Banish the shame of Canadian politics, and let parties realign on a sound and honest basis

GRATTAN O’LEARY January 15 1923


Banish the shame of Canadian politics, and let parties realign on a sound and honest basis

GRATTAN O’LEARY January 15 1923


Banish the shame of Canadian politics, and let parties realign on a sound and honest basis


IN REQUESTING me to write this article, the editor of MACLEAN'S uggested that among other things I

should answer this question: "Are the parties living up to the platforms upon which they appealed to the public?” Had I been the editor, and wanted an answer to that question. I would have enlisted the pen, not of a serious political correspond-

ent, but of Mr. Stephen Leacock. For the question of allegiance to pre-election platforms has passed from the realm of political reality into the orbit of national humor. Some day, let us hope, when the dreams of the Authors’ Club come true, and we have a national literature, a great humorist will be found to deal faithfully and adequately with such a mine of potential mirth.

Meanwhile, with the session of Parliament but a fortnight away, we shall have to be content with the more solemn task of appraising the stewardship of the various parties during the recent months. How has the Ministry met current problems, what has it achieved, what is its future? What of the Conservatives and Mr. Meighen? What of the position, aims and prospects of the Progressives?

The Ministerial Record

SINCE Parliament prorogued last June four transce'ndeRt questions have intruded upon the country—a fuel famine, immigration, the railways, and a need for economy. In respect of the first, Government—to take its record first—did nothing. Mr. King first took the position that a shortage of fuel was none of his Government’s business, and although his attitude became untenable, and he relented to the extent of appointing a fuel committee, it is still true that, while the Ministry may interfere with what you drink and tell you how to raise better hogs and fatten better heifers, it considers it to be outside of its concern if you perish to death without coat.

In the matter of immigration there has been similar masterly inaction. The census figures prove that between 1911 and 1921 as many people left Canada as entered it; others figures show that emigration to-day surpasses immigration; but the Government does nothing. Mr. King and Mr. Stewart talk eloquently of the need of settlers. They declare that in immigration rests the future of our railways and of the country, but while British settlers are going to Australia in thousands, and men and women are leaving Canada by many hundreds of scores, the country' waits for an immigration policy.

In respect of the railway's, fairness compels admission that the Government did well. Mr. King may have acted wrongly in consenting to present the Herods of his party with Mr. D. B. Hanna’s head, but the act being inevitable having regard to promises and conditions with which it is unnecessary to deal, the selection of Sir Henry Thornton as a successor was a substantial atonement for the wrong. Mr. Meighen may cast doubt upon the wisdom of the choice, but one smiles to think how much more vicious the Opposition leader might have been had Mr. King made other choices less desirable and less wise. Sir Henry Thornton may not be a Sir William Van Horne, but he is an outstanding railwayman nevertheless, and his record in England, where he adapted himself successfully to a new and difficult condition, suggests a high probability of success. In any' event, his appointment buttressed the Government’s claim that it was anxious and willing to give public ownership a trial.


TT IS when one comes to public economy, or, if you will, *■ to public extravagance, that the Ministry’s case is worst. The plain truth is that in this respect its conduct is a national scandal. Elected as a party of economy, with retrenchment inscribed upon its banners, it has increased the national debt in the first year of its reign by 20 millions of dollars. It has done this despite the fact that Canada is paying practically nothing for defence; that we have finished with reconstruction expenditures; and that super-taxation provided it with 400 millions of revenue. The position is a very serious one. How serious may be grasped from the appalling fact that since the close of the war—since the Armistice—Canada’s National Debt has been increased by more than a billion dollars. Here are the figures of the debt, as they have stood on November 30th of each year since 1918:


1920 ........................ 2,100,450,361

1921 ...................... 2,368,787,146

1922...................... 2,391,635,818

It is true that the great advance between 1918 and 1919

was largely due to cost of bringing home troops, and

true also that in 1920 Sir Henry Drayton wrote off certain non-active assets which increased the bulk of the debt, but when every allowance is made for this, it is nevertheless a fact that the chief responsibility rests with the squandermania of the Governments, with the old “pork barrel” system, with a propensity to spend money recklessly so long as revenue was coming in. And this squandermania has gone on at a time,when the countries

Mr. O’Leary, although yet in his early thirties, is a veteran in Press Gallery work at Ottawa. He has been watching federal politicians, carefully, critically, sometimes sympathetically, for more than a decade. He is a confidant of former Premier Meighen and, on terms of close relationship with Premier King, T. A. Crerar, Mr. Forke and other leading federal members. In this article Mr. O’Leary makes some trenchant comments on politics as it is played in Ottawa to-day, and advocates a new alignment of parties “in accord with their sentiments, to give a real, vital issue to politics, and to tear away the hypocrisies and shams that are corroding political honor. . . . This would make our public life more honest, more robust, more genuine.” Mr. O’Leary accompanied then Premier Meighen to England for the Pre, miers’ Conference in 1921, representing the Canadian Press. He has but recently returned from a second trip to England where he “covered” the British elections.

outside the war-mad nations of Europe are struggling to balance their budgets, and when the United States and England are not only making both ends meet, but are paying off something of their debts as well.

In 1914 Canada’s debt stood at $350,000,000. To-day it stands at $2,391,000,000—a truly staggering figure. The consequent fixed charges that must come out of the pockets of the people reaches $130,000,000 a year. This amount must be paid before a cent can be expended for the ordinary civil expenses of the country, not to mention capital outlay. In other words, it represents a burden of necessary taxation that is crippling in itself.

One would imagine that Mr. King, professing loyalty to retrenchment, would make an effort to lighten this debt. One would imagine that any Government would realize that existing super-taxation, which is crippling the country, cannot go on forever, that we cannot continue spending money with war-timë abandon, piling debt upon debt, with no future but more taxes or bankruptcy! Yet, seemingly, there is no such realization. Mr. Fielding talked last session about the time coming when we should pay something off the National Debt, but for all the effort that he and his colleagues have made to consummate his ambition, the event will be delayed until Gabriel sounds his trumpet.

Parliament’s Duty

PARLIAMENT’S duty at the coming session is to compel the Ministry to turn off the taps of expenditure. It should compel the Government to realize that the existing revenue, flowing from extra-normal taxation, is for the payment of our debts, and not for extra expenditure. It should impress upon Mr. King that the public is sick and tired of taxation, and" that facile talk of buoyant revenues is only a reminder to the public of the extent to which it is being taxed. In a word, Parliament ought to compel the Government to apply some -ordinary, sane thinking to its financial policy, and, like any individual or corporation, cut its financial coat to suit its financial cloth. ,

But Parliament, alas, is much more likely to concern itself with political tactics, with the old, decayed debates and phrases, with things which, placed beside the question of economy, are of no consequence at all.

What of Liberalism?

As for the Liberal party, quite apart from the Ministry, the chief indictment that can

be brought against it is that it is not Liberal. Mr. King is a well-meaning gentleman of the old-fashioned Gladstonian school, a lover of phrases about the brotherhood of man and the larger liberty and wider horizons, but he is by no means a Liberal as Liberalism is understood in the modern sense of the term. Because he is more of a realist, with closer contact to realities and modern needs, Mr. Meighen is a better Liberal than Mr. King. The difference between the two is that whereas Mr. King fixes rapt eyes on the flutter of banners, Mr. Meighen scans the faces of the men that march. The test of Liberalism is no longer rounded periods about constitutional freedom and responsible government; those battles were won generations ago. The test of Liberalism to-day is practical devotion to alleviation of the grievances of the masses, to the reorganization of economic laws upon a basis of social justice, the promotion of peace and prosperity, the removal of inequalities and injustices, the securing of equal opportunities for all, the meeting of proposed reforms with a spirit of tolerant inquiry. How does Canadian Liberalism measure up to that standard? It is a party which, professing devotion to Free Trade, maintains a heavy tariff. It preaches retrenchment and reform, but practices extravagance; and reactionaries like Sir Lomer Gouin are strong in its councils. It denounces Big Business, but it accepts Big Business’ campaign funds, dances to the tune of St. James Street, and of the plutocrats it professes to hate. It calls itself progressive, but it persecutes areal progressive like Andrew McMaster, opposes reforms like nationalization and proportional representation, and was the last party in Canada to bow to woman suffrage. It labels itself Liberal, but it derives its main support from, and directs its chief appeal to, a Province that is inherently Conservative.

The truth is that the Liberal party holding office in Canada to-day would not make a Whig party in England. In opposition it is true to its creeds, but in office it has again become the home of reactionaries and opportunists, the refuge of calculation and ambition. The men who are dominant in its councils—the Gouins, Grahams, Fieldings, Macdonalds, McCreas, Mitchells, Dandurands, Macleans—are in reality Tories of the Tories. Its few Liberals, the Kings, McMasters, Lapointes, Eulers and Murphys, but grind corn in the camps of the Phillistines.

What of Mr. Meighen?

WHAT of Mr. Meighen? The Opposition leader has brains, courage, militancy. He has exhibited high

talents as parliamentary debater and as departmental administrator; and his brief tenure of the Premiership was not without its triumphs. But it requires something more than the gifts of an advocate to be a successful party leader. Personal magnetism, insight into men, comprehension of public psychology, capacity for welding conflicting elements, ability to discern points of contact with possible allies, power to discern weaknesses in an enemy’s armor and to quickly reap the advantage—these and a hundred other things are essential; and Mr. Meighen has not shown that he is the possessor of them. In the Commons, as a parliamentarian, his ascendancy is unchallenged. No other politician equals him in depth and scope of knowledge, in acuteness of perception, in capacity for legislation and debate. And yet, somehow, to many who watched him last session there came a feeling that his leadership was at fault. He seemed to lack ability in drilling and disciplining his men. He was inclined to take too much upon his own shoulders, and to monopolize the limelight; he failed to teach tactics and plan campaigns; with the consequence that his party became a one-man affair, feeble and inanimate in action. Mr. Meighen, too, is unblessed by a Calvinistic appearance that totally belies his nature; and this, added to a propensity for luirsh language, left the impression that he was bitter in defeat. No man could have taken crushing reverse with finer sportsmanship: but bitter language, spoken in wrong times and places, gave a contrary impression, with a resulting injury to prestige.

During the recess his stature has not increased. His speeches, always eloquent, traversed no new field. Had he applied his wide knowledge to discussion of national problems, lie would have been heard with respect. Instead he was too anxious merely - to criticize, to dwell upon the sins of the Government, and to hurl phillipics against Mr. King. Mr. Meiglien does not appear to realize that his strength in the country lies in the large

number of people who admire his fine intellect, who see in him a politician outside the ordinary rut, who are impressed with his integrity, earnestness and capacity, and that if he is to have a future in politics it is to this class that he must appeal. And so he too frequently descends to party nonsense about which enlightened people do not ■care a tinker’s curse, too frequently wastes his time with ward heelers and ward meetings, and in strengthening his association with the flotsam and jetsam of a partisanship that is submerged.

_ His political associates, with some few exceptions, are pitiable. They are men without political or parliamentary experience, without aptitude for politics, many of them without knowledge of Canada outside Toronto and its environs, and some of them hopeless reactionaries. The consequence of such associations is but too plainly apparent. It reveals itself in futile tactics, in alternate party whisperings of ah alliance with Sir Lomer Gouin, or of an alliance against Quebec, or of an alliance with something or somebody else; in a campaign in Lanark which, it is greatly to be feared, concerned itself more on the back concessions with the battle of the Boyne than with the needs of Canada; and in speeches too frequently unworthy of Mr. Meighen’s mind.

The coming session will show whether Mr. Meighen can triumph over his environment. At heart a radical, with a natural contempt for empty party formulae, and party fetishes and phrases, there is no reason why he should not discover points of contact with the Progressives, thus providing a vigilant, powerful, worth-while opposition to the Ministry. If he can show himself capable of such an achievement, if he can forget the tariff and other issues that are temporarily shelved, if he can avoid bitter recriminations and controversies that but drive the Progressives into the arms of the Government, if, in a word, he can address himself, more to the good sense of the country, and less to the place-hunters of ward associations, thus widening an already existing impression that he is the ablest and best equipped politician in public life to-day, his future is assured. But any other course, and especially any course that involves too much respect for the opinions of a single province, or for the forces of re-

action which helped to encompass his defeat, and Niagara is ahead.

The Conservative Party

AS FOR the Conservative Party, it is a tale for tears.

“What,” asked Disraeli, “are we going to conserve?” And that is the question which younger Conservatives are putting to their leaders. Throughout the world the currents of thought are running heavily against Toryism. In England a party calling itself Conservative has secured a precarious victory, but it was a triumph won by the hauling down of every banner that English Conservatism has fought for during the past fifty years; there was nothing upon Mr. Law’s flag for which Bright and Gladstone and Campbell-Bannerman could not cheer. And in Canada to-day, outside one single Province—Quebec— old-fashioned Conservatism is dying'. In its place is coming a more moderate conservatism, a conservatism that is more liberal than official Liberalism, a spirit which, distrustful of labels and shibolleths, demands that its leaders shall not concern themselves so much with theories or dead and dying traditions, but with the hard realities of existence, with the practical solution of problems, not in accordance with party formulae, but with a simple allegiance to what promises most good.

The existing platform of the Conservative party lacks contact with reality. It stands for general things— such as British connection and inter-imperial trade and a moderate tariff—which everybody accepts, but it fails to come to grips with actual conditions and needs, and does not march abreast of evolutionary reform. Moreover, it suffers gravely from a name which, whatever its good record in Canada, is in bad repute with the world. It suggests reaction, obscurantism, autocracy, and privilege.

The party’s task is to get away from Tory traditions. If it is to survive it must rid itself of Tory influences and Tory leadership and cease talking Tory nonsense. It must become a party of moderate reform, not shackled by tradition or theory, but willing,to examine every proposal put forward for the public good. In a word, its future lies in making terms with the farmers of the West, with moderate forces in the east, and with forward-look-

ing men in Quebec. It must cease being against things, and must stand for things. It must not let itself be driven to the position of the Tory Die-Hards in England—a faction without support or prestige.

The Progressives

OF THE Progressives it is not easy to speak. A Liberal with the tenets and traditions of Liberalism the very marrow of his bone, Mr. Crerar was but a brilliant duelling second to Mr. King. Radical journalists like J. A. Stevenson, and iconoclastic publicists like J. K. Munro, grasping at anything that might challenge the old parties, wrote a halo around his head. They pictured him as a modern Moses who would lead us out of the wilderness, as a crusader who would terrify St. James Street; but it would not do. Mr. Crerar could no more change his Liberalism than he could change his Presbyterianism; Mr. Munro returned to his old love, Mr. Tommy Church; Mr. Stevenson became a political Ishmaelite; and the Progressives became so many Bluchers for the Government’s Waterloos.

The Agrarians had come to Parliament as a protest against recreancy to principle; they soon became recreant to their own. Despite opportunities, challenges and taunts, they never moved their platform in the House. They frequently refrained from voting when their votes endangered the Government. They took almost studied rebuffs on the tariff lying down; took a wheat control bill that was palpably unworkable; and were indifferent about extravagance or feeble in its criticism. As a consequence, the party became negligible. With the exception of Mr Crerar, Mr. Shaw and Mr. Hoey, it was without even second-rate debaters. It knew little or nothing of parliamentary tactics or procedure, lacked discipline and cohesion, became corroded with intrigue, tom with schism and jealousies, and narrowly escaped breaking into fragments.

Why Mr. King desired official alliance with such a party passes ordinary comprehension. As the Progressives stood last session the Government enjoyed all the advantages of union without any of union’s dangers

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Mr. King could always count upon the faithful Crerar in times of stress; why make him a regular, open communicant and antagonize Sir Lomer Gouin? But Mr. King, whatever his motive, pressed for an alliance. He overestimated Mr. Crerar’s strength; mistook the Progressive party in the House for the Progressive party in the country; forgot its Tory wing; and the result was the Morrison-DruryWood-Crerar controversy; the rise and fall of “broadening out”; the eclipse of Mr. Crerar, and the emergence of Mr. Forke.

The New Dispensation

WHAT of the new dispensation? Prophecies in politics are foolish,

yet one thing may be ventured. It is that Mr. Forké, with the fate of Mr. Crerar in mind, will not be a docile puppet of Mr. King. He is not an experienced parliamentarian, he is without skill or tactics or strategy, and will be mediocre in

debate, but he is a strong, determined, characterful Scot, with a mind and prejudices of his own, and with ample capacity to make trouble. If Mr. Meighen, who despite his Conservative label, is a Western man, with strong democratic sympathies, and with a progressive outlook, can form a juncture with him on certain grounds, such as, for example, on revision of the Bank Act, there is no telling the possible result.

For the truth is that the names “Liberal” and “Conservative,” as applied to parties, have no significance that fits the present day. Mr. Meighen, labelled as a Tory, is much more of a Radical than the average Progressive; Sir Lomer Gouin labelled as a Liberal, could hold office in the government of Bonar Law. What the country needs is a proper alignment of real Radicals and Conservatives. Men like Sir Lomer Gouin and Mr. Ballantyne, defenders of privilege and wealth and toryism, should be in a Tory party. Men like Mr. Meighen and Mr. A. R.

McMaster, natura) Radicals, haters of privilege and caste, should be in a moderately Radical party. In other words, what is worth striving for is a new political alignment of the people in accord with their sentiments. It would give a real, vital issue to our politics; it would tear

away the hypocrisies and the shams that are corroding political honor; it would make our public life more honest, more robust, more genuine, and it would recruit to the public service men and women who will have nothing to do with the parties in their existing state.