GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK June 15 1936
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK June 15 1936

Backstage at Ottawa

GENERAL ARTICLES

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

A WORD first about foreign affairs. Not long ago Mr. Bennett joined Mr. King in deprecating a discussion of the League of Nations, of the continuance of sanctions against Italy. Their

view, which prevailed, was that if our House of Commons spoke of such things all Europe would listen in, and with harm. Which was curious. Curious, seeing that week after week Anthony Eden and Mr. Baldwin, whose words should matter as much at least as those of anybody in Ottawa, discuss the League and sanctions at length. But let that pass.

What matters, for the purposes of these notes, is to tell the truth that, while Ottawa on the surface seems oblivious to the League and to sanctions, Ottawa beneath the surface is actually much concerned. There is the suspicion, to begin with, that those who know most about these questions—the officials whose business it is to deal with them— have never been enamored of sanctions, are less enamored of them now than ever, entertain grave misgivings about our relations to the League.

When, last autumn, Mr. King went in for sanctions, he didn’t do so enthusiastically. Mr. King was a sanctionist because, in the case of a large section of his party, the phrase “collective security” had become a sort of fetish. The League of Nations idealists, with Mr. Rowell and Mr. Dafoe at their head, were in full cry; there was little left for Mr. King but to go along with them. It was the story of Mr. Baldwin and the “peace ballot” people over again.

Time—with experience —has wrought a change. The Hoare-Laval plan chilled Mr. Rowell’s ardor, chilled Mr. Dafoe’s; chilled the latter so completely that the words “sanctions” and “collective security” have passed from the Winnipeg Free Press dictionary.

But something else happened. Just before Easter Ernest Lapointe, Minister of Justice, went to Europe for “his health.” Precisely what change this vacation brought in Mr. Lapointe’s “health” is not clear. What is clear is that it produced a considerable change in his mental outlook about the League. Mr. Lapointe was a League disciple. He was at one time president of the League of Nations Society of Canada. And he was a sanctionist.

He is no longer a sanctionist. In fact, he is no longer a disciple of the League. True, Mr. Lapointe has made no public recantation, at least not at this writing. But he has

said things in private to his colleagues. He has told them that, so far as he could find out in Eurojxî, most nations over there are in the League for what they can get out of it.

This, of course, does not mean that Mr. Lapointe is against the League of Nations principle; against any kind of a League. It means only that he is against the kind of League we have at present. In other words, Mr. Lajxnnte has become more of a realist.

It is a change which, could it be experienced by others, might help a lot in Ottawa. For the trouble with Ottawa’s support of the League is that it has been a blind support, an uninformed, unintelligent support. What it meant actually was that our politicians, uninformed or indifferent or both, simply did the bidding of a lot of university professor zealots, of young idealists, of delightful old ladies in afternoon clubs.

Canada Not Consulted

T TP TO a few weeks ago the current phrase around ^ Parliament was, “We must stand by the League.” No one troubled to ask what sort of a League we should stand by. It was said—with Mr. Bennett saying it most vehemently—that we must “honor our signature.” But no one stopped to ask what it was Canada had signed. More than that and more exasperating, no one asked what interpretations had been made of, or what modifications and qualifications had been entered into, the thing we did sign, during the past ten years. There were modifications aplenty; qualifications and interpretations. Not the least of them was when Locarno interpreted Article XVI so that each League member should measure its obligations only “to an extent which is compatible with its military situation and takes its geographical position into account.”

But the necessities of regional distinctions didn’t count with our idealists. Living in what London’s J. L. Garvin calls “stark unreality,” they were headlong for sanctions. Ten million Canadians must pool decision upon the problem of security with 300 million Europeans 3,000 miles away! Manchuria didn’t matter. We must have “collective security” with no one asking whether it was collective or secure; must “stand by the League” even though but this wasn’t considered—standing by the League involved Canada’s meddling in every European dispute, in every quarrel over European boundaries and European minorities and racial prejudices, or involved even our seeking to punish a European country for misconduct.

Well, as already said, there has been a change. It has not yet penetrated to the darker recesses of the House of Commons’s back benches, but it has touched the front benches. A few men—probably not more than ten per cent of the ordinary Members would know the League Covenant from the Customs Tariff—have begun to ask what the League is about. Just how long they will keep asking themselves before giving the country some leadership, remains to be seen. Sir Robert Borden once had the courage to stand up at Versailles and lecture the “Big Four” -—Lloyd George, Wilson, Clemenceau and Orlando—for undertaking to run the Peace Conference. Whether Mr. King has the courage to say a word to Messrs. Baldwin and Eden about their seeming inclination to determine the jxfficy of the whole British Empire with respect to the League, is another matter. We shall see.

Which brings us to something else. There exists in Canada a belief that in League matters and in Foreign Policy matters, the British Government consults the Canadian Government. It is a myth. No consultation

exists, and, what is more, it is doubtful whether it can exist. True, Whitehall possesses an organization to keep Ottawa informed about what goes on. But information is not consultation; and all that happens between London and Ottawa is that when London has done something or decided something, London then proceeds to tell Ottawa what has been decided or done. Ottawa is presented with an accomplished fact. More than that, and worse, the information about the accomplished fact isn’t always complete.

There is no doubt about this. When Sir Samuel Hoare set out for Paris to make his deal with Mr. Laval, he consulted with Mr. Baldwin. He didn’t consult with—or even inform—Mr. King. Nor did Mr. Baldwin. Yet Canada, with Britain, was imposing sanctions against Italy; was fighting for “collective” security.

And as with the Hoare-Laval plan, so with other things. Canada is not consulted; she is told about things afterward. Indeed, to tell the whole truth, the Government of Canada —those who are interested—learn more about what is going on in Europe and at Geneva from the correspondents of the New York Times than they learn from the British

Foreign Office. In our Department of External Affairs, the New York Times is a most jxjpular newspaper.

This is not the fault of Britain. Consultation is difficult. There is, in the first place, the time element. There is the element that, were advice asked for. no useful or informed advice would be forthcoming. And there are other elements. But that isn’t the point. The point, the thing Canadians should understand, is that talk about “consultation” is nonsense. There is no consultation. Canada follows—or has been following -Anthony Eden. He, and not Mr. King, has been our Minister for External Affairs.

What the coming few weeks or months of a changed arid more informed and realistic outlook may bring in departure

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from this, and especially in departure from our sanctionist and League policy, is not yet clear. The important thing to know is that Ottawa has begun to think about such matters with possible substantial consequences.

On the Home Front

AND NOW for the home front. The Y"Y mills of the gods may grind slowly, but not much more slowly than this session of Parliament. Beginning in February, it has come through to the end of May without disposing of much of its major legislation. The railway question, radio, the proposed changes in the Bank of Canada, all at this writing are still in the air. Some of them, it is just possible, may remain in the air. The railway bill, for instance.

This legislation has not been put forward as a solution of the railway problem. All that it does, actually, is to substitute six directors for three trustees. That and to give the Minister of Railways more power over the directors than he had over the trustees. Which the Senate doesn’t like. Rightly or wrongly, the Senate wants to know what the directors can do that the trustees couldn’t do. It wants to know why the Minister of Railways should have

more power over the directors. Wants to know how he may use his jxnver. Thinks of patronage. Accordingly, the Senate has a committee of its own enquiring into the matter, with Arthur Meighen, tremendously efficient in such things, the chief enquirer. The result may be interesting.

More fortunate is the radio legislation. Here again, as in the case of the railways, the Minister of Railways (the title is to be changed to Communications) takes more power (C. D. Howe lacks neither ambition nor energy), but a Parliamentary enquiry revealed the old Radio Commission as so hopelessly unsuitable, the Minister could take almost anything. The House, tired and fatalistic, simply wants a change; is willing to try anything different. Whether it will mean better broadcasting or worse, must be left to the future.

Meanwhile Mr. King’s much heralded National Employment Commission has come into being, has an Ottawa roof over its head, the usual retinue of clerks and secretaries. Steeled in the school of ho[x; deferred, Ottawa is not pessimistic about it, but not optimistic either. What it can do, nobody knows. But there is a vagrant hope tliat it may do something; also the consolation of knowing that, through its

personnel, which is good, it can at least do as much as anything else, or anybody.

Echoes of the Budget

ÜCHOES of the Budget are still with us. E-' Burke said it was as easy to tax and be loved as to love and be wise. And Mr. Dunning isn’t loved. His sales tax increases pleased few. His tariff changes displeased a great number. And his refusal to do certain tilings for certain people, including the mining industry (ask Minister of Mines Crerar), left wounds. Add to this the grumblings of low tariff Liberals, the worse grumblings of high tariff Conservatives, the anathemas of C.C.F’ers and Social Crediters, and Mr. Dunning’s popularity becomes zero.

But Mr. Dunning wasn’t seeking popularity. His budget wasn’t a Liberal budget or a Conservative budget; wasn’t concerned with political theories or philosophies. It was the budget of a realist, a bit perplexed, trying to find his way out and not sure that he had found it. But it had courage. It takes courage in politics —to tell the stark truth. Mr. Dunning told it. He wrote his deficit in scarlet and underlined it. And he didn’t budget for a surplus. We were $160,000.000 short. We would be short $100,000,000 next year. The debt was now $3,000,000,000. It would be more than that next year. We had increased it by $8(X),(XX).0(X) in five years. That was more than we had increased it between 1867 and 1914. So we had government by deficit.

But Mr. Dunning didn’t despair. Trade was better. Unemployment was growing less. Next year we might need less for relief. And the railways might do better. Thus, within a few years, we might be paying our way again—balancing budgets. Parliament, not quite convinced, a bit frightened, hoi>es against hope.

What else? There is the Bank of Canada legislation giving the government control of the majority of shares; the promised repeal of Section 98, which is likely to be thrown out by the Senate; the promise of under-secretaries; promise of unification of departments. The whole programme may pass, but not unless progress is more rapid; and in any event prorogation can’t come until July.

It has been a nervous session, irritable and challenging, but not tempestuous or distinguished. No new reputations have been made—with the possible exception of Mr. Rogers. Mr. King’s leadership has been quiet, if resolute: few of his Ministers have made marks. On the other side, Mr. Bennett has poured his vast knowledge and vaster vocabulary over 1 Iansard, but his followers have been conspicuously inconspicuous. No rising hopes have been among them. Mr. Denton Massey (Miss Macphail’s Mister House of Commons Number One) has been mostly rhetorical. His associates have not even been that.

And so with the Independents. Mr. Woodsworth has been as industrious as usual, but ineffective; has missed his more experienced captains. The Social Credit group has been singularly unimpressive. Mr. Stevens, an Ishmaelite, a lonely figure, has been subdued and forlorn, a general without an army.