PRECEPT AND MINOR PROPHECY
J. K. MUNRO
THESE are the days when the major statesmen sidestep Ottawa as if it were the city of the plague. A wandering politician who seeks the hoarse boom of the Chaudiére when the August sun is shining on all sides of Parliament Hill may fortunately find a trio of Ministers holding down the job. The rest are scattered hither and yon where the breezes are coolest, the applause is thickest or where cabineteers are more of a novelty. During a recent hot spell diligent search by the press gang failed to reveal a single statesman, unless by some stretch of imagination Hon. James Murdock could be described as such. And truth to tell Hon. James hardly comes up to specifications. In the early days of last session he burst into the House with bells on and proceeded to make as much noise as a tambourine girl in a Salvation Army meeting. But almost in the twinkling of an eye the silencer was put on. Just who took him by the ear, led him off into a corner and told him boys should be seen but not heard only the writer of unwritten history can tell. But sure it is that the Labor Minister never was the same again. Towards midsummer he was allowed to read the answer to an occasional question, and, who knows, he may yet grow into something.
But up to the time of writing no one would care to put him in even the minor statesman class.
So there wasn’t a real one around anywhere.
The Premier was at Kingsmere pondering over the mighty questions that bring wrinkles to a boy premier’s brow. Fielding and Lapointe were on the high seas carrying the best brands of Canadian eloquence, English and French, to the greatest debating society the world has ever known, the League of Nations. Hon. J. A.
Robb was in London. Stewart was in Alberta sizing up the land he loves and wondering when it would reciprocate by giving him a seat in Parliament. Motherwell was in Saskatchewan, probably talking over the crops with the hired man and utilising the same line of oratory he affects in Parliament. Charlie Murphy was at his country place looking for health and cursing his colleagues. W. C. Kennedy was in Montreal undergoing an operation that it is hoped was not more dangerous than picking a head for the national railways. Copp was in New Brunswick wearing his new honors in a way that might make the other auctioneers envious.
D. D. McKenzie, wearied by a tour of the West, was back in his beloved Cape Breton studying the Old Testament and the shorter Catechism.
Gouin was at Murray Bay, the Summer home of the idle rich and industrious statesmen. Jacques Bureau was in Three Rivers raising his merry laugh above the clatter of the mills and grinding on the law that helps to keep the latter going.
Pretty busy bunch, weren’t they? Make you think that though the road to greatness may be hard and rough there’s a bit of rest at the end of it. And when you hark back to last January and wander through the weary months that followed you almost conclude that this “strong, silent, business Government” haven’t done much so far except hold their jobs and draw their indemnities. Just how idle they have been since the House closed can be gathered from the fact that the Premier himself has only made one speech.
And while the leaders have leisured the ringside spectators have had a chance to ruminate on the changed times at Ottawa. In the good old party days when Borden blustered and threatened to resign, or in those earlier seasons when the “Plumed Knight” smiled his gracious smile or waved his graceful hand the thinking at Ottawa was done by the select few. As they thought, the others voted. If they didn’t, they ran into an atmosphere that chilled them to the marrow and told them political death was at hand. In those days a Cabinet Minister was a thing apart. He must be approached almost on bended knee and admission to his presence was made with bared head and accompanied with much of that incense burning commonly called flattery.
' I 'HEN Union Government smashed party lines and A when at its demise Crerar’s Farmers came trooping into Parliament they carried in their train a variety of Mob rule that smashed tradition, snatched away the sacred seclusion of the cabineteers and almost made the Prime Minister akin to the common herd. No more does the backbencher bare his head when a Minister approaches. Some of the rudest of the unwashed even slap the select of the Dominion on the shoulder and call him “Bill” or “Charlie” or “Ernest.” Nay more, these untutored savages from the plains and other outlying parts, have been known to grouch and use strong language in the corridors. Yea, some of them have been known to invade the sacred precincts of the Ministerial presence, pound a good mahogany table with a horny fist and in low, coarse language ejaculate that they’d be damned if they would stand for something or another.
All of which shows that in spite of all the dignity Speaker Lemieux can lend, Parliament is more or less going to the demnition bow-wows. Not that Hon. Rodolphe is any mean leader either. His daily pro-
cession to open the House is so brimming with solemnity that one involuntarily looks for the coffin. But the divine right of Premiers and Ministers is questioned and menaced by the former voting machines, and one trembles in his boots lest the country wake up and discover that Premiers are not supermen and that party leaders are more or less built of common clay.
Why, it seems only the other day that Parliament went down to the opening of the Quebec Bridge with the Cabinet in one boat and the common M.P.’s in another. Nowadays a Cabinet Minister must be a bit of a mixer or some one of his once humble followers will hold up his estimates. Look what “Chubby” Powers and Lucien Cannon and one or two others did to Hon. George P.
Graham's militia propositions. They made
the champion jokesmith of other days eat so many figures that he’s been suffering from political indigestion ever since. No, it wasn’t that those two wild Irishmen had a shillaleh out for the genial George. But things weren’t going to' their liking. The boys back home may have been murmuring over the lack of patronage. But the incident just shows how much trouble a stray member may make. So said members no longer cringe to the Ministers. They know their votes are needed. In fact the Ministers may have to cringe a bit to the members. They need their votes.
TUST a mild form of Bolshevism, you say. Well hardly. •J But it sure is a sort of renunciation of that doctrine of the divine right of Ministers. It is also another indication of changed times, but for the better or the worse who shall say? The believers in the straight party system will tell you that nowadays nobody is responsible for anything; that the Government no longer brings down its policy and stands or falls by it; that it simply throws its propositions into the House and the pack fall to and worry it like dogs around a bone. But are we not proud of our democratic institutions? Isn’t Parliament the greatest of these? And isn’t Parliament of today much more democratic than in the days when the elect of the people were merely flies on the wheels of Government?
But again that opens a big question. For wise men have almost agreed that the most desirable form of government is a benevolent autocracy. And isn’t the present House at Ottawa just about as far removed from a benevolent autocracy as anything ever turned out in the way of government?
At least that is what you would gather from listening to its conversation. But is it even as it seems? Did you ever notice that the men who talk the most generally do the least? Also that the men who howl the loudest for reform are generally the most in need of reform themselves? So when there is so much seeming independence it is well to examine and see if there is not some hidden hand that sways the mob.
Of course it doesn’t do to get personal, but I think I have asked you before to watch and see if a little dark man named Gouin doesn’t generally get what he wants.
Ernest Lapointe was Minister of Justice for the two weeks preceding the announcement of the Cabinet. Sir Lomer Gouin wanted the job. Did he get it? He did.
The Liberals had howled long and loud for Cabinet Ministers divorced from the directorates of big public utility corporations. Sir Lomer Gouin wanted to hang on to his directorships. Did he do it? He did, and to loud and prolonged Liberal applause.
Liberals had turned their faces to the east and prayed fervently and faithfully for lower tariffs on the necessaries of life. Sir Lomer spoke for protection—and his speech was more effective than their prayers.
Sir Lomer Gouin is camped on the trail of private ownership. Hon. W. C. Kennedy is no public ownership enthusiast but one gathers that he would like to give the National Railways the “fair trial under the most favorable conditions” his Premier has promised. Keep an eye on this pair and see if Sir Lomer is not handing out favors long after William of Windsor has doffed the toga and slipped back into the gas and oil business. There are already quiet whispers, you know, that Hon. George P. Graham would make a more satisfactory Railway Minister than the man who financed Hon. Mackenzie King’s first talking trip across the continent. And they do say that in addition to his railway troubles William has to put up with an occasional snub that makes his Irish blood boil.
Before this is in print that long-promised Board of Directors for the National Railways may have been appointed. Latest reports at the time of writing have it that it is to consist of fifteen members and that there is not a shopworn politician in any province who is not an applicant for a place on that Board. Whether it represents the different parts of the country or just special brands of political support, it is bound to be a debating society. For one of Canada’s misfortunes is its farflung boundary lines. People living so far apart necessarily have divergent interests and with every Province howling for its own the lot of the National lines does not promise to be a happy one. But a Premier who dreams in theories has promised and the practical hand that guides the destinies of his government will fulfil the promise—even if he does it with a grim smile that promises the execution of his own purpose in the not distant future.
The Glutton for Punishment
DUT turn for a moment from the powers that be and ■D cast an eye on others who play some slight part in Canada’s scheme of Government. There’s Hon. Arthur Meighen for instance. He can’t be still for a moment, and every time he stirs he puts his foot in it. British Columbia is the scene of his latest “triumph.” The more or less moribund Conservative party got together in Convention there. It was to be the beginning of a revival. Bowser, the old time Tory leader, was to be displaced; the coming elections were to sweep Honest John , Oliver from power, and that was to start a wave that would wash Drury back to the farm and put Tory Government in power in Ontario. And of course the little lawyer from Portage had to have a hand in the doings. His trip through the West could hardly be called a triumphal procession. The sinners who came to his penitent bench did not come in crowds nor did the wayside stations ring with glad hallelujahs as he passed them by. But he "seen his duty and done it.” He found the B.C. Convention fighting over a name. Some there were who wanted the “Liberal-Conservative” tag Sir John Macdonald had tied to the old party. Others more hideboun¿ in their prejudices wanted to get yet further from anything that smacked of Union Government or the still more hybrid “National Liberal and Conservative,” that was the child of Jim Calder’s fertile brain. They wanted to fight under a banner that bore the strange device “Conservative.” It was a bitter scrap—one that a wiser man would have kept his fingers out of. But Hon. Arthur plunged right in and emerged with a theoretical victory. For the Convention voted “Liberal-Conservative.” But while Arthur orated and apparently won, Bowser was busy. He grabbed the leadership.
Now of course Mr. Meighen went west without a prejudice as to that leadership. Nevertheless it was following his arrival that Hon. Harry Stevens announced that he would allow his name to go before the Convention. Also a suspicion grew that Hon. Arthur went west to help his friend Harry get the job. Moreover there is a fixed befief that Hon. John Oliver’s defeat is by no
means assured now that Mr. Bowser is back in the saddle. For Friend Bowser is a politician of the old school, but unfortunately all B.C. does not rise to do him reverence. Of course things might have gone the same way if Mr. Meighen had never left Ottawa, for displacing the leader of a political party is one of the hardest jobs any man ever laid a hand to.
But by staying at home he would at least have kept out of another losing fight. In prize ring parlance Hon. Arthur is “a glutton for punishment.” And the pity of the thing is that he never learns from the fights he loses.
Tom Crerar has not let a cheep out of him since the House closed. He is thought to be down on the shores of Lake of the Woods giving the Farmers a chance to forget about the Wheat Board. The Hired Man’s Hero sure does know when to keep his mouth shut.
Somebody must have told him while he was yet young that you can’t hang a man for what he doesn’t say. Tö do him justice, Crerar never did favor that Wheat Board. He looked on it as a dream. Moreover it might have interfered with the profits of the United Grain Growers.
But if ever a lot of trusting Farmers were “gold-bricked” they’re the yeomanry of the prairies who fondly imagined that the Government at Ottawa was giving them a Wheat Board that would do other than blow up. For among the great of the nation nobody loved it.
Honest farmers there were, such as Wood of Missouri, Tom Sales, Col. Maconachie and others who hugged a delusion that something might be found that, even if it didn’t help the price of wheat, might quiet the howls of the men on the plains. Wood lived among them, you know, while Tom and the Colonel and the others had to go hack home after the session. So they labored and brought forth a mouse. That mouse was a Wheat Board with its hands and feet tied and its wings clipped. In other words the Federal Government passed the buck to the provinces. To them it said, “We present you with our powers in the matter. You provide the Board and the money to finance it.” And it may well have added, mentally, “And may God have mercy on your souls.”
Of course Premiers Dunning and Greenfield had to get busy. They got their legislatures together, passed the necessary legislation and set out to find the men for the Board. When one by one the selected turned down the job those Premiers must have heaved sighs of relief that resembled young cyclones. And when at last, they had dontf their full duty and failed to find the men they had to hide their glee as they turned to their people and sorrowfully said, “It can’t, he done this year.” They knew they had been playing with loaded dice. For with hostile banks, hostile railroads and the Winnipeg Grain Exchange standing by prepared to scatter injunctions along its pathway that Wheat
Board never had the chance of the immortal celluloid cat.
But it was rather a joke on that sturdy patriot, Wood of Missouri. He came to Ottawa howling for Wheat Boards and hoping thereby to make trouble for one T. A. Crerar. And the chicken came home to roost when he was offered the Chairmanship of the Board he howled for. He sidestepped the job, of course. But he’ll have to step pretty lively if he gets away from the trouble that follows in its wake.
But what of the promised fusion of the low-tariff Liberals and the Farmers? Well, to tell the truth it looks like another attempt to mix oil and water. Premier Drury is evidently trying it out in Ontario. He has declared that Governments cannot live by Farmers alone and has struck a broadening out policy that he is preaching at the picnics of the horny-handed. But you can’t say that he is creating much enthusiasm. In open rebellion is that “common old soul with baldhead” known as J. J. Morrison, who is really the backbone of the U.F.O. Now those who study the rural statesmen of the banner province make oath and say that while Drury is gifted with the gab, Morrison is the possessor of brains. Moreover while Drury could spend a joyous evening in front of a mirror making speeches to himself “J. J.” loves to wander over the country-side and shake hands with the farmers. Neither does “J. J.” feel towards Drury that heartfelt affection that David had for Jonathan. If it comes to a real showdown between the two Drury will fade off the political map as suddenly as he appeared. For when you subtract his vocabulary and self-esteem there’s not much left but a good suit of clothes and a watch chain, whereas the other chap has always a good story, a shrewd suspicion as to what men think and a profound conviction that to sway the masses you must appeal to their prejudices. Also he knows that the age old prejudice of the farmer against the “privileged class” who dwell in cities is a stronger influence than any fiscal policy political party e’er promulgated.
It is sometimes charged that “J. J.” and Drury are doing team work; that Drury is holding the Liberal farmers while Morrison keeps the Tory husbandmen in line and that the.two factions will join up after election and continue to sway Ontario’s future. But the fact remains that jealousies exist even among those who live but to make the farmers’ lot a happier one. And as “J. J.” likes lotsof things better than Ernie, a small bet on the bald-headed one looks more like an investment than a gamble.
There are other reasons too why the threatened coming together of the two factions that are to make a party for the plain people may be postponed. One of them is Sir Lomer Gouin. Another is that an attempt at fusion might merely result in a cessation of sessional indemnities. And a third is Hon. Arthur Meighen. Wasn’t it Neal, the British Columbia independent, who came to Ottawa with a platform all his own? And the only plank in it on which he could get together with Liberals and Progressives alike was opposition to Meighen. And it’s not altogether Arthur’s fault either. He can't help it if he gets on the nerves of even those who admire him most. Nor that reputation he never really earned makes every man from Quebec his sworn enemy. It is just his misfortune. But sure it is he has a binding influence oh the Government following and their allies, the Progressives. \\ hen Arthur talks you can see them bristle up as dogs will when enemies are in the offing. Crerar wafches him like a cat. He’s a patient man is the Hired Man s Hero who would be friends with all the world. But he cannot forget the attacks Meighen made on him in the last campaign. He waited all last session for a chance to get ack at his only chosen enemy. But the chance never came.
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Hon. Arthur watched his step and skirted around his long Western opponent quite gingerly. But some day the House is liable to see Hon. T. A. Crerar lose his temper. And the scrap may be worth listening to. For the Meighen tongue is sharp and bitter. And when you get one of these big easy-going chaps thoroughly peeved he’s liable to tear holes in the roof. There are scores of others too who would like to take a crack atlittle Arthur, but they’re restrained by a wholesome respect for bis biting sarcasm. Just how
deep is this anti-Meighen feeling is demonstrated by a conversation overhead in the corridors. A political student was talking to a leading Progressive. “If this Government ever blows up,” said the formej\ “the explosion will come from the inside."
“Uh-huh!” assented the Progressive who knew well the bickering and recrimination that is always present in the GouinKing Cabinet. “There’s nothing holding it together but Arthur Meighen.”