Backstage at Ottawa

October 15 1939

Backstage at Ottawa

October 15 1939

Backstage at Ottawa



NOT THE least hard thing to do in Ottawa these days is to keep on seeing the forest despite the trees. Many, judging by confused advice and criticism, are seeing only the trees.

Let’s take a look at the forest.

Prime Minister King, to begin with, has been doing a fair war job. He got Parliament into a nonpartisan, co-operative mood. Put through a war budget and war taxes with a minimum of delay. Got a nonaggression pact among the parties.

It was no mean achievement.

Overanxious critics thought his technique of having Parliament declare war (or approve its declaration) play-acting. The obvious answer was that if “play-acting” could help national unity, avoid argument and dissension, the technique was worth trying. Also, the thing worked.

But Mr. King did—and continues to do—a good job outside of Parliament.

There was the Department of Defense. Outbreak of war showed it to be as unprepared as its critics said it was. The thing needn’t be labored. Mr.


I. Created the War Munitions and Supply Board which, merged with the Defense Purchasing Board, t;x>k charge of all contracts for war equipment and supplies.

2. Replaced Deputy Minister of Defense I.aFleche (he w'as given sick-leave) by two able, experienced administrators.

3. Took Mr. Ian Mackenzie from Defense, replaced him with Mr. Norman Rogers.

Mr. King, in other words, had given the Defense Department an entirely New Deal within two weeks of the declaration of war by the Canadian Parliament. Had wiped the old slate clean.

Shuffling a cabinet and demoting ministers is no easy job. Mr. King, by all accounts, didn’t find it easy. His first idea (so the Ottawa tale goes) was to give Defense to Col. Ralston. When that failed f for reasons not disclosed), his choice was Mr. Power. In the end, after some delay and doubts, he hit upon Mr. Rogers.

Mr. King’s hand, say the critics, was forced by public opinion. It probably was. But the imix>rtant thing was that he managed to do w hat the public wanted. Managed it w ithout much fuss or trouble.

The shuffle—especially in the Defense Department—is, in my opinion, good. Mr. Rogers, no Sir Sam Hughes, will deny adventure. Not a glamour boy, lacking color, he will lx* no spurred and booted War Minister; will never imagine himself a Wellington or Caesar. But Mr. Rogers will work hard at his job. He will not surround himself with any clique or faction; not play any favorites. I íe will be honest, straightforward; will try to be efficient.

The common soldier should like him; trust him. Mr. Rogers, in the last war. was himself a private; must understand the troubles of the man in the trenches. And he w ill be close to the Prime Minister.

Other ministers, shuffled into new jxjsts, should be better for it. A shuffled Cabinet, like a shuffled executive in a private corporation, means less of staleness; fresh interests; newambitions. Mr. Pow er, as versatile as an administrator as in Parliament, should do well in the Post Office. Mr. McLarty, broad-gauged and understanding, has the right temperament for Labor.

First-Class Outside Brains

MR. KING has done more than handle Parliament,


shuffle his Cabinet, help in war effort.

He has got first-class brains to

Mr. Gordon Scott, potent Montreal financier, has helped in the financial setup of various boards and war agencies.

Mr. Wallace Campbell, outstanding industrialist, has been brought to the board of War Munitions and Supply.

An Exchange Control Board is in the hands of such men as the Bank of Canada’s Governor Towers and Deputy Minister of Finance Clark.

A War Prices Board, to deal with attempts at profiteering, is manned by brilliant officials such as Tariff Expert Hector McKinnon.

Censorship is in the capable, sane hands of the Canadian National Railways’ Walter Thompson.

And so with other boards. All defense and offensive w'orks along the economic and financial fighting line are being manned by the best minds in the country; a “Brain Trust” with a difference. Mostly they give their services without remuneration. Which is worth remembering.

The War Program

WIIAT of the war program? War policy?

There have been misconceptions about it; confusion. Early failure to make a definite statement atxmt an Expeditionary Force brought criticism. Unpreparedness by the Defense Department to equip recruits, to provide them with uniforms and boots and blankets, brought worse criticism. People became restive. What was the Government doing? Why didn’t it speak? 'I'alk grew of the need for conscription. Talk also grew about Union Government. Some of the talk was serious.

Government indecision, or delay, was due to one thing —doubt about what it could do most effectively and sixiedily. It wanted, in other words, an objective to aim at.

The objective was provided. The British Government, asked for its advice, answered briefly: Send us air personnel; send mechanics; engineers. Send us. above all, supplies and war munitions. The British Government, in other w'ords, wasn’t concerned immediately with manpower, with soldiers; the need was for a base of war supplies—shells, guns, planes, war materials. The need also for “silver bullets;” Canadian dollars to finance purchases.

Which didn’t mean no Canadian divisions. These, to be needed later, are being raised—two of them; divisions that will be on call when the demand for them arises. In the meantime there is to be a credit—amounting to perhaps hundreds of millions—to finance purchases of munitions. The whole might of our industrial plant is to be mobilized, geared into action. We are to turn out war planes; turn out antisubmarine craft; double our naval forces. And, of course, we are to provide foodstuffs; provide ships, wherever possible, to ship them; provide convoys for the ships.

Present plans, apparently, call for two divisions—one in the East, the other in the West. Who will command them is not known at this writing. There is talk of MajorGeneral Griesbach to command in the West. Talk of

Major-General McNaughton to command in the East. Both, admittedly, are brilliant soldiers. McNaughton, a scientist and organizer as well as a soldier, is mentioned also as a liaison officer between the War Munitions and Supply Board and the Defense Department. That he will be given some important war post is practically certain.

Cabinet shuffling, with replacement of Mr. Mackenzie at the Defense Ministry, plus the more definite declaration of war objectives, have temporarily stilled demands for National Government and conscription.

This, in Ottawa’s view, is to the good. National Government may come in time. And conscription. Their coming, at this time, might do more harm than good. A new Government, composed largely of new and untried, and in some cases perhaps amateurish ministers, would involve inexperience; a learning of lessons over again; probable delay. There would be the delay of changes; necessary bargaining among the parties; the division of portfolios; by-elections. There would be the danger, too, that valuable existing leadership would be lost. Mr. Lapointe, vital to war leadership in Quebec, would probably not serve under any leader other than Mr. King; would certainly (in his own words) “walk out” of a conscription ministry. Which would be bad. Lapointe is a tower of strength in Ottawa. His speech at the war session of Parliament (declared by the veteran J. W. Dafoe to be the finest House of Commons performance he had heard in forty years) was potent for unity. Members, carried away by his passionate eloquence, put prepared speeches in their pockets. Probable dissenters were silenced. The House took on a new mood of unity. Not since Laurier had a French-Canadian statesman so dominated Parliament. Or struck such a blow for harmony.

Politics Forgotten

OTTAWA, meanwhile, has forgotten politics; forgotten an election. It hears no more about that once famous “Toronto-Quebec axis;” hears no more about Mr. Hepburn; no more about Mr. Duplessis. Up on Wellington Street, Senator Norman Lambert has all but closed down his National Liberal headquarters. Next door, on the same street, the National Conservative headquarters has put up its shutters; their premises taken by Mr. John Hearne, the High Commissioner for Eire. Dr. Robb, Mr. Manion’s organizer, has put off his armor altogether, gone back to his practice. Dr. Manion himself, forgetting the Prime Ministership, upholds the arm of the Government. No Opposition Leader has ever acted better.

Instead of party propaganda bureaus we are to have a War Bureau of Information. Postmaster General Power will be the minister responsible for it, with the Prime Minister taking a hand. Mr. King’s choice for the post— Director of the Bureau—was Mr. L. W. Brockington, Governor of the Radio Corporation ; a choice that seemed excellent. At this writing there is a hitch somewhere; opposition to Brockington’s appointment. The Bureau itself will come.

It will not be what many people think, or fear, it will be —an arm of censorship dealing with news, or suppressing news, or manufacturing it. The idea is to have a Bureau which, under intelligent direction, will try to buttress national morale; promote and sustain patriotic effort; keep clearly before the people the true objectives of the war; work for national unity. Finally, there would be Canada’s story to tell to the world—to tell, more especially, to our United States neighbors. It would be the role—about which we have often boasted—of interpreting the British Empire, and Canada’s part in the British Empire, to the Republic.

In Washington

A STEP in this direction—better relations with the United States—came with the appointment of Loring C. Christie as Minister to Washington. The appointment, in some quarters, wasn’t popular. It was thought we should send a rich man to Washington, a great financial and social figure. Mr. King, doubtless advised by the wise Dr. Skelton, had a different notion. He wanted somebody who wouldn’t take years to find out wrhat his job was about. Somebody who would know the technique of his post; who knew the history, traditions, problems and psychology of the American people. Somebody who realized there was Congress as well as the State Department and White House.

Loring Christie, who was educated at Harvard, who has spent most of his life in the External Affairs Department, who knows London, Geneva and Washington as well as he knows Ottawa, was pre-eminently this somebody.

Everybody, meanwhile, has forgotten about unemployment. and about relief; forgotten about even the Canadian National deficits. The Government is confident—and not unreasonably—that war deficits will not be too high; that improved business will bring greatly increased revenues; that the nation will be able to defray the bulk of war costs out of current income. The Government may be wrong— especially if the war lasts long—but there will be no repetition of the financial story of 1914-18. There will be

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Backstage at Ottawa

Continued from page 10

more of “pay-as-you-go” this time; with fewer domestic loans at high rates of interest.

Wfien the next session of Parliament is coming is problematical. Mr. King has said January for the regular session; but events at any time may change the schedule. The Cabinet, meantime, meets regularly, almost daily. Mr. King, deserting Kingsmere for Laurier House, has his light burning nightly in his East Parliament Block office; seems more fit and vigorous than for years. Whether or not, as some say, he is not adverse to the role of a War Prime Minister, there is no doubt about one thing: That he has surprised even his friends with a fresh, new energy.

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Maclean's Reg refs

TN THE September 15 issue of Maclean's

there appeared an article on the town of Mattawa and its people, in which reference was made to the Pigeon family.

Maclean's has received a letter from a member of the family which states: “Mr. Pigeon was one of the pioneer businessmen of Mattawa and one of its most esteemed and beloved citizens. After thirty years of a successful business life, when the Mattawa store books were closed, various citizens of Mattawa gained ten or twelve thousands of dollars that were never collected.

“Never did Mr. Pigeon, or his family, enjoy the life your writer described as ‘hag-ridden by debt,’ but lived and departed from Mattawa still owning property that had been theirs for twenty-five years.

“Many of the most important citizens in the North country owe their start in life to Mr. Pigeon’s interest and ability in business.”

To members of the Pigeon family Maclean's gladly apologizes and regrets any distress occasioned them.—The Editor.