An Interesting Session, Forsooth!

J. K. MUNRO May 1 1922

An Interesting Session, Forsooth!

J. K. MUNRO May 1 1922

An Interesting Session, Forsooth!

J. K. MUNRO

THE war that was waged for democracy has not been fought in vain. For even from Parliament the old autocracy has been banished. In the days of Laurier, a plumed Knight waved a graceful hand and Canada had a new law. When Borden sat in the seats of the mighty he passed an order-in-council or cracked the whip over the heads of his devoted followers and the country sat up, listened and obeyed.

Now all is changed. William I is King at Ottawa, but the old autocracy is no longer his. The Farmers have come amongst us. a miniature labor block raises its voice to high heaven, the once meek Conservatives sit in a corner by themselves and add to the general din while the Liberals occupy the seats of government whence all, or nearly all, the power has fled. As a disgusted Quebec member put it, “One word from King and the House does what it darn pleases.”

Yes, it is a changed Parliament that daily unfolds its wisdom to a wondering Press Gallery. Yesterday it may have seen a Premier deny one of his ministers. To-day it sees a chunk chopped off the estimates at the instance of a voice from across thn floor. To-morrow it may well be that a Government policy is torn from its roots and replaced by a plant that will bear fruit of which the Premier ' never dreamed. And

if there are sullen faces in the House they are not Worn by the official opposition nor by that “dilapidated adjunct” which has grown to be the most powerful influence in the law-making activities of the young country. There are sullen faces too: faces which occasionally open to emit poorly camouflaged rebellion. For your politician from Quebec and all points east has not yet become accustomed to victory that brings no plunder in its train.

In the midst of it all sits the young Premier. To the right of him is the leader of the House, Hon. W. S. Fielding, that little grey man from Nova Scotia who as a Parliamentarian has no peer in the present Parliament. To his left, stern and silent, is the leader of his party. Sir Lomer Gouin.

He is rather a pathetic figure, this boy statesman who was foreordained to be Premier of Canada. He is a King without a sceptre, a general whose army listens more attentively to this brigadier-general than to the commanderin-chief. For a ruler whose rulings are subject to change at a nod from others has difficulty in maintaining either his own dignity or the necessary respect from those who sit in the seats behind him.

Twas only the other day that a Liberal member remarked, “There is too much Crerar rule in this House.” On that same morning a Conservative ex-Cabinet Minister had expressed himself to the effect that, “King’s eyes have worn a path over to the spot where Crerar sits.” And stranger than all that afternoon was to see Hon. /

Arthur Meighen, National Liberal and Conservative leader of His Majesty’s loyal opposition, leading the Progressives and incidentally the Government. Do you wonder that the question is sometimes asked, “Whose turn is it to lead the House to-day?”

That Pesky Wheat Board

DUT perhaps a word as to how Mr. u Meighen contrives to lead the House is in order right here. It seems that the great West has discovered that a Wheat Board will pay its debts, wipe off its mortgages and carry a farflung prosperity to every corner of the Prairies. So for the moment that tar-

iff has become a secondary consideration, freight rates have realized their minor importance and the Wheat Board

-and nothing but—is the one wail that comes out of the West. Have not the settlers been told by such reliable financial authorities as Wood of Missouri that a Wheat Board will so curb the speculation and cupidity of the Grain Exchange and otherwise add to an economic handling of the crop that an additional $25,000,000 will be turned loose among the grain growers?

Now that’s a lot of money. But even if the Wheat Board could do all that is expected of it there are obstacles in the way of its constitution. One of the minor obstacles is the British North American Act. It places property rights in charge of the Provinces. So there is grave doubt as to whether Parliament can rise in its might and say that the Farmer shall sell his wheat to the Wheat Board and to none other.

Anyway those who opposed the formation of that Wheat Board conceived the idea that a stated case should be referred to the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality. Now it is said the Government was behind the proposition to this effect that went down to the Agricultural Committee. It received the support of Hon. T. A. Crerar and went through with a whoop. But there were murmurings among the Grain Growers members. They saw the stated case tied up in the courts and the crop of 1922 handled under the old methods.

It was Arthur Meighen’s opportunity and he grabbed it. When the committee report came before the House he moved that it be referred back for further consideration. He skillfully refrained from expressing an opinion on the utility or legality of the Board but he played on the difficulties that were being placed in its way. And as he spoke the Progressive applause grew in volume. Crerar read the hand-writing on the wall and with a neat exhibition of fancy skating landed among his followers, but behind Meighen. The Premier gazed in something like mild consternation at the growing forces of the Opposition and decided that reconsideration might not be a bad thing after all. So when the Meighen resolution was put there was a storm of “Ayes” from the Conservatives and their new Allies the Progressives and only a scattering of “Noes” from the Government side. And Hon. Arthur’s melancholy face lighted up with the brightest smile it has worn since a cold bleak day in December last.

But don’t you think young Mr. King has any monopoly of the troubles. Of the four parties in the House the labor group consisting of Irvine of Calgary and Woodsworth of Winnipeg a total of two—count ’em—two—is the only one that shows any signs of unanimity. The Progressives are torn with doubts and fears. Honest Tom Crerar is still their leader but one section is suspicious that he is “agin” the Wheat Board while another accuses him of negotiating with Hon. W.L.M. King with a view to deliver-

ing himself and following full into the arms of the Grits.

And even Meighen’s little group that sleeps beneath the shadow of the speaker’s chair Ls not always all of one mind. It has tariff troubles that may yet drive Hon. Dr. Manion across the floor and though the little Leader has sworn vengeance on the C.P.R. and other Montreal interests he must have heard ere this that three of his ex-ministers were busy fighting C.P.R. battles in the Railway Committee only the other day.

They Even Say What They Think

^ O YOU see Parliament has a dose of Democracy spelt ^ in black letters and. with a large D. Worshippers of things as they always have been are aghast. They can see the constitution crumbling and gaping cracks opening wider in the walls of the nation. That even party leaders have -their doubts was evidenced at a recent luncheon when two of them found occasion to remark with some show of feeling, “I have faith in Democracy.” They seemed to be trying to convince themselves rather than their hearers.

But, after all, there is nothing to sit up nights and worry about. It may be all the better for the country that new legislation represents the combined wisdom of Parliament rather than the will of one man or small group of men. And then anything that tends to do away with the divine right of premiers cannot possibly be an unadulterated evil. Anyway, a country that has come through a great war and is still struggling to pay the bills is entitled to some slight return in the way of improved government. * And it is generally admitted that no great reforms have ever found birth in the heads of those who cling to precedent as the only governing force and who regard all change as a form of chaos that can only end in anarchy.

It has been remarked before that this Parliament is an improvement on its predecessors. It knows what it wants and finds frequent opportunity to tell all and sundry what those wants are.

Before the debate on the address had finally been embalmed in Hansard, anybody could tell you. that British Columbia was clamoring for the reduction of Oriental immigration; that the Prairies cried for a Wheat Board, lower freight rates, and a few cuts in the tariff; that Nova Scotia had set her heart on getting back the Intercolonial Railway as a household utensil and political plaything; that Quebec wanted patronage, plunder, a few railways and sundry other perquisites that generally fall to a victorious army; and that Ontario would be glad to pick up any few stray crumbs that might fall from the rich man’s table.

Also and likewise it had been borne in on Hon. Arthur Meighen that this was no political laundry with the washing of dirty party linen as a specialty. For Hon. Arthur, who cannot forget some things in regard to the recent election, took early opportunity to remind Mr. King that he had made promises in his platform he did not intend to live up to in Parliament. He instanced the promise of bonuses to returned soldiers and based a want of confidence motion on it. He had an enjoyable afternoon, too, telling the Government of promises it would not, or never intended, to fulfil. The young Premier in his innocence tried to explain and naturally made matters worse and it was a glum-looking gov...» emment along about the dinner hour.

But when he thought his leader had suffered enough, up rose the Little Grey Man. He has learned political strategy on many a hard fought field. Never for a moment did he think of explaining. He drove home a counter-attack that soon had the Opposition Leader jumping up in his seat and protesting vigorously. Who was Mr. Meighen to speak of broken pledges? What about redistribution? Was it not promised before an election? And about the tariff too? What of that revision fca often promised and as often postponed? But even as Liberal faces lighted up

with new hope and enthusiasm their allies the Progressives were on their feet protesting. They had not come to Ottawa to settle party squabbles. The country had big problems on its hands and the House was wasting time. And they turned in and voted with the Government to a man snowing Little Arthur's motion under by a record majority and teaching a much-needed lesson to the effect that the parties must bury their dead political pasts and give attention to things of more immediate moment.

Murdock's Little Lesson

^^THER things this session has taught.

Also some of

the new ministers have had occasion to learn some lessons and of these special mention must be given to Hon. James Murdock. When the new' Labor Minister stepped from the ranks of the horny-handed into the halls of Parliament he hardly realized that when in Rome it is well to take heed to the ways of the Romans. Also someone had whispered to Hon. James that this the Canadian Parliament was a House of Oratory. Could he orate? Could a duck swim? So he loaded himself to the neck with large, mouth-filling words and came in to pass his estimates. Did the House enjoy him? Why it had only to poke a finger a,t him to get a speech of the best revival meeting variety. And there were those who never quit poking. And alas, even his master deserted him for after a long fight with Hon. Harry Stevens, his King agreed to accept a cut in the Labor estimates. It may be, too, that he forgot to notify Hon. James of the cut. For when the Stevens amendment was carried on a standing vote, among those on his feet was Premier King, while seated nearby and ap-

parently wondering what had happened was a brand new Minister of Labor.

And it was only a day or two later that Hon. James got another lesson. In the dispute over the Nova Scotia coal miners, Messrs. Crerar and King had patched up a little agreement that the Board of Conciliation was to be reconvened. Next morning the Labor Minister gave a statement to the press that until those miners quit loafing on the job there would be no reconvening of the Board. And that afternoon in the House Premier King in answer to questions by Hon. Arthur Meighen showed for once that he was boss. He tated somewhat abruptly that the board would reconvene. And further prompting elicited an “unconditionally” that left nothing further to be said.

Now in the good old days an incident of this kind would have been followed by a resignation and a complete change in the head of the Labor Ministry. But in this new democracy it passes almost unnoticed. Mr. Murdock had acted like a naughty boy and got his fingers slapped. But he goes right ahead ministering to the wants of labor. And who knows but that some day he may learn that a glib tongue does not make a statesman nor is disregard of his leader’s pledges a sure road to the hearts of his country-

Now, in the press notices this was to be a short, sharp session at which business was to be transacted with snap and vigor and the members were to be back home to celebrate Queen’s Birthday on the farm. But Easter saw the chattiest young Parliament Canada has ever owned just settling into its stride. In fact it was the day of the Easter adjournment that saw the first real business of the session. It was that day, with trunk-packing for a week off in full swing, that Hon. W.C. Kennedy chose to bring down his railway budget. Also that eagerly awaited railway policy. And as in Parliament everything goes on its face value that policy is admittedly all that the Premier had promised public-ownership people in the most impassioned of his campaign utterances. It is in a word the unification of all the national owned railways under one board of directors and their sub-division into districts under general managers. Or, as William the Magnificent so eloquently put it, “centralization of general direction and decentralization in matters of local detail.” Politics are to be carefully strained out and every effort devoted to efficiency and economy.

i

It reads so nice that Hon. Arthur Meighen was constrained to remark that it was a strange experience to see a Minister's statement drawing most of its app'.au e from the Opposition. Truth to tell Giere were iome gloomy faces to the right of the speaker. And even the veteran D. D. McKenzie, member of the Cabinet, took occasion to remiid the House that he ‘never d'd believe in public ownership didn’t now and never wou'd.” Still he said a fair trial had been promised the national railways and a fair 'rial they should have As for Sir Lomer Gouin, on whom all eyes were fixed, he went on saying nothing n the same old way and you couldn’t tell from the expression on his face whether he was tickled to death, laughing up his sleeve or

getting his countenance in shape for attending the funeral of his best friend.

B

Is It Only A Promise?

UT there was another significant paragraph in the rates. In view of the fact that the suspension of the Crow’s Nest Pass agreement expires July 1 the whole que tion is to be referred to a special committee of the House. Now, that Crow’s Nest Pass matter is the Railways’ first big fight. Unless that uspension is renewed freight rates on

the prairies go back to pre-war basis and ten or twelve million dollars are ladled out of the railways’ receipts. And those who remembered that this Parliament was largely elected by Montreal interests began to wonder if the wonderful railway policy was just oil poured on the troubled wa'ers till a fight was put up that might save those first few millions to the corporations that need them so badly.

Anyway, the doubting ones got busy with surmises. “The Premier made promises,” said one. “He has replaced those promises with an undated promissory note, for the Board has not yet been appointed, nor does anyone know when it will be appointed. What can the note be cashed for? And he hints that you’d better wait till the Crow’s Nest fight is over before you do any real figuring on what is going to happen to those railways of which we are all so proud and which we accepted when we were forced to by circumstances over which we had no control.”

Another group are anxious for yet another reason.

“This is part of the negotiations between King and Crerar,” - they whisper.

“King is tired of wiggling along without an actual majority and is again reaching out for a solid Progressive sup-

Butyou can’t help remembering what happened to the accompaniment of the Christmas bells. A little dark gentleman named Gouin let young Mr. King play at C.ab-

¡net making for quite a while. But when the right moment arrived he stepped in and handed Mr. King a list which contained the names of the Cabinet as at present constituted. Now Sir Lomer may again be giving his leader his head. And the more so that at present it may suit his book to have both Liberals and Progressives bright and smiling. But when the moment comes and Quebec lets out another roar, “We won the election and others are harvesting the fruits of victory,” there may be another sharp reaction and a consequent change of scenery.

Anyway he would be a foolhardy prophet who would do any predicting in regard to this Parliament. It seems safe to say that there will be no general election. For the members look at that $4,000 per and sing, “Blest be the tie that binds.” Moreover the Liberals who have been feeling around as to the results to be obtained from an appeal to the country have found the water cold and won’t take the plunge. They realize that they couldn’t get any more seats in Quebec or Nova Scotia where they now hold them all. They might get one or two more in New Brunswick. But the West would stay solidly Progressive while the chances are that Ontario would arise and smite a Government that fills its front row with Quebec Cabinet Ministers and otherwise conveys the impression that it gets its inspiration from down the St. Lawrence.

Almost Anything May Happen

BUT outside of an election almost anything may happen.

And any sort of a visitation is liable to start all sorts of rumors. Premier Norris of Manitoba dropped in the other day and inside of an hour some folks had his measure taken for a suit of Cabinet clothes. And there was no lack of details either. That fine old Scotchman, Forke of Brandon, was to go West as Premier of Manitoba following the provincial election this summer. He was to head a coalesced Government of Farmers and Liberals. Mr. Norris was to succeed Mr. Forke as member for Brandon and to give Manitoba a much needed representation in the Cabinet.

Further and moreover the coalescing movement was to extend to Ontario where Premier Drury was to fatten his batting average by gathering Wellington Hay and a few other loose Liberals into his Government. And then with the ground thus cultivated Crerar and King were to join forces at Ottawa and sweep on to victory with a rejuvenated Liberal party. Now a lot of all this is probably imagination. But where there is so much smoke there mast be some fire. And there can be little doubt that there is some feeling towards a closer union of the Liberals and Progressives. How far it will go no on can tell from here. Lapointe may as his friends claim, command the support of two-thirds of the Quebec members. He may even be not averse from a move that would give him Crerar in place of Gouin as a Cabinet colleague. But you must never forget that the Gouin following and backing owns the press, holds the campaign funds and allots the liquor licenses in the Lower Province. And Lapointe may well hesitate ere he decides to tackle such a combination.

Will Andy Start It ?

BUT, with the mines laid, a stray match may bring an explosion. Who knows but that Andrew McMaster of Brome may be about to drop that match. You’ll remember that last session Andrew resoluted against Cabinet Ministers holding directorship in private or rather semi-private corporations. Andrew has his resolution again on the order paper. It is troublesome. Andrew has been asked to remove it—urged to do so. But the Last of the Covenanters is adamant. Prayers, influence, threats and bribes all are wasted on him.

The Premier may be called upon to choose between his Minister of Justice and his principles. For Mr. King spoke and voted for the McMaster resolution a year ago. It is said he will do so again. Then what will Sir Lomer Gouin do? And what will be the effect on the future of this Parliament and the future of the Liberal Party?