Backstage at Ottawa


Backstage at Ottawa


Backstage at Ottawa


ODDEST of the changes that have come in Ottawa these past weeks is a change in Prime Minister King. He has taken on a new war vigor. His speeches have a new ring.

First signs of this transformation, at first a hit startling, came following the visit to Ottawa of Australia’s dynamic Mr. Menzies. Mr. King sat in obvious discomfort at the Ottawa Canadian Club while Menzies’ ringing “all out” war speech drew thunderous cheers. He sat in equally obvious discomfort when the House of Commons, thrilled by Menzies’ fighting sentences, all but surged to the Australian to kiss the hem of his garments. What did this mean?

What Mr. King thought it meant is not known. But what Ottawa observers did not fail to note was that Mr. King’s speeches thereafter took on a sterner note; became more sharp, more passionate. Thus his war survey at the close of the session was easily his ablest, his performance before the Canadian Club in New York a first-rank effort. For once Canada hit the front pages and the editorial pages of the big United States dailies.

This, Ottawa thinks, is important. Mr. King, as Prime Minister, sets the war temjx) of the Cabinet. So long as there was no anger in his war drive, no resolute vigor or passion, there was bound to be the same lack in his ministers. With Mr. King at last seemingly aroused, more activity, more stirring stuff is expected from his ministers.

One thing is certain. There is less complacency in Government circles these days than at any time since the war’s beginning. Ministers are not so sure now that they are always right and their critics always wrong. They are not so sure that the country is one-hundred-per-cent behind them. They are beginning to move out of their watertight compartments in Ottawa to hear what is being said in the country. If. as somebody has said, humility is the beginning of wisdom, the situation is encouraging.

Two recent incidents are credited with the Cabinet’s changed attitude. These:

A committee of citizens organized and directed a campaign to raise a $600,000,000 war loan, went over the top.

The Government organized and directed a campaign to raise 32,000 new recruits, is failing—at this writing—to go over the top.

Whether the contrast here told (as some of the Government’s critics allege) that Canadians are more behind the war effort than behind the Government, make a distinction between the two, is debatable. The important and valuable thing is that it shook the Government’s complacency.

Just how much good this will do, and how it will manifest itself, remains to be seen. For example,

Ottawa wonders what the Government will do in the event that Mr.

Ralston does not get his 32,000 recruits. These recruits may or may not be vital, there is some doubt about that. The point, however, is that Mr. Ralston told the country they were vital, that need for them was imperative, urgent. In the event of failure, or even partial failure, a new story about their not being vital, not imperative nor urgent, will not be so good. Not so good for the Government.

Yet failure or no failure, Ottawa is convinced that this Government

will not go in for conscription. This is the view of those closest to Mr. King; the even stronger view of those closest to Mr. Lapointe Mr. Lapointe, they tell confidently, would quit the Government rather than support conscription, and Mr. King, they tell even more confidently, would stand by Mr. Lapointe. Canadian politics being what they are at present, that—if true -seems to settle the matter.

Supporting this view is Mr. King’s latest cabinet appointment. Mr. Joseph Thorson, the new Minister of War Services, is an able young man. He is also a thickand-thin party man, one whose loyalty to his leader admits of no question. In the event of cabinet or party doubt over conscription there can be no doubt at all where Mr. Thorson would stand. He would stand with Mr. King— and Mr. Lajx)inte.

And Mr. Thorson’s appointment told more than a hardening against conscription; it told a hardening as well against thought of National Government. Twice during the past year Mr. King toyed with the idea of a stronger, non-party cabinet. The idea has been abandoned. Mr. King’s notion now seems to be the injection ol more vigor in his straight party cabinet; proof to the public of what a party cabinet can do

Russia and Quebec

AyTEANWHILE Mr. King, his throne secure for the present, has made up his mind to go West and make some speeches. Apparently he has also decided not to go to London. Reason for his decision about London is not clear. Mr. Churchill tried to arrange an Imperial War Council for July or August; reported that both Mackenzie King and Smuts had said they were too busy at home to attend. Mr. King’s attitude seems odd, to say the least, particularly in view of the fact very many close to him think it would be a good and spectacular thing if he should take off some day in the Clipper.

One explanation offered is that Mr. King attaches decisive weight to the position of the United States; thinks he should keep in close touch with Mr. Roosevelt. He argues, it is told, that what the United States can do for Britain under the Hyde Park agreement is much greater than anything he could do for Britain by flying over to London—in which case he may be right. Right, if it can be shown that success of the Hyde Park agreement—under which the United States is buying more and more of war supplies from Canada—depends upon Mr. King sticking close to Ottawa.

Mr. King’s pillow is not made less uneasy by Hitler’s war on Stalin. Stalin is not exactly a saint in the eyes of Quebec, where Communism is as detestable as Nazism, and Canadian aid to the Soviets must therefore be handled with some delicacy. Mr. King, always sensitive to Quebec opinion, and with uncanny understanding of it for an Anglo-Saxon, put his right foot forward from the beginning with this statement:

“The Christian faith, Catholic or Protestant, depends

for its survival upon the destruction of Nazism. Every force which fights Hitler today is fighting for . . . the preservation of Christian civilization.”

This was the right touch, and no evidence has come as yet that Quebec is not responding to it. Also, it may be that Quebec remembers that Mr. King has not been altogether rough with the representative in Ottawa of Vichy; reasons that it should meet him halfway.

Otherwise, Russia as an ally against Nazism has thus far made little visible evidence in

Canada’s war-effort tempo. No sign comes of thought in Ottawa of possible consequent developments touching Canada’s Pacific coastline, or of possible co-operation between the United States and the Dominion to get bombers and fighters to Russia by way of Alaska. Maybe Washington has thought about it; it seems certain—at this writing that Ottawa hasn’t. Mr. King making a tour of the West’s military camps and Mr. Hanson inspecting whatever may be left of Western Conservative ramparts, really has no war significance. None, at all events that, will make much difference to Stalin—or to Hitler.

Meanwhile, Mr King seems to have changed his mind about the need of Canadian war publicity in the United States. Perhaps the British—who took Sir Gerald Campbell from Washington and put him in New York to direct their war publicity—had a heart to heart talk with him. At any rate there is a Canadian newspaper man attached to the Canadian embassy in Washington now, and Canadian speakers are going over to the States to talk to American audiences, and Mr. King himself has been at New York and Princeton.

The danger is that Mr. King will consider his two speeches— which were excellent-as sufficient, whereas the truth is that outside of the New York newspapers, which played them up, they got practically no space in the papers in Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco. In California, with its eleven million people, and with its great aircraft industry, they are said to hardly know that Canada is at war.

Perhaps Mr. Thorson, the new Minister for War Services, which includes the long-neglected Department of Public Information, will try to make a difference. Mr. Thorson can know little about the technique of propaganda, but he may have enough good sense to give the department’s director, Mr. Herb Lash, a freer hand. For months and months Mr. Lash has had a carefully prepared plan of publicity in the press and on the platform and by films and radio. A plan which, executed intelligently, would be good for the national morale.

Mr. Lash, for example, would tell the country between sessions of Parliament about the progress of the war effort; tell them factually and objectively. Indeed, in the judgment of many here, Mr. Lash could do that usefully even when Parliament is sitting, the House of Commons not being difficult to scoop.

A beginning, say the critics, could be made with the production of aircraft—a part of the war effort which Parliament seemingly overlooked. Director of Aircraft Production Ralph Bell flew to England in a bomber and back again, but though he was back before Parliament adjourned no one seems to have thought it worth while to ask the Government what word, or what gain, he brought back with him. Indeed, apart from Minister of Munitions Howe, it is doubtful whether any member of the cabinet knows much about Mr. Bell’s trip, or troubled to get an account from him. Meanwhile, preparations are said to be under way to have the aircraft industry try its hand on a new bomber —a plan about which there is doubt in certain quarters; this on the ground .of delay. On the other hand it is argued by some who ought to know that no sense exists in Canadian aircraft factories continuing to turn out planes that are all but obsolete (they are turning out thirteen different types of aircraft now): that the time has come for a real worth-while effort. Meanwhile nothing is heard of the famous Federal Aircraft; nothing except that—at this writing—no complcte-

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ly Canadian-made Avro Anson plane has yet taken the air.

Less Labor Trouble?

PARLIAMENT, apparently, forgot about these things. Also, it forgot to ask about the real position in production of tanks, whether they will soon be coming off a “production line” and if so, how fast; and whether tank guns will be ready for them. Further, Parliament forgot to ask—except for one question by a Social Credit member—about a transaction under which the Government paid out $500,000 to an Ottawa brewery company for a piece of land which the Ottawa municipality assessed at $16,000. True, the transaction took place before the war, and in addition to the land the brewery company had equipment assessed at an additional $104,000, but, on the other hand, the money wasn’t paid over until recently—and, in war, it was a powerful lot of money.

Mr. King’s explanation, given to Parliament, was that the Government’s expropriation of adjoining property had enenhanced the value of brewery company’s land, but many in Ottawa wonder why it should have enhanced it from an assessment of $16,000, exclusive of equipment— which the Government didn’t take—to $500,000.

On the purely economic front the war picture seems improved. Growing talk about labor troubles and strikes, leaves the Government calm. The Government argues that Canada had fewer strikes in 1940 than countries like Australia and the United States; that there will be still fewer strikes in 1941; and that thus far this year only about 16,000 working hours have been lost through strikes in actual war industries. Whether the Government’s position, and complacency, is as good as it says—the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association evidently doesn’t

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agree with it—one thing may be said safely. It is that Minister of Labor McLarty, advised and buttressed by his new deputy, Bryce Stewart, is taking a stronger stand with Lettish labor, showing anything but a surrender spirit towards agitators. More than one case has seen Mr. McLarty use the big stick effectively; bring radicals to account, and threatened strikes to no account, by stern warning of strong action with an internment camp at its end. On theother hand, both McLarty and Stewart scout the idea that Canadian labor is honeycombed with saboteurs, and that the war effort is being sabotaged by subversive elements.

There will be no new Dominion-Provincial conference, as urged by Premier Hepburn. The truth is that Mr. King has decided that his best way of supping with Mr. Hepburn is with a very long spoon— one that stretches from Parliament Hill

to Queen’s Park at the very least. Had the provinces agreed with Mr. Hepburn, Mr. King would have had to give way; but Mr. King was probably in a position to see to it that all the provinces didn’t agree with Mr. Hepburn. Which was all he wanted.

No one any longer expects political crisis. Indeed, so many expected political upheavals have failed to materialize Ottawa is beginning to believe that a crisis is impossible. It points resignedly to the Opposition; to the lack of an alternative. It points as well to the odd spectacle of an Opposition party which admits tacitly that it is not equipped to govern yet takes no active steps to provide the equipment. In the history of our politics little has been more strange than the existing position of the Conservative party. It is a position that fits perfectly into Mr. King’s mind and strategy.