Backstage at Ottawa
A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK
What with the tariff, the Economic Conference, the conversion loan, the St, Lawrence waterway, silver, the wheat problem, estimate slashing, Mr. Ferguson, Mr. Bennett surely has his hands full
ISSUES, problems and policies press so swiftly these days, it is difficult to get them in perspective. Within the past month a famous British economist has passed upon our trading in wheat, changes have been made in our tariff and taxation, movement has been made to convert hundreds of millions of war bonds, retrenchment has been pursued in a way unprecedented in our history, extraordinary reductions have been made in the personnel of the Civil Service, and the country has been given a new agricultural policy.
In addition to all this, plus a procession of other things, Ottawa has entertained a Prince of the Royal Blood of Japan, prepares to entertain the King of Siam, is clearing decks for an Empire Economic Conference, keeps an eye on the Canada-inspired London Wheat Conference, is busy taking the census.
So swift and turbulent has been the stream of events that press, public and politicians are understandably bewildered, while Ottawa, professing to be hard-boiled about such things, confesses its astonishment. Certainly not since the war, and not even then, has there been anything like it.
In pre-war days and afterward, a major tariff revision was a two-year job. Today Mr. Bennett undertakes vast tariff changes almost as a side issue; alters scores upon scores of customs duties, with their almost baffling complexities and far-reaching consequences, within the period of a few weeks; takes action affecting thousands of industries and the whole industrial and economic life of the nation with a speed that makes Parliament gasp.
When, following his return from London, Mr. Bennett held a few tariff sittings, he invited manufacturers to save their time and his by staying away from Ottawa and sending him tariff briefs. The manufacturers complied. They complied with such speed and with such a vengeance that within a few months more than 3,000 tariff briefs reached the Government, most of them pages in length. Every incoming mail brought huge packages containing prodigious manuscripts, with battalions of statistics, showing how duties should be raised or changed on this, that, and the other thing, if certain industries were to live and the nation know prosperity.
Under Mr. King, who fought as shy of the tariff as possible, such briefs went to the Tariff Board, were passed upon by highly paid experts, were read and digested by a welltiained staff, were card-indexed and classified and reported upon.
It is different now.
The Tariff Board
gone and its machinery scrapped, and the work of tariff readjustment or revision, a desperately difficult task even when the revision is limited, has to be performed by the Cabinet itself, or a few members of
the Cabinet, aided by a few technical officials. Thus it was that, settling down one day some weeks ago to his tariff job, Mr. Bennett found himself with a mountain of tariff briefs.
Precisely how Mr. Bennett coped with the situation, Ottawa doesn’t know. All that is known is that the Prime Minister instructed R. W. Breadner, Commissioner of Taxation, and Hector McKinnon, Commissioner of Tariffs, to get busy; whereupon these two able and expert officials locked themselves into their offices, disconnected their telephones, called round them the best of their staffs, worked night and day at their job. Only Mr. Bennett, responsible for tariff revision and pledged to bring it about, knew what they were doing, knew what they must do. He, in fact, dotted their t’s and crossed their i’s; demanded the whys and the wherefores of all their reports and conclusions.
The Prime Minister Works Overtime
rT'HE extraordinary thing is that while performing this job—it would have kept a whole treasury board and an army of experts busy a few years ago—Mr. Bennett was immersed in other things; working out taxation schemes,
seeking a dollar here and a dollar there, battling off his Ministers and Parliament and his party, who were clamoring for expenditure, appearing occasionally in the House, meeting and hearing deputations, working upon such things as the finances of the Canadian National Railways and the reduction of the Ottawa Civil Service.
Nor were these all. Commuting between the Finance Department and the Prime Minister’s office and the House, Mr. Bennett had to work out the details of his enormous loan conversion scheme, had to meet bankers and brokers and advertising men, had to have long-distance telephone conversations with Montreal and Toronto and New York, had to personally sujiervise and master and sanction every detail of the plan. Finally, while all this was going on, while Mr. Bennett was evolving one of the biggest tariff revisions in our history and launching the greatest of our conversion loans, he was also watching for the economic and possible political repercussions of Sir Josiah Stamp’s enquiries, was keeping in touch with the organization of the London Wheat Conference, communicating by transatlantic telephone with Mr. Ferguson, getting confidential reports on the Beauharnois application for more water, doing a score of other things.
His method of slashing estimates was unique. His first move was to send back departmental estimates with instructions for twenty per cent cut. Then, 7 when they returned with reduc-
tions as ordered, Mr. Bennett cut them again, blue-pencilled them by thousands of dollars. Wise in the ways of Parliament and politics, he knew that estimates never stay cut, that items thrown out have a way of creeping back again; so his strategy was to cut them so badly that even if some appropriations did get back they would still be badly cut. Not knowing the Prime Minister or what he was up to, Ministers were horrified to find things deleted from their estimates that they
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Backstage at Ottawa
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considered vital, fought desperately to get them back. Where the Prime Minister won out was that by the time the Ministers and others had fought successfully to get the essential items back they were too exhausted to fight for the others. It meant a saving of millions.
Politically, it probably hurt the Governj ment. Burke once said that economy j appeared beautiful and desirable at a ; distance, but became repulsive on a nearer I view, and it has been so with the economies of Mr. Bennett. Dismissal of 1,295 employees from the almost abolished Interior Department imposed hardships, had some aspects of tragedy. Suspension of the tree distribution service of the Forestry Department, which had performed a great work on the prairies, has brought serious criticism. Other curtailments, such as in the Defence Department, in the Government Annuities branch, and in surveying and mapping, not to mention the near destruction of the old post-office and wharf and , pier “pork barrel,” have been denounced to j high heaven. The ward heelers and the j patronage boys and some others not in j those categories, simply don’t understand.
I It is beyond their ken.
Mr. Bennett understands. He knows as I well as the craftiest ward chairman that his j policies are politically unpopular, but he has j said over and over again—privately as well j as publicly—that he is willing to take the ! consequences. Nor has he been the coldblooded autocrat, careless of hardship, that some have tried to make out. When a French-Canadian, father of eight children, was dismissed from the Interior Department, he went up to Parliament Hill, demanded a personal interview with Bennett, was granted it.
“Mr. Bennett,” he said. “I am the father of eight children, and I have been thrown out of work. Do you consider that just?”
”1 consider it an outrage,” roared ! Bennett, “and you are going back to work.” ! Whereupon he took up the telephone, called i the Department, ordered the man reinstated.
It was more than he would do for his political friends. Time and again, when the Ottawa newspapers were carrying columns about dismissals from the Interior Depart! ment, men high in the councils of Con¡ servatism sought the Premier’s ear, tried to i "put in a word” for some good Tory or for I some personal friend. They were wasting I their time. Mr. Bennett, far from heeding I them, issued specific instructions that no : man was to be dismissed or retained because I of his politics or race or creed; and one of the ! first employees to be dropped, and to stay ! dropped, was a brother of Senator ; Willoughby, Senate Conservative leader. It made Ottawa rub its eyes.
The truth is that Mr. Bennett, ringed J round with major problems, has no time to j play politics. Occasionally he may go out ! of his way to do a turn for Quebec’s Mr. j IToude. but, generally speaking, he knows ! that the only and best politics for his ! Ministry is to help the country’s business, to sell the West’s wheat, to buttress up industry, to create wages and work.
The sands, too, he knows, are running out. When, empty-handed, he came back from London, he could still go to Regina, hold out the promise of trade with the Orient, of a corporation to aid mixed farming, of an adjourned Economic Conference. These things, however, have lingered. Trade with the Orient, or the prospect of it. has trailed off into a doubt; the corporation to aid mixed farming is not yet functioning; prospects of achievement by the Economic Conference become increasingly less bright.
The Economic Conference
VJjLZHEN Mr. Bennett used to speak W optimistically of an Ottawa Economic Conference, he was hoping for a tribute from fate. There was the hope, almost expectation, that before July of this year came round Mr. Baldwin would be reigning in
Whitehall. Mr. Bennett would then not have to deal with Mr. J. H. ("Humbug”) Thomas, or with the acid-tongued Mr. Snowden, or the Cobdenite, Mr. Graham. Sitting across from him in our Parliament Buildings would be good tariff Imperialists like Mr. Winston Churchill, or Mr. Neville Chamberlain, or perhaps even Mr. Amery. They might not be willing to yield everything that Mr. Bennett desires, but they would at least be of the true fiscal faith, and they would be willing to bargain about our wheat on the basis of preferences.
But, unless a political earthquake comes in Britain, of which there is not even a portent, July will not see Mr. Baldwin in Whitehall, nor August nor September; and the men who will meet Mr. Bennett in Ottawa will be those who countered him in London last autumn—Mr. Thomas and Mr. Graham.
It is not a hopeful prospect. Mr. Snowden’s budget speech made it perfectly plain that he remains an impenitent Free Trader, that he still regards Imperial Preferences as “a chimera, a delusion and a snare;” and, as though that were not enough, there is the still more recent pronouncement of Mr. Thomas against taxes on food.
What Ottawa understands, indeed, is that Mr. Thomas will come to Ottawa with the offer of a wheat quota, this to be given for specific preferences on certain British goods. In other words, Britain will agree to take a certain quantity of Canada’s wheat, providing that Canada agrees to take a certain quantity of British manufactures. Textiles, for example. It will be a far, far cry from what Mr. Bennett wanted last year.
Perhaps because of this knowledge, and with the wish father of the thought, reports have begun to circulate that the Conference will be postponed. Nor are they, it must be admitted, entirely without reason. South Africa and the Irish Free State are not interested, are not likely to be represented. Australia has its hands more than full with political and economic wars, with the prospect of an election. New Zealand’s Mr. Forbes is governing with what amounts to a virtual coalition. And Mr. MacDonald, sitting precariously in the saddle, may be called upon to go jousting at any time. In the circumstances, and considering that a Conference which might fail would be worse than no Conference, there is more than a possibility that the gathering will be postponed.
A New Party May Arise
"TNEBATE on the Budget is largely the -G' debate on the Address all over again, with all the old fiscal ghosts walking as they have walked for years and years, with now and then some new theory or doctrine that is merely whimsical or fantastic. Curiously few reputations have been made by the session. Mr. Ian Mackenzie, of Vancouver has shown some gifts of oratory, Mr. Weir has disclosed an unusual mastery of agriculture, and Mr. J. S. Woodsworth has heightened his stature as our greatest private member of Parliament; but that is all. The ablest and most useful men behind the Prime Minister are Mr. Stevens, Mr. Manion and Mr. Weir, with Mr. Robertson— who is in the Senate—powerful in council. The others, largely inarticulate when not piloting their estimates, have scarcely been tried.
Nor have the Liberals, as an Opposition, been formidable. Of the ex-Ministers, Mr. Stewart works hard, Mr. Ralston speaks well, and Mr. Lapointe is able and judicial, but none of them is as adroit a verbal swordsman as Mr. King, or his equal as an all around parliamentarian. The rank and file of the party, thinned by election casualties, is more effervescent than effective. Western Liberal-Progressives like Young of Weybum are tireless in attack, but their assaults lack real iron; while Quebec sharpshooters like Major Chubby Power cause more annoyance than real devastation.
Nor has there been much of co-operation between the Liberals and U. F. A's. Men like Gardiner, Garland, Coote and Speakman, all competent guerilla warriors, while holding aloof from Mr. Bennett, show an almost equal anxiety to wash their hands of Mr. King, are almost studied in their indifference to his tactics and his policies. Their opinion, freely expressed, is that a new Progressive Party is arising on the plains, that it will be vastly different from the army once led by Mr. Crerar, and it is to this, not to either Liberalism or Conservatism that they look.
Interest in Silver
MEANWHILE, Parliament has become interested in silver. Silver, that is, as a possibility of curing the country’s ills. Ever since Mr. Meighen made his speech before the Canadian Daily Newspapers Association, in which he induced them to go back and write a lot of editorials about what the rehabilitation of silver might do to give the world more purchasing power and Canada more markets, the question has been uppermost among our statesmen. Even Mr. Bennett, busy with his conversion loan, found time to have two or three long conferences with J. F. Darling, eminent British banker who is the high priest of silver restoration, and who, unlike a lot of high priests of other doctrines, has a concrete plan.
Mr. Bennett was so impressed with Mr. Darling that he got him to appear before the Banking and Commerce Committee of Parliament to tell them about his scheme, the result being that a lot of M. P’s. who a month or so ago would have sneered at silver restoration as an absurd panacea, are now shaking their heads over it, allowing that it may be the thing. Precisely how far the matter will get, one cannot tell, though there is more than a possibility that Mr. Bennett will accept Banker Darling’s invitation to make it a part of the agenda of the Ottawa Economic Conference. In the meantime, too, Canada would gladly send delegates to any world silver conference that might be called.
But it is not merely in the matter of silver that Parliament and the Government has shown capacity for a change of mind. A few years ago, anybody suggesting that we should have the right to alter our own constitution was looked upon almost as a Canadian Benedict Arnold. The B. N. A. Act was a sort of Ark of the Covenant, a Holy of Holies upon which nobody must lay interfering hands, with Mr. Taschereau and Mr. Ferguson standing outside the Temple ready to massacre intruders. Yet when, some weeks ago. J. S. Woodsworth moved a resolution mildly suggesting that, with ample provision for the protection of minority rights, the power to amend the Constitution should be transferred from Downing Street to our own Parliament Hill, there wasn’t as much as a protest. On the contrary and to the surprise of all, Mr. Guthrie got up and, speaking for the Government, accepted the principle of Mr. Woodsworth’s resolution, promised to call a conference about it.
Mr. Woodsworth, to use a hackneyed expression, could have been knocked down with a feather. And E. J. Garland, briefed by J. S. Ewart and all plumed to make a devastating reply to an expected Government rejection of Mr. Woodsworth’s motion, was so taken aback by what happened that, rising to his feet, and with his notes in the wastepaper basket, he made a few hardly audible murmurs and resumed his seat. Even Mr. Lapointe, who speaks for the Quebec point of view, was all for the resolution; and Mr. Guthrie went out of his
way, which was a curious thing to do, to read a little lecture to Mr. Ferguson.
"\>f R. FERGLTSON. incidentally, has been -‘-V-L figuring a lot in the debates. His seeming propensity to lecture the British, begun before he left Canada and continued since, is not relished by even a wing of the Conservative Party, and Tory journals like the Toronto Telegram and the Ottawa Journal have expressed their disapproval. Mr. Mackenzie King, being human and a particularly good politician, has seized upon the situation and tried to make the most of it. His speech on the estimates for the High Commissioner’s Office was an admirable example of adroit parliamentary fencing, and it cannot be said that Mr. Bennett was particularly happy in his reply. The Prime Minister, of course, could not openly repudiate Mr. Ferguson, even if he wanted to, but what he made manifestly clear, both in his manner and language, was that he had no particular love for his almost compulsory task of defending him. It was the sort of speech which had all the characteristics of damnation with faint praise.
As a consequence, Ottawa is much intrigued. What, it asks, is the real relation of Ferguson to Bennett? Is Mr. Ferguson being given enough rope to hang himself? Or has he defied Mr. Bennett and gone on his own? Or is there an understanding between them? Nobody quite seems to know.
Meanwhile, people have been asking about Canada’s reply to Washington’s note about the St. Lawrence Deep Waterway. Ottawa’s best information is that the framing of Canada’s reply and its delivery will be Mr. Herridge’s introduction to the active duties of his post as Minister to Washington and that he will be ready with it within the next month or two, perhaps earlier. That may not be soon enough to suit President Hoover, thinking of what may happen to him in 1932, but as the reply—so it is learned here—will be almost entirely favorable, being merely surrounded by certain reservations and conditions, he will probably be ultimately satisfied.
The Beauharnois Situation
"pNQUIRY into both the engineering and financial aspects of the Beauharnois Power Corporation has been added to Parliament’s activities. Precisely what it will disclose, if anything, nobody seems to know. In his demand for an enquiry, Mr. Gardiner, the U. F. A. leader, rested his case upon three main allegations:
(1) That the Beauharnois people were out to get control of the full water flow of the St. Lawrence;
(2) That the Order-in-Council authority for what they have already done has no real legal foundation;
(3) That their financial operations have been of a character detrimental to the public interest.
Mr. Bennett, in granting a committee of enquiry, exhibited little enthusiasm about it, and there was nothing of crusading fire in the speech of Mr. King. The best informed opinion appears to be, indeed, that the investigation will not get far, that it will get lost in highways and byways, and that an army of high-powered lawyers will have no difficulty in confusing the question into a state where nobody will understand it very well and everybody be quite willing to drop it. The Government, of course, can refuse Beauharnois the additional 250,000 horsepower that it is asking, but there is not even a certainty that this will be done. There is much more than an even chance that the additional horsepower will be granted.