GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK October 15 1940
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK October 15 1940

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

IF HUMILITY be the beginning of wisdom, the Government’s experience with the last war loan may have been good for our Cabinet Ministers. It shocked them out of complacency, out of the extraordinary delusion that the country was hanging upon their every word, filled with admiration for their achievements.

The Cabinet’s brilliant idea about the successful launching of the loan was that every minister (reinforced by Liberal senators and M.P.’s) should go on the radio and platform and make a speech about it. No one could tell these great and wise men about publicity or propaganda or advertising. The country didn't want to read advertising, or deal with businessmen or local loan committees; it wanted light, leading and wisdom from politicians.

The possibility of some people objecting to politicians, and especially to politicians who were all of one party, and reacting accordingly, didn’t as much as occur to them. Governments are like that. Cut off from real public contacts, surrounded by “yes” men and sycophants, they have little idea of what the people really think of them. They see themselves as heroes and martyrs, wearers of hair shirts, admired and reverenced by the multitude.

As a debunker of this strange hallucination, the loan was highly effective. In the end it succeeded, but only after chastened politicians, completely deflated, got down to hard realities, and to common sense appeals and salesmanship. The next loan, when it comes (and it will come early in the New Year), will not be launched by speeches from politicians.

As it is, many Ottawa observers have become convinced that only a National Government, appealing to all sections of the country, will be capable of raising the vast war loans to be called for in the future. Their argument is that a straight party government, no matter how good it may be. cannot command the support and the co-operation that would go to a National Government; cannot do the things —such as the abolition of all patronage and retrenchment in ordinary expenditure—which the people expect before putting up their money.

Records of loans during the last war give support to this contention. This is the story:

Sir Robert Borden’s Union Government launched what was known as the “First Victory Loan” in the latter part of 1917, asked for 150 millions. The response was that 820,000 subscribers put up 398 million dollars, or about fifty dollars for every man, woman and child in the country.

A second “Victory Loan came in 1918, asked for 300 millions. The answer was more than one million subscrijx tions with 660 million dollars, more than seventy-five dollars per head of population.

A third Victory Loan, in 1919, asked for 300 millions. The response was 678 millions, or ninety dollars per head of population.

In other words, a Union Government which called for

750 millions got a response of 1,736 millions—nearly three times more than it asked.

In 1917-19 Canada’s taxation was not what it is today. On the other hand. Canada’s 1917-19 national income and Imputation were not what they are today; we have more wealth now, more production, three millions more people. It was not heavy taxation alone which stopped the publicgiving the Government 300 million dollars more quickly than it was given. There were—must have been—other reasons.

Planning Needed

"CH)R EXAMPLE: Many are beginning to ask whether

the Government, in its war spending, has a definite plan, or whether it is spending planlessly, without rhyme or reason. Of the national income, so much is being spent for war, so much for ordinary services. What is being challenged increasingly is whether anybody in the Cabinet, or near it, is sitting down to figure out the amount that should be spent on each branch of war effort, or which branch of war effort is most vital, calling for more to be spent.

If such planning exists, there is no sign of it. The military, the naval service, the air training plan, the supply ministry, all are expanding; but nobody seems to know which of these services is the most vital war contribution, demanding the greatest expansion. Each department seems to be working separately, independent of the other; with the respective heads of all the departments anxious to make their own the biggest, and consequently the most expensive.

By common consent, development of the air training plan, with production of aircraft and mechanical supplies, must be our greatest war contribution. Yet nobody seems to be making certain that the lion's share of what we have to spend shall be spent on mechanical supplies and air training; vast sums are being poured out for soldiers, and for soldiers’ supplies, plus a training scheme that may or may not turn out to be efficient. The result, unquestionably, is a sort of hit-and-miss growth; uncertainty and confusion. There is the spectacle of the compulsory training scheme barking at the need for skilled workers in war industries; the military running counter to the Government’s expert advisers on tabor.

Enter the Experts

MEANWHILE, growth of the personnel of war services is staggering. Months ago the Bureau of Information put out a directory of war committees, subcommittees, lx>ards, bureaus, and technical advisers. The directory filled three foolscap sheets of closely typewritten names, with the rank and file—clerks, stenographers, publicity men, etc.—not mentioned.

Since then a fresh army of experts and members of committees have descended upon Ottawa; “dollar-a-year” men and tenand twentydollar-a-day men; controllers of this, that, and the other thing; business executives, buying experts, technical advisers. The Chateau Laurier lobby, Ottawa's clubs. Wellington Street and Sparks Street are full of strange faces; men who have come from all parts of Canada to run some branch of war effort.

Watching and meeting them all, the wonder is that anybody at all is left back home to run business and industry.

These men. doubtless, are gcxxi men; performing good service. But why there should be such a horde of them, why it should take a committee or a subcommittee to look after almost anything, is, to say the least, puzzling.

Despite the many vast buildings that have gone up in

Ottawa in recent years, office space is at a premium. North of Wellington Street, on the banks of the Ottawa River, great new temporary wooden structures sprawl over acres. They are all occupied. The new two-million-dollar Supreme Court Building, for which Supreme Court judges waited seventy years, is now given over to war services. School buildings have been taken over; commercial buildings have been commandeered; tenants turned out of apartments. Yet the cry is for more space. For more office room for more and still more committees. The thing is all but frightening.

Whether the Cabinet, collectively, knows what these committees are doing, or how or why they are doing it, or at what cost, is doubtful. That they can have any day-today picture of such a vast, intricate, cumbersome machine, is impossible. A safe wager would be that Prime Minister King doesn’t know the names of one tenth of them.

There is a lot of headline “hooey” in some of the things being done. Take, as an example, the national registration, which has been praised so highly. The public, no doubt, has the impression that as a result of this registration the Government already has a clear, statistical picture of the country’s man-power; can put its finger on mostly anybody for any class of war service at any time it pleases.

Nothing could be more inaccurate. The actual position at this writing is that they are only now putting up a new building for the classification of the cards (tenders for the building were let after the registration was completed), with the likelihood that the building won’t be ready until November and the cards not classified until January or February. Yet the public, largely because it prefers headlines to facts, or likes to be fooled, thinks that as a result of the national registration, the Government already knows all about our man-power.

Howe . . . Ralston . . . Power

THIS DOESN’T mean that war effort isn’t being speeded. It is. Minister of Supply Howe, the hardestworked man in the Cabinet, and the toughest, continues to let contracts for staggering figures; goes on building vast, streamlined factories; looks upon a million-dollar order as practically small change. Just how Mr. Howe stands up under the strain of eighteen hours of -work a day, with llights here and there in between, and his luncheon and dinner hours but incidental to conferences, is a mystery. Yet on week-ends he finds time to run out to the Royal Ottawa Golf Club for eighteen holes of golf; occasionally for thirty-six holes.

So it is with Minister of Defense Ralston. A prodigious worker, Ralston’s weakness is his slavishness to detail. He must hear everything, read everything, understand everything himself. Those who work with him sw'ear by him, and at him; swear by his earnestness and industry; swear at his propensity to smother himself with trifles. No amount of help, they hold, could possibly make a difference to him; had he the ablest and best staff in the world he would still kill himself with detail. Living alone in an apartment in the centre of the city, Ralston walks to his office before eight o’clock in the morning; takes lunch at his desk (his associates say that he can manipulate a telephone, a writing pad and a sandwich all at the one time); has a glass of milk brought in to him at seven o’clock in the evening, works through until long after midnight; then carries a file of work home with him.

The antithesis of Ralston, and the surprise of Ottawa, is Air Minister Power. Twenty years ago “Chubby” Power, a broth of a tad back from the Great War, was the playboy of Ottawa. Today he is a brilliant, driving minister, resourceful and innovating at his desk, decisive and masterful in cabinet. Power, cutting through red tape and irreverent of military formula,

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Backstage at Ottawa

reaches his desk while Ottawa sleeps, at six o’clock in the morning. By three o’clock in the afternoon, his desk swept clean, he takes a drive in the country. In this way, he says, he keeps lit, alert.

T he Orator of the Cabinet

"Kii’EAN WHILE Angus Macdonald, the poetic Gael from Nova Scotia, is finding his sea legs in the Naval Department, becoming the while the orator of the Cabinet. An example of his felicitous style is this passage from the introduction of his recent speech in Vancouver:

“We maritime people, whether we belong to the Eastern or the Western seashore, are never wholly happy when separated from the sight and sound of the sea. I never look on this great Western city, this Imperial city of yours, with its long harbor, its great river, its brooding mountains standing sentinel over the whole majestic scene, without thinking of Kipling’s great lines about the city of Halifax:

Into the mist my guardian prows put forth.

Behind the mist my virgin ramparts lie.

The warden of the honor of the North;

Secret and veiled am I.

“If that other city by another sea is the warden of the honor of the North, you here are the wardens of the West. Between us we hold the coasts of Canada, and we are determined that those shores which our fathers explored and subdued shall never know the tread of a foreign invader. We must be free or die, we who have the blood of the sea.”

Ottawa has one other orator—W. L. Brockington. Brockington is supposed to be Mr. King’s special adviser, his so-called “right hand;” though malicious Tories describe him as the “Prime Minister’s tongue.” Whatever he is, his gifts of eloquence are extraordinary, though for some mysterious reason he is kept off the radio. Recently he went down to Philadelphia to the meeting of the American

Bar Association, and by all accounts swept his audience off its feet by the power and beauty of his oratory. His theme was Canadian and Anglo-American relations, and since his return home letters have been coming from all parts of the United .States pleading for more of his speeches. Whether he will be permitted to leave the anonymity of his job beside Mr. King, is doubtful.

Preliminary reports and recommendations of the Canada-United States defense committee are already in the hands of President Roosevelt and Prime Minister King. How soon they will be made public, if at all, is not known; though judging by Mr. Hanson’s recent speech at the Toronto Exhibition a demand will be made for them in Parliament. There is some talk of their including a recommendation about the building of the St. Lawrence Waterway, but this is extremely doubtful.

Meanwhile they are preparing for the meeting of Parliament, scheduled fot November. How long it will remain in session, and what it will say or do, nobody knows. Mr. King is still at Kingsmere.