Ottawa Rushes Toward An Election

Economy is a neglected wench, of unpleasant mien, and she still meets with but little favor from our federal nabobs.

M. GRATTAN O’LEARY April 1 1925

Ottawa Rushes Toward An Election

Economy is a neglected wench, of unpleasant mien, and she still meets with but little favor from our federal nabobs.

M. GRATTAN O’LEARY April 1 1925

Ottawa Rushes Toward An Election

Economy is a neglected wench, of unpleasant mien, and she still meets with but little favor from our federal nabobs.


LAST session Parliament met at the beginning of March and by the middle of April had passed one bill —to change the name of an apple.

This year it is galloping through debate, estimates and legislation with a speed that almost appals. It put debate on the Address behind it in a week; it has voted millions of estimates; it has had, read, and made an episode over the auditor-general’s report; it has passed a treaty to stop smuggling; it has voted for equality of the sexes in the matter of divorce; it has had its annual controversy over race tracks and the Senate and the Civil Service and currency; and ere these lines reach the reader it will doubtless be grappling with the budget.

Whence and whither? Is this passion for haste the child of economy, or is it a ministerial mobilization preparatory for battle?

Ottawa, which loves a whispering gallery, and which is never happy unless something or somebody is vested with deep mystery, speculates and theorizes and predicts. Statesmen, whose stock-in-trade is to look wise, will assure you that it means an election; hard-bitten journalists, cynical of signs, will assure you that it means no election; and between them, and rumor, and propaganda, there is an hiatus of uncertainty about the future that a layman is powerless to penetrate.

One thing, alone, is certain. It is that if a poll were taken of the House of Commons, for or against an election, the “nays” would overwhelmingly triumph. The Liberal rank and file would shout that way because another sessional indemnity will help with election expenses. The Progressives would follow suit because this Parliament may be (for many of them) their last, and indemnities are more profitable than even twodollar wheat. And the Conservatives, still reeling from Hastings, think nothing more precious than time.

That Petersen Contract

'T'HE Government’s contract with Sir William Petersen * has supplied the fight of the session. And, as often happens in Parliament, the conflict has wandered far from the real heart of the issue. There is only one clear question before the House. It is as to whether ten ships which Sir William

Petersen agrees to use on the Atlantic route in return for a payment of $1,350,000 a year, for ten years, are adequate to break an Atlantic combine which W. T. R. Preston says exists. Called upon to explain, justify, and defend that arrangement, the Government contents itself with a magnificent attack upon the alleged combine. You must vote for this contract, the Prime Minister says in effect, to support the principle of control.

Now it is quite conceivable that a member of Parliament might believe in existence of a combine and want to control it, yet vote against the contract with Petersen. It is quite conceivable, in fact, that just because a member wanted real control he would feel compelled to jettison Petersen. Yet, by clever manouvring, the Government has made the opposition appear, not as the opponents of the Petersen contract, but as friends and defenders of the combine.

It is well to keep the record straight. Parliament in this case is not asked to vote for or against control of ocean rates. It is asked to vote for or against a contract to give Sir William Petersen some $13,000,000 in return for something that may or may not affect rates, In other words, it is

not the disease that is being fought over, or which should be fought over, but a proposed cure.

What Parliament may do is not overly clear. A special committee is to hear evidence for and against the contract, for and against the combine; but the probabilities are that before its sittings are over the only thing visible will be a plethora of evidence which nobody will read, much less understand. The history of parliamentary committees is strewn with the wrecks of great measures.

Motherwell and Speakman

INCIDENTALLY, two of the most effective speeches -*■ in this Petersen debate came from unexpected quarters. One was delivered by Speakman, Progressive member for Red Deer; the other by Honorable W. R. Motherwell, the Minister for Agriculture. They are vastly different types. Speakman is a Scot, with a burr like a Greenock reveter, and an intense face, suggesting Calvin, porridge, and the shorter cathecism. He is not unduly prepossessing in appearance, with his dour countenance and stooped shoulders. Yet hearing his speech, listening to him construct his argument with meticulous care and precision, one wondered what he was doing on a back-bench while Mr. Forke sat silently on a front bench. Speakman, in truth, is one of the House’s able debaters. He is of the type of Scotsmen who were and are the backbone of British Labor: able, fearless, dour, competent in any situation. Parliament, in the future, ought to hear more from him.

Mr. Motherwell was different. He seems to aim to become in the Canadian House what burly Jack Jones has become in the British House: famous for a rough

sort of humor. On this particular occasion, thundering against combines, he was at his worst, or best. Big, burly, with an extraordinarily beaming countenance, he talked of everything and anything but the contract, and made gales of laughter sweep through the House as he denounced lawyers, experts, shipping magnates, and everybody, who appeared to be defending the shipping companies. At times it seemed like, and perhaps was, buffoonery; but it had the desired effect of cheering the Liberal benches; and what often sounds like buffoonery in the House makes good propaganda in the country. Mr. Motherwell knows that. To him, the niceties of debate, the impressiveness of a sonorous period, mean nothing; it is the effect on the country that counts. And so, contemptuous of elegance, and with eye only on the prairies, he went on his jovial, crafty way, heartening his followers with blunt humor and linking up Tories with shipping kings and combines. It was a clever, resourceful performance.

The Eternal Civil Service

THERE has been the annual debate on the Civil Service. It is the same debate that took place last year, and the year before, and the year before that, because the story is always the same. Whether men are hired or fired, whether they die or don’t die, whether the country’s business shrinks or expands, the Service grows always and ever.

Take, as an illustration, the department of the Postmaster-General. Mr. Murphy, by common consent, is able, business-like, efficient. He has tried to run the Post Office as he would run his own law office; and he told the House with pardonable pride that he had installed thousands of dollars worth of time-saving devices that would save the country much money. The House, naturally, was pleased; but a few days later, when it came to examine Post Office estimates, it found, time-saving devices to the contrary notwithstanding, that the Post Office was costing more money.

Overmanning, overwomaning and overlapping go on in the same old way. Everybody now admits it, just as everybody admits the social evil, and with about the same attitude of hopelessness. A story told the House by Mr. Shaw, Independent

member for Calgary, so deliciously illustrates duplication, that I quote his words in full:

“Take the important public service of dredging. That was carried on two years ago by three departments of government, the Public Works Department, the Marine and Fisheries Department, and the Railways and Canals Department. Each department has certain jurisdiction in the St. Lawrence River. The St. Lawrence ship channel, the middle of that river, up and down, is dredged by the Marine and Fisheries department. From the boundaries of the channel to the boundaries of the river on either side the dredging is done by the Public Works department; whereas the harbors are dredged by the Railways and Canals department.

“I have heard that these three departments met at Port Nelson on Hudson Bay to do dredging up there. Each found themselves armed with authority from their department, and each department refused to let the other department do the work, and the result was that the work was Continued on page 40

Ottawa Rushes Toward An Election

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not done that year. I do not know what truth is in that statement, but in any event the example I have given will illustrate my point. Here are three departments with three sets of officials and three groups of equipment, all for the one purpose of dredging. Why should not one department alone be charged with that service?”

This story was told in the presence of the Prime Minister and most of his colleagues—and went uncontradicted. One thought of Mr. Gladstone’s phrase about the “patient ignorance of the taxed.”

Another “Lost Leader”

WHICH brings me to Georges Gonthier, our new auditor-general. Mr. Gonthier, it will be recalled, was to be the Geddes and the Dawes of our service. Inspired by Mr. King, and with $15,000 a year to cheer him on, he was to clean out the civil service, eliminate duplication, slash through red tape, consolidate civil service housing, examine railway finances; and otherwise help the poor taxpayer. A new day, according to the Premier, stood poised on the horizon.

Alas, Ottawa is always to be, but never, blessed. For Mr. Gonthier has made his first report, and it contains sad tidings. He tells, what every auditorgeneral has been telling since Confederation, that some Ottawa departments owe other Ottawa departments a lot of money; (Mr. Gonthier appeared to think at first that this was a scoop, but speedily discovered his error); that the government’s book-keeping is wretched; and that other things demanded attention. And having recounted all of this, which everybody knew before, he concluded with the melancholy reflection that under the law the auditor-general had nothing to do with economy.

News editors outside Ottawa are easily excited. When they read in Mr. Gonthier’s report that somebody, or some department, owed Canada $160,000,000 (Mr. Gonthier did not make it clear that it was just a matter of bookkeeping—one department owing another) their nerves got the better of them. So they spread the dire story columns wide on their front pages; and caused almost as much consternation as that earth-

T’ne sequence was almost tragic. Mr. Robb, the acting finance minister, wrote and rebuked Mr. Gonthier as though he were a messenger in his department who had been talking too much to his neighbors; and, what was infinitely worse, the auditor-general, who ought to be indépendant of governments, and responsible only to Parliament, wrote a timid reply, almost an apology, and promised to be a good boy. A further letter from Mr. Robb, with additional castigation and caution, ended a sorry episode. Another bright hope had been dashed.

On With Expenditure

MEANWHILE expenditure goes on.

Three hundred and forty-two million dollars asked for in the estimates; sixty

millions for the National Railways ; seven millions asked for in a supplementary estimate—that is the story thus far. And the supplementary estimates—Heaven help us if there is to be an election—are still to come. As it is, election or no election, they will ask about eight millions for the Home Bank depositors; a million for an elevator in Halifax; almost a million and a half for Sir William Petersen; several millions for that Montreal bridge; and all the rest of the millions that usually go into wharves and breakwaters and elevators and post offices. Lumped together, and with the addition of votes that will be asked for branch lines, and a few other things, Parliament will be asked to dig down for something like $425,000,000 for the year; a glorious prospect for reduction of taxation with revenue declining each month.

There are rumors—once again—of two cabinet changes. Mr. Murphy, the postmaster-general, is said to want to retire. An able administrator, it is yet no secret that he is weary of politics, and is desirous of a change. So it is said that Mr. King has offered him that long vacant post of Canadian plenipotentiary at Washington. He would be, in many ways, an ideal man for the job. He has always taken an informed interest in international affairs; he knows everybody worth knowing in the republic; he has distinguished presence and able speech; he has private means, ability and culture.

His successor in the Government would probably be Mr. Wilfrid Laurier McDougald, a young man of wealth and ability, living in Montreal. McDougald is a Scotch-Catholic; an ardent Liberal; a successful business man, and possesses a flair for politics. For years now he has been an intimate friend of the prime minister; and it is no secret that Mr. King has long regarded him as a potential future lieutenant.

Another minister rumored to be retiring is Jacques Bureau. His would be a loss to the Commons. Colorful, picturesque, with a tongue as swift as a Dublin jarvey, with the detached philosophy born of years of thronged experiences in and out of politics, Jacques has been perhaps the most joyous, the most effervescent, the most spontaneous personality that Parliament has known in years. He has fought countless battles; he is as much at home with a Toronto Tory as with the most habitant of French-Canadians; he has combined administrative shrewdness with the Gallic temperament; he is, in short, a lovable politician, gallant, engaging and gay.

But although time has not dealt unkindly with Jacques, he seeks the repose of the Senate. Where the good politicians go, he would spend his evening days; and it is said that either Mr. Joseph Archambault, untried as an administrator, but something of a wit, or General Fiset, health restored, and fresh from the conquest of Rimouski, will succeed him.

The changes, if they come, may strengthen the cabinet, but the House will miss Murphy and Jacques.