THE truly scientific mind demands that all things be classified, ourselves included Let us therefore devote a few moments to filing away the twentieth century in its proper pigeon-hole. There has been the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, this age and that. But where do we belong? This is the Gas. or Talk Age. easily so demonstrable. Three pieces of evidence occur quickly to mind: dinners, of which the last course is devoted to speechmaking: "business conferences,” which are hopeless when genuine and hopeless w hen alibis: and ^
We have to state it flati that we ALL talk too much before we get down to the crux of the question, which is Parliament.
It’s a trifle unfortunate that Parliament must again play the role of crux, because the easiest thing in the world is to make fun of Parliament: as easy as it is cruel. The only alleviation of
the misdemeanor is that Parliament, from long experience, must have developed a skin as thick as a brick wall. FurtHermore. it happens that Parliament is unfortunate enough to supply figures on the amount of vocal work done by its members; which is why our legislator friends rather than you and I are lying upon this operating table.
Parliament’s figures show that Parliament, while in session, costs $26.000 per day. As Parliament last year sat 108 days, the country was set back the slight sum of $2,808.000. This sum includes the various items which arise because there is a session of Parliament each year, except members’ indemnities. One of the largest items is the cost of producing Hansard, which, of course, is made vastly more expensive by indulgences in long speeches, poetry and perorations. If you take up Hansard you will find that during these 108 days Parliament spoke roughly. 3 300,000 words. Thus, just a bit of simple arithmetic and you find that 3,800,000 words C. O. D. at $2,SOS.000.and,making allowances for prayers and silence, works out at about seventy cents a wrord. Every time a legislator gets on his feet and opens his mouth once seventy cents flees into thin air. or, into thick air, in certain individual cases. If he repeats the process of opening his mouth twenty times in succession he vocalizes $14. the amount of his income tax. You and I pay that $14. brother; shouldn’t we see wEat kind of money’s worth we’re getting?
It’s surprising. Take this dialogue from Hansard of February 15 last:
An Hon. Member—“Well, well.” ($1.40)
Mr. McMaster: “Everybody admits that.” ($2.10 for admission
Deputy Speaker: “Order!” (70 cents)
Mr. McQuarrie: “Mr. Speáker, I rise to a point of Order.” ($6.30.i
Mr. Cannon: “What book is the Hon. Member quoting from?” ($5.60..
Mr. McQuarrie: “Beauchesnes’s Parliamentary Rules and Forms.” $3.50.1
Mr. Deputy Speaker: “I will consider the authority cited by the Hon. Member.” ($7.70.)
Mr. Cannon: “Is the Hon. Member quoting from articles written by Llovd George for the Hearst papers?” ($10.50.
Mr. Woodsworth: “I am quoting from articles written in Canadian papers.” ($6.30.)
Mr. Cannon: “Which paper?” ($1.40.)
Mr. Woodsworth: “The Montreal Star." ($2.10.)
And so on until Mr. Woodsworth was permitted to quote whatever he liked. The total cost of that bit of oratorical architecture was$37.60, which is perhaps reasonable for a discovery that Mr. Woodsworthwas quotingthe S tar but if you saw any one of those speeches in a shop window priced at about $7.50 would you buy it? Well you DO buy it.
Mr. Martell spoke the other day in the debate on the Address. Mr. Martell is young, a Nova Scotian, and by way of being an orator. We take this paragraph from the Hansard report of his speech:
“As a Nova Scotian I sincerely congratulate my colleague from that Province upon his speech. Most worthily did he uphold the honor of the province from which we both come. Unfortunately I am not familiar with the language of old France, and therefore I could not comprehend all that was said by the seconder of the Address. It certainly seems rather a paradox that I, descended from French Huguenots, cannot understand the language of my forebears. . . .but his address was both eloquent and convincing.”
Now, that is a good piece of work. It’s eloquent, and it shows disinterested friendship. But the point for the taxpayer is that Mr. Martell’s admiration for his colleague and the paradox of his ignorance of French, set the country back $56.
When a member of Parliament says, “I rise to a point of order,” it sets us, the people, back the price of a new shirt. There are 235 members of Parliament saying that continually, which makes us appreciate our shirts. The mere reading of a bill to permit Mary Jane Smith to divorce William Smith costs the country from $20 to $25—that is, for the privilege of hearing the sound waves roll through the House we pay that sum, yet kick at the price of opera seats.
Most bills are read three times before the final passage.
Last year the Government appointed an assistant lighthouse keeper. His salary was $200 a year. Eight mem-. bers opposed the appointment on the ground of economy with 2,500 words of protest. As a consequence $1,700 was lost trying to save $200; and the lighthouse keeper got the appointment.
Last budget the Government reduced tariff taxes by
about $1,000,000. Immediately there was a debate of exactly $800,000 worth of language, the net saving to the taxpayer being but $200,000. And we could go on citing casei ad infinitum.
Finally, an average session of Parliament produces from 1,000 to 2,000 words of poetry, used by way of ammunition, and costing, at bargain prices, at least $5,000. Yet they say we are not an art loving country! Next time you hear that asserted just think of Parliament.
Which brings us back to that speech of Mr. Martell. Mr. Martell is a lover of the muse, and, in the course of a tribute to a friend, he quoted these lines:
“How can I cease to pray for thee, dear heart!
Where’er in God’s great universe thou art to-day
Can He not reach thee with His tender grace;
Can He not hear me when for thee I pray?
“Then all the more, because thou cannot hear
O true brave heart! God bless thee Whereso’-er in His Great Universe, thou art to-day.”
The country paid exactly $74 for that poem, which is enough to make poor Bill Shakespeare turn in his grave, let alone its effect on unfortunates buying coal at eighteen bucks per ton.
Nor was that all. Mr. Martell, still pursuing the muse, went on over Mr. Fielding:
“At last the Master Bowman, he,
Did cleave the air;
Who but bent to hear
His rapt oration, flowing free.”
Why Mr. Fielding, who has to collect taxes, should have been picked upon is not clear, but at all events Mr. Martell in that one poem made his job just $14 harder than before. And then, in a final burst of poetic fancy, he closed with this:
“Whilst the language, whilst the arts That mould a nation’s soul,
Still cling around our hearts, and between Let oceans roll our joint communion Breaking with the sun.
But still from either beach,
The voice of blood shall reach More audible than speech,
We are one.”
The net result of which is that Mr. Martell’s poetry cost in rough figures $110 in one short speech alone.
How the Parties Compare
ROM this state of affairs comes the expression “silver tongued” orator. Of course, some member’s productions are purer silver than others. Mr. Meighen, for instance, is a powerful, polished speaker, with a devastating vocabulary, and a bite as bad as his bark. Last year (see Hansard index) he rose to his feet no fewer than two hundred and fifty times to discuss 291 subjects, ranging from Alpine Clubs to the need for Halfbreed Scrip. He used up fifty columns of Hansard, or 21,000 words, which, costing you and me seventy cents each, worked out at $14,700—which is more than his indemnity and salary.
Mr. King was only slightly less expensive, which, perhaps, is but right, seeing that his salary is larger than Mr. Meighen’s. The premier rose 180 times to talk on 224 subjects, and his language, worked out in columns, words, and cents, cost $10,000. Mr. Crerar was a bad third, rising ninety times to deal with 108 topics, and taking but $9,000 out of our pockets as a consequence.
Coming to parties, none of them has a monopoly of verbosity. Because they are in opposition, and because Oppositions always talk most, (ministerial supporters are compelled to suffer in silence) the Conservatives were last year proportionately the mrst expensive, but the Liberals, because of their numerical superiority, had a greater aggregate of eloquence. The Progressives were a poor third; but the Labor Party, consisting of two members and no leader, did nobly, costing nearly $10,000 for their pleadings for the “peepul.”
But the most expensive of all our talkers is the man “with a mission.” That is to say, the man who wants to abolish something or make us do something new. Take, for example, the subject of the abolition of the Senate. This subject comes up every year, costing at least $25,000 worth of words as a consequence. If we had all the money we’ve lost trying to abolish the Senate we’d have enough to pay part of the railway deficit. And if we added to it what is lost in annual talking fests on capital punishment, divorce reform, proportional representation. single tax, and scores of other bees that members get in their bonnets, we’d have enough to cut a slice off the National Debt.
The longest speech made in Parliament in recent years lasted seven hours, and cost over $20.000. Fortunately, the man wEo made it is now dead. The longest single talking
match that is on record, was in 1913, when Sir Robert Borden wanted to make a three-dreadnought present to the Admiralty. It began in November and ended the following May. The Liberals talked night and day for two weeks in succession; and it was estimated that in trying to keep the Government from giving England three battleships they wasted the price of a cruiser. They talked so long, and so hard, and so fast, and quoted so many newspapers, and blue-books, and statistics, that Hansard actually stalled. It couldn’t keep up with the deluge of eloquence, and it simply went out of business. When members exhausted their own vocabularies, they quoted the vocabularies of others. One of them—Dr. J. P. Molloy, of Provencher—actually read the whole of Norman Angell’s “The Great Illusion”—at a ten thousand dollar cost. And so it went on, until Mr. Meighen devised closure, earning himself a better fate than what befell him last year.
When They Talk Fast
SOME members talk faster than others and are consequently less costly per word: for example,
Mr. Tommy Church. Tommy can talk from the time the chickens go to roost until the cocks crow, but he talks a sort of shorthand, and his words work out at only about
fifty cents each. On the other hand, Sir Robert Borden spoke so deliberately and used such big words that they cost nearly a dollar apiece; while Mr. Charles Doherty’s sentences were so lengthy that they were worth their weight in gold.
In conclusion, don’t run away with the idea that our legislators are barren in vocabulary. The average layman who tries to decipher some of the speeches needs a dic-
tionary, a literary reference library, several mythologies, a couple of histories of Rome and Greece and Egypt and an intensive college education.
One of the most astonishing features of the whole phenomenon is the transformation which occurs in some of the quiet and modest members who come from the prairies and the rural ridings of the East. To begin with, these newcomers are ideal auditors. They take everything in and say nothing. Finally, they feel called upon to rise and speak on some local measure. Perhaps it is with pounding hearts and shaking knees they make their maiden efforts. But thereafter they are lost. There is a thrill in standing up and talking to an audience. Once they have felt this thrill, the timidity, modesty and diffidence, which formerly held them silent, vanishes like fumes of gasolene. The talking habit, one of the most dangerous and incurable of diseases, has taken them for its own.
What of the remedy?
The Moral of Bessie
THERE was once a mother who used to hush her talkative daughter with the warning:
“Now, remember, Bessie, you have only just so many words to speak in your life, and when they’re all used up, you’ll die. You’d better save them.”
Bessie always obeyed. But you and I know that there is something wrong in that mother’s assertion. People don’t die when they have said all they ought to. Only the good die young, and the rest of us go right on talking. Something must be done about it; here is a suggestion: Suppose every man in public life were allotted by law a specified number of words which he could speak. The number would be determined by the needs of his position. The Prime Minister would have, say, $10,000,000 worth of words, at seventy-five cents a word if a Tory, and seventy-six cents a words if a Grit, since the Grits seem to
have most money. A Senator would be allotted $5,000,000 worth of words, at forty-nine cents a word, a member of the Commons $6,000,000 worth at fifty cents a word.
Public accountants would keep tab and the minute any legislator reached the allotted span of his speeches that legislator would become legally dumb. No future word of his could be printed, repeated, or taken any cognizance of whatsoever. Wouldn’t that have some effect on making men set a watch upon the verbose member?
It might even come to pass some day that the highest praise a man could be accorded in his epitaph would be some such thing as this:
JOHN PETER DOE Patriot and Statesman Who although forty years a Member of Parliament died With his allotted number of words only
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.