Backstage at Ottawa


January 1 1941

Backstage at Ottawa


January 1 1941

Backstage at Ottawa



WITH Parliament Hill silent, and Christmas over, Ottawa is getting ready for its Sirois Report conference. It is getting ready with some doubt, not a little trepidation. Ottawa, somehow, has become chastened, a bit humble. The old ring of confidence, of complacency has gone out of the speeches of ministers. Some of them have become conscious of misgivings throughout the country.

When Mr. I Isle y cracked down on luxuries, the Government was deluged with letters of praise. The country, the letters said, would cheerfully accept sacrifice. But letters have followed telling that demand for sacrifices must be followed by appropriate policies; that there must be no waste; no extravagance; no patronage. Demands come, too, for a clarification of measures; for more information; for more evidence of purposeful planning.

The purpose of Mr. Ilsley’s trade and taxation changes was (1) to help Britain finance war purchases in Canada; (2) to help Canada finance war purchases in the United States. But they were but drops in the bucket. The real problem of controlling trade and production to war ends, including need of a policy with respect to consumer goods and war goods, plus need of a policy with respect to skilled workers in war industries and skilled workers in non-war industries, has still to be solved.

Parliament Talks

T>ARLIAMENT? Parliament talked. It did not grapple with the crucial aircraft production problem; did not grapple with any of the basic problems. It was content with long speeches— and statistics.

Mr. Hanson, well-intentioned, was powerless to compel facts. When he asked for a committee to examine the Government’s war effort, Mr. King objected; said the British, who knew about such things, were opposed to committees. Mr. Hanson subsided. Only when a member of the Press Gallery informed him that the British had had a committee on war expenditure from the beginning of the war, did he return to suggest a similar committee. Mr. King, who apparently had known no more than Mr. Hanson had known of the British practice! surrendered with good grace.

But this committee, unfortunately, won’t get down to work until next session. Also, important as it will be —there are all too many hints of waste and extravagance in some of the war departments—it will not be nearly as important as a committee on the broader aspects of the war effort might have been, and still could be.

The Labor Problem

MEANWHILE, a labor problem has become acute. A National Registration, taken last August, has not yet at this writing been tabulated.

A Mobilization of Resources measure, announced last June, has not mobilized workers. Instead there have been strikes (sometimes in war industries); threatened strikes; demands for higher wages; conciliation boards. Recently,

•fimost at the eleventh hour, a new deputy Minister of I^abor, Bryce ewart. has been getting his teeth into problem, promises (at this writing) some headway. There is to be, apparently, a wage ceiling for workers, plus a bonus if living costs rise. There is to be, as well, a plan for the training of workers, a survey to discover labor needs.

Bryce Stewart, aided by a few able technicians, inherited the grief of a lack of planning. Orders were let right and left without thought of the man-hours required to produce them; without much thought of the plant to produce them. Now. at long last, with threatened chaos compelling action, there is to be something of planned action.

Mr. Ilowe and the Planners

MR. HOWE’S case is a bit baffling. A terrific worker, daring, never sparing himself, inside observers have begun telling that he is over-optimistic, that he tries to do too much. They claim that he lacks knowledge of basic conditions and limitations, or ignores them; that he launches upon projects without adequate planning; that his promises too often exceed his capacity for fulfillment. Further, complaint is heard that Mr. Howe keeps too much of his own counsel, that he is contemptuous of advice, that he is too stubborn in his snap judgments.

How just these criticisms may be, is not easy to discover. Yet some of the complaint, much of it, comes from good sources.

Recently there was set up a War Requirements Committee. Composed of men like H. R. MacMillan, Timber Controller, Graham Towers, Governor of the Bank of Canada, Dr. W. C. Clark. Deputy Minister of Finance, R. A. C. Henry, of the Munitions Department, and Col. George Currie, executive assistant to Defense Minister Ralston, its job is to co-ordinate war effort, to give it plan and purpose.

This committee, filling an obvious need, was not the work of Mr. Howe. What the “inside” voices tell is that it was forced upon Mr. Howe; put through the Cabinet, without Mr. Howe’s support, by Defense Minister Ralston.

Then, significantly, an odd thing happened. Mr. Howe announced suddenly that he was going to England; going to find out for himself what England needed. But Mr. Howe wasn’t taking with him any member of the War Requirements Committee. The planners would all be left at home. Mr. Howe would take with him instead the members of his old Munitions Department staff, Colonel Harrison, Mr. Woodward, and Mr. Eddie Taylor.

Just what Mr. MacMillan thought about this is not known. Not publicly, at any rate. There is reason for believing that Mr. MacMillan didn’t think much of it. Which is important. The outstanding businessman in Ottawa these days, what Mr. MacMillan thinks makes a difference. There are those who insist that within a short time it may make an even greater difference.

Mr. MacMillan recently spoke to a conference of

Canadian lumbermen. The speech, unfortunately, was not reported. Yet those who heard it tell that it had some significant passages. For example, Mr. MacMillan said that democracy should have more leadership. Mr. MacMillan said further that a ship with too much cargo might sink. Some of his hearers thought he was hinting at unplanned war production; at a nation trying to do too many things, neglecting to concentrate on possible, vital things.

Mr. MacMillan may have been thinking of a somewhat mysterious visit to Ottawa recently by Sir Walter Layton, personal representative of Mr. Churchill. Sir Walter (so the inspired

voices tell) advised that Canada should concentrate on certain war production, go easy on certain other production. So convinced was Sir Walter about this that from Washington, where he went later, he sent Mr. Howe certain documents, detailing his advice.

In Parliament, Conservative Leader Hanson asked Prime Minister King about Sir Walter Layton’s visit. Had he offered the Government advice? And what was it? Mr. King was vague. Sir Walter Layton had paid Ottawa a “courtesy” visit, had lunched with Mr. King. But that was all. When Mr. Hanson asked innocently whether or not Sir Walter Layton submitted a certain memorandum, Mr. King wasn’t sure; the memorandum, in any event, would be “confidential.” Mr. Hanson forgot to ask,and Mr. King avoided stating, whether the advice offered was being taken. Seeing that this was the real point, it was a considerable omission.

Sir Walter Layton’s advice, it is told pretty authoritatively, has not been taken. It is added that this had not a little to do with the refusal of C. P. Chester to serve on Mr. Ralston's War Requirements Committee. Mr. Chester, after some months in Ottawa as Master General of the Ordnance, is back in Winnipeg.

Incidentally, the War Requirements Committee, of which Mr. MacMillan is so important a member, is pretty

limited in its powers. It has no executive authority. It reports to Mr. Howe; tells him what it thinks should be done; but with Mr. Howe, or with the War Committee of the Cabinet, rests the final decision. Mr. Howe, back from England, may not feel disposed to take the War Requirements Committee’s advice; may feel that he knows better. In that event, not at all unlikely in the light of the past, there may be in-

teresting developments. Indeed, it may be worth while to keep an eye on Mr. MacMillan. And upon Colonel Ralston. Colonel Ralston’s health, unfortunately, is none too good. It can be told here now (there has been no mention of it at this writing in the newspapers) that when he arrived in England recently he had to be taken to a hospital. For some time before leaving Canada he had been under his physician’s observation. Strain of terrific work (and Colonel Ralston never learned how to relax) has been taking its toll.

The Aircraft Picture

CLEAR-CUT, encouraging, in a somewhat blurred war effort picture, is the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Often on the verge of foundering, this project, considering its difficulties, has come through remarkably well. There were times when those directing it didn t know from day to day where the training planes were to come from. Yet come the planes did, some turned out in Canada, most bought from the United States; and now—surprising as it must seem to many—a few are coming from England. In the net result, the Commonwealth Training Plan is more than six months ahead of schedule. It stands as a tremendous tribute to the daring and resourcefulness of Air Minister Power, backed by the organizing drive of Acting Deputy Minister for Air Duncan.

Not so clear-cut, far less encouraging, is the aircraft production picture. Aircraft production is cursed, paralyzed by red tape; by lack of authority concentrated in one man; by lack of a definite policy. Ralph Bell, able and energetic, is “Director of Aircraft Production.” His title means little. Given authority, Mr. Bell, on the evidence of aircraft producers, could get things done. He has not been given authority. He lacks power to select his technical advisers. He lacks power to decide upon aircraft types. He lacks power even to select his own private secretary.

In England, Lord Beaverbrook can slash through red tape. He can tell the technical people what he wants them to do. He can tell the aircraft factories the type of plane he wants. He can cut through paralyzing red tape to get things done. No Civil Service Commission selects his staff. No minister or Air Ministry Department challenges his authority. No minister over him reviews his decisions. His word is final—law.

Ralph Bell has no such power. He is a trouble-shooter; has plenty of grief; works desperately hard. But he must share authority; must debate and discuss and argue; must submit his decisions to Minister of Munitions Howe. Mr. Howe, Minister of Air Power, Deputy Minister of Air Duncan, engineers of the Air Department—all come into the picture. ‘‘Too many cooks spoil ...”

Added to this lack of concentrated authority, to divided authority, and to red tape generally, there is the attitude of the British. The British, for some extraordinary reason, have not been clearcut about the type of plane they want Canada to make. They have refused this type and that, objected to this type and that, have been seemingly incapable of reaching a decision. Perhaps when Mr. Howe returns from London, he will have the matter settled. Oddly enough, Mr. Howe did not take with him to London Ralph Bell.

Some aircraft progress is being made. Canadian Car and Foundry is getting along with Hawker Hurricanes. The Tiger Moth and Fleet primary training planes have been turned out in fair quantities. Where the trouble comes in, with plenty more promised, is in production of more advanced trainers, plus fighters and bombers. The difficulty is not in engines. Engines can be secured from the United States for as many planes as we can make; and a large United States aircraft engine corporation is planning a plant in Canada. The trouble is in deciding upon types of ¡lianes and giving the aircraft industry the green light. It is a matter, largely, of giving one man authority to go ahead; giving him the responsibility to get things done.

“A Chastened Minister”

MEANWHILE Mr. “Jimmie” Gardiner, trying to run two departments —Agriculture and War Services—has more than his share of woe. A resilient politician, scarred in the rough arena of Saskatchewan, he may emerge triumphant, but at this writing he is a pretty chastened minister. Chief source of Mr. Gardiner’s trouble is that when he became Minister of War Services he took his job too seriously. Mr. King asked him to take it; made a speech in the Cabinet saying how overpoweringly imjxmtant it was, with Mr. Gardiner the man for it. Mr. Gardiner, exalted by this faith in him, went to work vigorously. Too vigorously.

Mr. Gardiner began with his National Registration. Having finished with that (the registration cards are not yet tabulated), he launched his training scheme, one day sent a request to the Defense Department for a large number of N.C.O.’s and officers to train his trainees. The Defense Department wasn’t amused. The Defense Department decided that it, not Mr. Gardiner, was training soldiers—put his request for N.C.O.’s and officers into a pigeonhole; or wastebasket.

After that, things went indifferently for Mr. Gardiner. As Minister of War Services he had little to do with calling out men for training (the Defense Department took over), so one day. in the midst of the training, Mr. Gardiner ¡lacked his bags and set out for London. He was going

to see what could be done over there about our cheese and bacon.

In Ixmdon, Mr. Gardiner got out of touch with the training schemeand the Cabinet. He apparently did not know that an acute labor problem had developed in his absence; that the Government had decided to whittle down on training; that emphasis was being placed on the needs of industry. To make matters worse, Mr. Gardiner, back home, neglected to acquaint himself with the new policy, got up before a microphone to make a speech. It was a go(xi speech, except that it didn’t jibe with speeches being made by Mr. Gardiner’s colleagues; barked at a speech made two days before by Minister of Defense Ralston.

The curious thing here is that Mr. Gardiner didn’t trouble to show his speech to his colleagues before making it. He was speaking—strange irony—on “Facing the Facts,” but overlooked certain facts that had developed in his absence, not to mention the fact of collective Cabinet responsibility.

Mr. Gardiner, it will be remembered, said some hard things to industry. He told it, in effect, to stop complaining about men called up for training; said such talk “should be stopped;” said that machines would be useless if there were no soldiers to use them; told “factory managers” that if they couldn’t do their jobs without keeping men from training, they “weren’t good enough for wartime.”

What Mr. Ralston said when he read Mr. Gardiner’s speech is not recorded.

Which is a pity. What industry said was recorded in the newspapers, and little of it was complimentary to Mr. Gardiner. Making matters worse, the newspa¡x?rs, including Government newspapers, took sides with industry, and so— judging it by its actions—did the Government. Mr. Gardiner was in the “doghouse.” What he thinks about it all, he has not stated.

Ottawa is Bulging

OTTAWA, meanwhile, has taken on all the panoply of a war capital. It overflows with war officials, members of war committees, technical advisers, officers, secretaries, clerks, stenographers. Morning and night, long queues stand before the desk of the Chateau Laurier seeking a room, or a bed in a room, or even a couch in a corridor. Rooming and lodging houses are filled. Scores of an ever-growing army of employees live across the river in Hull, or far out on the Aylmer Road, or still farther out in the suburbs. Some have found rooms in private hospitals.

And still new buildings—war offices— spring up; sprawl along the banks of the Ottawa River. The Department of Munitions alone has over 900 employees. The Department of Information cannot keep its directory of committees up-to-date. Parliament Hill and Wellington Street and Sparks Street teem with strange faces. So many new offices have sprung up; committees and boards have become so numerous and far-flung; the Press Gallery can’t keep track of them. What it will be like a year hence, or two years, is a frightening speculation.