encouraged by the applause of the Opposition. After it was all over a Nova Scotia Tory remarked: “He’s

going back to the Opposition anyway and, if we chase him out, they won’t want to have him.”

Naturally conversation during the evening centred on the incident. But when one of the French-Canadian leaders was asked: “When do you kill the fatted calf

for Carvell?” he smiled softly and said: “Tell me,

what is Crerar going to do?” And when he got the answer, “I guess you’ll find him at your convention in August,” he smiled again.

“Well, he’s invited,” was all he said.

The Position of Crerar

AND it looks to be a rattling good guess that Mr.

Crerar will be at the big convention. Some people go so far as to predict that he’ll come away from it the new Liberal leader.

But from here it looks as if they had the man sized up wrong. For this Mr.

Crerar is a pretty hard-headed proposition. He doesn’t know politics as Sifton, Calder and Meighen think they do. In fact he is said to be simple enough to believe that honesty is the best politics. He may even have a suspicion that if he looks after his people his people will look after him.

Sifton, Calder and Meighen have long ago decided that if they look after themselves their people will look after themselves. Their viewpoints are exactly opposite. So, knowing what the Big Three would do, is it not natural to suppose that the Western farmer will do exactly the opposite? Doesn’t it look like a good guess that he’ll go to the convention to see, not what he can get for himself, but what he can get for his people— that having got what he could from the Unionists he will add to that what he can get from the Grits? Of course the latter are only prepared to give promises. And, if there is only one way to secure their promises and that is to defer payment till they are in a position to deliver, won’t Mr. Crerar go out on the cross benches and stay there for the present? If he does he’ll take some Western farmers with him—all those in fact who expect their political lives to last longer than the present Parliament. Perched there he will naturally make a rallying point for the actual free traders. And in these days of Farmers’ Unions and other troublesome collections of individuals, who can tell but that another election might find him at the head of a faction that could demand what it would from any Gov-

ernment that wanted to hang on to the moneybags of the nation?

Of course, there is a whole lot of “supposing” in all this. But this man Crerar has possibilities. And those who don’t think with him that honesty is the best politics might pause for a moment and take a look at the career of the late Sir James Whitney. That statesman made people believe he was honest. Then he went ahead and did pretty much as he pleased. He died Premier and left behind a Government that is still living on his memory.

OUT Mr. Crerar is only one of the figui-es in this political drama that is being rehearsed behind closed doors and with the blinds down tight. Unless all signs fail, by the time this is printed there may be other additions to the little group on the cross benches. Fred Pardee is already there. He has never felt at home on the Union side of the House and he turned down several Offers of portfolios largely because he didn’t like the company. When he came back this session it was noticed that he didn’t occupy his allotted seat among the near-statesmen but drifted around to the cross benches.

Still he kept his tongue between his teeth till the titles debate came on. Then memories of how Sir Robert

Borden had put the preservation of titles in a preferred position boiled up in him and he spluttered over. Some of his friends say that he went further than he intended to but sure it is that, when he had jerked out a few sentences, the best that a shocked Cabinet could make of it was that they had lost a valued follower. Boiled down to essentials his speech was: That he had only

differed with his party on one issue and that conscription; that the country needed liberalism right now; and that the Party system was the only system of Government. He is still sitting on the Government end of the cross benches, but the Liberal label is on him and he can be counted among those who will no longer listen to the crack of the Unionist whip. And it may have been significant that, seated around him when he voted against the Government on the titles amendment, were a few Western Unionists and Harold of Brant, who also refused to answer the S. O. S. sent out by the Unionist Whips. It will take a more serious division, however, to tell how many of these have be-

come permanent members of the Liberal-Unionist faction who have thrown off their allegiance to the Government.

A New Tory Party Formed UpHEN there are the Ginger Group of Tories. They have been so quiet this session that some people think they hav,e ceased to exist. But they are still with us and they are even said to have been the cause of a series of dinners of which a lot of people failed to grasp the significance. Anyway Hon. Bob Rogers appeared in Ottawa one sunny morning and e’re the luncheon hour the wires were carrying to all parts of Canada his clarion call to all good Tories to rally to the rescue of their country. After doing a lot of handshaking and whispering he went on to Montreal where it is understood he conferred with those influential ones who put business before sentiment and, as a result, a regular old-time ToryProtectionist party is in the process of organization. Add to all this the fact that the Opposition is divided into two factions—the diehards, who refuse the right hand of fellowship to any and all who turned their backs on Laurier in the last election, and the moderates, who realize that if they are going to get anywhere there must be a welcoming home of prodigals —and you must admit that you have as mixed a dish of politics as anyone could ask. It’s more like an Irish stew than anything the bill of fare usually carries.

The safety of the Union Government lies of course in the fact that it is closer to any and all of the factions than any one of them is to any of the others. That and the fact that all are planning for the future and not for the present. As I have so often remarked, nobody wants an election. A conversation between two Western Liberal Unionists is rather enlightening in this regard. They were passing along the corridor when one was overheard to say to the other :

“I guess we’re not going to get many tariff concessions.”

The other was silent for a moment and then apparently apropos of nothing, he asked: “What do you

hear about the increased indemnities?”

So right here and now you have to admit that those increased indemnities are destined to play a large part in the Government’s reconstruction progress. And the hardest thing the Opposition members will find to do during the present w'ill be to vote against them. Of course they’ll have to do it as a matter of principle and politics—but if the Government should happen to be short a vote or two to carry that measure there’s a bare possibility that one or two French members could be induced to sink their race prejudice for the moment. As for the Westerners one of them puts it this way: “If we don’t take home the tariff bacon we’ll never come back. And you know that we can’t take home that bacon.”

So what are the poor men to do? Why, take home as ïïiany and as big indemnities as the circumstances will permit. And before you blame them too much ask yourself what you would do in the circumstances.

But while all this was going on, while Parliament was marking time and waiting for peace and Borden, some questions were being asked. And principal among these was: “Who needs a title so badly that a Premier

can twice stand his followers on their heads in order to accommodate him?” Is it Sir Robert himself or is it the barons generally mentioned in connection with munitions and bacon? Does the Premier intend to crown his career as the greatest of our war winners with a peerage and a seat at some permanent body that may grow out of the Peace Conference or the Imperial War Cabinet? Or does his duty to one of his makers compel him to hold the title-destroying hand till Sir Joseph Flavelle is clothed with recognition of his deserts? Or is the demand for decorations more wide-spread but none the less insistent? Are there promises to pay in titles to those dollar-a-year men who sacrificed their time that civilization might not perish from the earth? Was the war for democracy really won by the makings of a new aristocracy?

These are questions that time alone will answer. The Continued on page 69

The Undercurrents

Continued from page 30

answer will be interesting. For surely Sir Robert must have some real reason for twice tearing from the hands of his party something on which they have apparently set their hearts.

Will McKenzie Remain Leader?

DUT midst all this scheming and propounding of questions the McKenzie sits with a satisfied smile ever deepening on his placid countenance. It took him a few weeks to get accustomed to the seat of the mighty and the idea that money was rolling in on him in $7,000 chunks. But soon he found that the seat w-as not too hard to fill nor was the idea of his growing wealth altogether terrifying. So he began to expand and blossom forth as the young yew tree. Soon he was making speeches, cracking jokes and quoting scripture as of yore. Now ’tis said that he finds the Liberal leadership so much to his liking that he has resolved to keep it. Nor will he be an easy man to displace. What a Scotsman has he holds. As Max O’Rell observed, he keeps the Sabbath and everything else he gets his hands on. And the McKenzie has both hands on the Liberal leadership. Also there is a growing feeling among his immediate followers that he classes quite as high as the other claimants to the vacant Laurier throne. Mackenzie

King is admittedly losing ground in Quebec w’here all his strength lay. W. M. Martin is more or less tied up to Hon. Jim Calder. Less than that would kill any candidate. Then the only man in sight is Hon. A. B. Hudson of Manitoba. And w’ho is Hon. A. B. Hudson? That question will have to be answered before the August convention makes its choice. Meantime if anyone opens a summer book take a small ticket on Daniel Duncan McKenzie.

But what of labor? I hear someone ask. These are times in w’hich labor is occupying a large space in the newspapers. But not in Parliament. You never hear it mentioned in the Commons. To be sure Hon. Gideon Robertson, who lives in the Senate as all honest laborers ! should, has startled a watching world by rolling over in his sleep and sending forth a committee to gather facts and make reports with a view to making capital and labor work together in peace and unity and eat out of the same profit j trough. The committee was announced as one that had the confidence of all the people. It may have, and for the reason that most of the people never heard of its members. Of the lot Tom Moore, the labor leader, is the only one who is at all representative. The others hardly make satisfactory camouflage—which is all they are intended for.