Drayton, the Practical: THE “MAKE-UP” MAN
WERE I a novelist sketching a character for Henry Herbert Drayton I would have him, except in one item, just about all that he is not. He should be unmarried, live with his maiden aunt, most of his time make very little money and depend for his income upon winning about three good criminal prosecutions a year; the rest of his time to be spent reading up criminal psychology and taking his aunt to see pictures. The commonplace scene-shifter who placed behind people the scenery of real life has bungled Sir Henry, thereby robbing him of much interest. What a net a man with his classic patience and enormous ferret instinct for minutiae could have woven about some cunning but once too often unwary murderer.
Instead we have Drayton, K.C. pushing himself methodically through a series of legal metamorphoses, at each change getting one convolution higher, by public corporation solicitorships and county attorneyships, burrowing into hydro-electric affairs for Toronto until he becomes Dominion Railway Commission chairman—seven years at that—and at last steps out into the full glare of undramatic notoriety by taking office as Minister of Finance in 1919.
Well, in that capacity he has rubber-stamped millions of people in the region of their pockets whom he would have missed altogether had he been taking his maiden aunt to the picture galleries between detective cases. Besides he has three or four children, and I’m sure that when some lady writes the cinema of his life she will portray him as a hugely devoted papa with perfect young geniuses of children who yearn to spend papa’s money upon the very luxuries against which he is warning the parents of other young people.
Once,—it was something to do with Niagara power,— I heard Mr. Drayton weaving a dull dry web of apparently trivial evidence about some very important people. It seems to me that one William Mackenzie was a particular object; if not he should have been. Once you admit that Drayton belongs to corporation instead of criminal law—though sometimes there’s precious little differenc — Mackenzie and Adam Beck are just the sort of audacious public-interest performers that a man like him should be after. He seemed to have an insatiable capacity for picking out little filaments of dry-as-dust technique from which on behalf of an impersonal client like the city of Toronto he could deftly manage to get a web of silk about the anti-civic despot who regards a city as a ring to be worked for dividends and people merely a common dots and carry ones.
He impressed me then as a born Englishman. He had the neat, chiseled accents and the imperturbable air of a perfect gentleman, with a touch of nonchalance and the suggestion that if at the time of adjournment he had just got to the up stroke of a small “i” he could leave it there and come back to-morrow beginning precisely where he had left off. But he was not born in England; only educated there—which is something. A few more of our public men would be the better for a little Harrowing.
Our Bold and Merry Highwaymen
ONCE into public finance, Sir Henry does not propose to be a mere reverberation of Sir Thomas White. Never have we had two such drastic highwayman budgets as those which Drayton flung at the people in 1920 and 1921. From the tone of any supplementary remarks which he feels like making in order to amuse us while he lightens our pockets, it may be worse next year and thereafter unless we have a care. This man has never uttered a soothing phrase since he took office. He has made no attempt to furbelow our finances. He is not even concerned about the precise political effect of his taxes and tariffs. We never had a finance minister who so disregarded the Gladstonian principle, that if figures cannot lie they may at least make romance of the truth. In the two years that he has been budgeteering, this dapper, tailored man with the sailor hat and the truculent jaw and the heavy outskirts to his eyes has treated a budget as though it were a Santa Claus stocking to be talked about a long while in advance so that when it comes it may be all the more significant.
Such budgets as he gives us are not the work of a true Conservative. They bear no interesting bigotries of the party. They deal only secondarily with tariffs. I believe Sir Henry knows that most people regard a tariff as a very oblique way of getting into your pocket. Indirect taxation is like spending money on civic improvements or raising íhe mayor's salary; nobody feels it coming directly out of his own pocket. People have always had to compute tariffs and argue about them. Only the farmers can make them into frightful realities. Nobody understands a tariff anyway when it comes to the schedule. Its chief use is for winning and losing elections.
But Sir Henry’s admonishing finger goes up, and we are hushed to see what is the really cruel thing he intends to
show us next, that will hurt just like a thumbscrew. He smiles and flips down a long scroll of—direct and drastic
“This is going to hurt you all, good people,” he says. “But I may as well be honest about it. I am not a financial Christian Scientist .You will all feel better after you are properly hurt.”
Thus far we remember chiefly how it hurt. We are still hoping to feel better.
Drayton had some grounding in practical finance long before he took any of the detail jobs that have had so
much to do with computations and costs. We are reminded of a little episodo of his early youth in Toronto.
Harry Drayton and Frank Baillie were schoolboys together. They lived on the same street. A neighbor was about to have an auction sale of his goods, but looking over the lot he made a present of a punching bag to Harry and Frank, no doubt because he foresaw that they would both have strenuous lives. The boys thanked him and took away the bag. On the way home Harry said to
“Do you really want a share in that punching bag?” “Not so keen as I might be,” said Frank. “Why?” “Because he had something else I’d rather have. Remember that little printing press?”
“Oh, what he uses to print calling cards on?”
“How would you like to go snooks with me-and get that, Frank?”
“He wants $6.50 for it though.”
“Oh. That’s different. Here, 'let me sell the bag anyhow. That’ll be a start.”
Frank, already budding into finance, sold the bag for $1.25.
“Well, we’re still shy $5.25, Frank,” said the coming finance minister of Canada.
“Yes, and it’s your move, Harry.”
“All right, I’ve got an idea. You wait.”
Next day the financiers met and Harry had a fine steel trout rod.
"See that, Frank? Got that from dad. Made me a present of it—at my own suggestion. What is she worth?” “Don’t you want to fish, Harry?”
“Not if you can sell the rod.”
Frank took it and looked it over.
“Sure,” he said. "I’ll sell that for the company.” There being no kinks in either of these young men, the sequel is that Frank sold the trout rod for $5.25 and Harry proudly took the entire $6.50 to the neighbor, paid for the press and had it taken home to his attic where it must be presumed the two of them spent rainy days printing calling cards.
He Never Splutters Into Print.
CANADA took very little interest in Drayton till he came to be Chairman of the Railway Commission.
But by that time the said commission was no longer th e grand court it had been in the days of J. Pitt Mabee. It settled more disputes than ever and settled them as well as ever. Drayton had almost twice the mileage to cover as that Mabee had in 1903. He did it with tireless exactitude. He was less concerned with the ethical issues at stake in decisions between railways and communities than with the unethical fact of such a prodigal lot of lines having been built at all to give trouble to the nation. We were just getting to the end of the race of the railroads, when thousands of foreigners had been dumped into the country with shovel and pick, and thousands of miles of new railway built that would shortly be a charge on the country.
An able writer a few years ago wrote a series of articles in a Canadian publication headed, “Is there a Railway Muddle?” Being himself a railwayman he seemed to think that the muddle, if any, was chargeable to conditions over which the railways had little or no control.
Mr. Drayton shrewdly traversing the network of those prodigally-built railways, felt no need of asking any such question. He carried on into the slump in business, and on into the war when the Railway War Board, practising a sort of church union by cutting out competition and rerouting traffic for the sake of getting war haulage done as quickly as possible, left very little for the Drayton court to settle. But there was a bigger settlement to come later and Drayton was to have a hand in it.
As Chairman of the commission he never made a statement that was good for a headline, or coined an epigram, or lost his temper, or spluttered into print. But on a certain occasion before he retired from the Commission Sir Henry put on record a number of things that the people of this country read with acute and sustained interest. This was the report of the Smith-Drayton-Acworth Commission for the purpose of finding out whether the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific could ever manage to pay their own debts, including interest on multimillions borrowed from abroad, or whether, debts and all, they should be handed over to the people of Canada?
During the war this nation had many commissions. Their very names are mostly forgotten. Most of them committed themselves to nothing. This commission to investigate railroad bankruptcy was fated to be very different. Much of the difference was in Sir Henry Drayton, who, had he been asked the question, would have saved the country the cost of the commission.
But of course he was prejudiced, and against the roads. He knew those roads. The minority report of the chief of the New York Central made no difference to the grim bulldog judgment of the chief railway commissioner— that the two secondary systems of Canadian railways were alike and for much the same causes constitutionally bankrupt and had therefore better be sold out to the nation.
What more disagreeable "qualification could a man have for being made Minister of Finance? The air-holes that White had skated around Drayton proposed to go right over and to take the people with him. What the common stock of these roads might be worth was for Sir Thomas to find out. By the time Sir Henry went to the national ledger that matter was all adjusted and the thing left was to raise the money to pay for the roads and the interest.
There’s a divinity that shapes our ends even when they do not meet. The little Houdini of calculations was at last into a predicament where it seemed that he never could figure himself out. One fancies him gazing intently over the Finance Department of whose precise technique he knew nothing as yet and saying to himself:
“Well, White did a wonderful turn. I don’t believe the audience will like mine half as well—at first. No audiences ever do. I’m bound to be more or less unpopular because I don’t know how to act a bit like Tetrazzini.”
Tagging the Money-Bloated Country
THE great organized orgy was over, when the dollars followed the drum and the drum thumped at every cross-road; when a Victory Bond in every top commode drawer was more necessary than a bottle in every cellar. The whole nation, four times tagged for Victory, was once more tagged for reconstruction. Done with credits to England for purchase of war material in Canada, we were invited to extend credits to war-swept nations in Europe who would be sure to want things made in Canada to help put them on President Wilson’s new map of selfdetermination. Even profiteers now admitted that everything was abnormal. The whole country was like a milk-fed pumpkin at the fair. War wages inclined every man to become a profiteer. The land was teeming with war money and denuded of necessary goods. People who used to be content with good wages, a plain rented home and a bottle of beer, went out after short hours, high wages, French heels, $300 coats and motor-cars.
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It was part of the emancipation of people for which soldiers had not died.
“Er—if you need me, telephone, old chap,” one fancies Sir Thomas saying as he carried Sir Henry’s luggage to his room. “But I’m sure you are the man for the job. I really have to go back to private finance. However, the supertariff on imports of luxuries is one thing with which you will feel at home I am sure. Quite in your line, Sir Henry.”
Injone of Scott’s novels a gentleman named Front de Boeuf pulls out a Jew’s tooth every time he wants more money. Both our national dentists knew that a super-tariff on anything is the very thing that makes a large number of well-to-do people want it. People bought luxuries in this country and growled at the high cost of necessities. Most folk feel rather proud of a big price for a coat or a gown or a Chesterfield, if they can get even by skimping on the price of butter and potatoes. Low-value money and visions of Utopia had played far worse havoc with the people than legalized liquor had ever done. And one of the worst features of the situation was that the bulk of our luxury buying was done in the country which had the only remaining standard of value on the exchanges. Canada had convenient access to the country which alone had a surplus of factory goods. Our tremendous buying average in the American market, was even used as propaganda in the interest of keeping the peace with Britain.
Hence the devil of exchange and Drayton’s dilemma. The things Drayton said to this country even before he presented his first budget were about as comfortable as what the doctor prescribes when you are overfed. On went the •unpopular luxury tax and sales tax. The general principle was that the more people bought, the more they got out of living, and the more they should pay for the privilege. It was not merely a tax on improvements, but an impost on being alive. Accustomed as we had been to war taxes which never came off, this was a sanctioned way of “passing the buck” such as we had never known. The advantage is that when we pay 13 cents for a box of matches that used to cost 5 cents we can read “5 cents War Excise Tax Paid” on the wrapper.
Sir Henry Drayton had no superb
suavity with which to beguile those who made complaints. He heard the howlings of all the babies in the national dormitory and went ahead. He did not impress us as a financier but as a plain doctor of homely common sense. He said in public many things which threw much instructive light upon our buying and selling. He spoke some blunt but kindly truths, even in the United States at whose supremacy in our markets his policy was aimed.
“The men who save the world,” says the Onlooker, “are those who work by rule of thumb; who do the day’s work by the day’s light, and advance on chaos and the painful dark by inches; in other words the practical men.”
Such a motto might be Drayton’s crest. He is very practical; too much so to be an interesting personality to the average man. But by his dull and diligent practicality he has done rather more than his bit in helping to reestablish Canada. He would, if he could, cut our imports from the United States in half in order to rectify exchange. Whenever he dies the Canadian $ par on exchange will be found graven upon his heart.
Drayton’s tariff tour was one of the most characteristic things he ever did. In this however there may have been an element of politics. A travelling tariff commission taking evidence in almost every village with a smokestack from coast to coast must have had some real object. But Sir Henry had cleaned up most of the possibilities in direct taxation, it was time he tackled the tariff, even though he knew it was largely a show to satisfy the people that the most patient investigator in the world at the head of a small court had taken evidence on what every Tom Dick had to say for and against in any part of the country outside of the Yukon. Had it been practicable to hold a session on Great Bear Lake to determine the trade relations between the Yellow Knife Indians and the Eskimos, Sir Henry would have done it.
Such vast patience is phenomenal even in Drayton. One almost fears that he is becoming interested in a Federal election.
If so, the end is in sight. The day we partyize Sir Henry we shall lose one of the oldest and rarest personal identities we ever had. But if we are to get the biggest out of this man that he has tO' give we shall have to do it.