Varying Winds Blow at Ottawa

J. K. MUNRO April 15 1924

Varying Winds Blow at Ottawa

J. K. MUNRO April 15 1924

Varying Winds Blow at Ottawa


IN THIS the fifth week of this session of Parliament that was to be notable for its liveliness it is sadly admitted that there are more exciting places than the Hill at Ottawa. The debate on the Speech from the Throne had all its old-time dullness. Even Premier King took a week off for a rest and country and press joined in a low anguished moan of “How long, Oh Lord, how long?”

To be sure, there was an occasional electric flash that held out promise of better things—whispers of scandals with ministers involved, rumors of rebellion on the part of Liberals because their Premier threatened to carry out one of the planks of the Liberal platform of 1919, etc. But it was only a flash. No promised excitement can survive three-hour speeches by mediocre orators; no interest can live through endless repetition of the age-old argument as to whether the tariff should go up a peg or drop as much as an occasional dime.

It was evident from the first boom of the guns on the Hill that nobody was in a hurry. It almost looked for a time as if nobody cared. Parliament away to a late start could finish when it pleased.^ The House met on Thursday, listened respectively if not attentively to His Excellency, and then called it a week and went home. It found time the following week to take a day off to help the Civil Servants observe Ash Wednesday. .

The next day the good old Senate threw up their hands and went on strike till April 1st. But before they threw down their tools Senator Dandurand, Government leader in the Red Chamber, calmly arose and suggested reforming the Commons. The suggestion struck the country on the funny bone. It had been listening all its life to proposals from the Commons as to how the Senate should be torn limb from limb, so it gasped and gurgled a bit over the prospect of the Old Boys trimming a few of the curves off the elect of the people.

Sense From the Salons

BUT after the first burst of laughter died away people began to realize that there was as usual some hard common sense behind the bewhiskered Senators’ proposals. Here are some of them:

(1) That a time limit be put on speeches on bills or major motions.

(2) That M.P.’s be allowed to put their speeches on Hansard without delivering them.

(3) That estimates be considered by a select committee of the House.

Of course the Commons treated these proposals with the contempt they thought they deserved. Imagine, if you can, the wrath of a Maritime Minister deprived of his inalienable right to discuss for half a day a $10 patch on a wharf at Ecum Secum, N.S. Think of a Western statesman curtailing his conversation on a section of his native Prairie that had carried more drought than crop.

Put yourself in the place of an eloquent Frenchman cut off in the middle of a peroration he had taken all summer to prepare. Never so long as the Union Jack flaps out to the breeze will Britons submit to such abridgment of their heaven-born liberties.

Let the Senate reform itself and the Commons will do likewise. Net result will probably be that they’ll both plod along glorying in their sins till Gabriel blows his horn.

But to get back to the Speech from the throne, or rather the address in reply to it. Funny combination this. First the Government writes the Speech and hands it to his Excellency. Then when the latter has read it once in perfectly good English and again in almost as good French, the same Government moves an Address in reply to it. And it is the debate on that address that causes all the conversation. It is usually accepted by all and sundry as an excuse to air the accumulated grievances of a year. Also it goes on and on till it makes Tennyson’s “Brook” looks like it also ran.

A Tariff Plank Creeps In

THIS year, however, it is a bit different, for the Government in a thoughtless moment inserted a tariff plank in it. And when said tariff looms up

in any debate all other issues fade into insignificance. For you can’t touch the tariff without violating a principle. And in politics there are so few principles that you’ve got to take mighty good care of what are left. So the debate on the address was turned almost in the twinkling of an eye into a Budget debate. All of which makes the prospect even more gloomy. For every last word that has been uttered during the past awful weeks will be repeated again and again when the Budget itself is on the table and the second big oratorical Marathon of the session is under way.

Be that as it may, the Speech from the Throne held a bit of politics that suggest that the more or less practical hands of Hon. “Ned” Macdonald or Hon. Geo. P. Graham. For on the surface it looks as if the Premier had reached a firm hand of friendship to the wheat barons of the West the while he told the money kings of Montreal that their company was no longer to his liking. But it’s not as bad as that by any means. To be sure that half promise to scrap the remaining tariff off agricultural implements touched the heart of the humble if not contrite farmer—touched him to such effect that Robert Forke, Progressive leader, burst into song. And the burden of his song was “I will give consistent support to the Government.” But the Montreal delegation did not immediately back away and proceed to curse. There’s a reason, and it’s in that same speech. It is the St. Lawrence waterways.

Now you can’t talk to a Montrealer for more than a minute before he mentions those St. Lawrence waterways. It is the matter uppermost in his mind. Deep down in his heart he seems to cherish a fear that the development of those waterways will drain Montreal harbor and make the seaport Metropolis a way station on the route to the heads of the Lakes. And whoever built that Speech may have had this in mind. You’ll notice the work on the Welland Canal is to be expedited. That makes it look as if the deepening of the St. Lawrence Canals would come as the next move. But you’ll also notice that the St. Lawrence project is to be held up awaiting investigation by experts. That leaves those waterways dangling right over Montreal’s head. Just as well might the Speech have said: “Now you Montrealers be good or something will drop and you don’t need two guesses to give that something a name.”

Neither do you need to be an artist to picture where that places the Young Premier. With his good right hand he grasps the toil worn paw of the farmer in friendly welcome. With his left he has Montreal and her money bags by the throat. The only question is, will he be able to maintain this strategic position against the wiles of his own immediate followers? For many indeed are the evidences that there are those in the Liberal camp who don’t want to sleep in the same bed with the Progressives of the West.

But of that later. Meantime, let’s have a look at the opening day of the debate—the day on which Hon. Arthur Meighen and Hon. W. L. Me. King crossed swords for the first time this session. That meeting was looked forward to with considerable interest. There was curiosity almost amounting to anxiety as to how the Premier, bereft of Gouin on one side and Fielding on the other, would come off in a verbal battle with the sharp-tongued Tory leader.

But like most much advertised fights, that one was a bit of a disappointment. For Mr. Meighen who came on first was in unwonted good humor. To be sure he tore holes in the Government policies and left a few marks on the persons of “Ned” Macdonald, Hon. Ernest Lapointe and Hon. A. B. Copp, who took part in recent elections. But Mr. King he overlooked absolutely. Not even a taunt or a jeer did he throw in his direction.

Mr. King was different. He appeared to think it was up to him to prove that alone and unaided he could tear the scalp off a Meighen. He may have been sorry to lose his two trusty lieutenants, but after all they occupied a part of the spotlight that was peculiarly his own. So now that he had it all to himself his opportunity had come to show that it was just his size. So he waded into Hon. Arthur from the drop of the hat. He pointed an accusing finger at him and he “hollered” in spots as if he considered noise a mighty good substitute for argument.

■Now, I, William King, may be something? But even his friends do not claim that he is the equal of the little Portage lawyer in the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. Fielding was the only man who could best the Tory leader at his own game. And as a parliamentarian the Premier is far from being a Fielding. Anyway the smile on Hon. Arthur’s face should have warned the Premier that he was on dangerous ground. But it didn’t. He went right on and qualified as a Charter member of that company who rush in where angels fear to tread.

To be sure he got by with it for the present. For Hon. Arthur just kept poking him with question or interruption till he had him where he wanted him. There he left him. The sequel cannot be written till Mr. Meighen has spoken on another occasion. But it promises to make gruesome reading.

Giving Free Trade an Airing

ANYWAY with the two leaders out of the way, the debate began to drag. But as the Progressives stood up one by one, patted the Premier on the back and worshipped the sun of free trade they could see rising to dispel the night of protection you could see the steely look grow harder

in the eyes of the Liberal protectionists across the way. Now let it be understood that though the Liberals are nominally a free trade party you can count the Simon pure free traders among them on the fingers of one hand. Most of the others are in favor of free trade for the other fellow but they like a bit of protection around home. So they held in as long as they could and then started to growl a bit. You never can tell, you know, if this free trade thing starts how far it may go.

The first real yelp came from Marler of Montreal. He keeps so close to the Montreal Star that he’s sometimes mistaken for a first cousin to the “Whisper of Death.” Anyway he pictured the dangers of free trade. But withal he did it carefully and a bit craftily—did it as if he could hear the roar of the St. Lawrence waterways in the distance. When he touched on dangerous ground and the brow of his Premier furrowed he straightway proceeded to give Hon. A. Meighen a few kicks in the shins and thus restore good humor in Cabinet and Liberal circles generally.

At the end of the first week the Premier became exhausted and, chaperoned by Andrew Hayden, on whom he bestowed a senatorship, hied himself to Atlantic City to gather renewed health and energy. Now it may have been the giving of the senatorship to Hayden that started things. A lot of other Liberals were reaching for that plum. Anyway the appointment might mean a further leaning towards the Farmers. For was it not Hayden who carried the letter to Crerar when King made his first attempt to hitch up to the Western wagon in the dying days of 1921? Anyway, Liberal resentment flared up with renewed violence. W. D.

Euler of NorthWaterloo, one of the ablest debaters in the House, voiced the growing rebellion. His speech was a model from a protectionist standpoint. And ere he finished he had builded a sidewalk on which he could walk over to the Conservatives without even wetting feet.

But it was the eloquent and gentle Raymond of Brantford who talked red rebellion coupled with mutiny on the high seas.

He openly blamed the pilot for steering the ship of state too close to the whirlpool of free trade, nor did he hesitate to voice the cry “drop the pilot.”

On the whole it was "the strangest week Parliament has ever seen. The Government was raked by hot shot from the Conservatives across the floor and if it turned its head it ran into a withering fire from its own followers in the rear. Its only support came from the Progressives and even they, with their appetites

sharpened by one bite of free trade, were already clamoring for more. And the leaderless Cabinet sat silent. Not till Friday did a Minister open his mouth. Then Hon. Ernest Lapointe, the White Hope of Quebec, was rushed to the front in an earnest endeavor to send the^ boys home for the week-end with a better taste in their mouths. He did it too. He turned on Meighen— the surest way to bring Liberal cheers. And as he twitted the Tory •chief with being “great in small things but small in great things” smiles came to faces that had been sad and solemn for days. And by the cime he had worked in the “Whisper of Death” and charged that the Conservatives were contaminated with “pen and mouth disease” those Grits were almost their old selves again.

But he went around that tariff issue with the skill of a champion fancy skater, and plunged into a sea ■of figures from which he only emerged^ to perorate. And Hon.

Ernest is probably our best little perorator. Anyway the Liberals xvent home telling what a .great speech Mr. Lapointe had made and feeling that perhaps after all somewhere the sun might be shining.

But beneath it all you could

feel that an organized fight was on. The protectionist Liberals were making a stand— perhaps a last stand—to keep their party from falling into the hands of the low tariff element towards which their Premier has always leaned.

Nor is the end yet in sight. They will stand by the ship and vote down the Conservative tariff amendment to the address. But they are only postponing the issue. That will come to a head on the Budget division. And who shall tell what the net results may be? It may be that the split has come at last—that instead of a Parliament of groups Canada is going to have once more two great parties. One to nail the protection flag to the mast. The other to shout for low tariff, equal rights to all and special privileges to none. The former to be hailed as the party of the interests. The latter to pose as.the champion of the plain people.

That is, perhaps. But the protectionist Liberals have not yet lost heart. They know that their Premier is no bigot. They have confidence that if the necessity is great enough he can either change his mind or break his promise. And he has a long time to think things over before the Budget comes down.

Meanwhile the Conservatives are losing no time in pre-empting all rights to being considered the Protection party. Even Hon. Arthur Meighen has stopped apologizing for protection. Then Hon. Dr. Manion, who came over from the other side in Union days and who has always been considered a weak sister in regard to tariff, came to the front with one of the nicest little protection speeches you ever heard. He waved the old National Policy as the flag around which all good Canadians must rally and started the chorus of “Canadian Markets for Canadians.”

A Word on Economy

DUT what of economy, you ask. ^ Has the Government laid both hands on the axe and chopped huge chunks out of the expenditures? Well, not exactly. That is, not yet anyway. To be sure there was mention of economy in the Speech. The Government “have felt the necessity of continuing the policy of rigid economy.” Hardly sounds encouraging, does it? Isn’t the policy mentioned the same the people have been complaining about? Then the Premier in telling how public works would be cut to the bone admitted that a few buildings that were urgently needed might have to be erected. So you gather that if a by-election comes on—even M.P.’s somebe a contract or two to throw and where it may do the most

times die—there will into the balance when good.

Also there are other evidences'that the spending spirit is still epidemic. A new record was established when both the mover and seconder of the Address rang in the claims of their constituencies for a slice of the

public plunder. One asked for a branch railway. The other only wanted a canal. Both, however, were enthusiastic for economy.

Then Honest Robert Forke coupled his opening remarks with a demand for the completion of the Hudson Bay railway. To be sure, one or two of the common herd have spoken without holding out a plate for a helping. But they were greatly worked up over the proposed tariff changes and probably forgot some things. Then the Premier has promised a balanced budget. But after all, balancing budgets is largely a matter of bookkeeping. Get the right kind of an accountant, give him an unabridged copy of the multiplication table and he’ll make those figures sit up and talk all the modern languages as well as some that have been dead for several years. The only kind of economy that really counts is the kind that cuts taxation. And as yet there is no evidence that there is any of that brand running loose on Parliament Hill. No, not even in the estimates.

The Senate Sits on the Lid

A NYWAY the Senate is still in a doubting frame of F*mind. In its opening debate it never let a day go by that it did not serve notición the Government that if the Branch Lines Railway bill came up in the same shape as ■ last year it would go out the window the moment it came in at the door. If certain needed branches were put in the estimates it promised to give them due consideration. But never, oh, never would it write a blank cheque and hand it to Sir Henry Thornton to build branches political or needed as he saw fit during the next three years.

That the Senate means what it says is beyond doubt. Also Hon. Geo. P. Graham is quoted as saying that the same old bill is coming down in the same old form. So if you don’t get the branch line you’re crying for, don’t put all the blame on the Senate. Always bear in mind that if t is not a purely political line the Government might have given it to you if it had gone the right way about it.

Meanwhile the contending camps are girding on their armor and sharpening their daggers for what promises to be the bitterest fight of the entire session—the fight on the Church Union bill. Already the opposing counsel are hard at it raising points of law calculated to forward or retard the measure. And already in corridor and smoking room you can hear echoes of arguments that mean that religious wars are still those in which least quarter is given. Far be it for me, a mere wanderer in the field of politics,, to enter into the merits of the discussion. That it transcends even international politics is evidenced by the fact that Hon. Wesley Rowell has for the nonce left the League of Nations to wiggle along as best it can while he gives attention to the higher duty of binding in closer bonds some of the different regiments of the Christian army.

Naturally it is a question on which the leading politician is slow to commit himself. It is like the great question of prohibition which has lost votes to every politician who ever touched it one way or the other. Consequently you do not wonder that neither Mr. King nor Mr. Meighen has yet been heard to venture an

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opinion on it. But it is different with Mr. Forke. With his usual political acumen he has consented to introduce the bill. What effect the combination of Rowell and Forke—purity and progressiveness—will have on the fate of the measure few would venture to predict. But the old line partisans who know more of the platform than the pulpit sometimes become almost fanatical in their prejudices.

Of course with the tariff row in the Liberal camp political circles are almost swamped with rumors. Almost any day you can hear of rows in the Cabinet and rebellion in less sanctified circles. The Tories are openly enthusiastic and some of them spend hours at a time figuring the majority they will have in the next House. Others even go so far as to clamor for an immediate election. But they won’t get it. In fact if there was any prospect that they would, their enthusiasm would probably cool off very suddenly. For elections in these later days cost money and there is always a chance that someone is busy around home trying to steal the nominating convention. Moreover, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and 3 x $4,000 is still $12,000. Which is a lot of money even after the income tax has been deducted.

Now is there much chance of any further changes in the Cabinet? To be sure it is an open secret that Hon. Jacques Bureau would willingly trade his portfolio for a seat in the Senate; that Hon. A. B. Copp feels that the judiciary of his native N.B. never will be what it should be till he occupies a seat on the bench; and that Hon. Charles Murphy, who has not been in the House

this session and who has now gone away to take a complete rest, is far from being a well man. But after its experience, in Halifax, N. S., and Kent, N.B,, the Government has a decided aversion to by-elections. So the above-mentioned will have to stay put till the political skies clear a bit. Neither do they show any signs of clearing.

As to the length of this particular session—well, that’s a guess. Senator Dandurand in proposing the reforms of the Commons ventured an opinion that August would see the statesmen still on the banks of the Ottawa. But others are more optimistic. Parliaments meet when the Premier calls them. They prorogue at the command of the weather man, No matter how leisurely the parliamentary program is moving, the Ottawa head when it once gets fairly into action can hustle things to a finish in most commendable style. So if a hot spell happens along in June and hangs on with anything like its usual tenacity there are hopes that the Governor-General will say the last word along about July 1.

But if the worst should happen and the session should extend on into the early autumn, nobody will suffer so much as the statesmen themselves. That myth as to Parliament costing $30’,000 a day for every day it sits has been exploded. Hon. Ernest Lapointe in his speech on the Address publicly pricked that_ little bubble. He gave the price of Parliament above the ordinary expenses that must be charged for any session as $55,000 per month. Others put it at even less than that. So if talk is not exactly cheap it is at least a lot lower than it has sometimes been figured at.