GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK January 15 1936
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK January 15 1936

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

MR. KING has taken down his Laurier House Christmas tree,

his Ministers are back at their desks, and within a fortnight Parliament will be sitting again, like an unpredictable hen, hatching out legislation. Already a number of statesmen, bursting with zeal of an infinite variety, are arriving in our midst.

Meanwhile it may be well to try to piece together some of the things that have happened, nearly happened, or threatened to happen since we penned our last notes.

First of all, there was the Dominion-Provincial Conference, about which the newspapers told much but not all. Taken by and large the Conference was a success, and if Mr. Dunning didn’t play Santa Claus to the extent that some had hoped and the Mint is still on Sussex Street, the gentlemen from the Provinces didn’t return home with entirely empty stockings. Mr. Dunning, in truth, was surprisingly generous.

Or perhaps Mr. King was. When it comes to directing a conference, Mr. King, by common consent, is a master. Mr. Bennett’s method—as exemplified by the last DominionProvincial Conference—was to call the Provincial Premiers before him and proceed to “keep school.” The lectures which he gave them may have been good for their souls but were not so good for their vanity, and with some of the pupils not loving the teacher anyway, the result was bad.

Mr. King’s technique is different. Weaver of beguiling words, he called the Provincial men together, ladled out flattery'' in his very best platitudes, broke them up into committees. Mr. King, himself, however, did not serve on a committee. Instead, he retired from the Conference altogether, betaking himself to the Speaker’s rooms across the corridor,/where he became a court of appeal. If it happened, as it sometimes did, that the Conference struck a snag, Mr. King, in his court, proceeded to remove it. The system worked out beautifully.

This despite the fact that some of the visiting statesmen showed a tendency to become rebellious. There was Mitchell Hepburn. Mr.

Hepburn, for some reason undisclosed, doesn’t love Mr. King, isn’t overly subtle in disguising it. When Mr.

King, on the eve of the Conference, gave a dinner at the Country Club for the Premiers, Mr. Hepburn was conspicuous by his absence.

Mr. King tried bravely to make the matter less conspicuous by a little speech of regret telling that Mr.

Hepburn’s physician kept him in at nights. The strategy would have worked had Mr. King’s other guests not known that at that precise

moment Mr. Hepburn was a little farther out the Aylmer road, at the Gatineau Club, where there is a little more jollity.

Again, on the closing day of the Conference Mr. King dined the Premiers at Laurier House. It was a notable occasion made all the more notable by the presence of Mr. Aberhart, but again Mr. Hepburn was absent. Denying himself the privilege of eating off Mr. King’s gold dinner plate—always brought out for great occasions—Mr. Hepburn had left the Conference to its own devices early in the afternoon, taking a train—with his Mr. Slaght—to Toronto.

Yet Mr. Hepburn, by common consent, was a salient figure at the Conference. His ideas about finance, and particularly about refunding, got shelved or referred to a committee, which means the end of them; but when it came to the Provinces getting more relief money, his voice was pretty dominant—and effective. His manner may have been unnecessarily rough—it is told that his attack on what he

called the waste of Lieutenant-Governors was peculiarly rough—but he had a way of cutting through platitudes and getting down to realities that was singularly successful. Mr. Taschereau, whatever his temperamental differences with him, found him extremely useful as an ally.

Results of the Conference

AND MR. TASCHEREAU needed an ally. Veteran of a score of conferences and their dominant figure, Mr. Taschereau’s deportment and appearance told all too clearly of his recent experiences. The suave assurance of other days, the bland satire and touch of intellectual arrogance, all were gone; and a Mr. Taschereau, greyer and much older than in previous appearances, spoke haltingly, at times with a touch of humility. In his recantation over the Constitution— a confession of past mistaken views—were traces almost of pathos.

Of the remaining Premiers, of their behavior, not much can be said. With the exception of British Columbia’s Mr. Patullo and Manitoba’s Mr. Bracken, all of them were new men, inexperienced, acting accordingly. Best of the lot was Nova Scotia’s young Angus Macdonald, cautious, soft-spoken, faultless in clothes and manner, a credit to his Alma Mater, Harvard.

The big disappointment, in a sense—and perhaps not in a discreditable sense—was Alberta’s Mr. Aberhart. Mr. Aberhart was expected to give the Conference a lecture on Social Credit. There was no lecture. Indeed,

Mr. Aberhart was more verbose outside the Conference than in it, which was perhaps just as well. For his verbosity outside the Conference did not, it must be admitted, add to his prestige. He told the University Club of Ottawa that each year 4,000,000 gallons of milk is poured down our sewers, while children are crying for food, but when challenged about his authority he said it was the Dean of Canterbury. More than that and worse, he wasn’t sure whether the Dean had

said the milk was poured down the sewers of Canada or the sewers of Great Britain. This, added to an apology he was compelled to make to the Canadian Press for a speech in an Ottawa church, detracted somewhat from his stature.

Within the Conference, however, and about Parliament Hill, Mr. Aberhart’s conduct was impeccable. Modest in demands and claims, his contributions to discussion were as rare as they were general, and with Mr. King, whose temperament seems to comprehend all sorts of philosophies, he got on famously. At the Laurier House dinner, when Mr. King recited grace, it was Mr. Aberhart who alone and startlingly chanted a stentorian “Amen,” which may of may not be significant.

As regards the main results of the Conference, they may be summed up briefly, thus:

1. There are to be no more spending programmes of public works.

2. The relief dole is to be continued, balanced between necessity and the limitations of the Dominion Treasury.

3. In the meantime the Government hopes that, with world recovery and betterment of trade, unemployment will cure itself.

Mr. Howe’s Opportunity

TT IS THE philosophy—or hope— that is being applied to the railway problem. At this moment Mr. King’s C. D. Howe, having decided there is to be no railway amalgama-

tion or unification and no sale of the Canadian National, busies himself trying to find out how he may get rid of the existing National trustees, plus the Act under which they function, with the minimum of trouble. Mr. Howe’s idea— it must be said that it is shared by many others—is that the Act under which Mr. Bennett set up his trustees gave to the said trustees altogether too much power. Mr. Howe doesn’t think the trustees should have the right, which they have, to do practically what they like with such a valuable property, and has said so emphatically. What he proposes instead is a new Act with a board of directors responsible to the Government and to Parliament. More than that, unless Mr. Meighen sets ou to thwart him in the Senate, Mr. Howe will have his way.

Mr. Flo we, incidentally, faces a peril that has ruined many a promising career—the peril of too much adulation. That he is a good man, with the “root of the matter” in him, nobody doubts. That he is the superman of the newspaper

blurbs, a heaven-sent genius who without any apprenticeship has mastered within a few months all the intri cacies of government. sensible peop'e must doubt. The danger is that among those who won't doubt it will be Mr. Howe, than which nothing could be more harmful to his future. There is plentiful pre cedent for this, and distinguished. If Mr. Howe can show himself big enough to ignore sycophancy, can rea lize his limitations and take advice from more experienced colleagues, all will be well with him. Should he take the other course-es-

The Riddell Affair

TA 7FIICH BRINGS us to the session. The most piquant W thing it promises is a debate over what has come to be known as “l’affaire Riddell.” Newspaper versions of this now famous incident left a lot untold. One of the things they left untold was that when Dr. Riddell, acting without instructions, proposed oil sanctions against Italy, there was quite a storm in Canada. For days afterward letters and telegrams poured in upon the Government protesting Dr. Riddell’s action, and, strange as it may seem to some, they weren’t from Quebec. Most of them, in fact, were from Ontario. From Toronto.

say the role of the man who "isn't a politician" and is merely in Ottawa at large personal sacrifice for the country's goodhe will be on the way to being finished.

The Government, indifferent at first, was compelled to act. Or thought it was. Whereupon Mr. Lapointe, who was acting Prime Minister, drafted the statement which repu diated Dr. Riddell. More than that and just to make sure of himself, Mr. Lapointe called up Mr. King on the tele phone-Mr. King was in the Southern States, vacationingread the statement to him. When Mr. King said it sounded all right to him, Mr. Lapointe handed it to the press. And then blew up another storm. This time the League of

Nations people, plus the Imperialists, plus the Liberal Toronto Globe and J. W. Dafoe's Manitoba Free Press, launched a barrage of their own. The Government, it was clamored, had "let the Empire down," and the fact that it was Mr. Lapointe, a French-Canadian, who had done the "letting down," added fuel to the flames. It added so much fuel that when Mr. King got back from his vacation he issued another statement in explanation of the first. While there was no absolution for Dr. Riddell, emphasis was laid on the fact that Canada stood behind sanctions, including oil sanctions; that it was the

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origin of the proposal, not the proposal itself, which Mr. Lapointe had challenged. Whereupon came calm.

The Underlying Facts

WHAT are the underlying facts? They are wrapped up in the mystery of Dr. Riddell’s act. He had no instructions from Ottawa. More than that, his proposal definitely exceeded Ottawa’s defined policy. It is held against him, too, that in the event of his having been pressed to submit such a proposal, his clearly understood rôle was to plead “lack of instructions;” and that, as an experienced diplomatist, he must have been aware of the interpretation that would be placed upon his act.

Ottawa’s first belief, or suspicion, was that Dr. Riddell acted for the British; that it was the voice of Riddell but the hand of Eden. In the light of what happened in Paris subsequently, with Britain’s Sir Samuel Hoare and France’s Laval the chief actors, the suspicion departed. Indeed, Ottawa takes much malicious satisfaction out of the fact that the Franco-British plan to hand over half of Haile Selassie’s kingdom to Mussolini, with oil sanctions forgotten, made Canada’s superpatriots and “letting-the-Empire-down” people seem a little foolish. As one Minister gleefully put it the other day: “Mr Rowell must be sadly out of touch with His Majesty’s British Government.”

Nevertheless, the matter will come before Parliament—providing poor Ethiopia isn’t disposed of in the meantime—and should be interesting. Interesting if for no other reason than in its certain disclosure of the surprisingly large number of Canadians who felt that Canada should leave Italy and Ethiopia to their own devices. Meanwhile, Dr. Riddell is far from Geneva, is likely to be far from Geneva for a very long time.

Possible Legislation

AS FOR THE session’s legislation, it is 4U likely to be scant. This Government feels, and perhaps not unreasonably, that its main job is to try to balance the budget, and that, truth to tell, is a big enough job for any Government, Just how big it is, may be realized from the fact that Mr. Rhodes’s estimate of increased revenue for the year will be about $15,000,000 short, with expenditure about that much greater. In the circumstances, there is not likely to be much adventuring in social legislation. The Supreme Court’s decision on Mr. Bennett’s New Deal—on its constitutionality— may come some time this month, but hardly in time to have much done about it this session. Therefore, apart from a new railway act, plus some implementing of minor recommendations by the Dominion-Provincial Conference, the statute books will get a rest.

There is, of course, Mr. King’s proposed national commission on unemployment. No one now takes it very seriously, perhaps not even Mr. King. It will be set up, but its report, if it ever does report, is not likely to be acted on this session.

Actually, Parliament will be more interesting in personalities than in legislation. There will be Mr. Bennett, leading the Opposition, dealing with such things as reciprocity, of which he can claim part parentage. There will be Mr. Aberhart’s disciples of Social Credit. There will be new Ministers, inexperienced, on the Treasury benches. And, in the Senate, there will be Mr. Meighen, a powerful Conservative majority behind him, holding a key position. Taken by and large, the spectacle should be worth watching.