Commons Faces Vexing Problems
J. K. MUNRO
AFTER two months of conversation, most of it far from interesting, Parliament sits with its work piled up in front of it. It is waiting, only waiting, for a heat wave to break the jam and carry the tangled mass through to prorogation.
It is admitted that the estimates came down early. So did the budget. The Home Bank likewise received early notice. It was gently hoisted on a nicely-worded amendment and hopes are expressed that it is out of the way for the session. The Branch Lines railways, too, have floated through their early stages and landed in the railway committee.
But there is a difference between uncovering work and completing it. And, insofar as actual accomplishment goes, there is little that the statesmen can congratulate themselves on.
But hold hard! For the first time since the cruel war settled down on this weary world, Canada has been provided with a surplus. Hon. J. A. Robb did it with his little lead pencil. And considering that Hon. James is trying his ’prentice hand on the country’s finances that is not so bad. Of course the alleged surplus is subject to the usual objections. It makes Sir Henry Drayton smile. But most things do that. It causes Hon. A. Meighen to look supercilious. But Hon. Arthur has been known to look that way before. He may even do it again. The fact remains that the figures provided by Mr. Robb showed that Canada’s head has risen above the financial waters to the extent of twenty or thirty millions. That should make people feel better. What matters it if the National Railways picked up another fifty millions of indebtedness in the way of Government guaranteed bonds? Wilkins Micawber was happier when he paid a debt with a promissory note. Why not all be Micawbers for the time being? If hard times are merely a state of mind practising Micawberism should help some.
Anyway, you have to admit that when Hon. J. A. Robb brought down his first budget he did it nicely. He presented a brief, business-like statement of the country’s affairs and coupled with it a few neat cuts in th,e tariff that made some of the common M.P.’s gasp. Moreover, he set tongues wagging from one end of Canada to the other. The cuts in themselves are not so serious as what they promise for the future. For ere the acting minister’s closing words had floated up to the tin ceiling of the Commons chamber the whisper circulated “King is headed for free trade and Progressive support.”
The More Their Liking Grew
"^’OR did more careful consideration of that budget tend to remove the first impression. The more the Progressives studied it the more they seemed to like it. Liberal faces that had grown dark and troubled while Mr. Robb was speaking stayed that way. As for the Conservatives they looked a bit dazed. Only three or four days before Hon. A. Meighen, speaking at Windsor, Ont., had predicted that the Progressives were in for a big disappointment—and here they were getting more than they expected. No wonder those Tories needed a few minutes to adjust themselves to a new set of circumstances.
And taking that budget by and large it has a lot of political significance. For there is no mistaking its intent and purpose. The tariff changes are all downwards.
There is no reaching out for any help that may come from protectionist sources. If it means anything it means that the Liberal-Progressive party have nailed the “low tariff” colors to the mast. They have made the Conservatives once more the only protection party. In short, the budget of 1924 blots out the group system in Parliament. It makes the tariff the one issue in the next election. It will work some injury on certain industries that are badly in need of support at the present time. But on the whole the ultimate result must be good. For in future when an elector polls his vote he will have some slight knowledge as to whether he is voting for a protectionist or à low tariff man. There will be a distinction between the parties that goes further than that each or either is promoted by some particular group of men.
But there are other aspects of that budget that might lead one to believe that the hand of the practical politician had to do. with its making. You’ll notice that Ontario industries bear the brunt of the war on tariffs. Quebec’s shoe factories are not only left un-
touched but are given a smile of encouragement by way of a reduction in the sales tax. The Maritimes don’t get much but they don’t lose anything. The Prairies practically reap all the benefits—with an unspoken promise of more to come. B. C. is hurt in a few coast factories and pacified in other ways. It is hardly to be wondered at that the Tories from Ontario lifted up their voices and howled, “Ontario has been sacrificed to purchase Progressive support. Ontario has been tied hand and foot and offered as a sacrifice to the gods of free trade.”
Nor were the Tories alone in their opinion. There are various Liberals from industrial Ontario who feel it in their bones that they are taking a long, last look at the brilliant sunsets that radiate above the Laurentian Hills. Men like Raymond of Brantford, Euler of Kitchener, Gordon of Peterboro, Healey of Windsor and Malcolm of Bruce must feel it in their hearts that they are part of the price of the new Liberalism. Most of them try to keep on smiling. But they just know that a number of brilliant young political careers are being nipped in the bud.
Some of the Montreal crowd, too, look a bit anxious. To be sure they have not been hurt as yet. But the cry “who’ll be the next?” is already volleying over hill and dale and finding an echo in Parliament. When Hon. Chas. Stewart, the western minister with the Quebec seat, mentioned the “death knell of protection” in an early utterance in the debate, cold chills chased up the back of more than one Lower Province Liberal. And the day when Frank Cahill, of Pontiac, was eulogising the new Liberal policy, Hon. A. Meighen slipped over a wicked little question.
“What about boots and shoes?”
That was all he asked, but when Frank prompt-
ly replied that he would like to see the duties on the Quebec specialties cut, some minor statesmen who speak the language of the early pioneers appeared almost to freeze to their seats. Next day, too, a large and talkative deputationswarmed up Parliament Hill. They were the shoe manufacturers. Also they talked to the Government earnestly and with emphasis. Not only did they fear for the future but they were dissatisfied with the present. Some of them even went so far as to tell members of the Government what would happen to them if they didn’t keep their hands off footwear.
CO THERE you have the political outlook under the ^ new conditions: Ontario is angry; Quebec is apprehensive; the Maritimes don’t seem to care; the West is happy not because of what it has got so much as because of what it expects to get in budgets to come.
And on the whole it must be admitted that the Government is in a stronger position than it was before it took the jump. Not only has it all the votes it needs in the House—the budget probably will be carried by about 110 to 115 of a majority—but it could go to the country to-morrow with better than a fair chance of being returned to power. In Ontario it would probably be slaughtered. But it would have been slaughtered there anyway. In Quebec it would hold everything except a dozen or fifteen of the industrial seats. It would split the Maritimes fifty-fifty and hold the Prairies practically solid. That would give the Government a working majority or something very close to it and he’s an enthusiastic Tory who can figure it any other way.
So much for Premier King and his budget. It must be admitted that the rotund young Premier and his advisers are taking fair care of their own political fortunes no matter what they are doing for or to the country. Taking the cabinet by and large you might trade it for a good country council if you were prepared to give a little to boot. But the special gods that take care of politicians appear to be working overtime and working on their side. To be sure some folks will tell you that these gods are personified in Hon “Ned” Macdonald and Hon. George Graham, the “old war horses” of the bunch.
Be that as it may, things have certainly broken well for Young Mr. King. Bereft of his right and left bowers in the persons of Sir Lomer Gouin and Hon. W. S. Fielding, the Premier has bluffed and bullied in a well meant effort to look big enough for his job. And up to the time of writing he has got away with it. For his bluff has never been called. You’ll remember what a genius Hon. A. Meighen
ïhas for picking bad advisers. He’s been at it again. ’They’ve been telling him that his tongue was too sharp Ænd his manner too aggressive. Now it’s an old rule of the ;game that if a man isn’t good going his natural gait you -only make him worse by trying to put on artificial aids. ;So it has again been proved in the case of the Tory ¡leader. When he was nasty he was something distinctive, Tor he could be real nasty. Now that he is nice he is about ;as near nothing as the leader of a once great party can -ever be.
He has allowed the Premier to strut and bully and get away with it till even his own followers are beginning to whisper “There are times when King looks to be a bigger ¡man than Meighen.” And as usual those who advised the ■change in tactics are among the first to find fault with 'him for taking their advice.
It may be that before this is in print Mr. Meighen will -have reverted to form. Almost any day he is apt to forget •that he is a statesman and strew the chamber with the mangled remains of the opponent for whom he secretly ¡retains a supreme contempt. Then his followers will start •cheering again. They haven’t forgotten how. They’re ^simply a little out of practice.
What Woodsworth Did
NOR can it be said that the Meighen tactics have improved with his temper. The Opposition fights still •fizzle to a finish with due regularity. Starting out to make a tariff fight on the Address things ran down so badly that -on the day preceding the division not a Tory speaker even mentioned the tariff.
And on the Budget things ran right to form. The Tories slept soundly through the opening days of the argument. They awoke with a yelp when they found that Woodsworth, the Winnipeg Socialist, had slipped an amendment of his own into the space a Tory motion was meant to occupy. Now only one amendment to the budget can be moved. So even as this is written Mr. Meighen is moving heaven and earth to get the Woodsworth amendment declared out of order so that he can .give his followers something to vote for. He may yet succeed but from here it doesn’t look likely.
Now nobody had ever suspected that the meek little Winnipeg Socialist carried a sense of humor about his ¡person. But he fooled them all and also he laughed in his sleeve when he did it. Realizing that the Progressives in their bargaining had played all for the farmer and forgotten the working man entirely, Mr. Woodsworth just carved a section out of the Progressives’ platform and made it his amendment. It called for immediate and substantial reductions in the duties on the necessaries ■of life and provided Progressive methods of making up the loss in revenue.
And when the immediate results were figured out Woodsworth was doing about all the smiling that was being done. For the Progressives had been left the choice ■of voting against their own platform or turning on the Government they were fast learning to love. As to the Conservatives they would have • to vote against the amendment—and with the Government. Nor did it appeal to their self-respect to find themselves lined up with the Government in the first division on the most talked of Budget since the reciprocity pact was brought down in 1911. •
Of course, Mr. Meighen may yet get a horse into the stable occupied by the socialist nag. The speaker might come to his aid. Anyway he lost no time in getting his entry ready. No sooner was the argument on the point over than Doucet, the chirpy little Frenchman who carried Kent, N.B., for the Conservatives, preached a ¡little protectionist doctrine and moved a real protection-
ist amendment. If the speaker decides against Woodsworth then the Doucet article, which expresses the Conservative doctrine of the future, plumps right into its place. Anyway the suddenness with which the Tory leader moved once he woke up shows that he doesn’t like to be laughed at. No good Tory ever does.
Thornton and His Lines
AS TO the Branch Lines for which Sir -¿WHenry Thornton prays they’ve just got far enough to let those on the inside see that some of them are to be used for railroading and others for carrying constituencies. The Government early decided that as each line was covered by a Government bill they couldn’t possibly be sent to the Railway Committee. Then it discovered that all things are possible. So they’re all along to the committee stage.
That they’ll all go through the House is a foregone conclusion. But it will be different in the Senate. The ancient and honorable threw out the bill that covered them all last year. This year they are in separate bills. And the Senate declares it will deal with each on its merits.
So if present plans are carried out Sir Henry Thornton will grace the Senate committee with his knightly presence. There under oath he will say just which lines he wants and why. If the Senators consider his reasons good and sufficient he’ll get the lines he wants. But the Old Boys are going to be sure that he really wants the lines he asks for—that none of them are being wished on him by a Government that is more concerned about staying in power than it is with making a success of Canada’s great heritage, the C. N. R.
As to the Home Bank, it hovers over Parliament like a dark cloud. The depositors are naturally anxious to be reimbursed. The two old political parties are more concerned with shifting the blame for the loss that may have piled up through government inaction. That means that the Home Bank is in politics and that politics are in the Home Bank. It is simply an added liability.
And the Government has made the first two moves in the political game. They have appointed a commission to investigate what finance ministers have had to do with keeping the bank in line or afloat. Also they have acted with an acumen that promises to shift the whole question over to another session of Parliament. The chance came when Irvine, of Calgary, brought
on an academic discussion of banks and banking generally and the Home Bank in particular. It was a “Private Members’ Day” debate and looked the part. It promised to wind up as such debates generally do—buried under an avalanche of words in the bowels of Hansard.
But at the dinner hour Hon. “Ned” Macdonald and his aides got busy on an innocent-looking little amendment. It referred the whole matter to the Committee on Banking with orders to report. Irvine accepted it and it carried. But the next day Irvine and his friends awoke to the fact that they had swallowed something. For the instructions to the committee were to examine the evidence of “all the tribunals” dealing with the Home Bank. And as some of the “tribunals” do not function till the fall assizes Parliament will have the shutters up before the evidence is available. It was a smooth little move reminiscent of the bad old political days. It will be interesting to watch how it works out in this era of more advanced statesmanship.
Religion and Economy
THEN there is Church Union. A mixture of church and state has always spelled disaster for somebody and it will be strange indeed if the present war does not produce the usual slaughter. Even as I write the decisive battle is less than a week away and the clerical garb is almost as prevalent in the corridors as was the military uniform during another and greater, if less bitterly fought, war. Almost every day the House has heard of the trouble to come. For almost every day has brought broadsides of petitions for and against the religious trust. How will it go? Well, before this is in print all the world should know. So you will realize that this is no time for prophecy. But this much may even now be accepted as fact: a lot of statesmen are going to lose a lot of votes no matter whether they vote for or against. For history teaches that church fights like family squabbles are never settled by the decision of any court.
But if the three big fights of the session have been always looming up in the background they have by no means crowded the minor conflicts off the map. Anyway, the Government has a system all its own. It always tackles everything from the hardest end. It seems to be ever out looking for trouble. It started by putting a tariff plank into the Speech from the Throne. Then when the estimates came down, the first three it picked out to cram down the throats of the economy hunters were: $1,300,000 to purchase the Union Club to put Canada in the front street in London, Eng.
$30,000 to build the Belle River breakwater that helped float “Tim” Healey into Parliament.
$600,000 to complete the tower on the Parliament Buildings.
Pretty strong medicine for the House to swallow while howls for economy and yet more economy were echoing from every corner of the Dominion. But they did it like little men or at least enough of them did—that is, all but the Belle River item, which will be carried with the rest, when the heat wave sweeps the way to home and haying.
Hockey Lures Truly Rurals
BUT there was at least one laughable incident before the two chief “economies” were effected. The Progressives had split on the tower appropriation in the afternoon, enough of them remaining true to their indemnities to give the Government a safe majority. But that same night when the Union Club vote came it was found that all but a shattered remnant of the sturdy Farmers, who came east to put business into politics, had put sport before either. For their was a hockey game that night and the Progressives attended almost in a body. Only fourteen of the sixty-odd Progressives remained to cast their votes for or against the new London residence of Hon. P. C. Larkin. Of course an absent Progressive is almost as good for Government purposes as one who is present and voting right.