Shaking Hands Before the Fight
J. K. MUNRO
WHEN these few kind words are in the hands of the publishers of MACLEAN’S, another page in Canadian history will have been turned—another session of Parliament will be swinging down its corridors of oratory. For Premier King has kept his promise to his Farmer allies. He gave his stately word that Parliament would meet early in January. It has come as expected, always admitting that if it had been delayed in the mails for yet another twenty-four hours the “early’’ would have slipped over into another and shorter month. But that is coming pretty close—for a statesman—I had almost said "Politician” but caught myself just in time.
For William Lyon Mackenzie King may or may not be a statesmen: he will never be a politician. For in this advanced age when war has narrowed the world and international politics have replaced village gossip around the stove in the corner grocery, statesmen are sprouting on every side. You can name them by the score—Borden, King, Meighen, Drury, etc., etc. But scanning the horizon clear around the circle I can discover but one politician. You may have heard of him. His name is David Lloyd George. And I still maintain that in this “crucial period”—to quote from the as yet unmade speeches in the coming debate on the address—that Canada’s crying need is enough politicians to save us from our statesmen.
For a statesman is a sort of national housekeeper who dreams of mighty things while the coal runs low in the cellar and the larder gets ready to give Mother Hubbard her traditional reception. A politician keeps his feet on the ground and bends his ear to catch the whisper of the multitude. Being mean-spirited enough to want votes, he gives his time to the little troubles of the people and sometimes leaves the ultimate destiny of the nation to a Providence statesmen are too proud to trust.
Just One Big Family
DUT hold on a minute, this is getting away from the opening of Parliament. That great national function has its joys, its sorrows and its humors. The night before the first gun Í3 fired is filled with handshakes.
Into the rotunda of the Chateau are crowded representatives of all parts of Canada
and all the peoples thereof. From the far-off Yukon to the scarce-nearer Halifax the statesmen come, carrying each the atmosphere of his peculiar quarter of this far-flung Dominion. All that is great and good or petty and puerile in all Canada is gathered under one roof. The air is permeated with good fellowship. Nova Scotian greets British Columbian. Thehabitant of Quebec turns his warmest smile on the Orangeman from Toronto. The western farmer is seen in friendly converse with the eastern capitalist—for one night all are of one mind and one accord. They’re just Canadians.
Then comes the Opening—the handshake before the fight. There is a tinge of the mediaeval about those ceremonies. For instance the Commons are called to the Senate to be told what they are to do and how they are to do it. Also the summons to appear brings the first good laugh of the session. For after the first bell of the year has shrilled its summons and as the members are drifting into those pleasant conversations which lull away the tedious hours, there come three loud bangs on the Commons’ door. It reminds one of other and wetter days when the barkeeper was down the cellar initiating a new barrel.
Everyonestraightens up and comes to attention as the Sergeant-at-arms informs Mr. Speaker that a messenger from the Senate is without.
“Admit him,” gravely orders the austere figure bounded on one end by the Speaker’s chair and the other by a black three-cornered hat.
Then in comes Ernie.
That is, in every day life he’s Col. Ernest Chambers, who in the great war commanded with great gallantry the dauntless corps of H. M. Press Censors. But to-day he’s different. He’s a picture plucked from the works of the dead and gone.
He’s Black Rod. He’s clad in raiment as sombre as his title. Also he has knee pants. And as he advances towards the mace he stops at intervals and doubles up as if he had eaten a green apple and regretted rather
than digested it. As a matter of fact he’s only bowing, and the House maintains its gravity.
But after Black Rod has delivered his summons, once in English and once in the language of La Belle Quebec, and he starts to back towards the door, the trouble starts, At the first bow the growing smile is scarce suppressed;
at the second it resolves into a series of snickers; and at the third the laughter breaks loose and the stately Colonel leaves the Chamber to an accompaniment of applause and shouts that threaten to rend the constitution.
However the ice is broken. The Speaker desm his throne, feels that his straight and shakes out his i a lady getting off a crowded street car. The Sergeant-at-arms grasps the big mace, throws it over his shoulder even as a hired man handles a fence rail, gives a last apprehensive
glance to assure himself that his sword is not tangled with his feet and leads off down the corridor. Behind him with stately tread comes Mr. Speaker and following in his train the common herd of M. P.’s. They’re headed for that highly ornate little band-box known as the Senate chamber.
That chamber was built for style, not for comfort or convenience. It is painted and decorated like a crimson woman and reminds one for all the world of one of those highly expensive saloons that sprinkled the Western States in the good old days of the real estate boom.
Anyway, Mr. Speaker leads his flock into the Senate chamber. A few feet from the door his progress is barred by a brass rail. There he stops and tips his hat three times to a gorgeous figure on a throne and flanked on each side by solid phalanxes of richly-caparisoned creatures.
The Governor-General, for it is he in the centre of all this magnificence, comes right back at Mr. Speaker with three tips of a much more elegant three-cornered hat. Then the fight begins. For the Governor proceeds to read the “Speech from the Throne.” He does it once in English and once in French. And by the time he’s through you’re truly glad that those thoughtless Britishers never annexed any part of Mexico.
Then there is more smiling and bowing and more tipping of hats and an officer with due ceremony delivers a copy of the “speech” to Mr. Speaker. The latter, after a last exchange of volleys of hat-tipping, tips the wink to the Sergeant -at-arms. The latter shoulders his fence rail —beg pardon, the mace—andthe procession heads back towards the Commons and democracy. That’s about all they do the first day. And ' they get paid for it too. Nor would it all be so bad if it wasn’t so darned useless. That speech that his Excellency spells through with such difficulty, and that is as hard to listen toas it is to deliver, comes from the Commons in the first place. It is
written by the Government, sent to his Excellency, read by his Excellency and sent to the Speaker to be carried back to the Commons. There it is debated for a matter of three weeks or thereabouts.
And at the end of that three weeks Parliament is just as far ahead—and no further—as if the speech had never been written, had never been read in two different languages by his Excellency and had never been carried back to the Commons to be buried under billions of wasted words.
Could Speech Be Cut Out?
IN OTHER words,Parliament could save time, money and wind by cutting out the Address, the debate thereon and all the accompanying foolishness. Fof of all the useless oratory our system seems to demand, that debate on the Address is the most futile. To begin with, it makes a couple of brand new statesmen out of the mover and seconder. They come to their appointed tasks fair y modest young members as yet unspoiled by the favors of fortune. They nervously wade through speeches that have first been duly censored by the Government. Then the trouble begins. For each speaker, be he Grit, Tory, or Farmer, is in duty bound to pay his compliments to the movers. And by the time the best intentioned and most modest of our people is informed by all and sundry to the number of three score and ten or thereabouts that he is a gentlemen of high ideals, sound logic and marvellous eloquence, you can hardly blame him if he starts to preen his feathers a bit and to cock his hat at a bit of an angle.
For if you hear something nice about yourself and hear it often enough, you’re almost sure to come to believe.
But if the mover and seconder get frequent mention, the same cannot be said of the subject matter of the address. It is simply a text to preach away from. The British Columbian seizes the opportunity to embalm on Hansard the menace of the Orient. He tells of the yellow wave that threatens to submerge the white race on the sunny slopes of the Pacific.
The western farmer finds space to moan over the lack of a Wheat Board and the slow starvation that threatens the prairie producer unless he can find a better method of marketing his grain. The Ontario member breaks loose and talks of the glories of a free trade he hopes in his heart he’ll never get. The habitant soars into the liquid accents of his native tongue with demands for more printing in the French language and more millions to build up Quebec harbors. And the man from the Maritimes in the stately phrase of a bygone age pleads that the Intercolonial Railway, built as it was for the people, shall be put back where it was—carrying freight as a pastime and providing jobs for young Blue Noses as its main object in life.
In other words the debate on the Address is a campaign literature factory. Each speaker gets a lot of “local stuff” off his chest. It is printed in thousands and mailed to his constituents to prove that their M. P. is a patriot and statesman ¡that he is full of the importance of the needs of his constituency and is not afraid to stand right up in Parliament and tell the Government just what that important part of the Dominion wants and must have. And having done this, and proved to his electors that he has done it, he’s free to go on for the rest of the session and do what he pleases or rather what the exigencies of party government demand.
NOW there was a time when all this was rather interesting: A time when there were great figures in the House to whose words the country listened with bated breath, no matter what they orated about.
But Parliament has become a gathering of persons rather than personages. The average ability may be greater than in by-gone days but the outstanding figures are strangely absent
To-day there are not a dozen members in the House whose speeches will either draw crowds to the galleries or be worth a half-column in the morning paper. Just look back over them and see how many there are whom you would go across the road to hear. The two best of the bunch are probably the two who are just back from Europe—Fielding and Lapointe. The former is a master of parliamentary debate. He has a f ow of language that is almost perfect and he is always ready to break a lance with any adversary. Lapointe on the other hand is rather the finished product of the set speech habit. Though he could not speak a word of English when he first came to Parliament, he has now a wonderful vocabulary that he knits into sentences that are beyond reproach. He has humor, irony, sarcasm and he speaks with the passion of his race—a passion that draws the Frenchman from his seat to cheer and causes even the stolid Anglo-Saxon to pound his desk with more than habitual enthusiasm.
Next on the list will probably come Hon. Arthur Meighen. The lawyers—and they are legion call his efforts great. The farmers watch him with mixed emotions—Agnes McPhail with open admiration some of the others as if he were a canine suspected of rabies and they feared whom he would bite next. Nor can there be any doubting Meighen’s cleverness, though he sometimes labors for effect in his phrasing. But his tendency is to make enemies rather than friends and if results are what one is after, the Opposition leader must be moved away down the list.
And you don’t exactly know where to place the Right Hon. the Premier. He’s not a debater. If he s anything, he’s an orator. He’s a master of the pat platitude. If he had been born in the U. S. and not Berlin, Ontario, he would have been in strong demand for Fourth of July Celebrations. But on the whole he puts on a fair exhibition.
Hon. T. A. Crerar should possibly be placed higher up. Nobody would call him an orator, but he talks common sense in a way that pleases and impresses. Also he fills the galleries, which is a tribute paid to few other speakers. And as unprejudiced a critic as Sam Jacobs says that the Hired Man’s Hero’s speeches read well in Hansard —that they stick together better than anything that has appeared in that carefully-edited publication since the days of Edward Blake.
BUT when you get this far along the list you start to wonder whom else to mention. There’s practically nothing on the Opposition side. Sir Henry Drayton can clear the chamber as if by magic by simply rising to his feet. John Babbington MacAulay Baxter of St. John, N. B., produces slumber with his parson’s drone; and though Dr. Manion shoots words like a gatling gun, he fails to get an adequate effect on his audience.
Among the Progressives, Neal, of B.C., has too much humor ever to shine in parliamentary circles. Humor is a crime in that austere atmosphere. Col. McConica shows his Yankee birth by displays of oratorical fireworks; and Hoey, of Springfield, has an Irish eloquence, a parliamentary style and a preternatural gravity that makes him interesting. If he has “the goods” behind it all, he may yet cut more of a figure in Parliament than he ever did in the pulpit.
As for the two Labor men, Irvine and Wordworth, they talk always and with a complete knowledge of everything. They bring groans rather than cheers when
they catch Mr. Speaker’s eye. And catching the Speaker’s eye is the best thing they do.
Coming back to the Government side, Hon. Charles Murphy is a bit vindictive but ever interesting, for he always knows his subject and has the language to do it justice. Hon. James Murdock would be more at home on a soap box on the street corner. Sir Lomer Gouin isn’t an orator at all. At long intervals he issues a business statement to which everyone pays attention Hon. George P. Graham has forgotten
a lot of his jokes and his great voice that could once fill all outdoors is not as it once was, wrhich leads to a fear that Hon. Geo.’s health is not as good as it might be. “Ned” Macdonald, of Pictou, does most of his talking for fat fees in the courts and can no longer be bothered getting nice things ready to say in Parliament. Hence Logan, his deskmate, once the untamed orator of the Maritimes, still roars in the right places, but that about lets him out. Sam Jacobs,of Montreal, the only Hebrew member in captivity, told a funny story in his maiden speech.
And even if Sam is one of the leaders of the Quebec bar,that one slip damned him forever as a parliamentary orator.
As for Andrew McMaster, the Calvinist from Brome, he’s a declaimer rather than a speaker.
Also he’s a free trader and an enemy of Sir Lomer Gouin.
And as his constituency is in Quebec, he won’t be much longer \çjth us.
Then of course there are a lot of
young chaps such as Lucien Connon, Rinfret, oí Montreal, and Jim Malcolm, of Bruce, who may yet grow into statesmen, to whom the country7 will listen with avid interest. But their time is not yet.
Dull Days for the Gallery
SO ON the whole you’ll admit that the Press Gallery do not look forward to the debate on the Address as an elocutionary treat. Rather does it resemble a vast sea of words from which an occasional idea may be salvaged. And the salvaging thereof means work rather than excitement.
To turn from Parliament to things political in other places, we find Quebec in the throes of a general election; the prairies still howling for a Wheat Board; Sir Henry7 Thornton whirling through the W'est on a train de luxe and issuing statements and making promises like an Eastern potentate making an official tour of his empire; and Premier Drury, of Ontario, enjoying his last session of Parliament before he goes to the country and, the wicked Tories hope, to obscurity.
Nor do things look so serious for the Taschereau Government as they did a month ago. There is considerable unrest among the habitants, but the Opposition is weak and none too strongly lead. It numbers only five in a chamber of eighty-five and Leader Sauve is far from being a Napoleon. On the other hand, Premier Taschereau is backed by the powerful Montreal interests, has unlimited campaign funds and a good organization. To be sure Armand Lavergne has hurled himself into the conflict and will carry the fiery cross to the hinterland.
But the campaign is to be of the shortest, the election is February fifth, and what is one against so many?
Moreover it is claimed that the present crusade against vice in Montreal which started symchronically with the dissolution of the House is not without a certain purpose. It fills the press to the exclusion of campaign news. The Government appears to be taking Kirk Cameron’s advice and to be diverting the province’s mind while jt is being operated on. Anyway the electors are being given something besides “Who Killed Blanche Gameau?” to think about, and it is probable the Government will come back with a decreased majority—but come back just the same.
And all the more so that the brains of Sir Lomer Gouin will be behind the Liberal campaign. The Black Knight realizes that it would be fatal to his power at Ottawa to
have Taschereau hurled from the Quebec throne. "A solid Quebec" is the basis of his power over young Mr. King and a solid Que bec must remain. Of course it is only a coincidence that Hon. Ernest L a p o i n t e has been held over seas ever since the House pro rogued. But coin cidences alway~. seem to happen to suit the plans of Sir Lomer. For any real split in Quebec must come under the 1 eadership of Lapointe just as any official alliance between the King Liberals and the Progressives must come through the co-operation of Lapointe. Consequently it was at least a fortuitous circumstance that kept Ernest Lapointe far from temptation during the long summer days and the equally long autumn evenings that followed.
Continued on page 40
ShakingHands Before the Fight
Continued from page 23
Keeping Out of Politics
SO WITH a feeling that all is well with Sir Lomer, you turn admiring eyes towards the West where, in his million dollar train, Sir Henry Thornton is proceeding to solve the railway problems. If Sir Henry has followed the prevailing custom and adopted a slogan,it probably is “a banquet a day will make the C. N. R. pay.” And as to keeping out of politics! Well,he’s getting into politics faster than any native born Nova Scotian ever knew how. He slipped into the Hydro-Radial quarrel in Ontario quite naturally and then wandered West and resurrected that great little political railway, the Hudson Bay. Moreover he threatens to start a department to develop and people the West regardless of the fact that this may run Hon. Charlie Stewart out of his job.
Yes, he’s doing quite nicely,Sir Henry is. Given time and enough rope, he’ll probably keep politics out of the C. N.R. by abolishing the Government and proceeding to run the country as a business proposition. Can he do it? Well,he doesn’t say he can’t, though there are those around Ottawa who might object. Also there are those in other parts of the country who don’t think the National Railways should be run to an accompaniment of brass bands and banquets. Chances are that among those mentioned during the coming session of Parliament will be Sir Henry Thornton.
In Ontario the Liberals and U. F. O. are marching bravely forward under the slogan: “Every day and in every way we are getting closer and closer.” Already tw'o Farmer M. P.’s have climbed the fence into Willie King’s yard—and still there’s more to follow. It is noticed too that when Premier Drury has an important appointment to make he picks a Liberal, even in preference to one of his own Farmers. And the Tories now realize that if they would form a Government in the local House after the election next Autumn they must carry more seats than
the combined forces of the Farmers and Liberals.
To this end there are rumors that Hon. Howard Ferguson will retire as Conservative leader to make room for Sir Thomas White. But this won’t happen and for
two reasons. The first is that Hon. Howard won’t, and the second is that neither will Sir Thomas. Some day Sir Thomas may again yield to the lure of public life. But when he does he’ll appear at Ottawa and not at Queen’s Park.