THE NEW FINANCE MINISTER AND HIS POLICY
A tabloid sketch of the man who now holds the Portfolio of Finance, combined with his first public statement of policy since taking office
A. G. DEXTER
WITHIN a few weeks, Hon. Charles A. Dunning, the first western Canadian to meet Parliament as minister of finance, will announce in his budget speech the fiscal policies which will govern the Dominion in the present year.
More than that, in delivering his first budget speech Mr. Dunning will lay down the principles upon which he will proceed during his term of office as minister of finance, the principles that, failing a change of government, will control tariff, debt and taxation policies in this country for years to come.
There are not a few instances in Canadian political history where a minister of finance exercised control of fiscal policy for many consecutive years. Fielding held the throttle of finance from 1897 to 1911, White from 1912 to 1919. The late Hon. J. A. Robb stamped the financial administration of Canada with his own brusque, honest character from 1923 to 1929.
This latest recruit to the finance ministership has played a conspicuous rôle in Canadian public life; had, indeed, built up for himself a glittering reputation as a financial administrator before he entered the federal political arena. While he was provincial treasurer of Saskatchewan he gave ample proof of his capacity to enforce economy, to keep down taxation and to reduce public debt. As organizer of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Eleva-
tor Company he demonstrated his understanding of the fundamentals upon which the financial institutions of the Dominion are based. Therefore his term of office at Ottawa may be anticipated with complete confidence in so far as these important fields of government administration are concerned.
Mr. Dunning, however, came to Ottawa as the representative of the farmers of western Canada, of whom he is one. He came to Ottawa with pronounced low-tariff views. His appointment may be said almost to have caused a thrill of uncertainty among our captains of industry.
As minister of finance it is now his business to frame fiscal policy. Everywhere one hears the question: “What will he do?”
A Statement of Policy
MR. DUNNING answers this question in a statement prepared specifically for MacLean’s Magazine. The statement is self-explanatory. It should be read carefully by every farmer, consumer, manufacturer and business man in the Dominion. He says:
“We shall move forward cautiously toward the goal of making our tariff structure bear as lightly as possible on production, industry, and the people generally, having always in view the greater prosperity of all the legitimate industries of Canada.
“The tariff must be made to serve the best interests of the Canadian people as a whole. It must be adjusted from time to time to meet the needs not of one class or group or industry alone, but of our whole economic structure This does not mean tariff tinkering, so-called, but it does mean a continuous expert examination and adjustment whenever the facts so revealed warrant.
“The Liberal policy throughout the period of years since 1921 is the best evidence of what our policy is. We stand by our record in that regard. We intend to pursue that policy in future.
“The policy of the British preferential tariff was instituted by the Liberal party, and the intelligent application of it is essentially sound Canadian policy. Moreover, in Canada’s present trading situation it accords fully with the principle laid down by my distinguished predecessor in his last budget, that ‘It is our desire to trade freely with any and all who are willing to trade with us.' ”
There may be a disposition to regard this statement as meaningless, political jargon. If so, it will be because the reader has not followed closely the events of recent years on Parliament Hill. In a statement of policy a responsible minister must use words with utmost caution, gauging their effect not only upon his own country but also upon foreign countries.
Mr. Dunning in this statement makes one announcernent which no one in Canada should find difficulty in understanding:
He says he adopts the policy of the late Mr. Robb and will follow it in the future. The seven Robb budgets are matters of record, and the Robb fiscal policy has been the central issue in two election campaigns.
In addition to this declaration of broad policy, Mr. Dunning deals specifically with three aspects of the tariff question. He says the government will make changes not rashly but cautiously, with the object of benefiting the legitimate or natural industries of the country. In other words, if an industry is native to Canada there is no occasion to fear. If it is an artificial industry Mr. Dunning says the Government will see to what extent tariff protection is justified.
The difference between a legitimate and an illegitimate industry may be demonstrated in this way. Agriculture is a legitimate industry. If some one asked for tariff protection to build a hothouse and grow bananas for the Canadian market—that would be an illegitimate industry.
In regard to the preference Mr. Dun‘nmg states that he believes in its application today, thus forecasting a widening of the preference during his term of office. Moreover, he says such a policy accords with the principle laid down by Mr. Robb that Canada will trade with those who wish to trade with us. This is an unmistakable warning that an effort will be made by tariff changes to divert trade from the United States to Great Britain.
Some may ask who is this man who speaks with the voice of authority in matters concerning our fiscal destiny.
Dunning really needs no introduction to the people of Canada. The amazing story of his meteoric rise from the humblest of pioneer shacks to the second greatest place in the public life of Canada has been told times out of number. It was told in MacLean s ñlagozine for June 1, 1926. In fact, its constant reiteration is a perpetual source of embarrassment to Mr. Dunning. He is the very opposite of a publicity seeker, and yet he is the darling of publicity men. No one in public life since Confederation has lived a life so filled with adventure, romance and achievement.
The reason, of course, is obvious. With Dunning, promotion has never marked the end of mental growth, but rather the beginning of a new advance. Writers no sooner finish chronicling his latest triumph than higher pinnacles are won, and the task is to be done once more. In outline his story is this:
Born in 1885 at Croft, Leicestershire, England.
At the age of eleven: Left school to go to work as an office boy for a patent attorney.
At twelve: Became an apprentice in an industrial plant.
At fifteen: Strained his heart in a swimming race, being pronounced a permanent invalid.
At seventeen: Came to Canada with sufficient money to pay his railway fare to Yorkton. Sask.
At eighteen: Was discharged by a Saskatchewan farmer, his first employer, as unfit for farm work.
At nineteen: Took up a homestead of 160 acres at Beaverdale, Sask.; bought a yoke of oxen, built a sod shack and pioneered.
At twenty-five: Attended the first annual convention of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association, making a speech which resulted in his election to the directorate.
At twenty-six: Was made vice-president of the S.G.G.A., and began the organization of the Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company.
From twenty-six to thirty-one: Built up the Saskatchewan Co-operative into the greatest single grain-marketing company in the world.
At twenty-eight: Appointed royal commissioner to investigate questions of agricultural credits and grain marketing in Europe; also member of the Canadian council of agriculture.
At thirty-one: Appointed provincial treasurer of Saskatchewan.
At thirty-two: Chairman of the Saskatchewan committee, Victory Loans, 1917-18-19. Took over portfolio of railways in addition to that of finance.
At thirty-three: Portfolio of telephones added.
At thirty-four: Portfolio of agriculture added.
At thirty-seven: Premier of Saskatchewan.
At forty-one: Minister of railways and canals at Ottawa.
At forty-four: Minister of finance.
Told in this way, it seems very easy for the penniless immigrant to win his way to high place in the country of his adoption. But do not forget that each one of these promotions was won by sheer ability and faithful service. Moreover, in each case Mr. Dunning was not the only aspirant. He worked his way to the top despite severe, if friendly, competition from his business and political associates.
Achievement at Ottawa
ONE characteristic which has stood him well is his willingness, almost eagerness, to take a chance. He is the antithesis of the safety first politician. In the spring of 1926, when Dunning came to Ottawa, the fortunes of the King government were at a low ebb. In the previous election the Conservatives under Meighen had gained heavily. In fact, the Conservatives outnumbered the Liberals in parliamentary strength, and while the King government was holding on, it v/as expected daily that Meighen would come into office and form a government that would rule the country for the next decade.
In these circumstances it took courage to give up a provincial premiership and political security to embark upon a doubtful adventure at Ottawa. But Dunning came. He entered Parliament on a blustery March day, when the Commons was in the midst of a turbulent debate. Premier King, defeated in North York a few months before, was not in Parliament. Hon. Ernest Lapointe, minister of justice, was endeavoring to guide the frail party ship down unending cataracts. A month of constant struggle had sapped his strength; his health was giving way and a doctor sat in the gallery above, ready to attend in case of emergency. From the outset Dunning was looked upon as a powerful recruit to a faltering, failing government, and the opposition turned upon him. Scarcely had he taken his seat when he was engulfed in a storm of controversy. He was dubbed the “Crown Prince from Saskatchewan.”
The records of his previous statements on federal questions were examined carefully with an eye to quotations which would embarrass him.
Into this political storm Dunning plunged with the happy, carefree abandon of a born political leader. He received many a sore wound in the days which followed, but he gave as good as he got, and never did he lose confidence either in himself or his party.
Four months of ceaseless conflict brought the inevitable crisis, a brief change of government and a general election. The Liberals were returned to power and since then comparative quiet has ruled in the Parliament. The last three years have been devoted not to party bickering, but to administration and constructive statesmanship.
A Hard School
"X ÆANY a public man who has won 4-VX distinction in provincial politics and who is a good debater, comes to Ottawa to take over a minor portfolio in the cabinet and never rises above it. Parliament has been well named the “graveyard of great reputations.”
Mr. Dunning is minister of finance today, not because of his long political reign in Saskatchewan or his association with the farmers’ movement in western Canada. He holds the portfolios of national finance because he has earned the right to do so since coming to Ottawa in 1926. The explanation of his recent preferment lies entirely in the record of the achievements of three brief years.
What has he done?
Foremost in importance is the completion of the Hudson Bay Railway. When Dunning came to Ottawa, the road had been sixteen years in building. Rusted steel rails stretched from The Pas eastward for nearly 200 miles, presenting a scene of complete disrepair. Dunning called the engineers of the National Railways together and evolved a construction programme which, if carried out, would bring the road into operation in 1929. Of course no one expected that this programme, any more than a dozen or so earlier programmes, would be carried out. But it was. Trains reached tidewater on the Bay early last summer.
In regard to the terminal point, Dunning, after studying all existing data, decided that Churchill might be a better port than Nelson. His opinion was confirmed by an outstanding port engineer. But the West generally had made up its mind to retain Nelson. Dunning decided to change the port to Churchill, although in doing so he ran contrary to the opinion of the leaders of Liberal opinion on the prairies. It was a courageous decision, and had it turned out badly would have cost him his political future. Ignoring criticism he launched into a $20,000,000 port development at Churchill. That development is rapidly nearing completion and in 1931 there will be facilities t-here to take care, at one time, of ten 7,000 ton vessels. Moreover there will be a 4,000,000 bushel grain elevator in operation.
Minister of Railways
AS THE federal minister of railways he inherited the problem of reorganizing the capitalization of the National Railways. Little progress had been achieved in this regard by his predecessors. There are some ninety distinct corporate entities in the national system and the problem is to weld these many capital structures into one, replacing bonds and debentures now secured on various parts of the property by new debentures secured upon the total mileage of the system. But before this major problem could be attacked there were two vexatious questions to be determined. The system was in a receivership because there were outstanding two bond issues in regard to which the government had been unable to come to terms with the bondholders. These were the Grand Trunk four per cent perpetual debenture stock, and the Canadian Northern income bonds aggregating $60,000,000. Dunning reached a settlement in both disputes and thus cleared the way for an attack on the major problem. Of that it is not possible at this time to speak, but Dunning with the hearty co-operation of Sir Henry Thornton has advanced negotiations to the point where a final and complete reorganization of the capital structure is now only a matter of months. Had he remained minister of railways it would have been before Parliament this year.
These are but two of many achievements. There was the branch line dispute between the two great railway companies in 1929, involving $75,000,000 of new construction and direct competition for the possession of new territory. The difficulties disappeared under Dunning’s hand as if by magic.
In these matters he showed outstanding capacity, not only as an administrator but as a financier. When Mr. Robb died, it was obvious that the man best fitted to succeed was the young minister from Saskatchewan.
The portfolio of finance is at no time a sinecure. Indeed, one after another our finance ministers have been crushed by the sheer weight of the responsibility of office. And the next five years will bring burdens heavier than at any time since the war period.
As minister of finance Mr. Dunning must guard the commerce of the nation from attack from every quarter—whether it be by way of tariff revision in a neighboring and friendly nation or by reason of international cartels or combines. He must decide the degree to which our fiscal policy should be fashioned to stimulate Empire trade, and in this connection Mr. Dunning in his first few months of office will probably have to represent his country at an Empire economic conference.
In the domestic field he faces debt maturities of $1,200,000,000 in the next five years, and upon him rests the decision as to how much of this will be paid by the present generation and how much passed along to Canadians of the future.
This is the position to which thirty years of unflagging effort have brought the penniless immigrant lad who came to Canada in search of fortune.