GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK June 15 1937
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK June 15 1937

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

OTTAWA these days has forgotten about Ottawa. It thinks mostly of Queen’s Park. Of Mr. Mitchell Hepburn.

What it thinks of Ontario’s Premier is worth recording. Ottawa, rightly or wrongly, is concerned about the possible outcome of Mr. Hepburn’s handling of the labor situation.

Mr. Hepburn, it should be said, was never an Ottawa favorite. He didn’t lit in with Mr. King’s rosy picture of a happy family of Liberal Governments from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia. At least at one DominionProvincial conference he threw a huge monkey wrench into

the machinery of harmony. He mortally offended Mr. King and his Ministers with his stand on the Quebec power contracts. And he did other things. The truth was that, temperamentally, Mr. Hepburn was the antithesis of Mr. King; the two men saw and did things differently.

But Ottawa was not prepared for Mr. Hepburn’s reaction to Ontario’s labor troubles. Air. King and his Ministers didn t mind him saying he would preserve law and order. They would back him in that. What Mr. King and his Alinisters couldn’t understand was what they interpreted as Mr. Hepburn’s taking sides against a labor union. Publicly they said nothing. Privately they said that Mr. Hepburn’s handling of the labor situation displayed signs of excitability and weakness. Some of them hinted that he was being misled by persons who knew little about labor and less about government. Others said that he was basically right, but was right in the wrong way.

Nor was hostility to Air. Hepburn’s methods confined to the Cabinet. It was shared by Conservatives and by Dominion officials, by men whose experience went back to the Winnipeg strike of .1919.

Whether Air. Hepburn was “more sinned against than sinning,” it is not for this writer to say. He is but reporting the facts. The facts are that Ottawa was successively amused, bewildered and perturbed.

Union Government Opposed

"D E WILDE RAIENT, however, gave place to astonishment at the proposal.....or alleged proposal—for a

union government.

Ottawa, sophisticated and cynical, doesn't take seriously the denials that union government was proposed. It believes—and thinks it knowsthat union government was proposed. Points to strong circumstantial evidence.

On a certain day toward the end of April, Senator Arthur Meighen came to Ottawa, conferred with Mr. Bennett. Two days later, upon Air. Aleighen’s return to Toronto! the story broke that Mr. Hepburn had proposed union government, that Mr. Rowe had declined. Ottawa believes that Air. Meighen’s mission to Ottawa was to consult Air. Bennett about Air. Hepburn’s proposal—and Air. Rowe’s refusal. Mr. Meighen—and Air. Bennettopposed union. Opposed it vigorously and unalterably.

Ottawa’s story (its sources seem unchallengeable) is that Mr. Hepburn offered Mr. Rowe, or the Conservative Party, half the portfolios in the Cabinet; held out the Attorney-Generalship to Mr. Rowe’s Colonel George A. Drew; offered the Premiership to Air. Rowe, if that were

deemed necessary. The basis of the union was to be opposition to the C. I. O. An election would be brought on immediately.

What Mr. Rowe thought privately about Mr. Hepburn’s offer has not been recorded. That Colonel Drew didn’t think badly of it, Ottawa takes for granted. There is Colonel Drew’s subsequent retirement from Mr. Rowe’s campaign committee. Also his public statements.

Dominion Conservatives were not alone in opposition to wedlock between Mr. Hepburn and Mr. Rowe. Equally hostile, or perhaps more so, were Dominion Liberals. Mr. King’s Ministers, of course, were in no position to forbid the banns. But they were unable to see what the union could be about, or how it could be worked, or what good it could do.

What puzzles Ottawa—Liberals as well as Conservatives - is the source of Mr. Hepburn’s proposal. Its inspiration, it is believed, was not Mr. Hepburn.

There is Mr. George McCullagh, the new publisher of the Toronto Globe and Mail. Few people in Ottawa know Mr. McCullagh. Those who know him speak of him as a young man of likable personality, but without much knowledge of either journalism or government. When, during the Oshawa strike, newspaper dispatches told of Mr. McCullagh being at Air. Hepburn’s side, veteran politicians were surprised; pointed to the “new technique” in government.

I he technique, it must be reported, was new. Canadian Prime Ministers have not been in the habit of consulting newspaper publishers or editors over executive or administrative acts. That is for their Ministers. Sir Wilfrid Laurier might consult a Sir John Willison, Sir Robert Borden a P. D. Ross, Mr. King a John W. Dafoe. But these men were consulted as Party advisers about Party policy, not as editors about executive acts. No one could ever imagine Mr. King trying to settle a strike with a newspaper editor at his side. Mr. King knows too much about responsible government.

So Ottawa wonders about Air. AlcCullagh. It wonders if

Air. AlcCullagh was the inspiration of Mr. Hepburn’s sudden desire for coalition; notes the proposition had the benediction of Air. McCullagh’s newspaper. Some of the more cynical—or irreverent—speak of a “United Mines Party”—a reference to some of Mr. McCullagh’s associates.

Mr. AlcCullagh, in fact, has become news—on Parliament Hill. Parliament Hill hears that he intends extending his journalistic kingdom, with its boundaries moved to Alontreal. It noted with particular interest his recent visit to the Quebec metropolis, when the Gazette's up-and-coming Air. John Bassett entertained him at the Alount Royal Club. From all reports, it was a great occasion. Sir Edward Beatty was there, and Sir Herbert Holt, and some sixty others, and Sir Edward and Sir Herbert extolled Mr. McCullagh for his good work in Ontario. That, Ottawa thinks, was bad for Air. AlcCullagh. And perhaps for Air. Hepburn.

Meanwhile Mr. Rowe, and his captains, prepare for an election. With Mr. Don Hogarth as one of their chiefs-ofstalf, and with Mr. Cecil Frost replacing Colonel Drew, they are convinced that Mr. Hepburn intends surprising them with a snap election. They don’t want to be surprised.

Mr. Frost is a rising hope of the Party. A young man who has made a name in law and something of a name in municipal politics in Lindsay, he has unusual ability on the platform, has almost as good a platform presence as Colonel Drew. He is known to have been the author of the “collective bargaining” plank of the Party, announced by Mr. Rowe in North Wellington some weeks ago; is said to be slated for the Attorney-Generalship should Mr. Rowe take power. '•

One other formidable captain may be found in Mr. Rowe’s ranks, in the event of an election. Dr. R. J. (“Fighting Bob”) Manion. Dr. Manion, of course, would be a Member of any Cabinet Mr. Rowe would form, would be given a major portfolio. His success in provincial politics would not interfere with whatever chances he may have eventually to succeed Mr. Bennett.

Meanwhile, what of Colonel Drew? Ottawa hears one day that he will enter Mr. Hepburn’s Government; hears the next day that he won’t; hears after that that he will form a separate party. At this writing there is no certainty about his course, in which there is no little interest. Drew, admittedly brilliant, was regarded by many as a potential Conservative Moses. What is thought about him in Ottawa is that he has permitted either an impetuous nature or a soaring ambition to subordinate his good judgment. That he could long work with Mr. Hepburn, or outside the Conservative Party, is doubted.

Mr. King’s Future

C^\TTAWA, APART from its bewilderment over Mr. ^ Hepburn, is uninteresting, listless. The veteran Dandurand, acting as Prime Minister in Mr. King’s absence, occasionally calls in a few Ministers, holds a session of the Cabinet. But there are not enough Ministers to do much, nor much to do, so the sum total of work is an occasional order-in-council. Mr. Dandurand, it must be assumed, hears occasionally from Mr. King; but whether Air. King consults him or anybody else in Ottawa about what he does from day to day in London, is doubtful.

Nor is anybody quite certain about what Mr. King is doing. There are the newspaper dispatches, of course, and the versions of the special correspondents, but the dispatches and the versions of the correspondents don’t always agree—and the communiqués of the Conference are not distinguished for their frankness. England’s Sir Maurice Hankey knows his business.

Nor is there news of Mr. Bennett. A month or so ago or less, he was putting off his armor. All Ottawa was selecting his successor. Now there is no certainty that the armor will come off. Mr. Bennett’s last word was that whether it came off or didn’t come off, would depend upon what was told him by his physicians in Harley Street—a word which mildly surprised, seeing that Mr. Bennett hadn’t been bothering doctors since the last election and seemed in robust health. But the position now is that Ottawa is becoming convinced that Mr. Bennett’s armor will stay on; that he will be back in Parliament next session, and back leading the Conservative Party next election.

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Curiously enough, there is more talk now of Mr. King’s retirement than of Mr. Bennett’s. Mr. King, it is pointed out. is not in vigorous health, and is in position to retire at the height of his prestige and achievement. He has had everything that politics can yield him—two terms in the Premiership, both of them successful;

participation in the Coronation of a Monarch; a place in a great Imperial Conference. With no new worlds left to conquer, but with the possibility always that to linger too long on the stage might bring him defeat and eclipse, retirement now (say his friends) would be the better part of strategy. There is that; great precedent of Sir Robert Borden, who, refusing to wait for Nemesis, has grown steadily in stature in retirement.