GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage At Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK August 15 1935
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage At Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK August 15 1935

Backstage At Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

IT’S NOT a notebook one needs to keep tab on politics these days; it’s a pari-mutuel. What with four major parties (or should it be five?) where we used to get along with two, all of them promising T-bone steaks for everybody, not to mention the minor prophets promising ale with the steaks, Ottawa hasn’t blinked at such a scrambled election since it ceased to be Bytown.

In the old days men (the women didn’t even have a vote) were either Grits or Tories, with elections over Protection and Free Trade. Today a candidate talking Free Trade or Protection would be a case for a museum, while Grits and Tories have become so thoroughly mixed, carry, so many new and strange labels and flags, the old processes of judging consequences or of being prophetic about them are hopelessly obsolete.

In the old days men were Conservatives or Radicals, or Conservatives or Reformers. Today they are all Reformers. With the main idea seeming to be that everything that is is wrong, and what with the passion for change, and Mr. Bennett raising the ante on Mr. King, and Mr. Stevens raising it on Mr. Bennett and Mr. Woodsworth raising it on all of them, the political landscape has become utterly unrecognizable.

Candidates used to speak of the “intelligent electors.” They have got to be intelligent these days. And industrious. It would take a Josiah Stamp and John Maynard Keynes rolled into one to understand all the big words and highsounding terms and phrases the various leaders have in their manifestos, while the mere matter of following and reading them all is a task in itself. If the dictionary doesn’t become a best-seller, it will be no fault of this election.

What is it all about?

“The New Radicalism”

WELL, a great deal of what it’s about goes back to that famous pamphlet which Mr. Stevens wrote last year, and which Mr. Bennett suppressed or tried to. That started a lot. For one thing, it started the great grudge between Mr. Bennett and Mr. Stevens. It started Mr. Stevens on his Messianic mission; made Mr. Bennett into a radio orator and Reformer; made Mr. King decide he couldn’t just sit and wait for the Premiership to come back to him; made Mr. Woodsworth look like the pinkest of Bolshevists. Finally, and most important of all, it gave birth to a new political party. Few tracts in our times have had more resounding consequences.

It had one other consequence. It had the consequence of keeping Mr. Bennett as leader of the Conservative Party; or of what is called the Conservative Party. Mr. Bennett wanted to quit. Tired and ill, told by his physicians he should rest, he had determined to retire. The thing that changed his mind, that kept him in harness, was the spectre of Harry Stevens. The fear that if he quit, Mr. Stevens would step into his shoes.

Mr. Bennett wanted Mr. Meighen to succeed him. He had made his wishes known; had announced them in high places. But when Meighen refused and made his refusal final, and there was no one else available, Mr. Bennett decided to stick. Whoever would lead the party, it wouldn’t be Mr. Stevens.

Mr. Stevens would have taken the leadership. And the party—if Bennett had said the word—or refused to say anything—would have taken Mr. Stevens. It is significant that Mr. Stevens, no mean tactician and not without the frailty of ambition, delayed the launching of his new party until Mr. Bennett had declared, and publicly, that he would continue in the leadership. With Mr. Bennett out, there would have been no Stevens party.

This is the chief if it is not the sole explanation of a lot of the new radicalism. It is certainly the explanation of much of the Stevens radicalism.

What is the new radicalism about? Or, to put it a better way, wherein do the Radicals differ? If one examines the various platforms and manifestos it will be discovered that the Radicals differ very slightly. Mr. Bennett read Mr. Stevens’s pamphlet—and made his radio speeches. Mr. Stevens read Mr. Bennett’s radio speeches—and dictated his manifesto. Mr. Bennett and Mr. King and Mr. Woodsworth read Mr. Stevens’s manifesto—then wrote their own. It was all a matter of bidding; of bidding against the public mood.

Clemenceau said of Woodrow Wilson that he “talked like the Lord, and acted like Lloyd George.” Mr. Stevens, talking like a prophet, acts like a first-class politician. While his disciples regard him as a Moses and his critics call him a starry-eyed visionary, his tactics and appeals reveal him a crafty and practical strategist. Not a group or class in the country but has been beckoned to his cave.

Stevens’s Handicap

WHAT IS his chief difficulty? Mainly, it is in his candidates. If Mr. Stevens himself could be a candidate in every riding, if the public had the opportunity of voting for him personally, he might carry the country. For he has a tremendous following. He may have failed to

seduce many of Mr. Bennett’s captains; he has undoubtedly cut heavily into Mr. Bennett’s rank and file. And into Mr. King’s. His great trouble is that his standard-bearers will not carry the same appeal; that being for Mr. Stevens and for the things Mr. Stevens wants is a different thing from being—and voting—for Mr. Stevens’s candidates.

There is something else. The matter of “war chests.” Elections, as Mr. Tarte once said, aren’t won with prayers, nor even with crusading platforms. There has got to be money. And while Mr. Stevens clearly has the support of retail merchants and smaller business men who may be able to produce certain funds, they are not likely to produce such substantial funds as the larger merchants and the industrialists supporting Mr. King and Mr. Bennett. Indeed, one consequence of Mr. Stevens’s new party has been to provide campaign funds for the two older parties. Especially for Mr. King’s. Big Business, a little afraid, wants to make sure.

In those circumstance, Mr. Stevens, when he comes to pay the expenses of candidates—$3,000 a riding is regarded as a minimum—and pay as well for newspaper advertising and radio and transportation and printing, may find the going hard. A half million dollars, which he most certainly can use, is a lot of money. It is much harder to get than cheers.

The Premier and the Public

BUT THE others, though they may have more money, may find the going hard, too. There is Mr. Bennett. His eagerness for reform may be just as great as Mr. Stevens’s, his capacity to effect it much greater; but the public, or a great section of it, doesn’t believe it. Rightly or wrongly—this writer thinks wrongly—the public sees Mr. Bennett as the friend of “Big Business,” as the rich bachelor who doesn’t know and can’t realize the average man’s trials. It is something scarcely helpful in an election.

It is largely Mr. Bennett’s own fault. For, apart from the impression he gives of having been commissioned by the Lord to wreak his will upon the nation, there is the constant suggestion as well of a complete lack of sympathy. Generous and considerate with his own staff, he somehow manages to convey the idea that workers mean nothing to him, while his manner of dealing with the unemployed—as witness his handling of the British Columbia relief-camp strikers— is, to put it mildly, unfortunate.

The relief camps, in the judgment of even Mr. Bennett’s best friends, were sadly mismanaged. In the first place, and making a mistake in the first place, they were put under the Department of National Defense. They could have been put just as easily under the Ministry of Labor, which had to do with relief, or under the Department of Public Works, seeing they were concerned with public works. But they weren’t. Instead they were given the aegis of the Defense Department, with Major-General McNaughton, Chief of Staff, at their head—this suggesting something of militarism or the military atmosphere, and providing rich soil for communist and other agitators.

It helped heighten the legend—which is largely a legend— that Mr. Bennett has the military mind, with the instincts

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Backstage at Ottawa

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of a Fascist dictator. Was not MajorGeneral McNaughton one of his close friends and favorites? Did he not pet and cater to Major-General MacBrien. the head of the Royal Mounted Police; giving him a knighthood, and a million-dollar building for his force? And didn't he put McNaughton at the head of the National Research, with a fabulous salary? These, and like things, were whispered and shouted-—and they didn’t help Mr. Bennett. They will not help him in this election.

The extraordinary thing is that Mr. Bennett is unconscious of it. He may act and talk as though the Almighty had whispered in his ear the divine intentions respecting mankind even before the foundation of the world, but he doesn’t mean to act or talk that way, nor does he realize that the public, or some of the public, sees him in that way. In private, indeed, he is humble and whimsical, loving to be reassured, never quite sure of himself.

And he can be made to change his mind. When he introduced his Wheat Board bill into the House of Commons he was both truculent and provocative. It was to be a compulsory marketing scheme, with the Winnipeg Wheat Exchange extinguished; there would be little talk or argument about it. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Mr. Bennett ran foul of Mr. Ralston, one of the really first-class minds in politics, with the result that by the time Mr. Ralston had finished with Mr. Bennett, Mr. Bennett’s compulsory wheat marketing scheme was pretty well finished, too. The whole business, which set Ottawa by the ears for weeks, was a superb performance by Ralston but what it proved most of all was that Mr. Bennett can be made to change his mind if some strong personality shows him the advantages of changing it.

And Mr. Bennett, his seeming rôle of the Olympian patriot and autocrat notwithstanding, is considerable of a politician. Take, for example, his undoubted flirtation with the matter of National Government. Mr. Bennett knows that Mr. King will have nothing of National Government, being too sure of a King Government. No matter. What he clearly reasons—and it is good reasoning—is that if Mr. Bennett is for a National Government and Mr. King against a National Government, then it is Mr. Bennett and not Mr. King who will get the National Government vote. Also—and

perhaps just as important—that it will be

Mr. Bennett and not Mr. King who will get the National Government contributions. A lot of big business men—potential campaignfund contributors—are for National Government.

Yes. the public notion to the contrary notwithstanding, Mr. Bennett knows his ballots.

Confident Mr. King

MR. KING? Completely confident and | not without campaign funds, Mr. King abides the battle, sees nothing but the day when he’ll be Prime Minister once more, j Saying and promising less than the others, with the Gladstonian faculty of making a little seem a lot, lie is more than usually cautious; as witness his statement about the railways. He will not, he says, hand over the National to any private interest. He doesn’t say he wouldn't amalgamate the two railways under some other plan. Which is an omission most significant. It leaves Mr. King free to do something about amalgamation in his own way and time. And so. in Mr. King’s case, with a lot of other problems. The man who sights land and is sure he can make it, is liable to be circumspect in his promises.

Mr. Woodsworth? Having had a lot of his thunder stolen by Mr. Stevens, and even some of it by Mr. Bennett, Mr. Woodsworth had to begin all over again. So he wrote a manifesto with fire and brimstone in it. yet one which, curiously enough, gave nobody the jitters. Everybody who knows Mr. Woodsworth respects and likes him, but few can see him as a potential Lenin or Stalin, or as hoisting the Red flag over the Parliament buildings. When he talks of sweeping away the capitalist structure, putting a Socialist edifice in its place, no one much minds, for the simple reason that the chances of his seizing the balance of power, or of ever having opportunity to build his edifice, are thought utterly remote. More remote than two years ago.

But it is too soon yet to make predictions or to be sure about anything. With a lot of the old party commanders handing in their commissions (some of them are being well pensioned, some others quietly cashiered), with the political skies raining parties and manifestos and plans, and with the public mood a mixture of confusion and rebellion, the battle lines are too obscured to discern clearly what is happening. Also there is that old adage about elections and horse races.