Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1936

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1936

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

IT IS AN unsophisticated House. New Members, their first session an adventure, are not yet disillusioned. Various young crusaders, heaven-kissing from the

mountaintops, want things done; demand committees on the League of Nations, on international affairs, on this abstract thing and that. The order paper is as thick as Anthony Adverse.

Not that it much matters. Mr. King and Mr. Bennett, hardbitten, are not likely to waste time meditating with the philosophers on the eternal verities when the roof over their heads sags and sways. So, as the months wear on, there will be diminishing returns in ardor, activity and possibly lunacy. The young Galahads, taking themselves seriously now, will take themselves less seriously, or take to the euchre rooms instead of the library, content to be obedient to the whips. That, in Parliament, is the way of most flesh.

The opening was ominous. Prime Minister King told Mr ¿Pierre François Casgrain, Liberal Member for Charlevoix-Saguenay. he would be nominated for the Speakership. Mr. King at the same time cautioned Mr. Casgrain that inasmuch as election to the Speakership came, in theory at all events, from the House itself, he mustn’t say or do anything about it. Mr. Casgrain, unfortunately, proceeded to do much about it. Establishing himself in the Parliament buildings, he began issuing edicts, and by the time he got through, some 125 temporary and permanent House employees were informed that they were fired. Which was oad. Mr. King, unaware of Mr. Casgrain’s presence in Ottawa and still less aware of his activities, discovered both from newspaper headlines. Mr. King wasn’t amused. Mr. King’s reaction was so much the opposite he promptly countermanded Mr. Casgrain’s edicts, reprimanded him sternly.

It was too late. Too late at all events to save Parliament from an unprecedented spectacle and Mr. Casgrain from as sharp a castigation as has ever gone to a gentleman ascending the Speaker’s chair. Mr. Bennett, invariably at his best condemning sin, and dripping parliamentary lore, was a veritable combination of Blackstone and John the Baptist; must have made Mr. Pierre François Casgrain feel like throwing his three-cornered hat under his desk and crawling in after it. As it was, and following Mr. King’s plea for conditional absolution and suspended sentence, Mr. Casgrain, sadder and wiser, walked contritely to the Chair. The Eighteenth Parliament had had a brimstone baptism.

Senate and C.N.R.

V\ 7TIICH IT may need. Already Mr. Bennett has Vv declared war on the United States-Canada trade agreement, hinted at probable war against the Government’s proposed railway changes. The trade agreement, in

the form of a treaty, is perfectly safe, but not so much may be said of the railway changes. These must run not only the gauntlet of the House but of the Senate, and if what the inspired voices tell be true, their chances of passing the Senate—assuming that Mr. Howe’s proposals are what they are said to be—-are almost exactly zero. That, if it should come to pass, and considering Mr. King’s position, would be the makings of a first-class row.

What Mr. Howe thinks should be done about the railways—his bill may be before Parliament by this time— may be set down briefly. He has no thought of amalgamation, isn’t stressing economies. His idea, simply, is that Parliament, the Government and himself haven’t sufficient control over the Canadian National Railways and

that under the act passed by Mr. Bennett, sired by the Duff report, Judge Fullerton and his associate trustees have too much control over it. What he proposes, or is alleged to want, is that the existing act be replaced by a new act, and Judge Fullerton and his associates by a board of directors. Practically, it would be a return to the system which existed under Sir Henry Thornton, except that in the case of the Government and Parliament there would be certain checks and balances. Mr. Howe, in other words, would be the boss.

Mr. Howe’s original notion was that he could get what he wanted by persuading Judge Fullerton to resign. Judge Fullerton, unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, wasn’t in a resigning mood, couldn’t be persuaded. Judge Fullerton was so impossible of persuasion that an offer of a $30,000 retiring allowance failed entirely in its purpose. More than that and worse, this generous offer to the judge, plus the circumstances under which it was made, leaked out in Ottawa, and with it other things; the whole convincing the political technicians that Mr. Howe, a good man but a bit amateurish, had been woefully inept.

The upshot of the thing is that Mr. Howe, having discovered that in politics a direct line is not always the

shortest distance between two points, has been compelled to make a detour. That detour, in the form of the repeal of the existing Canadian National Act, to be replaced by a new act, takes Mr.

Howe, very unfortunately, to the Senate; and if Mr. Howe gets by that point without bogging down badly, his reputation will be made.

But we wouldn’t count on it.

There is Mr. Meighen. Commanding some sixty stalwarts in the Senate, his army much bigger than Mr. Bennett’s, Mr. Meighen, on more than one count, is a force to be reckoned with. No chore boy for any party, as remote from Mr.

Bennett as from Mr. King—Conservative Senators do not attend Mr. Bennett’s caucuses — Mr.

Meighen has his own ideas about railway matters, with a good guess being that they don’t coincide with Mr. Howe’s. He will not reject Mr. Howe’s bill because it is Mr.

Howe’s or Mr. King’s, or because Mr. Bennett may want him to

reject it. It is a first-class bet that he will reject it—prepared for all the consequences—if he and his Senate followers do not like it.

Getting back to the House of Commons, there is the Bank of Canada. Mr. King, on the platform, was all for reforming it. After all, money doctors were abroad in the land, so a little talk about “control of credit” spread about judiciously, couldn’t do much harm—even in Alberta.

It is different now. Mr. Charles Dunning, who, in his sojourn in St. James Street, got to know a lot of bankers, isn’t at all sure they’re all ruffians or rogues; and Mr. Dunning, it is told, would like to leave the Bank of Canada alone. Whether he has changed Mr. King’s mind, assuming Mr. King’s mind needed to be changed, we don’t know, but what we do know is that the reference to the Bank of Canada in the Speech from the Throne was curiously vague. Thus:

“It is intended, at the present session, to ask Parliament to make such changes in the ownership and control of the Bank of Canada, as may be necessary to give to the Government a predominant interest in the ownership as well as effective control of the bank.”

“A predominant interest in the ownership.” That sounds very well, but it doesn’t mean complete Government ownership or nationalization, and the truth is that nobody in Ottawa is quite sure what it means. We shall see.

Not that Mr. Dunning controls Mr. King. Quite the contrary. Indeed, Mr. King’s Ministers know a lot more about dictatorship now than when they saw it, or

thought they saw it, incarnate in Mr. Bennett. Mr. King tells that he wants his Ministers to run their departments, refers to them as “Prime Ministers” of their departments. But when it comes to policy as a whole, to a question of what the Government should do under given circumstances and how the Government should do it and when, then decision comes from Mr. King, is made to be obeyed.

Dictators and Dictators

THERE WAS that Royal Commission on textiles. If inner circles may be believed, it is Mr. King’s child, not Mr. Dunning’s. Mr. Dunning had seen the textile people, had promised them consideration. The textile people, unfortunately, didn’t wait for the consideration or, in any event, closed down a plant. What Mr. Dunning would have done about it is not clear; there is no indication he would have done what was done. As it was, Mr. Dunning did exactly what Mr. King ordered: called for a Royal Commission. It was the hand of Esau.

Which reminds us of that feud between Mr. King and Mr. Hepbum. The sun evidently has not gone down on it, and unless those who should know best are wrong, it will not go down. Indeed, for those interested in political feuds, plus their possible repercussions, it would be a good idea to watch closely this King-Hepbum vendetta. There is just a possibility, perhaps more than that, that it will presently add a dramatic page to our political history.

Meanwhile, Mr. King’s chief worry—and Mr. Dunning’s —is the budget. It won’t be balanced On the contrary,

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Backstage at Ottawa

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Mr. Dunning’s best hope is that he won’t find himself in the red for more than $125,000,000. It is not his fault, nor the fault of anybody, so long as we have relief and the railways.

Mr. Dunning, thinking of next year, has made a beginning by cutting $12,000,000 off the main estimates. It is a gallant gesture, but just how much it means won’t be known until we get the supplementaries. Also, of course, these are but the estimates of ordinary expenditures, taking no account of capital outlays, or of relief or of special expenditures. It is these latter, not ordinary civil expenditure, which mount up the deficits.

Tariff changes? The Budget may have a few. Gasoline almost certainly will be touched, and motor-car manufacturers may get lower duties on raw materials and parts, and there may be reductions on certain cottons. The furniture people, demanding assistance—they were touched severely by the U.S. trade agreement—are apparently out of luck. Out of luck also may be Mr. John Taxpayer, given no relief, not unlikely to be called upon for a little more for Caesar.

Yet hope springs eternal; and Mr. King, nothing if not an optimist, hopes for much from his proposed commission on national

unemployment. This commission—the public may have its personnel by this time—is to be largely administrative. Its chief function will be to see to it, or try to, that Dominion moneys paid out for relief are expended economically. Putting it another way, the commission’s job will be to see whether there can t be such a thing as relief from relief, whether the “racket” element can’t be purged from it. Provinces, receiving money, will be called upon to check sharply on their expenditure, with audits on the accounts of municipalities. It may—who knows?—make some difference.

More difference, one imagines, than Mr. King’s coal enquiry. Just what this enquiry means, no one seems to know; and with winter all but over, no one seems to care. Moreover, so many enquiries into so many things in recent years have ended in futility—who now remembers or talks about the Price Spreads enquiiy?—even M.P.’s have become cynical.

Which reminds us of Mr. Harry Stevens.

The real “forgotten man” of politics, MrStevens is only front-page news now when, as at the opening of the House, he objected to being made deskmate of Mr. J. S. Woodsworth. Mr. Woodsworth, to be sure, objected too, but the objections were unavailing, and there they sit side by side, one commanding six followers, the other commanding none. Young rebels, if there be any in this House, can hardly miss the moral.

But, unless it be Mr. William (“Admiral”) Duff, who wanted the Speakership and lost it, and then wanted the DeputySpeakership and lost that too, rebels in this House are few and far between. Mr. Duff, sore at heart—he may have a just grievance for all we know—is said to have made overtures to Mr. Bennett, with nothing coming of them, which is understandable. Mr. Bennett doesn’t like rebels.

Mr. Bennett, as Opposition leader, seems perfectly cast. In his mammoth four-hour speech on the Address, during most of which he spoke like a Napoleonic

Marshal after Moscow, he obviously enjoyed himself. But the authentic Bennett touch came when Mr. Bennett discovered, simultaneously with Parliament, that he owed the Radio Commission $20,000.

His wrath, it must be admitted, was excusable. Because Mr. Bennett, except in a technical sense, owed the Commission nothing; had no knowledge that he was a debtor, even technically.

Mr. Bennett’s chiefs of staff arranged for his election broadcasts, gave the Radio Commission his name—probably as security. The election over, they paid the bills, or, as they explain, had their advertising agent pay them, Mr. Bennett being informed accordingly. Unfortunately, and through some curious mix-up, there remained an additional bill of some $20,000 and when the Radio Commission rendered this to the Chiefs of Staff and their advertising agents, the Chiefs of Staff and the advertising agent neglected telling Mr. Bennett.

Which was bad. Mr. Bennett, noting a question on the Order Paper about unpaid radio broadcasting bills, never dreamed it concerned him. It was not until the Government answered the question, with

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Mr. Bennett’s name enshrined in Hansard as a debtor, that he had brought home to him the truth, whereupon, and as already remarked, excusably, Mr. Bennett’s associates saw something of Mr. Bennett’s temper.

Mr. Bennett, as is well known, has not merely been the Conservative party’s leader; he has been its paymaster. Therefore, when he saw that the party had given his name as security for radio broadcasts, then failing to settle for them, his indignation was as vocal as it was righteous. Precisely what he said may not be known.until Mr. Rod Finlayson and Mr. Earl Lawson write their memoirs, but that he said plenty, and with a great eloquence, is undeniable.

Meanwhile, and inasmuch as Mr. Bennett’s, debt, or, his party’s debt, had ■not been denied or contested, and was certaiii of payment, fairer members of the House have been wondering why it should have been brought to Parliament at all. Politics, trùly, has its seamy side.

Speaking of Mr. Bennett, what of his future? No one knows. His vigor is unabated. He is only sixty-four. With politics the breath of his nostrils, the political forum his home, it is hard to believe he will put off his armor. To his friends, indeed, he talks of rebuilding his party,

broods sometimes over mistakes of strategy, has that new wisdom which the poets say begins with a touch of humility.

He lacks sadly for captains. His best men fallen, vanished from the House, he has but a few. veterans lefty a few raw recruits, not many of them promising. Yet—it is a tremendous change for Mr. Bennett—he at last perceives the need óf a-fresh touch iri his party, is said to have plans to acquire it.

There is Mr. Herridge. That adventure-1 loving, audacious and somewhat lovable young man, now back at his Ottawa law practice, is said to have ambitions. Stranger things have happened than that we shall see him in Parliament, hear much of him next election. Radio speeches, after all, are things easily forgotten.

The new parties? It is too soon yet to speak of them. Mr. Aberhart’s legionnaires—Mr. King calls them “Independents”—have been heard from only occasionally, seem to be the average of Parliamentary calibre. Mr. Blackmore’s maiden speech, made under trying circumstances —he was paying tribute to King George— at least showed courage.

P.S. Canada’s new Minister to Washington, in case it hasn’t been announced officially by this time, will be Mr. Herbert Marler, at present Minister Plenipotentiary to Japan. Mr. Marler’s successor at Tokio has not yet been decided upon.