“Little Grey Man” Trips in His Balancing Act

J. K. MUNRO June 1 1923

“Little Grey Man” Trips in His Balancing Act

J. K. MUNRO June 1 1923

“Little Grey Man” Trips in His Balancing Act


SOMETHING has actually happened at Ottawa. The budget has filed a delayed appearance. It is usually “brought down.” This year there is a suspicion that the House stood still and the budget drifted into it. Anyway it made its appearance late in the afternoon of a cold, raw Friday afternoon. It was the sixteenth Friday of a misspent session. The day before had been a holiday. Ascension Day—the coldest, snowiest Ascension Day Ottawa had ever known. The jokesmiths charged it to the shutting off of hot air on Parliament Hill. This Parliament has been productive of bad jokes. Parliament itself is the worse joke of the lot. Tom King, the old Gallerycorrespondent, dropped in from Washington the other day and looked it over.

“Reminds me of one of those Marathon dances,” he remarked. "The referee has to watch very closely to see that it hasn’t stopped entirely.”

Hon. Bob Rogers happened along a few days later. “Too much mouth talk.” was the verdict of the former Minister of Politics. What he meant to convey was that its coat of arms should be a jawbone rampant with a brain dormant.

Hon. Tom Crerar blew in like a breeze from the prairie and was received with applause from all parts of the House. Even the sight of a new man makes a welcome break in the monotony. He stood it for about three days and then blewout again.

“I'm just recovering from the flu,” was his excuse, "and I’m afraid the excitement might bring on heart


It was before this glorious gathering that the budget finally arrived. It was to this curious collection of mediocrities and near-statesmen that the Little Grey Man from Nova Scotia delivered his seventeenth budget speech. His is a record that surpasses anything in Canadian politics. No Finance Minister has approached him in length of service. None has been even his competitor as a brilliant parliamentarian.

But somehow he reminded one of the pitcher that has gone once too often to the mound. For the jaunty, fearless Fielding of other days was absent. His clear, ringing voice that has so often awakened Liberal enthusiasm was strangely changed. He looked old and tired as he rose in his place -N

and rustled his papers into their places. His voice was so lowpitched that he could scarce be heard in the Press Gallery. Not once did it ring out with the old defiance, and when he closed with what was meant to be an outburst of optimism as to Canada’s future that voice broke. As he sat down there was more than a suspicion of tears in his eyes.

Debt Still Piling Up

FOR Hon. W. S. Fielding’s -T seventeenth budget was the first confession of an intrepid little Nova Scotian’s defeat. One year ago the Minister set himself the hopeless task of bringing revenues up to expenditures. He increased the sales tax, scattered other taxes with a lavish hand and plastered all commercial paper with stamps in an optimistic endeavor to put the financial ship on an even keel and possibly pare a trifle off the national debt.

Did he succeed? An addition of fifty millions to the national debt is the answer. Nor is that the worst. His figures for the coming year promise a further increase to that debt of $(51,000,000. In other words, Mr. Fielding has simply thrown up his hands. The people are tired of taxation, he moans, so he brings down a budget that won’t balance and leaves the rest to the gods and posterity.

Howwas that budget viewed by the critics? Well, that depends on the critic. One veteran contributed: “It sets the ship of state sailing on an uncharted sea.”

Another rose to remark : “Fielding went to Washington hunting reciprocity; all he brought back was the motto on the American coin, ‘In God we Trust.’ ”

Still, even in defeat, the little “wizard” showed some of his political adroitness. The proviso that the increase in the British preference applies only to goods coming in at Canadian ports is a sop to the disgruntled Maritimes. It gives Halifax and St. John visions of fleets of merchantmen tied up at their wharves during the winter months. The declaration that the latch string is still out should Uncle Sam change his mind in regard to reciprocity is meant to reconcile the Progressives to the declaration that the tariff must be stabilized at the present figures and that no more serious reductions need be looked for. The protectionists who are in a majority of the Liberal party as it stands at present are further reassured by the placing of bounties on eppper and hemp.

These practical examples of the most virulent form of protection should be ample guarantee to those that are skeptical on the matter that the Government has no intention of backsliding to anywhere near the platform of 1919.

“But,” as a wicked old Tory asked with a grin, “why should the Farmers complain? Don’t they get cheap cigarettes and cheaper wines? What more can they ask?”

But, strange to relate, the Progressives do complain. •They’ll tell the country so both by amendment and by speech. Hon. Arthur Meighen relinquished to them the right to move the one amendment that is allowed to the budget. They did it with all the enthusiasm in the world. Moreover, they can always be depended on to make it so strongly free trade that the Tories can’t vote for it. Then, with their indemnities, they’ll be free to talk.

It’s a dangerous time to make predictions, for the debate will be well over before this is in print. But from here it

looks like sixty Farmer speeches in which sixty stalwart sons of the soil will tell a recreant Government what they think of decreased duties on the implements of production —such as wine and cigarettes.

Balancing a Wobbly Budget

DUT don’t blame Fielding too much for his failure to make good on his claims of a year ago. As Minister of Finance his duty is to raise the money. The whole cabinet help him to spend it. And it is a tragic commentary on the way the spending is done that on the evening of the same day that the non-balancing budget appeared the House in committee of supply passed an appropriation of $800,000 for work on Courtenay Bay. Ever hear of Courtenay Bay? It is the greatest political public work in the known world. It is located down where the tides rise and fall on the Bay of Fundy. And those tides do their bit. They carry the mud back as fast

as it can be dredged ^ out. It’s the nearest thing to perpetual motion yet introduced to politics. Millions have been poured into it. And there’s yet room for millions more. And the money stays in even if the mud refuses to stay out.

When you boil the whole thing down you must conclude that political budgets and political expenditures will have to go if Canada is going to keep out of the bankruptcy courts. Old habits die hard. Things may have to get worse before they get better. But sooner or later some one must explode the old fallacy that you can’t apply business methods to public affairs.

Anyway the seventeenth Fielding budget takes a high place in the ranks of “if” legislation. “If” business picks up all along the line the deficit next year won’t be so big. “If” Uncle Sam changes his mind we’ll get reciprocity. “If” President Harding should decide to lower the tariff on Canadian farm stuff he’ll get his in return and the Progressives will get their products into U. S. markets. “If” the Progressives don’t like this they can go to— Well, there you are. Anyway this goes at present, so there!

No Conservative Rout

TO GET back to less serious matters. Some funny impressions must creep out over the country through the bald statements of fact printed in the daily press. For instance when you read that after two days of more or less acrimonious debate the Combines Bill passed its second reading by a vote of 138 to 21 you must picture cheering and enthusiastic Liberals sweeping the scattered remnant of Tories into the discard amid wild scenes of disorder. But as a matter of fact nothing is further from the truth. A bird’s-eye view of the House as the Young Premier closed that debate would have dispelled many an illusion.

. Mr. King was at his best in a theoretical argument that admitted of copious quotations from “Industry and Humanity.” But the enthusiasm was sadly lacking. Not more than half the Liberals were in their places, while even the Ministers showed sinful lack of appreciation of the Premier’s elocutionary efforts. The dour face of Sir Lomer was not in evidence. He had not been in the House all day. Hon. W. S. Fielding, who came in late, looked bored and was fussing with some papers. Hon. James Robb was openly and unashamedly immersed in the columns of a newspaper. Right behind their leader's back Hon. Charles Stewart and Hon. Dr. King were earnestly engaged in a private conversation and apparently oblivious to the heights of eloquence any orator was reaching. Hon. W. R. Motherwell, his head fallen forward on his ample chest, was fast asleep. Of all the major statesmen present Hons. Lapointe and Murdock were the only ones who were paying the slightest attention to

the orator and, truth to tell, the former appeared to be actuated more by a sense of duty than any personal interest he took in speaker or speech.

There was the usual rapping of desks as the Premier took his seat and a drowsiness seemed to fill the air as the Speaker took up the dialogue. The “ayes” had it beyond a peradventure and there was no intention to question the decision on the part of Mr. Meighen and his followers. But it was Mr. King’s own pet measure and he was not satisfied with any such silent endorsation. It was he that demanded a roll call and it was his face that was wreathed in smiles when none of his growling followers dared to hold out and solid Grit and Progressive support gave him such an apparently brilliant victory.

But, after all, it takes a brave politician to vote against the principle of a bill that is ostensibly aimed at profiteering. Hon. Arthur and his followers claimed that it was plainly camouflage and would harass business without being of benefit to anyone. As such they refused to be associated with it in any shape or form. But they showed their usual lack of political sagacity in their manner of opposing it. They left the Government and Progressives in a position to point to the Tories as the friends of the profiteer.

The Leaders' Parade

AS A matter of fact the most serious objection to the bill came from the ranks of so-called Liberalism. Marler, the Montreal notary who admits it cost him $42,000 to be elected, tried to rip the bill and praise the Government at the same time. His faith in his little leader was so outstanding that Hon.

Arthur Meighen was moved to remark,

“Never have I seen such faith, nay not in Israel.”

Later of course Marler voted for the bill. By the way, this chap Marler is one of the newer statesmen from Montreal, and of him it can be said no man ever took himself more seriously. He is of the kind that helps to make the Parliament so unutterably dull and the general verdict is that $42,000 wasn’t a cent too much. Ready-m a d e

statesmen, like ready-made clothing, may do all right for window dressing, but they won’t stand everyday wear.

But, if the month preceding the Budget had a feature at all, it might be called the “Leaders’ Parade.” First the Tories conceived the brilliant idea of banqueting Hon. Arthur Meighen. Then the Liberals did as much for Hon. W. L. M. King. Of course under the circumstances the Progressives had to do something and as Hon. T. A. Crerar happened to wander in from the West what more fitting than that they should pick the Hired Man’s Hero as their victim. And as orating is the favorite sport of the dullest Parliament on record, of course each party champion had to do his durndest. And the oratorical offerings were characteristic of the respective chiefs.

Hon. Arthur, his face still wearing the funeral expression that is one of his chief claims to distinction, swore to devote his remaining years to proving that one William King secured the premiership under false pretences.

Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King, looking strangely like pictures of Napoleon at St. Helena, told of the loneliness of the truly great, made solemn declaration that he never used his isolation as the vantage point of pleasure and conveyed the general impression that the chores a Laurier used to do were as nothing compared to the cares that weighed him down.

Hon. T. A. Crerar, now giving his time almost entirely to his Grain Growers’ companies, spoke as one looking on from the outside. He advocated the greatest economy, thrift and patriotism and generally left the impression that Canada, yea even Prairie Canada, is not as hopelessly poverty-stricken as some of his erstwhile followers would have us believe. He would work and win. In another six million population he could see the solution of our railway problem and he had even visions of debtridden British Columbia becoming the greatest hive of industry on the American continent.

That the Farmer leader, or ex-leader, made the only speech of the three is generally admitted. He at least had no complaints. And there are those of the Conservative clan who only refrained by common courtesy from telling their leader that the question of the hour is not how Mr. King arrived but how to hasten his departure.

As to Mr. Premier, if he would rend his robe of solitude and get around and talk his troubles over with a few of his followers, he might find the former dissolving and the latter becoming a little more enthusisatic. It has been said before and it will stand repetition that there is less leadership in the present Parliament than in any other since Confederation.

That is one reason why the members talk “chicken feed” during working hours. But it is no reason why allegedly sane men should spend their spare evenings at banquets talking “bunk.”

Just imagine—five hours of solid oratory as a relaxation from three months of ceaseless talk! And, strange to relate, the Progressives who come to Ottawa to give us action instead of words are becoming the worst offenders. It has been said that the near-statesman is the curse of Canadian politics. But as all reforms should be started by abating nuisances somebody should turn the fool-killer loose on the near-orator.

At that the Government is largely to blame for the growing nuisance. Its failure to bring down its chief legislation till months after the session opened has led to undue importance being given to trifles.

The bored busher has turned to oratory to relieve the monotony. And > the love of his own voice grows on the ordinary man faster than even the drink habit is supposed to do.

Had the Premier brought down his heavystuff early it would have received due consideration and the coming of the warm weather would have found the House ready to rush the chicken-feed through the hopper and hike for green fields and pleasant breezes. As it is, its prorogation floats in the future like a mirage. Unless some things are ditched the Farmers will be in luck to be home for haying, while it is just possible they may yet go West on the harvest hands’ excursions.

Of course, there is some talk of holding over both the Bank Act and the Redistribution bill. But the bankers who once wanted the former postponed have changed their minds. They were afraid of what effect the Merchants’ Bank tragedy might have on the common M. P. But there has been such a rush of patent medicine financiers to give evidence before the committee and the minor statesmen have been so infected with getrich-quick theories that they are almost ready again to worship at the shrine of the god of things as they are. And the wise men in charge of the campaign for the banking interests are standing by all ready to take advantage of

the changed situation. There are state rumors of a Progressive blockade, but when the smell of growing things gets in the nostrils of the tillers of the soil it is not hard to stampede them in the general direction of home and the kind-faced cow.

Will Redistribution Wait?

'"pHE Redistribution Bill has a much better ehance of slipping a cog and finding a place on next session’s program. The Liberals are credited with a desire to rend the Ontario constituencies limb from limb and create a political map of the Banner Province that will be more appreciative of the statesmanship of young Mr. King. The Conservatives naturally conclude that improvements might be made in the map of Quebec. All that means trouble. Then Nova Scotia must lift up its voice and howl over its decreased representation. Not that it really expects results, but simply that all precedent would be disregarded if Nova Scotia did not howl at a given opportunity. Lung power has long been Nova Scotia’s long suit, even if British Columbia is establishing new records for talkativeness.

So on the whole there is some hope that Redistribution will keep. Anyway all talk of an election in the near future has died out. The bye-elections were not encouraging. Moreover the Government shows no unseemly haste in bringing on the fight in Cape Breton. Our old friend “D.D.” is adorning the bench all right, but his seat in the house will hardly be filled this session. And when it is filled there is more than a possibility that a Scotch Tory instead of faithful Grit will first shake the hand of Mr. Speaker.

But if the outlook for the Government does not grow brighter day by day, it cannot be said that the Tories are in a position to take advantage of any change in public opinion. Little Arthur Meighen can hardly be pointed to as an ideal leader. He never learned to know men. He never will learn men—or anything else.

Experience may be a great teacher, but it finds the little Portage lawyer anything but an apt pupil. He has a genius for doing the -wrong thing at the right time.

He may be able to take advice but makes a specialty of picking the wrong men to take it from. To all others he turns a deaf ear. When he sees Premier King he simply sees red and spoils whatever pretence he ever had to reason. He has never been able to understand the lack of appreciation on the part of a public that chose Mackenzie King instead of Arthur Meighen. Nobody7 has ever yet been able to tell him that said public did not elect Mackenzie King. It simply showed its dissatisfaction with the Meighen Government by throwing it out and King came in because that was the only thing that could happen under

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j the circumstances as they existed.

Just at present the little group of Tories in the House are as badly split and torn as the Liberals would be if Little Arthur could keep his mouth shut for long enough to let themifight among themselves. People may laugh at the Premier and his “splendid isolation.” But he at least keeps out of trouble. Neither does he waste his energies in impromptu battles with backbenchers on the other side of the House. There are two kinds of leaders; those who do too little and those who talk too much. And of the two the former do infinitely less harm to the party they are supposed to lead.

Will Crerar Come Back?

AS TO our old friend Robert Forke, he A has made no pretence to statesmanship but he has a hard common sense that is painfully lacking in the other two. He knows that the only way to lead his group of bucking bronchos is to give them their j heads and let them learn by experience j that too much independence is just as bad as too little, that fighting organized forces with individual effort is about as effective as going up against machine gun fire with pitchforks. By the time they have learned their lesson, and Mr. Forke has got through laughing at his own Scotch jokes, Crerar will probably be

back. Is he coming back? Well, the other day I heard a couple of old timers discussing the future. Said one of them: “There are three men who will come back to public life: Sir Thomas White, Hon.

Wesley Rowell and Hon. T. A. Crerar.” “Perhaps,” replied the second, thoughtfully, “but the one best bet is that White and Rowell won’t come back together.” Again it is a case of things having to get worse before they get better. But right now there are M. P.’s in all three parties who quietly admit that a continuance of things as they are is impossible. And these same men, or some of them at least, have visions of a realignment of parties with Sir Thomas White leading the consolidated Tories and Hon. T. A. Crerar hovering around the top of a new Liberalism. Just where Wesley Rowell is going to fit in, no one cares to even guess. But it is going to be hard to keep him out. But as said before, the time is not yet. It takes something akin to an earthquake to shake a leader out of the saddle.

The Ontario elections? you ask. Well, the Conservatives are confident they’ll come back with a majority over all, and even their opponents are inclined to admit that Ferguson will lead the biggest group. Everything favors those Tories except their leaders. Their present strength lies East of Toronto, while in the West where they now hold only one

seat all the Hydro ridings lie. These should take a wallop at Mr. Drury for his frequent attempts to wreck their pet project. However, you never can tell when Howard Ferguson, ably assisted by Arthur Meighen, may continue to beat himself.

Of the three leaders Drury is probably the best platform performer. Ferguson runs to long speeches and is likely to talk himself out of a job at any time. Welling-

ton Hay, the Liberal Leader, is a decent chap whose chief claim to distinction is a carnation he wears in his button hole. A fairly accurate description of him was given recently by a Liberal Member of the Federal House.

“What kind of a man is this Wellington Hay?” asked a French member. And his colleague came back:

“Oh, just so-so—not enough Wellington and too much Hay.”