GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 1 1935
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 1 1935

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

THESE NOTES must begin with a confession. It is that at this moment those who are backstage at Ottawa know little more about what is happening, or about what should happen, or about what is going to happen, than those who are front-stage. Not in thirty years have pre-election trumpets sounded so uncertainly, or has there been as much doubt about who shall go forward to battle, or under whom, or about what. The whole thing is a jig-saw puzzle, pathetically confusing.

As this appears in print Parliament maybe dissolved, the election writs issued, the election campaign in progress. As it is written, no one—not even the Members of the Cabinet—knows whether the Government forces are to be let! by Mr. Bennett or by Mr. Meighen or by Mr. Manion. If Mr. Bennett himself knows—and it is by no means certain that he does—he has not told.

The Bennett-Stevens Breach

ONLY ONE thing seems clear. It is that the prospect—in some Conservative breasts it was a hope—of Mr. Stevens becoming the Conservative party’s leader, or of marching to battle with it with Mr. Bennett as leader, becomes increasingly remote. Day by day the breach between the two men becomes wider, the private comments of Mr. Stevens upon Mr. Bennett more bitter, until—unless Mr. Stevens’s nature and Mr. Bennett’s are different from human nature—their reconciliation will be a miracle.

Two months ago, things were different.

Mr. Bennett, off for Dmdon and leaving the thought behind him that his retirement was probable, seemed willing to forgive Stevens’s trespasses. The inspired voices all chorused that bygones were going to be bygones, and the inspired Conservative organs wrote “Amen” with sudden discovery that the place for an intrepid reformer like Mr. Stevens was in the bosom of the true party of reform. The light was in the window for the prodigal son.

Who took the light out of the window or why, isn’t clear; but it’s out. Whether it was that some of Mr. Stevens’s reforming speeches during Mr. Bennett’s absence were a bit too strong for the reformers or a bit too strong for some of Mr. Bennett’s friends who are not quite reformers, one cannot tell. What anybody can tell is that in the case oi Mr. Bennett and Mr. Stevens, absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder; that just now they are farther apart than ever before.

They are so tar apart that, only recently, Mr. Stevens was in contact with the Liberal Opposition. Not, to be sure, to become baptized in the Liberal faith, but certainly with the idea that strange bedfellows might scheme a little to embarrass Mr. Bennett. Putting it plainly, there were overtures to Mr. King—or so it is reliably reported— that Mr. King and his followers should support a Stevens amendment condemnator»' of the Government’s Mass Buying legislation.

This, although high treason to Mr. Cahan, was hardly reprehensible. In politics guerilla warriors can’t pick and choose their allies; and, with no party of his own and not much likelihood of getting one—it takes money to organize even discontent—Mr. Stevens can’t be blamed for following a course traditional with political rebels. Nor does it indict his sincerity. Certainly if Mr. Stevens had placed office or political preferment before principle he might have talked and walked more softly during Mr. Bennett’s absence, might have emphasized that he was a Conservative adherent if not a full-time communicant. He did neither.

But to get back to Mr. Bennett. His course since returning from London has been completely enigmatic. Aware of the conlusion and perplexity of his followers, reading day by-

day how various Ministers were mentioned to succeed him, he has refused to reveal by as much as a hint what is in his mind. The only explanation of it all—the one given by the few close to him—is that his mind is not made up. His reasoning, it is said—if true, it is wholly creditable to him —is that if his health proves adequate he will stay with the leadership, be prepared if necessary to go into opposition.

Yet this attitude, admirable though it may lx-, hardly makes for enthusiasm. No political party can become overly optimistic over a future to be determined by a doctor’s stethoscope; and as the days wear on, with talk one day of Mr. Meighen and the next day of Mr. Manion and the next of somelxxdy else, the Cabinet has resembled nothing so much as Disraeli’s “exhausted volcanoes.” The flame has gone out of them.

By the time this appears in print, Mr. Bennett may have

resolved all doubts, including his own. If his decision be to retire, then the man called upon to succeed him, whoever he may be, won’t answer lightly. There is Mr. Meighen, for example. Seemingly fated to lead forlorn hopes, invariably left desperate legacies, Meighen, fighter though he is, might reasonably ponder long over the security of the Senate. Or better than that, and had he the temper of an opportunist he might argue 'that a good time to take the leadership

would be after the battle, not before it. Taking it afterward, in the event of the party’s defeat he could not be blamed for failure. Taking it before the battle and losing, he would strengthen the old cry: “We can’t win with Meighen.” That, foolish though it would be and unjust, having regard to the circumstances, would be a poor thing to build upon.

The Gathering Storm

THERE IS Dr. Manion. No one in the party is more popular. When the Tory flag flaps feebly, and the party’s spirits droop, it is always Manion who, flashing his sword, calls the dispirited back from flight. Yet, fighting man that he is, there are those who shake their heads about him as leader. Perhaps their fears, which are not political and which have nothing to do with Manion’s abilities and character, are groundless; but they are nevertheless a reality.

Yet there is this to be said—and it is being said—for Manion as leader: that Mr. Stevens would follow his leadership. Stevens, as things have turned out, will probably never again march behind Mr. Bennett, and it is doubtful whether he could march behind Mr. Meighen. He would march behind Manion. For eighteen years, ever since Manion entered Parliament, the two men have not only been close ass(xiates; they have been warm friends. There was something between the fiery Celt and the emotional Englishman that drew them together; and together they were invariably found when the going for the party was hardest. Moreover, it is no secret that when Mr. Stevens walked out of the Cabinet last summer, Manion was one of the few Ministers who stood by him, remaining his friend.

Their friendship has not been lessened by the somewhat magnified and now famous incident in the House some weeks ago when the Prime Minister and Mr. Manion clashed. It was not without significance that that clash came, with Manion showing eager insurrection, on the very day that Mr. Bennett lectured Mr. Stevens. However, and perhaps unfortunately, it takes more than kinship between two ardent temperaments to make or control a party.

So, for the time being, the once powerful, confident Conservative party drifts uncertainly, sometimes hojxdessly. There are even those in it who would summon from retirement the veteran Sir Robert Borden. Their argument is that, his great age notwithstanding—he is eighty-two—the prestige of his name would restore confidence, would unite all sane elements in the country.

Meanwhile, and as always when the storm gathers, men are leaving the ship. The Senate, with its sixteen vacancies, beckon many of them; other places beckon others. Mr. Rhodes, an able Minister but in indifferent health, is putting off his armor; Sir George Perley, in his seventy-eighth year, is about to call it a day; likewise T. G. Murphy but for a different reason; and likewise Arthur Sauve and Hugh Guthrie,

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And as with the Cabinet, so with the rank and lile. More than twenty Conservatives, many of them veterans, will not followMr. Bennett or any other leader when the "advance” bugle sounds in September; the new Parliament, whatever happens, will have scores of new faces. A lot of the old ones will be back on their Main Streets or in obscurity, and perhaps a few of them in the Senate. Incidentally, when Mr. Bennett completes his sixteen new Senate appointments he will have, in his five years, appointed more than one third of the Upper House’s total membership. Short of a plague or something similar, the Senate should be Conservative for the next twenty years.

Mr. King’s Position

WHICH BRINGS us to Mr. King. The “luckiest politician in the world,” as Mr. King is now called, sits back and waits, abides the issue with confidence. His strategy throughout the session has been that of the good tactician. Mr. Bennett I declared his policies, as did Mr. Stevens and Mr. Woodsworth. Mr. King declared nothing. Knowing that unemployment and relief and Conservative divisions over reform could fight his battles more effectively than hours of oratory by himself, he has contented himself with a cautious taciturnity. He was for reform, of course— wasn’t he the original reformer?—but Mr. Bennett must take responsibility for his own radicalism. If the law's turned out well, they could never say that Mr, King wasn’t for them—didn’t he want such things in the first place?—and if they turned out badly —well, whose laws were they anyway?

So Mr. King sat through the session, opposing little, committing himself to less; I letting discontent take its course. Now, on the eve of the battle, with Mr. Bennett’s j bolt shot, and some doubt and confusion about it, as about other things, Mr. King is going on the radio, is preparing his speeches. Whether they will be good speeches or bad, constructive or negative, remains to be seen; but they will be worth listening to. They will be worth listening to if only as a revelation of what a skilful politician may do with a first-class opportunity.

The promise of Mr. King’s achievement — should he win office—will not be in these ! speeches. It will be in the fact that Charles

Dunning grooms himself for a return to Parliament. A year ago Mr. Dunning seemed to have turned his back on public life; he accepted high positions in the industrial world. Today, partly because of his love of the game but more because powerful influences demand his steadying influence, he is preparing to return, will be the right-hand man in any Ministry Mr. King may form.

But Mr. Dunning’s return so it is told, is to be conditional. He will not serve in any Government which will not act on the tariff, or which has not made up its mind what should be done about the tariff; has no intention of four years of warfare with protectionists among his colleagues. That matter cleared up and certain concessions made him on the question of wheat, he will be back in political harness. All this assuming, of course, that his party wins.

Winning back Mr. Dunning, Mr. King is to lose Mr. Ralston. Yielding to indifferent health, plus the call of a big Montreal legal firm of which he is now the head, Ralston has decided definitely to abandon politics, will not be a candidate in the coming election. Which is a pity. For Ralston, while never spectacular, is an extraordinarily able politician—sound, moderate, steeped in public life’s best traditions. Few men in Parliament possess more equipment for the high post of finance.

What of National Government? Briefly, National Government’s chances are like the chances of Mr. Stevens—there is no organization to put them across. In clubs and Pullman cars, wherever men gather, National Government is talked about. But the creation of a National Government requires more than talk; calls for a welldirected, organized crusade backed by influential figures and money and other things—all of which are lacking. There is no ixjssibility of it before this election, whatever may happen afterward.

And so with railway amalgamation. The position with regard to amalgamation, put briefly, is that the Conservatives are afraid of it and the Liberals don’t want it. This, indeed, is a political question, not a railway question; the proot of which lies in the fact that already the Opposition makes political capital out of the knighthood Mr. Bennett had conferred upon Mr. Beatty. It is an old democratic custom.