THE CALM AT OTTAWA
J. K. MUNRO
THE Easter adjournment found Parliament thoroughly under the influence of the Ottawa atmosphere. The dignity given to the proceedings by the new buildings, further isolation provided for the minor statesmen by new rules that closed the corridors adjoining the chamber to press and public, and the joys of the social whirl have fully convinced the private member of his individual greatness. And gradually suggestion grew into conviction that all was well; that the Farmers were only a political flash in the pan; that the Liberal Opposition was as weak in the country as it is in the House; and that given reasonable time for the public mind to return to normal there could be but one result to an election—an overwhelming endorsation by the electors of the party that had won the war and solved the problems of reconstruction.
To be sure there was an occasional echo from the outside world that indicated that the name “Unionist” did not rouse the enthusiasm it should. For instance, Hon. Arthur Meighen hurled himself into the Temiskaming by-election charged to the muzzle with praises for the great work the Government had done. And even he must have been a bit shocked when Pullen, the candidate he was supposed to be supporting, stood up and, avowing himself a straight Conservative, shook the weight of Unionist connection from his political shoulders.
But little things like this were simply flies on the wheel. A great complacency reigned over the Union camp that nothing but an earthquake could disturb and Sir Thomas White’s orders to “carry on” was earthquake insurancefor at least another three years.
Also illness had again rallied to the aid of its chosen friends. Was not Hon. T. A. Crerar in the hospital having a carbuncle removed from the back of his neck and Hon. J. A. Calder confined to his home with an attack of influenza?
With the real head of the Government and his most dangerous opponent both out of the1IIouse, what could mere members do but t brow care to the winds and sit back and enjoy t hemselves?
Nor had the first live weeks of the session provided many wrinkles for the statesmen’s brow.
To be sure there had been an occasional ripple on the political surface, but it seldom lasted more than a day. It only seemed to emphasize the general calm.
For instance Ottawa woke up with a start one Monday morning to find that the First Sea Lord, Hon. C. C. Ballantyne, had thrown the entire Canadian navy in the ash barrel. Shortly before this the Unionist caucus had frowned on a Ballantyne proposal to spend $5,000,000 per annum on a real navy composed of borrowed British warships manned by jolly Canadian tars. The First Sea Lord was peeved over the rebuff and the whisper circulated that Mr. Ballantyne had acted in a moment of pique and without consulting his Cabinet colleagues. And that whisper may have contained considerable truth. More than one Minister asserted privately that the matter had never been discussed in Council.
But the expected storm never broke. For that naval department was not popular. There was a snobbery about it that was too strong for even snob-smothered Ottawa. Mr. Ballantyne got so many congratulations that the Government got wise, ’fessed up that it had been in on the scrapping of the old navy from the start and announced a naval policy that is simply a modification of the one the caucus so emphatically turned down. And the Unionists, unused to congratulations of any kind from the general public, felt the thrill of a new statesmanship in their manly bosoms.
The Franchise Act also troubled the water for a day or two. When Hon. Hugh Guthrie told of its beauties in sonorous and nicely rounded sentences, Hon. Mackenzie King stood up in his place and almost called it blessed. But that evening while the Liberal leader was carefully editing the Hansard report of his speech, his followers broke loose and went after the new legislation with axes. Fred Pardee, who has got safely back to his old Liberal home, roared that its anti-alien clauses made the War Time Elections Act look mild and tame. W. D. Euler, of North Waterloo, followed with one of the most effective speeches delivered in the House in many a day. Himself of German parentage, he pointed out that not only would the mothers of boys who died at the front be disfranchised, but that his own mother, who had been a good Canadian for sixty years, would be deprived of the ballot.
Now when this Franchise had come up in Unionist caucus the old Tory element had raised their voices and howled that the anti-alien clauses were too mild. They had refused to be comforted even by the promise that a further disfranchising act might follow. They were quieted with an assurance that another caucus would be held before the disputed clauses were finally passed in committee.
And in the face of all this there were conditions cropping up that made ameliorating amendments, absolutely necessary. For no Government would care to have it go out to the country that it had disfranchised the near relatives of soldiers who died for their country.
It was a time for explanation and interpretation. Naturally Hon. Arthur Meighen was selected to do the explaining. He did it, did it in a way that forever dimmed the star of Hon. Chas. Doherty as the champion explainer of the House. Before he was half way through the Press Gallery was reaching for supports and gasping for breath. When his last tangled sentence had been inscribed on Hansard some wise people figured out that the clause would be amended.
Anyway that took the Franchise Act out of the active work of the House for a time. For right here it was discovered that Hon. James Calder
needed a trip south for his health. Hon. Jàmes took the trip. Also it is surmised he took that troublesome clause of the Franchise Act. Somewhere in the South the alien clause, Sir Robert Borden and Hon. James Calder would meet. There James would solve the problem, Sir Robert would O.K. it, and later Unionists and Opposition alike would swallow it, no matter what kind of faces they might make in the swallowing.
An Uneventful Session
DUT these were practically the only little snarls which the Union family had to disentangle. Otherwise the session had been so peaceful that most of the members had trouble keeping awake. There were days too when the adjournment came before the six o’clock whistle blew. Neither Government nor private members appeared to be taking interest enough to keep things running. Hon. Mackenzie King, looking as pleased and self-satisfied as a member of the Cabinet, was not disposed to make trouble. In fact an opponent sized up his work for the first five weeks of the session in this wise: “King moved an amendment to the address he didn’t want carried and raised a point of order on the appropriation for shipbuilding he didn’t want sustained. On every other question he said, ‘Hear, hear’. And yet they call him the ‘fighting leader’.” This criticism may be a bit too harsh. But one of Mr. King’s leading supporters, when brought face to face with it, could only counter with the rather negative tribute: “Well he knows enough to keep his mouth shut and that is more than D. D. McKenzie could do.” So on the whole it will be conceded that the boy leader can hardly be called aggressive.
Speaking of speeches naturally brings us back to our old friend and uplifter, Hon. Wesley Rowell. He’s the busy bee of the Unionist hive. In the early days of the session when work was short, interest lagged and the House promised to peter out before its appointed time, they just turned on Hon. Wesley’s oratory tap and another good day’s work was checked off. At that time he was using his undoubted industry and energy to make Canada a nation. It was a cold day when he didn’t weave one of the ties that binds a nation, even if he had to pluck a handful of feathers from the Eagle’s tail to help out the weaving. ' The ratification of the Bulgarian treaty was his grand little opportunity. How he did float off into the elocutionary ether that appears to be the essential to international politics!
But, just as he had the job nicely finished up, and this fair Dominion rounded off into a sure enough nation of the same size as Santa Domingo, along came a cable from England that intimated that the Canadian ambassador to Washington was to be a sort of office boy to the British ambassador. It was a dash of cold water that temporarily quenched the fires of oratory. Nevertheless, when the estimates came down there appeared the item of $80,000 for Canadian representation at the American capital. And when the wise ones started to figure who would spend the $80,000 their eyes somehow turned to Hon. Wesley. And this is how they figured: “Mr. Rowell claims that he is and always was a Liberal, so he can hardly adopt the Conservative name and the protection policy that the Unionists have up their sleeves. If he had intended jumping out he would have made the jump when thé' Cabinet rescinded his prohibition order-in-council. He could have gone then with his chest spread out like the hero of a Sunday school story. But he didn’t go. He stayed on the job and kept right on working. Now, if he didn’t go and can’t stay he must know somewhere he’s going to light.
“So naturally they picked Washington as the place for
him to light. And all the more so that the seat of Yankee Government is now bone-dry and in a position to provide an environment to his liking. Moreover, a few years in a position that would keep Hon. Wesley in the public eye and still, more or less, protected from the political breezes might suit that astute person’s ambitions. For though the present political map provides no place for him, who can tell what the future might provide? When the country gets back to normal and the prejudices of the war and prohibition period are fprgotten, who can tell but that a chastened people might yet clamor for the services of an industrious individual who at the present writing is credited with having “made the world safe for sobriety.”
The Fastidious Speaker
A NYWAY there is just one other name mentioned in connection with that Washington job and that is Hon. E. N. Rhodes, Speaker of the House of Commons. Which reminds us that Mr. Speaker has been very much in the Parliamentary eye during the present session. Nor must you run away with the impression that he is displeasing to said eyes. From his spats to his carefully kept hair he is sartorially correct. He patronizes the best London tailors and is a credit to them. He claims Nova Scotia as his birthplace and like others of the same nativity he professes law and practises politics. He would doubtless prefer to proceed with the practice but the fact remains that it took the soldier vote to elect him in 1917 and nobody predicts that the soldier vote will besosolidlyUnionist in the next election as it was in 1917. So Hon. Edgar must seek other fields or go back to law.
Nor is the United States altogether to his liking. He made a trip down to Washington not so many months ago and the lack of dignity that attaches to congressional proceedings rather disgusted him. To see “Champ” Clark with his hands in his pockets roll up on the dais and shout “order,” only removing one hand from its natural resting place in order to work the gavel, rather shocked his finer instincts. For Mr. Speaker has a proper respect for his position and the things that attach to it. He may accept the Imperial House of Commons as an example of how things parliamentary should be conducted, but his Nova Scotian modesty does not prevent his trying to improve on anything done overseas. In fact, though some people contend that the late war was fought for democracy, Mr. Speaker appears to have later information to the affect that dignity was really what was at stake.
Anyway he came back from Washington prepared to put our law-making on a high plane, and the opening of the new Parliament buildings furnished the opportunity. He grabbed it and got away to a great start. None of that lolling up on a dais, thumping a table with a bungstarter and yelling “order” for him! Indeed no, and again no! The Canadian House of Commons should open with proper éclat.
The Proper Eclat
SO a few minutes before three o’clock each day he lines up his staff in three cornered hats and flowing robes of black. There’s himself, the Sergeant-at-Arms with the gold mace on his shoulder, the Clerk and the Deputy Clerk and a camp follower or two, not to mention a guard of Dominion policemen. They slip down a side alley and bear down on the front lobby, the majesty of the law personified. As they approach the main entrance to the chamber a big policeman with lungs to match cleaves the awed silence with “Hats off;
Mr. Speaker.” And through an uncovered throng and on up the aisle the procession moves till Mr. Speaker is perched up-
on his throne. Then, and not till then, do hats go back to places of ordinary wear. Nor does anybody smile. Everybody feels that if those three-cornered lids in the grand parade should go awry for a moment the laws of the new nation would not be well and truly made.
But the improvements do not stop here. On either side of the Chamber is a peacock alley in which M.P.’s, Senators, correspondents and such like are expected to gather to discuss national affairs and other things, including cigars. Mr. Speaker issued an ultimatum declaring these corridors consecrated to members of Parliament only. The Senators roared and the correspondents protested, with the result that the Senators were allowed to desecrate the sacred carpet. But only for a brief period. A few days later the Senators decided to close up shop and take a well-earned rest till after Easter. No sooner were they out of town than Mr. Speaker was again busy. This time he got the House Leader to help him out and at a secret session of Parliament those lobbies were again closed. Sanctuary was provided for those harassed representatives of the people who cannot sleep comfortably in their seats in ' the House.
But if Mr. Speaker has added to the dignity of Parliament it cannot be-said he has helped out his own popularity to any marked extent. The Senators can hardly be expected to take their snub lying down, the correspondents find the gathering of news more difficult and the private members cut off from intercourse with the common herd are lonesome and homesick. -
However, all this may not interfere with Mr. Speaker’s alleged ambitions to represent his
country at Washington. There is a feeling that the country that won the war and the man who gave new dignity to Parliament should not be kept apart. They may represent different brands of snobbery, but after all they’re birds of a feather. And if by his removal to another sphere, Mr. Speaker should help to smarten up the Yankee Congress he would undoubtedly earn the blessing, not only of his own grateful country but of that great republic that lies immediately to the south of us.
That Railway Deficit
ANOTHER statesman who cluttered up the spotlight while the Easter eggs were being laid was Hon. J. D. Reid, Minister of Railways and chore boy in general to the Union Government. But it was hardly an Easter egg that Honest John presented to Parliament. It was the statement of the National System of Railways for the year 1919 and it showed that the amalgamated deficits of the various lines composing that system had reached the magnificent total of $47,000,000. And in other ways besides its total that statement was a remarkable document. It is said to have been the joint work of D. B.
Hanna, Graham Bell and George Yates. But Dr. Reid attended to its delivery in person, and though he stuck closely to his typewritten notes he did not fail to live up to his usual style of oratory. And as an orator the Medical Minister reminds you of the British people; he muddles through.
With the Railway speech, anyway, he was well acquainted. He chortled millions and chanted lists of equipment as if he had taken the cash of every till and tramped over every tie on the line. Also anyone who wanted any improvement made got a ready promise.
For you know Dr. Reid is said to be nursing a great ambition. When his political career has ended he would flash on a surprised country as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the greatest railroad system on this or any other continent. To be sure some small part of the country might be indignant as well as surprised. For it has not yet learned to know Honest John as a great railroad man. Still he must have some qualifications. It was only the other day, you know, that Mr. D. B. Hanna, the present chairman, in addressing a Canadian club or some kindred organization, predicted that the National Railways would yet pay the national debt. Honest John’s disclosure of how they were proceeding with the paying shows him to be at least as practical as the addressmaking railroader. And Dr. Reid may have other qualities that even his closest friends do not dream of. Anyway he has courage. For his colleagues rather quailed before the prospect of telling the country at one gulp just how much money the railways had lost. They wanted to break it softly, sifting it to the public a bit at a time till they had got rather used to it. But not for John. He wanted the whole mess spilled at once, and he wanted to do the spilling. Now did the simple doctor from the banks of the St. Lawrence have an object? Did it ever occur to him that if the country was jolted into a belief that the management of the system should be changed it might fix its eyes on the man who furnished the jolt? This question, put to an admirer of the Minister of Railways, brought only a shake of the head. “You never can tell what Jack Reid is thinking,” he said.
Some Cabinet Difficulties
E'ROM the foregoing you will gather that Easter did •T not find things at Ottawa exactly exciting. The old drift had set in, the same old feeling that all was right with the Government and the country was epidemic. For a full five weeks not a Minister had resigned from the Cabinet. To be sure Hon. Arthur Sifton is a sick man and would like to relinquish the cares of office. But even a sick Minister is better than a vacant portfolio, and Union Government as we have it in Canada has portfolios to spare and none to fill them. Not that numerous Unionists do not hanker for the Cabinet purple. But they’re a careful lot. They have read the story of the dog that grabbed at the shadow and lost the bone on which he intended to dine. And it is a good guess that there is not a Unionist in the House who in return for a portfolio could give a guarantee that he could be re-elected in his constituency. So uncertain is the political situation.
So the Cabinet will hang on to the Ministers it has, sick or well. Anyway, why should it quarrel with a bit of
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sickness. Is not a sick Premier the greatest asset it carries on its books? Were Sir Robert Borden hale and hearty and in his prime the country would expect him to do something. And any form of activity might breed discord in his heterogeneous flock. So long as he issick and absent he is part of the price Canada paid for freedom—one of the casualties of the war. As such he is above criticism. As such he can be used as the excuse for “carrying on” by marking time. He is where he can do the Cabinet a lot of good without a chance of doing it any harm. For when a snarl arises any solution with a Borden O.K. smooths things out perforce.
Anyway Sir Robert may be back in Ottawa by the time this is in print. To resume his duties as Premier? you ask. Heaven forbid. Surely he has a better conception of the duties he owes to that Unionist party of which he is not only the leader but also the father. Nothing must be done to disturb the peaceful calm under cover of which the White-Calder leaven is quietly working. Sir Robert’s return to active Premiering, might result in a collapse that would drive him entirely out of the political arena. And that might bring matters to a premature head. For Sir Thomas White could hardly assume the Premiership without an appeal to the country. And said country has not yet had sufficient time to return to those sober senses in which it can appreciate its present rulers.
So Sir Robert will return and give the party his blessing and prorogue the House. And the country will continue to drift towards those same sober senses.
Sir George Foster, by the way, has mellowed wonderfully of late years. Taking advantage of the leisure afforded by his elevation to the Acting-Premiership he is studying French. Occasionally he delights the House by a short speech in the language of love and diplomacy. To be sure the Unionists don't understand him and it is a good guess that the Frenchmen don’t either. But it adds variety to his various forms of uselessness or versatility: take your choice.
AS to the Farmers they’re largely playing the part of spectators. With Hon. T. A. Crerar absent, Dr. Michael Clark, with his hat pulled down over his eyes, is acting leader He looks as if the cares of leadership rested heavily on his shoulders. Gould of Assiniboia never misses an opportunity to speak, but he runs to words rather than ideas. The others are waiting and watching. They’ll "have a few words to say when the budget comes down. But that will be about all. They feel that the Unionists are playing the game that will produce a change of Government—so why should they interfere?—they who promise to be the chief beneficiaries of that change.