WHITE WILL BE NEXT PREMIER
A Prediction—And a Rumor
J. K. MUNRO
STILL hunting for a premiership is the favorite sport of each and sundry Canadians as Union Government has thrust under the spotlight. When Sir Robert Borden silently folded up his toga and faded into that obscurity in which health is popularly supposed to be secreted, one little thing happened which proved that it does not do to go political pot-hunting with a brass band. That little thing was the campaign started by the friends of Hon. Arthur Meighen to put the little Westerner in the vacant chair. It was a real little whirlwind effort that was primarily meant to make a noise like a national demand for little Arthur. But all it did was to concentrate Cabinet opposition to his claims and practically eliminate him as a possibility for Premier.
Others want that job just as badly as Hon.
Arthur does, but they’ve profited by his experience. They’ve passed the “hush, hush” sign to their friends and for the present, at least, are keeping their lights under their respective bushels. But they haven’t forgotten what they want for a single moment and a constant rippling of the political waters indicates that things are happening in the depths that will not come to the surface till the proper time arrives. That time may be at hand even as this appears in print. For the momentous Unionist caucus cannot long be delayed, once Parliament is called together. The rank and file of the House will be anxious. Each in his own small way has relatively as much to lose as a member of the Cabinet. He may not ask, “Whither are we drifting?” He must know the answer to that question by this time. But he will want to be assured that the drift is to be continuous—that it is not to be interrupted till the last possible session has been called and the last and largest indemnity check is safe in his possession.
For political storms may rock the Union ship, work and worry may send its captains scurrying to healthier quarters, but so long as the crew get their wages and regular rations and are assured of some kind of a navigator, they’re not going to lie down and die of grief, just because the captain who finishes the voyage is not one and the same with the captain who started it.
No Election Yet—That’s Sure
EACH new squall that strikes that Union ship, threatens to wreck it. But it always weathers through. Cabinet ministers come and go, get sick or get Government jobs and the craft staggers a bit, but finally sails serenely on. And, as after each flurry you find things slipping along, or standing still, in the same old way, you become more and more convinced that the sessional indemnity is still the strongest influence.in Canada’s public life. Having arrived at that conviction and figured the number of members of the Unionist faith who must forever forego those indemnities if an election is precipitated, you immediately quit figuring on elections, early or late, and start to pick the Premier who, for the present at least, can ensure a regular supply of the all-important indemnities.
Now don’t blame the ordinary member too much. He has been to Ottawa and discovered how difficult it is to provide laws that will give everybody in this Dominion a Rolls-Royce car with a gold-laced chauffeur. Also he has been home on occasion and learned that not much less will satisfy that part of the electorate that swings elections. So he has probably made up
his mind that if he sits still and lets the unrest settle itself, he’s doing at least part of his duty. And after all he owes something to himself. Did he not, by getting elected to support Union Government, help to win the war? He’ll tell you he did. Then why should he, while still in the first flush of victory, vote himself out of pleasant winters at Ottawa, free passes on the railways and other incidentals to kindergarten statesmanship? Why should he? I ask. And I can hear the answer come in a ringing and almost unanimous shout:
So that question being once more answered, the next one comes naturally: “Who is
going to be the new Premier?” And the same system of deduction gives only one answer:
“Sir Thomas White.”
“Oh,” I hear you say, “Sir Thomas has said he’s out of politics.”
He is. But he isn’t into anything
else. To be sure he has accepted a few directorships in big corporations. But he can drop those at any moment without creating any financial crises. So far as any real occupation goes he’s heart and fancy free.
And nobody ever charged that Sir Thomas lacked ambition or patriotism.
Some unkind people even insinuate that it was unsatisfied ambition that caused the financial
knight to swear-off politics. You remember away back last spring when Sir Thomas was making himself popular with the private members and Sir Robert was to be unloaded on Washington. Well, these folks will tell you that it was all fixed then and it only remained to make the change of scenery. But when Sir Robert came back', Sir Thomas felt it to be up to him to do the polite. So he went to Sir Robert and whispered in his ear that this muchly-muddled country was never so much in need of the guidance of a born statesman; that the children cried for him, as it were.
Sir Thomas is strong when he strikes that strain. He almost makes himself believe that he means what he says. This time he did more. To his subsequent disappointment and sorrow he made Sir Robert believe it. At least, that is what those unkind people tell you. They add, too, that when Sir Thomas realized how well he had played his polite part he went out and tore out a few handfuls of his hair and uttered naughty words. Then he chucked his job as Finance Minister and hiked back to the old life, where the financial rewards are greater and men don’t believe everything you tell them.
Anyway it is agreed that Sir Thomas White is out of politics.
He’says so and, so far, there is none to contradict. But “breathes there a man with soul so dead” that he won’t answer his country when it calls him to be Premier? And the country is getting ready to call Sir Thomas. Or rather it is having its voice trained to take part in a calling chorus. Let me give one instance of how that chorus is being trained.
^ Not so veryjong ago Sir Edward Kemp
drifted down from Ottawa to his old home town of Toronto. He came, it was said, with a message from Borden to the faithful of that grand old Tory city that somehow slipped a cog or two at the last Provincial election. In order that the message might be well and truly and at least semi-officially delivered, he invited the presidents of the Conservative Ward Associations to dinner at the Albany Club. Just what the message“ was doesn’t matter so much. But what is significant is that those Ward presidents unanimously demanded that Sir Thomas White be named Premier to succeed Sir Robert Borden.
Now that is not the only meeting that has been held in Toronto at which Premiers and possible Premiers may have been discussed. There was another one shortly after at which Sir Joseph Flavelle, Sir Edward Kemp, Hon. James Calder, Hon. J. D. Reid and Sir Harry Drayton were among those present. Of cou'se, they may have just been conferring on the likelihood of a return of the “flu” epidemic or on Church Union, or it may have occurred to some of them that there is a large, yawning vacancy down around Ottawa that might be filled with the wrong kind of material unless precautionary measures were taken. Nobody even intimates that Sir Thomas White’s name was mentioned at that conference. It is simply pointed out that Sir Joseph and he may have friendly feelings growing out of old National Trust days; that Hon.JimCalder, finding that Sir Robert Borden couldn’t put him over, knows that his slim chance for Premiership honors is gone and he may be ready to back the man he will find easiest to follow; that Sir Harry Drayton is as good-natured as his smile indicates; that Sir Edward Kemp might like a change in a control that prefers Hon. Hugh Guthrie to his experienced self as Minister of Milftia; and that Hon. Dr. Reid, the greatest opportunist and chore boy of all history, knows on whose doorstep it is best to be found sitting when the curtain goes up on a new political scene.
The White Boom is Systematic
ANYWAY the White boom is no haphazard affair.
It is no still, small voice crying in the night that is to bring the wanderer back with shoulders bared to receive the Borden mantle. The call will come from enough places to make it sound like a spontaneous eruption of vox populi. Yea, even Grit-grown, French-speaking Quebec which hates Unionism as it does the Orange Order may whisper a carefully camouflaged invitation.
Now Sir Thomas is popular in the House. But don’t think that all this demand for his services comes of his popularity. There are other reasons. Politics are “evoiuting” these days. Those powers to whom politics is business want the evolution to get a bit further forward before they risk an election. The cry has gone forth to hold the Union Government together till a census and redistribution gives the urban dweller more equal representation with the rebellious farmer.
Did you ever stop to think what the issues are that elections are fought on? Just go back as far as the last two. In 1911 the election was apparently on the Reciprocity issue and it is safe to say that a large proportion of the people favored freer trade with our Yankee cousins. But in an unguarded moment Champ Clark hinted at something stronger than commercial union and some chap in Montreal suddenly raised his voice to the tune of “Rule Britannia.” The music swept over Canada like a flu epidemic, the intelligent electorate forgot all about
the merits and demerits of Reciprocity, they voted for “Rule Britannia,” the LTnion Jack and the British Empire—and elected the Borden Government.
It wasn’t much different in 1917. A vote for Borden was a vote to send help to the boys in the trenches. So again the intelligent electorate grasped his lead pencil firmly in his good right hand, stuck his tongue determinedly in the south-west corner of his mouth and marked his ballot for the boys in the trenches. And be didn’t care, a continental whether he voted for Sir Robert Borden, Jim Calder, Wesley Rowell, or a yellow dog in doing it.
So you may think this next fight is to be on economic issues. But don’t fool yourself. Each election will furnish its own battle cry. Sentiment, not sense, will be the prevailing influence and the party that can furnish the most infectious brand of sentiment is the one that is going to make the most noise when the returns are all
Sir Thomas Will Respond
THE trouble is that at the moment of writing unrest is in the air; prejudice is more powerful than sentiment; the general inclination is to go out and smash governments and people. All this simply means that times are not propitious for an election. So a postponement must be secured.
People must be given a chance to recover their senses. In their present disturbed condition they would pTobably refuse to respond to sentiment and act as if politics were business
in which they in some vague manner were interested.
So, clearly this is no time for an election. And there won’t be an election. Sir Thomas White will hear the clarion call of country, will sacrifice his financial career for the general welfare and Union Government will again drift dreamily and drearily towards 1923.
Neither should you run away with the idea that the demand for Sir Thomas is as unanimous as it would appear on the surface. For instance,
Hon. Arthur Meighen is not throwing up his hat, nor is his countenance registering pure delight. It is not that he loves his country less, but little Arthur more. For he always was ambitious.
When Hon. Bob Rogers took him gently by the hand, led him down to Ottawa and turned the Tory hordes out of Room 16 to cheer his speeches, the little Portage lawyer began dreaming dreams of a time when all Canada would do honor to a new Premier—and as he passed a mirror he
would cast an admiring glance at the reflection of that Premier to be.
But, as time wore on and his speeches failed longer to draw the Tory cheers, when the enthusiasm-raiser became the hair-splitter and even his place as “teacher’s pet” was threatened by smoother rivals, hope must have dimmed a bit in the Meighen breast. But he hung on and waited and finally opportunity camped on his pathway. Sir Robert Borden’s physical collapse, with himself the only able-bodied Tory on the job, must have made it look as if at last the political gods were playing his game. What a shock it was when Sir Robert, in naming his choice for the succession, murmured “Jim Calder” instead of “Arthur Meighen,” only the little Manitoban will ever know. But it sure must have jolted
How he lived through his amalgamated troubles Heaven alone can tell. But he did. And there are evidences that he has come forth from the fire a new and nobler man. For just recently was not one Hon. Arthur Meighen heard in Kingston, preaching a new doctrine of moderation. Moderation! From the lips of the man whose softest word could rouse all that was partisan in the House! Moderation! From the man whose love of closure brought him the title of “The Executioner.” Moderation—and from Arthur Meighen! Yes, judging from first effects something more than pure joy is affecting Arthur.
The Visions of Sir George
NOR are the facial adornments of Sir George Foster waggling with the unalloyed pleasure of a billy-goat who has lunched sumptuously on a tomato can. Sir George, too, had dreams, yea, visions. In them he saw a life devoted to inconsequential detail crowned by a proud young Dominion’s highest gift. And a glance back over his record surely showed a new road to the hearts of a humble but far from contrite people. A college professor and temperance lecturer, he studied rhetoric and made himself a statesman. Absorbing the ready reckoner and acquiring an adding machine be became a Finance Minister; steady inhalation of blue books and an occasional price list prepared him for' Minister of Trade and Commerce. And finally a .thorough mastery of all that is useless in public life was about to make him Prime Minister, when this chap White stepped into the scenery and spoiled the entire film.
No, Sir George may be registering something —but it is not enthusiasm.
Nor is Hon. Charles Doherty lifting up his voice in wild Irish “hoorays.” Hon. Charlie suffered a bit of a disappointment last year. He was at the Peace Conference and found opportunity to put in a word for downtrodden Ireland. It is said, however, that he would have accepted a title at the hand of perfidious Albion, if it hadn’t been that during his absence a little chap named Billy Nickle got busy at Ottawa and spoiled the whole title game. Failing the title, Hon. Charlie, who has been a lawyer and a judge as well as a statesman, could have forgotten a whole lot if he had been allowed to add his name to the list of Canadian Premiers. But he can’t now. And two disappointments in one year are too much for even Mr. Doherty’s genial soul. No sir, Charles is not one of the voices that is calling Sir Thomas back from his quiet financial retreat.
Where Does Rowell Stand?
[OR are the sadly sweet accents of Newton Wesley Rowell distinctly noticeable in that chorus of vox populi. Nobody knows just what Wesley wants, not even himself. One moment you see him leading the Union hosts in a vigorous fight against the enemies that beset their path, v And you feel that Wandering Wesley has at last
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found himself. But almost in a moment you find the same humble but hustling young statesman looking for signatures to testimonials that he is, was and always has been truly Liberal in all his comings and goings, his doings and his undoings. And again you feel that his mind is made up and he is headed back for the faith of his fathers and the Committee of One Hundred. That is you do for a moment. Then he’s on his hind legs in the House flaring defiance at Quebec by repeating his notorious North Bay speech. And you give it up. But on one point you’ve never had to change your mind. You’ve felt it in your bones that if the Premiership was ever passed to him on a platter he’d lay both and violent hands on it and retain it more or less forcibly. And in a general scramble the platter might even have come his way. No, Wesley may be resigned but you can hardly describe him as hopping on one foot and yelping enthusiasm.
Yes, Jim Cal der is smiling behind his moustache. Jim isn’t much on that higher statesman stuff and consequently is not given to dreams. Somebody once said that the reason Jim joined the Union Government was that he realized it was his only chance to ever get to Ottawa. If he ever dreamed of being Premier he didn’t let his dreams run away with his sense of the fitness of things. How he ever got Sir Robert to name him as his heir and successor will probably remain one of the secrets of political history. Jim won’t be any too enthusiastic. But he won’t worry. He’ll keep right on provisioning his life raft. And on the whole Sir Thomas is probably the best man to hold the ship steady till Jim gets ready to cut loose.
As for Sir Harry Drayton, his smile never wavers. It is as fixed as the laws of the Medes and the Persians. Nobody knows what it means. Nobody much cares. When Sir Harry—beg pardon Henry—cut loose from the Railway Commission and dropped into public life he didn’t make much of a splash. The success of his Victory Loan gave him momentary prestige. Then the wise ones reflected that the public had more money than it needed and didn’t give a hang how it spent it and let it go at that. So Sir Henry wanders around with his smile playing in front of him like the diamond in a hotel clerk’s tie. Occasionally somebody stops to ask, “Why in —?” And the answer that generally comes is, “He had money and ambitions, both political and social.” Even if the other fellow thinks, “Poor chap,” he may be too polite to say it. Would Sir Harry have answered had his country called? Would a duck swim? But the country didn’t call, the smile still signals when Sir Henry approaches—and who knows what the future may hold for him?
Was anybody else named for that Borden vacancy? Oh yes, Sir Arthur Currie. But the mention of that famous name brought no applause and Sir Arthur who may or may not have had his ear at the keyhole got in early with a denial of ambitions. All of which is well.
So you see it is all over but the wire pulling. That should take up more of the time of Parliament than the sessional program. For no matter who got the vacancy all agreed that no work must be done on the new job. The future of the party couldn’t stand it.
And what of Crerar, Lapointe and Mackenzie King? All three have done a certain amount of talking since last heard from. King blazed into his native Province with a brand new speech. The rural audience on whom it was unloaded are still developing symptoms of the sleeping sickness. Also Mr. King went East. He took Ernest Lapointe with him and got a much better reception. Crerar has been busy with his Farmers. It remains to be seen whether he has had time to prepare a tariff amendment to the budget. If he has, and it shows the preparation of master hand—well you never can tell. Even in politics “the best laid plans of mice and men gang oft agley.”