The Session in Review

W. W. MURRAY July 1 1929

The Session in Review

W. W. MURRAY July 1 1929

The Session in Review

Nothing in the nature of a major issue developed; but here and there were furious battles, protracted and vehement”


THE Parliamentary session of 1929 was a peculiar combination of activity and dullness. Nothing in the nature of a major issue developed: nothing of that nature was foreshadowed in the government’s programme of legislation. Yet, here and there furious battles were opened, arising in unexpected places, engaging unexpected forces, battles which at times became embittered, protracted and vehement, but degenerating at other times to mere shadow-boxing. Out of a dreary drip of dilatory declamation would emerge some point upon which the Opposition would fasten, and at once—always with an eye to the campaign next year—that point would assume supreme importance. (And here let it be interpolated that when the Prime Minister cautioned the House of Commons against being too sure of an election in 1930, the impression left was that the right honorable gentleman was indulging merely in a piece of gentle raillery).

The assault delivered upon Hon. James Malcolm, minister of Trade and Commerce, by the leader of the Opposition, Hon. R. B. Bennett, furnishes an illustration of pre-election tactics. From a sky in which the clouds were floating lazily, a thunderbolt descended which threw the whole administration of the Canada Grain Act into the realm of party politics. Western members, many of them Liberals, had complained of the manner in which the Board of Grain Commissioners performed their duties. That body operates within the departmental jurisdiction of Mr. Malcolm. Thus, by a circuitous process of political casuistry the minister found himself charged with incompetence, a charge, thundered Mr. Bennett,instituted by Mr. Malcolm’s ownadherents. And, developing this theme, the Opposition leader before he was through had roped in the whole government on the grand old principle of “collective cabinet responsibility.”

Western members monopolized a good deal of the debates. There were few, indeed, in which their voices were not raised in harmony with the government or sounding discordant notes according to whether they bore the tag of “Liberal-Progressive” or adhered to that detachment headed by Robert Gardiner (U.F.A., Acadia), who bear themselves with such disdainful aloofness in the southeast corner of the Chamber.

The latter, to the number of twenty-one, are the last intransigent remnant of the old farmers’ party which was all but eliminated in 1926.

Divorce Courts and Peace Pacts

OF government legislation there has not been much. The St. Lawrence Waterway will not be built this year—nor for many years to come. Ontario will not have a Divorce Court thrust upon her, although Parliament will not likely be ealled on again to adjudicate on marital derelictions. Civilian claimants of war reparations will receive a proportion at least, if not all, of their claims. Over 700 miles of new branch lines will be constructed by the Canadian National Railways; and several hundred more miles of road will be absorbed by the people’s system. The Winnipeg postmen who struck in 1919 and were subsequently re-engaged will have their back pay adjusted to bring them more money. Canada will adhere to the agreement which turns the unremunerative publicly-owned Pacific Cable over to a private corporation; and the Dominion will also adhere to a number of international conventions of varying degrees of importance.

The most important of these was the multilateral pact for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy—known briefly as the Kellogg Treaty. Mr. Mackenzie King had represented Canada at the signing of this convention in Paris on August 27, last year. Ratification by Parliament was one of the early acts of the past session. The debate was almost noiseless: to berate the Kellogg Treaty would have been about as effective as talking disrespectfully of the equator. True it is that Mr. Bennett found the peaceful protestations of the United States somewhat inconsistent with their building fifteen new cruisers, and he said so. But on the whole the general feeling seemed to be that if the United States wanted fifteen, or even fifty, warships it was entirely the affair of our republican neighbor, and not a bad melon for the patriots who build them and who find the cloying atmosphere of peace cutting badly into their dividends.

Titles and Taxes

ANOTHER notable result of the session was that lads ■L who attend classes in mathematics and high finance around the brokers’ boards will have to pay a larger fee for their education.

Of course, there was a great deal of debate, some of it good. Interesting after its fashion was was the discussion on a resolution sponsored by C. H. Cahan (Conservative, St. LawrenceSt. George) the purpose of which was to have a Parliamentary committee review the inhibition placed upon the granting of titles to Canadians with a view to their possible restoration. At that stage of the session the House of Commons was working at high pressure and the impression gained was that Mr. Cahan was taken by surprise that his resolution had been reached so early. At all events his speech seemed to lack the vigor and fluency that usually characterize his utterances. His arguments lacked punch, and punch was the one quality essential to put his proposal across. Support was given him by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and quite a sprinkling of Conservatives. But it was a hesitant, bashful, almost apologetic sort of support. Antagonism to the suggestion was much more robust. With riotous enthusiasm honorable members from the great open spaces jumped on it with both feet. To paraphrase what somebody said of Burns and “Holy Willie”—they tore out its soul, spat on it and threw it away. They reminded one of the epigram of Ernest Thurtle, socialist member for Shoreditch at Westminster, who once observed, not without point, that he “vastly preferred the wellmeaning stupidity of the hereditary peer to the enlightened cunning of the ennobled industrialist.” However, the delirium passed with Canada again made safe for democracy: the flower of knighthood was killed by the spring frosts.

No Action on the Deep Waterway

rT"'HE question of the St. Lawrence Waterway received singularly little notice in Parliament. The House of Commons was not exactly indifferent— the existence of such a question was at least acknowledged—but that was about all. A canvass of the situation seems to disclose a curious coolness. British Columbia appears not even remotely interested; the Prairie Provinces, having obtained the Hudson Bay outlet, are resolved to make a go of that first; some Ontario elements are keen on the waterway, others are suspicious of its international aspects; Quebec is solidly opposed; the Maritimes are unwilling to see so much money spent trying to make Toronto a seaport when their own harbors are crying for trade. T. L. Church (Conservative, Toronto Northwest) moved last February for the institution of immediate negotiations with the United States to the end that the waterway be built. The debate was brief and dull. It ended when the Prime Minister declared that some time in the future the federal administration would confer with the governments of Quebec and Ontario with a view to exploring the whole situation. That suspended speculation on one phase of the St. Lawrence development. A second, and one of great immediate importance, was definitely decided.

The great conflict, waged behind the scenes between rival interests contending for hydro development on that river, ended on March 8, when Hon. J. C. Elliott, Minister of Public Works, announced the government’s acceptance of the plans of the Beauharnois Company for the construction of a fourteen-mile power and navigation canal from Lake St. Francis to Lake St. Louis. The victory thus rested with the interests headed by Frank P. Jones, of Montreal. The project, to cost between $60,000,000 and $75,000,000, will eventually develop in the neighborhood of half-a-million horsepower. Beyond the bare statement of the administration’s decision little was said. Mr. Elliott contented himself with outlining a number of provisions pursuant to which the Beauharnois plans were accepted. Of these not the least interesting was one which required the canal to be built in accordance with the standards of the International Joint Board of Engineers, so that “should the government, at any future time, desire to use the canal as part oi the greater St. Lawrence shipway, this substantial link will become the property of the people of Canada free of cost.”

Enter the Seven Sisters

TIKE the Furies of old who visited retribution upon all evil-doers, the Seven Sisters for several declamatory nights and days pursued Hon. Charles Stewart, Minister of the Interior, with pitiless vengeance. And the minister’s impious deed? It was that in conformity with the desires of the provincial government of Manitoba he ignored the deities of public ownership of water powers and turned over the Seven Sisters Falls on the Winnipeg River to a private corporation —the North Western Electric Company, a subsidiary of the Winnipeg Electric. And thereby hangs a distressing, complicated tale, for the Manitoba members of the federal parliament are ardent protagonists of government control of hydro. J. S. Woodsworth (Labor, Winnipeg North Centre) precipitated the Seven Sisters debate by a resolution demanding parliamentary ratification of the disposition of all federally-controlled natural resources. For two weeks the discussion was a free-for-all; everybody got into it. The motion underwent so many amendments that only an adding machine or a pari-mutuel could have kept track. Working from East to West, the Maritimers dragged the report of the Duncan Commission in by the heels, now the most popular exercise with them; the Quebeckers had considerable to say on the Western school lands; Ontario rose and voiced a few well-chosen words on the blessings of public ownership, and the prairies fulminated for complete independence in the matter of their resources. Complacent and benevolent sat the British Columbians, for Hon. H. H. Stevens (Conservative, Vancouver Centre) held up as the acme of statecraft the manner whereby the Pacific Coast province had secured control of its water powers in 1911. To the prairies he gave the injunction: “Go thou and do likewise!” And as Mr. Stevens exhorted, so it came to pass. Complete provincial control of water powers for the Prairies is the next promised step.

But the Manitoba federal group! Staunch Liberal stalwarts and government-hydro men to boot, they sustained the most unkindest cut of all in being thrust into the position where they would have to square themselves for this regrettable slight. Yet governments are greater than private members. That much must be recognized. Mr. Stewart bowed perforce to the wishes of Premier Bracken, and if the federal group got their thumb caught in the door when it was slammed, they appreciated that this was merely another way of Mr. Stewart renewing to them the assurance of his highest consideration.

The Divorce Question

N/TR. WOODSWORTH has revelled in the spotlight. He it was who sponsored the Senate bill envisaging the establishing of a Divorce Court for Ontario. The Commons rejected the measure, with the result that the Winnipeg member thereupon insisted, as was his right, that the House examine every divorce petition presented. In former years all divorce bills as they came from the Senate committee who review the petitions were lumped together and passed “en bloc”—a matter of a minute or two in which to dissolve scores of marriages! Mr. Woodsworth demanded that if the House of Commons were thus definitely to re-assert the adjudication of divorce as a parliamentary duty, the members should do the job properly and not skimp it. The trouble began there.

Up to a certain point Mr. Woodsworth received much sympathy and support. None of his colleagues were at all attracted to the prospect of using the scalpel on each individual divorce petition, but for the most part they acknowledged that his attitude was quite logical. There was no escaping the issue. The number of divorce requests was legion, and the appalling spectre of the nation’s "legislators, isolated throughout the long summer days on Parliament Hill, pondering endless records of domestic infelicity and delivering considered judgment thereupon, was conjured up as an inevitable consequence. The thought was sufficiently horrifying. But having gently eased this keen blade into the midriff of the federal statesmen, Mr. Woodsworth waggishly gave it several twists. Not satisfied with merely scrutinizing the sins of misbehaved parents, he insisted that where children were involved some provision should be made for them. At this stage, Hon. Ernest Lapointe, minister of justice, assured him that in matters of this nature Parliament had no jurisdiction inasmuch as the question of “civil rights” was involved. These, as set forth in the British North America Act, are the special care of the provinces. That was emphatically, or ought to have been, that.

The original menace, however, was not removed, the original, distasteful duty thus rudely thrust upon all parliamentarians—that of constituting themselves judge and jury in every divorce case. The net result was that the House unwillingly resigned itself to examining such bills individually and on their merit. The grumblings and noisy protest eventually summoned the Prime Minister in the role of peacemaker. It was apparent, he intimated, that the Winnipeg member had shown how easily a monkey-wrench could be thrown into the parliamentary machine. During recess the government would address itself to the task of exploring other means of dealing with divorce cases than by legislative enactment. The House breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. Woodsworth’s antagonism to the present “undignified method” perceptibly slackened, but did not altogether abate. To the end of the session he held the House to its responsibility of at least passing the divorce bills singly. What “other means” the Prime Minister had in mind he did not disclose. The enlargement of the Exchequer Court and the vesting of that body with power to deal with divorce has been privately mooted, but the decision is in the lap of the gods.

Mr. Veniot Encounters a Tempest

ITH the establishment of the Civil Service Commission twelve years ago, the old method of turning the public service inside out every time a government changed sustained a mortal blow. It was not, however, definitely killed. There are still a number of appointments outside the Commission. Many of these are rural postmasterships. Since 1926 when he assumed the portfolio of Postmaster-General, Hon. P. J. Veniot has not been averse to accommodating the rank and file of the party with jobs. As this necessarily meant that someone already installed had to be displaced, the record of dismissals is not inconsiderable. Mr. Veniot’s predecessors in office did it before him and it is not unlikely that his successors will do the same. That, however, is not the point. The thing that matters is that Mr. Veniot’s sins have been visited upon him and in a manner that, to the ordinary observer, was a devastating example of what a group of men can do once they set out to do it. The Opposition resolved to make the Postmaster-General feel uncomfortable about it all, and, to put it mildly, they succeeded. The barrage descended when the Post Office estimates were under consideration. Not one item would the Conservatives allow to pass until Mr. Veniot had given the why and wherefore of scores of dismissals. They were amply furnished with ammunition. Bushel loads of returns were demanded, each dealing with the firing of some rural postmaster; a corps of stenographers worked day and night copying original documents for production to the House; the Post Office files were turned upside down and outside in; the clerk of the sessional papers catalogued mountains of reports, letters and returns. These, distributed among the Opposition members, enabled practically each one to saturate himself in at least one case and prepared him to put Mr. Veniot on the rack in connection therewith.

The hurricane roared in all its fury for two weeks, with the Postmaster-General striving to head his estimates into the teeth of the gale. But like some ancient wind-jammer buffeting its way round the Horn he could get so far and no farther. Inevitably blown back into his own wake, he had to start all over again. The Opposition was without ruth or pity. When Mr. Veniot triumphantly pointed out to Hon. R. J. Manion (Conservative, Fort William) that as recently as 1926 Mr. Manion as Postmaster-General in the “shadow cabinet” had in one telegram himself dismissed seven postmasters in Antigonish, the Fort William member reproved him for following such a bad example. Mr. Veniot had intended proceeding to London to the International Postal Convention; but the Conservatives effectively blocked him. Finally the estimates were approved, but their progress was indescribably hectic.

On March 1, Hon. J. A. Robb, minister of finance, brought down his budget showing estimated total revenue for the fiscal year at $454,942,000, an increase of some $25,000,000 over the previous year, and a total estimated expenditure of $385,160,000, an increase of $22,852,000, or an estimated surplus of $69,782,000. New tariff changes were noted. In the excise department the Sales Tax was reduced, taxes on cables and telegrams, railway and steamship tickets abolished, and the tax on stock transfers reclassified in several divisions ranging, according to a later amendment, from onetenth of a cent a share on stock valued up to fifty cents, to four cents on shares of $100 and over.

Some criticism was levelled at Mr. Robb for failing to anticipate in a retaliatory manner the then projected increase in the United States tariff against Canadian agricultural exports. What the government will do in adjustment of the situation as between this country and the United States is undisclosed. It is certain, however, that no counteraction will be taken within the four corners of the Canadian tariff schedule. The Progressive section of the government party would never accede to this. The Western members deplore the definite obstruction to the meagre outflow from this country to the United States, but are firm in their conviction that to raise the Canadian tariff on this account would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. There is a feeling that the action of the United States may not be a bad thing after all. It has drawn attention to the enormous amount Canadians annually buy from that country as compared with the extraordinarily small amount that the republic is willing to buy from Canada. The indication that the Americans desire to do all the selling and as little as possible of the buying has demonstrated better than anything else that this country’s horizons in the matter of trade expansion lie elsewhere. Canadians are finding that they can purchase within the Empire as cheaply and perhaps to better advantage a tremendous portion of what was annually brought in from the United States; and signs are not lacking that the administrative departments concerned have already begun to bend their energies to that end. At all events, Parliamentarians feel that the American import, as someone said, does not exactly come within the classification of lunch-counter pie—• one doesn’t have to take it !

However, the Budget was passed in the middle of May, exactly six weeks after it was introduced, and there remained only the departmental estimates, together with a few odds and ends of legislation to be picked up.