Current Opinion Across Dominion
"THE WHISPER OF DEATH”
"THE Whisper of Death" has thundered forth from the sanctum of the editor of the Montreal Star sir times during the past six weeks, and its repercussions and echoes have reverberated from scores of daily and weekly Canadian newspapers. Many papers agree that Lord Atholstan (proprietor of the Star) has, as the Calgary Albertan so apthy phrases it, done "a good service to other newspapers because he has called the issue and provided the (CANADIAN) press with good subject for editorial comment at a time when editorial comment is somewhat scarce—in the newspaper dog days."
Certainly no editorial published in a Canadian newspaper has attracted such tvide-spread aiLe-ntú-n in.ee that -\-.mous "barnacles on the ship of state” editorial appeared in theToronto Lobe about two decades ago. This particular editorial contributed matcrialhj to the downfall .n jvffTK’"ent of the late dir George Ross, in Ontario, and, similarly, Lord Atholstan's 'ulminations are admittedly designed to speed the end of the present administration in
The initial detonation is dated July lí, when there appeared on the front page of the Montreal Star a prominenllp-elisplayed article which began:
"There art' times when silence is
"Oeeiwions come when the Thing that every man oí intelligence knows and whispers behind his hand to some one he ut which he is afraid to speak aloud lest the very speaking precipitate the disaster he dreads—must be shouted boldly from the house-tops if the people are to be awakened to the danger that overhangs them.
‘ This unspeakable Thing which threatens the life of the nation is the fact that, though the war has been over for nearly five years, our national debt is still rising by the hundred million—that our railways. built to serve twenty million people, are piling up deficits at the same ruinous rate—that floods of immigrants who will stay in the country., use our railways and pay taxes, constitute the only conceivable cure for this desperate condition—and, yet. so little is being done to get and keep these immigrants that it is hard to credit we are not being sacrificed by a policy of deliberate neglect.
"What is whispered behind the hand is that, if this keeps up, Canada is doomed within the next quarter of a century. This is the Thing we are now hiding, but which the Canadian people have every right to know. We cannot continue to rush headlong tow-ard Bankruptcy and not arrive.
“And what must follow Bankruptcy?
"Repudiation or Annexation.
"We must crawl out or sell out.
"It is a time for emergent measures.”
Brickbats and a Few Bouquets
TWO or three leading Canadian dailies treated this, and those which followed, with a conspicuous silence, but the overwhelming majority either castigated or commended Lord Atholstan and his views. Brickbats, however, considerably exceeded the bouquets, perhaps because some writers have permitted themselves to be swayed more by the personal equation than by relentless logic, as is indicated by the assertion of the Toronto Telegram that “there is only one more worthless and despicable publication in Canada than the Montreal Star” ; or the Regina Leader which claims that “the time has passed when it was possible for a man like Atholstan or a paper like the Montreal Star to stampede them (Canadian editors) into a course conceived in greed and born of political duplicity.” Hon. Frank Oliver’s paper, the Edmonton Bulletin, says that “the man who preaches national defeat as a means of attaining political power Í3 a traitor to his country,” and adds: "Everyone in Canada knows Lord Atholstan, or knows of him through his paper. And they never knew any good of him or it. Of all the men in, or nearly in, public life in Canada Lord Atholstan is the one least trusted.” The Sydney (C. B.) Post shrewdly sizes up the situation with its remark that “the truth is that the Star has made out a strong case before an unsympathetic and unresponsive jury. It cites facts, whereas those who attempt to answer it retort only with hopes and optimistic speculations.”
Some picturesque phrase-making, worthy of the late lamented “Bob”
Edwards (of Calgary Eye-Opener fame) in his palmiest days, are indulged in by the editorial scribes right across the country. These are interesting as indicating not only the general trend of opinion but also the favorite mode of attack and rebuttal in some quarters.
“Wild shrieking,” “turgid wail” and a “terrified howl” are phrases used respectively by the Brockville Recorder and Times, the Ottawa Journal and the Elmira, (Ontario,) Signet. Somewhat more dignified and placid are the phrasemakers of the Toronto Globe and the North Shore (N. Vancouver, B. C.) Press. The staid Toronto daily characterises the Star's first editorial as “unspeakable nonsense” and the bright little western weekly refers to the first of the series as an article which for “abject pessimism probably beats any effusion that has ever found place in a Canadian newspaper.”
To the Port Arthur News-Chronicle, the Star's “hysterics” are a “most doleful cry.” The Moncton Transcript designates the “Star's lucubrations” as “another nightmare,” and the Sherbrooke Record refers to them as “blue ruin propaganda” and a “wolf howl.” Peter McArthur, the well-known Canadian author, is responsible, in the Toronto Globe, for perhaps the most mellifluous phrase, “an excruciating example, from the banshee of Canadian journalism, of over-done, over-ripe melodrama.”
Other more or less felicitous phrases— depending upon your point of view—are “weird, editorial incantations,” from the Kingston Standard; “tremendous editorial bogeys,” from the Vancouver Sun; “a sneer of contempt and a roar of mahogany protest” (presumably referring to the traditional kind of furniture found in the “whispering” board rooms) from the London Advertiser; “newspaper sensationalism, not necessarily courageous,” from the Ottawa Citizen; “unpatriotic and unspeakable drivel,” from the Brantford Expositor; “actual treason,” from the Border Cities Star: and "political effluvium, insidiously reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition or the Ku Klux Klan,” from the Belleville (Ontario) Intelligencer. Those who commend the Star’s campaign, in whole or in part, seem to be content with more sober expressions, and include such papers as the Franciscan Revievj, the Sydney Post, the Niagara Falls Revievj and the Quebec T elegro.ph.
“A shivering public,” says the Calgary Herald," is informed what the Thing is, and it turns out to be not one Thing but several, or at least a hydra-headed Thing. It consists of national debt, national railway deficits, threatened annexation with the United States, lack of immigration and lack of leadership.”
Some Gloomy Figures
' I 'HE Montreal Star draws sharp attention to an “old and appalling story” when it emphasizes the statistical fact that our net debt has risen from $314,301,625 in 1913 to $2,430,202,551 last
year. The direct annual charges of this burden on the Canadian people have risen from $12,605,882 in 1913 to $132,926,596 last year. “Simply staggering,” concludes the Star.
Practically every paper agrees that it is time Canada was balancing its budget and effecting certain necessary economies. One and all agree that Canada is staggering under a heavy burden of debt, but quite a few writers draw cold comfort from the fact that other parts of the British Empire are even worse off. “The Montreal Star’s ‘Whisper of Death’ becomes inaudible,” says the Medicine Hat (Alberta) News, “in view of the fact that a recent British House of Commons statement shows that the present public debt of Canada is $263.96 per head of population; Australia’s, $2,980; New Zealand’s, $830; South Africa’s, $590. Of all the British dominions Canada is in the best financial shape.”
The St. Catharines Standard believes that “as an invective against public spending, the Montreal Star reflects the opinion of the solid back-bone of the country” and says that “the whole viewpoint is worthy of study. It is the big issue in this Dominion to-day how we are going to get away from the impost which the war has left on present and future generations.” “Canada is all right,” vouchsafes the Quebec Telegraph, “but it requires such a purging that will put an
end to some of the doubtful financial deals which have depressed our investing public.” The Franciscan Review refers to the fact that the Star has, in the past, “handed more than one handsome bouquet to the squander-maniacs,” and thus deduces that there must now be disclosed “a perilous state of affairs which cannot further be ignored,” and concludes a powerful editorial with this strong statement: “We differ from the
(Star) writer in one respect only, viz. we believe that irremediable bankruptcy will be encountered within five and not twenty-five years if the same conscienceless extravagance continues.” Referring to this particular aspect of the Star’s editorials, the Financial Post remarks that “the most dangerous feature of the whole jeremiad is that the articles are based upon some semblance of truth.”
Anti-C. N. R. Views
SEVERAL papers, particularly the Brockville Recorder and Times and the Farmers' Sun, suspected the Montreal Star, immediately that the first editorial was broadcast, of initiating anti-public ownership—or more specifically, anti-
Canadian National Railway—propa-
ganda. Portions of the second editorial appeared to lend conviction to this belief. The Star said: “We are not willing to imperil the very existence of the country we fought for by piling up deficits to feed a veritable devil-fish system of
bankrupt railways.....Last year the
fixed charges (for the railways) due to the government, i.e., the unconsidered and already closely-plucked people of Canada, reached the considerable figure of $24,649,513—an increase of over five millions over the year before.”
Under its third and fifth “Whispers of Death” headings, published respectively August 1 and August 14, theKtar featured contributions from J. Lambert Payne, “expert railway statistician.” Mr. Payne analyzes and summarizes the cash advances made to the Canadian Northern, Grand Trunk Pacific and Grand Trunk, and the old publicly owned systems, and shows that these aggregate, from 1914 to 1923 inclusive, the staggering sum of $836,206,577. Mr. Payne claims that, taking all capital liability into consideration, Canada’s publicly-owned railways have cost her more than a billion dollars, a figure which must create fixed charges of at least $40,000,000.
“It was the second article in the Montreal Star which revealed the purpose of the first,” says the Toronto Star, “—the overthrow of the Liberal Government at Ottawa, and the abandonment of the
nationalization of the railways.....If it
was meant to be a beginning of a campaign for the denationalizing of our railways, it is not likely to make much headway.” This is the burden of opinion expressed by a large number of editorial writers.
The Toronto Globe pillories Lord Atholstan as “an irreconcilable enemy of the public ownership and operation of railways,” and the Tweed (Ontario) Advocate intimates that “fear that the C. N. R. will succeed is the reason for this destructive impulse; fear that it might, in its legitimate determination to transform a deficit into a surplus for the people of Canada, do some injury to the C. P. R. is another reason.” The Regina Leader and the Saskatoon Phoenix—apparently, since the sale of the latter paper by W. F. Herman, enjoying the services of the same capable and erudite leader writer—forecast that “as the financial showing of the Canadian National Railways improves, the agitation to rob the country of them will undoubtedly increase in bitterness.” “Sir Henry Thornton was placed in charge and to the dismay of the Montreal interests is making good,” comments the London Free Press. This mild encomium merits special attention since it was the Mackenzie King government which placed Sir Henry in his present position, and since the London Free Press is normally anti-Liberal.
High Praise for Thornton
THE newspapers generally are loud in their praise of the courageous announcement made by Sir Henry Thornton during the last week in July to the general effect that he hoped to see the day of deficits on the C. N. R. past in two or three years. “Good for Sir Henry Thornton!” ejaculates the London Advertiser, under the caption: “That devil-fish going to pay,” and this sentiment is applauded by the Brockville Recorder and Times.
Emphasizing his intentions, the Huntingdon (Quebec)Gleaner quotes Sir Henry as saying:
“We have enemies and we know it, and we know we have a stand-up fight before us. I believe in this thing and I am going through with it and will fight to the end,
We get out, not when the politicians tell us, not when the big capital interests tell us, but only when the people of Canada themselves tell us they consider us a failure and want to get rid of our administration.”
Several newspapers refer, in this connection, to the veto, a few months ago, by the Canadian Senate of the bill appropriating the amount of money designated for the building of branch lines as feeders for the Canadian National Railways. “The Senate, which represents the very interests for which the Star speaks, killed this measure,” remarks the Sackville, (N. B.) Tribune.
The Quebec Chronicle very shrewdly inquires as to the identity of the private parties, if any, upon whom the C. N. R. could be “unloaded,” without “loss of all the capital invested in it by the people of Canada thus far.”
Hope for Private Ownership
THE Sydney (C. B.) Post and the Kingston Standard frankly hope for the denationalization of the C. N. R., and look forward to the devising of “some scheme that will turn them back to private control.”
The bogey of annexation is not treated very seriously by the Canadian press. Some dailies recall that the Montreal Star is one of the papers which, in 1911, made such free and effective use of the slogan “No Truck or trade with the Yankees.” Premier Taschereau, of Quebec, took occasion, a few days after the Star's first broad-side, in an important speech to make light of this possibility. The Owen Sound Sun-Times says that people who are clamoring “for annexation to what they, somewhat profanely, call ‘God’s Country’.... do not know how very much bigger the British Commonwealth, of which we are an important constituent, is than even the U. S. A.” Remarking that the Montreal Star “hints darkly at annexation as an alternative for national bankruptcy,” the Peterborough Examiner prophesies that if ever there is “a political union of the two countries the Canadian debt will not be assumed by . . . Washington.”
In “Whisper of Death” number four, the Star asserts that “no corporation or speculation should bar settlers from the best western lands” and points out that the C. P. R. holds in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta a total of 3,950,832 acres of “agricultural and irrigated lands,” in addition to “more than a million acres in B. C.” and land in the prairie provinces classes as town-sites. The price at which this land is held, the Star claims, is prohibitive as far as the poorer immigrants are concerned, and the question is asked whether “the C. P. R may not be standing in the way of our western development.”
To this, under date of August 15, the C. P. R. president, E. W. Beatty, replies with a decided negative. After pointing out some of the services of the C. P. R. in aiding immigration, Mr. Beatty goes on to say that the C. P. R. has disposed of 18,194,737 acres at an average price of $7.87 per acre; and that settlers are sold land, on a 35-year amortization plan, which makes their initial payment $210 and subsequent annual payments less than $200. The Star retorts that no matter how low the price the vital question is “whether the price prohibits,” and urges that “the government must take its courage in both hands and COMMANDEER all western farm lands held out of use, no matter who owns them.”
On this suggestion of the Star's there is a cleavage of opinion. The Lethbridge Herald recognizes “the need for immigrants to help us bear our burdens,” but believes that, first, measures should be taken to “improve conditions for the people who are now here.” The Brantford Expositor holds that the subject “well deserves careful investigation,” while the Moncton Transcript believes that “the •Government has no business to make
itself a party to the projects of the interests to make Canada a land of cheap labor—or of cheap people,” and advocates “a moderate immigration policy.” The Toronto Globe welcomes a constructive suggestion from the Star and agrees that “too much land is held out of use.”
Attacking the Politicians
TN ITS preliminary “whisper” the ^ Montreal Star excoriates “routine-ridden politicians” who “come into office and go out again, handling these red-hot questions with the nonchalance and habithardened indifference of men to whom public life is a trade.” In its second editorial, adverting to the ills that beset our body politic, it contends that “Canada cannot be saved from this impending disaster by any one of the three parties as at present constituted,” and adds:
“There are three possible ways out.
“(1) A Coalition of National Safety.
“(2) The strengthening of the Conservative party by the admission of strong men and improvement of the leadership.
“(3) The strengthening of the Liberal party by the admission of strong men.”
The Kingston Standard quotes the Star to the effect that to many of our men in power “public life is a trade,” adding sententiously: “and it is true.” To this sentiment and its pithy addendum, the Ottawa Journal remarks:
“We do not think it is true. We think it not only not true but rather childish. There are few men in our public life, whether in Parliament or in the Legislatures, who do not have a perfectly good business or profession or occupation other than political when they choose to follow it.”
L'Evenement declines to share in the Star's pessimism, but favors a new orientation of the King cabinet which would strengthen the position of those opposed to the academic free traders.
The Montreal Star, professing no axe to grind and to be in favor of one party no more than another, takes a very definite slap at Mr. Meighen—and, incidentally, Mr. Taschereau—when it remarks that “we have been frank to confess from time to time that we have more hope of the Conservative party—that is, of its rank-andfile—nor does the rabid partizanship of the Quebec Premier go very far to persuade us that this partiality is unfounded.”
The Toronto Globe and Ottawa Journal both affect to believe the Star's objective —or one of them—to be the removal of the present incumbent of the Conservative party leadership from his position. The London Free Press and other papers scout the possibility of this and “Onlooker,” in an exceptionally able editorial in the Brampton (Ontario) Conservator, asseverates that “the Conservative party has no intention of displacing its well-tried leaders at the bidding of any group of men with pretensions to superior virtue and insight, since warm-hearted loyalty to the Chief has ever been and will continue to be its supreme characteristic.”
The effect of the Montreal Star's series of articles has perturbed many of the Canadian editorial writers, as well as leading statesman. Premier Taschereau, of Quebec, quoted in the Montreal Gazette, said in a public speech:
“I think it a duty publicly to repudiate these unwise and false statements. What is the use of advertising Canada and trying to attract capital and immigration if, in the same whisper, you inform both that Canada is dying and bankrupt?
“The Star has published on our country the worst libel that I ever read, and I am informed by American friends interested in our welfare that the effect of these articles, largely circulated abroad, has been most distressing and injurious.”
The St. John’s (Quebec) News stigmatizes the broadcasting of the Star's allega-
tiens as “utterly indefensible” and the Financial Post asserts that — “the Star's campaign is, perhaps, the most hurtful advertising Canada has received in a decade and that is saying a lot in this past few years of bad advertising.”
Support from Readers
MANY readers of the Montreal S’or are quoted in the columns r.f the paper strongly supporting -.he view-point that such articles as the "Whisper of Death” editorials are justified. 'T* is a sharp medicine, but absolutely necessary in our condition,” writes or.e proponent of the series.
F. J. D. Barnjuns. the apostle of the pulp embargo, writes to the Sydney C. B.) Post urging every “true Canadian” to read the Star's striking article-, and shortens the period which may elapse before ruin stalks abroad from twentyfive to ten years. The Calgary H rail states that “the article, shorn of its fearcompelling adjectives, has an amount f good sense in it.” The Ottawa Jou-ml leader writer is sponsor for a much-quoted editorial which has many cheeri.og thoughts—and facts.
He advises that “somebody should tie a wet towel around the Star editor's head, bathe his feet in hot water well saturated with mustard, and, after his temperature gets back to normal, make him acquainted with facts” about Canadians' investments in bonds, bank deposits, increasing trade, revenue, growing immigration figures, abundant crops now ir. sight, and other such salient matters.
The fact that the Montreal S’or broadcast several of its “whispers.” notably the first one, in several leading Canadian dailies where it was really paid advertising matter while masquerading, possibly, to the uninitiated as voluntarily-reproduced reading matter, or views, has worried many Canadian papers. The Farmers' Sun says “the Star paid the newspapers to print its editorial and paid them well.” The Hamilton Spectator calls it “press agency propaganda” and the Owen Sound Sun-Times refers to it as “syndicated stuff, printed at advertising rates." Several newspapers are currently believed to have refused to publish the “ad.“, among the number being the Toronto Star, the Manitoba Free Press and the Calgary Herald. The last-named says, editorially. of the first article:
“The Montreal paper published it as a front page editorial and it was offered to other newspapers throughout the country, including the Calgary Herald, the insertion to be paid for at usual rates. This paper declined to publish it.”
The Toronto Star raise? the ;ue?tion of the power which money gives a publisher to propagate his views as new? and — while announcing that it declined to run the advertising disguised as “unpaid reading matter”—scores journals which accepted the “Whispers” at their ''highest transient advertising rate.”
A Sane Optimism
DRONOUNCED. constructive, -ane op1 timism is the key-note of km majority of the editorials appearing in Canadian, papers, from Atlantic to Pacific, whi ?h comment on “the Whisper o: Dea*'-” series. "Canada can produce : -.en capable of keeping the country from iv.nk~uptcy.” asserts the Arnprior Ontario C’ -, - k and this sentiment is endorsed by papers as widely separated, geographically or politically, as the Toronto Telegram, tne Belleville Ontario, the Teeswater Ontario News, the Quebec T e l c ç •• a p * . km Saskatoon Star, and the Victoria T■ ■res. the last-named adding that "what is worrying the Montreal 5.'ais the fact that Canada is too big to be run politically and industrially from Montreal.”
The Financial Post, referring to the “Whispers of Death" as “poisoned truth,” says the “antidotes are public confidence, the encouragement of individual wi-i tive and sane leadership.”