GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 1 1940
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 1 1940

Backstage at Ottawa

GENERAL ARTICLES

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

TO TELL that Ottawa, as this is written, is in the midst of crisis is to put it mildly. The “quietest war capital in Christendom” has become a cauldron of excitement: disillusioned, shocked from its complacency. Day by day, as the shadow of the Swastika lengthens across the English Channel, old shibboleths, old comfortable delusions, go overboard. Where once reigned smugness, self-satisfaction, there is now a wholesome fear; with it, fortunately, more of war stir and vigor.

Mr. King, watching storm signals of public unrest, considers reorganization of his Government. New names are before him; names such as H. R. McMillan, Vancouver industrialist, of Morris Wilson, Montreal banker. Whether Mr. King’s pondering of these names, plus his pondering of other things, will be translated into action, with new men in a new War Cabinet succeeding the existing setup, is not yet clear,

Mr. King, extraordinarily taciturn, is under heavy fire. Fresh from the greatest election triumph in Canadian history, his war leadership is suddenly challenged. It is said now (only a few said it in the election) that he has an “Asquithian temperament”; that he isn’t the man to “make war”; that he “must” reorganize his Government.

Just what Mr. King thinks about this, or will do about it, nobody (at this writing) knows. He may try to weather the storm. Everything depends upon events.

The real cause of a cabinet shake-up—if it comes—won’t be Canadian public clamor, or any Liberal party revolt, or some “palace revolution.” It will be events in Europe. In other words, to put it starkly, an evacuation in Ottawa will only follow some grave Allied evacuation in France. Whether Mr. King fully realizes public sentiment, is to be doubted. Apparently he is still under the spell of his election victory. He sees few people likely to tell him that his popularity has waned. He believes he is doing a good job.

One thing is obvious: The chances of Mr. Ralston’s succeeding Mr. King are dwindling. Ralston’s prestige in Montreal and Toronto, high deservedly, doesn’t extend to Ottawa. He is able, industrious, devoted desperately to duty, but in Ottawa he is not regarded as a leader. It is said of him that he is too much a slave of detail; that he is inclined to be slow in action; that he has no imaginative sweep of a large field; that, in short, he lacks inspiration. Whether this judgment be just or unjust, the relevant thing, so far as leadership is concerned, is that it exists. And it will deny him the Premiership. Ralston’s place, actually, is in the Department of National Defense. There, as a veteran soldier, he would be at home; should be effective.

Gone Is Complacency

DEHIND the talk of cabinet reorganization the Government is struggling to meet the “Blitzkrieg” crisis. Gone is the complacency, the pitiable lack of realism which affected everybody. Gone the plans for action which was to materialize in 1941 or 1942.

The illusions of a “comfortable” war smashed beyond recall. Ottawa is improvising desperately.

We are not merely to have a third division; we are to have a fourth (apparently for home defense). The Empire Air Training Plan is being rushed to provide pilots as quickly as humanly possible. There is argument over tanks, and over aircraft and aircraft engines, and over small arms ammunition, and over shells and other things. We are shipping fighting planes back to Britain. Our navy, which has been doing a good job all along, has been rushed into fighting service in United Kingdom waters.

Administrative upheavals in key departments have already taken place or are impending. Foremost among these is a shake-up of the war administration; of the administrative heads of war effort.

At this writing, members of the cabinet, notably Supply Minister Howe, are working on a new setup: directors of aircraft construction, war supplies, naval construction. By the time this is being read Ralph Bell, of Halifax, may be Director of Aircraft Production—the Canadian equivalent of Lord Beaverbrook under Churchill; a Toronto industrialist may be director of war supplies.

Meanwhile, a shake-up has already started in the defense services. Chief of Air Staff Croil has been

succeeded by Air Commodore Breadner, and there will be other changes. Captain G. C. (“Chubby”) Power didn’t rise from being a batman in the last war to Air Minister in this war without a lot of drive. Already he and his new deputy, J. S. Duncan, have put new life into our air effort.

There are signs also that the defense shake-up will not end with the Air Ministry. Changes are already being suggested in the staffs of the Defense Department— where they are badly needed.

And many other things are happening, some of them revolutionary. The Empire Air Training Plan has been stripped of its Empire façade; has become, of necessity, a Canadian Plan, dependent entirely upon Canadian enterprise, upon the resources of North America. Mr. Duncan has put the best face on what has happened. “The United Kingdom,” said he, “has reluctantly informed us that as a precautionary measure she is suspending, for the time being, supplying of the aircraft which she was to send us for training purposes as her contribution tow-ard the cost of the $600,000,000 Empire air scheme . . .

“Immediate action is being taken to greatly increase Canadian aircraft industry, not only to take the place, where possible, of the machines which the United Kingdom was to have sent for the Training Plan, but to provide the Mother Country with an ever-increasing number of fighter and bomber craft for active service . . . ”

Canada’s War Now

THERE is more here than meets the eye. Britain, under the Empire Air Training Plan, was to have provided training aircraft (or most of them), aircraft parts, aircraft engines and instructors. Today Britain, her Air Force gallantly fighting a numerically superior German Air Force, needs all her planes and pilots at home. She can’t send machines. And she can’t send instructors. As a consequence, the Empire Air Training Plan becomes a Canadian Air Training Plan; must shift, on this continent, for itself.

How is it shifting? To begin with, the aircraft engines for needed planes, not made in Canada, are to come from the United States. They have already been secured, or arranged for—thousands of them; Mr. Franklin Roosevelt, sitting in Washington and wratching this war, and especially this war as it affects this continent, could possibly explain. Mr. Roosevelt, it is said, sometimes speaks to Ottawa—by telephone. At any rate, the engines will be there whenever we want them, with Canada’s job being to make aircraft frames for them. The frames? Ask Mr. Duncan. Or Minister of Air Power. Or Minister of Supply Howe. They tell—believe it or not—that Canada can make the aircraft frames; turn out 2.000 of them this coming year. Said Mr. Duncan:

“In order to obviate delays, special powers have been granted to the Department of Transport and to the Department of Munitions and Supply ...”

Just w'hat orders Canadian aircraft plants have on hand right now, is not clear. Just what their production of aircraft is right now, is equally unclear. The point, so far as this Notebook is concerned, is that Messrs. Duncan, Power and Howe are confident of their planes. And of instructors, too. Instructors on this continent.

Which suggests what? Mostly that there are goings-on these days between Ottawa and Washington. There are talks, conversations; talks that have to do with common defense problems—the defense problems of joint tenants of North America. They are not political talks. They have nothing to do with union. They are the sort of conversations that nave gone on for years—and go on today— between France and Britain; talks without John Bull taking Marianne to his bed and board, or vice versa.

The truth is that Ottawa has been shocked into realism. Shocked into recognition that if Canada is to make war as a North American nation she must not expect Britain to make war for her; must expect instead to use her own plants and resources, and equip her own armies and think of her own defenses. That is why at tins moment Ottawa, thrown back on its own resources by unforeseen circumstances, has begun to wage war differently.

Disillusionment

"pOR EIGHT months Ottawa was fed on bedtime stories about Germany’s impending collapse. The thing began in the beginning. London told Ottawa, right at the outset, that this was an economic war. It wanted credits, and certain foodstuffs, and air pilots and planes, and some technical workers and mechanics (all this was explained in Maclean’s last September). Troops were not important. Ottawa, which declared war “on its own,” and which talked proudly about “sovereignty” and “status,” fell in with this idea. Declaring war “on its own” and making war “on its own” were apparently two different things.

Members of a British mission came to Canada. They exuded optimism. Germany didn’t have this and she didn’t have that; there was likely to be a revolution over there any day—and so on and so forth.

The optimism was contagious. Canadian cabinet ministers read Mr. Hore-Belisha’s comforting talk about “winning the war comfortably.” Hon. T. A. Crerar went to England to find out about things, returned brimming with confidence. True, they told him the war might be long, but the “blockade” woüld take care of it. Mr. Crerar’s conversations centred around bacon and wheat; about whether the Winnipeg market should be closed or remain open.

Finally, there was the press—and Mr. Churchill. From Monday to Saturday the newspapers starved out Germany in their headlines, and Mr. Churchill, with his radio audience, took over on Sunday. Correspondents in London were evidently not interested in news; in facts. Instead they ladled out the stuff of the British Ministry of Information; stuff compounded of tales of impending German revolution or impending German starvation, plus the opinions of retired major-generals. No matter what happened, everything (according to the British Ministry of Information) was for the best in the best of all wars.

For two w’eeks after Norway’s invasion London correspondents (including the correspondents of the Canadian Press) cabled the most monstrous nonsense. They captured Narvik. They shelled Oslo. They put a ring of steel around Trondheim. And they captured Hamar. They did all this by landing three divisions of British troops (there wras actually less than one division). They parrot ted the cry that Hitler had “stuck out his neck.”

So it was. When the truth about Norway became known, Canadians w’ere shocked rudely out of complacency; betrayed by headlines and ‘\vishful thinking.” Belgium was to shock them even more. They had gone through an election imagining that everything was well. They had heard ministers tell them how much the country was spending, and of the things it was buying—and selling—and mostly

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they were satisfied. Mr. King and his colleagues might not be too “hot,” but they were “doing a good job economically” and maintaining Canadian “unity.” Why not leave well enough alone?

Today all that is gone. Disillusioned, feeling that they have been let down, people today are angry, look for the inevitable “goat.” All of a sudden spectral “Fifth Columns” have appeared on every horizon; political giants have become dwarfs; recriminations flourish.

All this is the result of nine months of “sitzkrieg.” But now the lightning has struck and Ottawa—like London, like Paris—rides the whirlwind.

Little decisive in the immediate politica outcome will be—or can be—the Conservative opposition. That party, whose total membership could be taken to Parliament Hill in three or four taxicabs, is as weak in quality as in quantity. Mr. Hanson, its temporary House leader, is a competent parliamentarian, but behind him is little of strength. Dr. Manion, who might have

been helpful at this time, was left lying on the field. Manion’s treatment by the party, for which he had fought gallantly, if not effectively, was shabby. Like Meighen in 1926 and Bennett in 1937, he was handed his hat, not even asked what was his hurry. The process was as clumsy as it was ungallant.

For a few days after the session’s opening, there was talk of Meighen returning to the Commons. Meighen himself, speaking in the Senate, volunteered his services—to the Government; or to some Government. But Mr. King was silent. Meighen, twenty-five years ago, had shown some genius for annoying certain people. Those “certain people” were now powerful in the councils of Mr. King. Why summon the ghost of conscription?

So the once great Conservative party, potent in the last war, is impotent in this one; reduced to a band of guerrilla warriors, powerless to impose its will upon either Parliament or the Government. It is a victim of one of the upheavals brought in an hour of revolutionary change.