BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 1 1942
BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 1 1942

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

LIKE Old Man River Mackenzie King just keeps rolling along. When he came up with his plebiscite plan the critics said that this was the end; that Mr. King just couldn’t keep pulling rabbits out of his hat; that there was a law of diminishing returns. Mr. King’s crushing answer was to win one by-election in Ontario and two in Quebec, the while watching his old rival, Arthur Meighen, trailed in the York South dust.

Political analysts have interpreted Mr. King’s victories this way and that. All their tortuous reasoning hasn’t submerged the fact that they were victories; that Mr. King’s candidate in Welland, running on the plebiscite issue, met and vanquished not merely an independent conscriptionist candidate who was against the plebiscite, but also the redoubtable “Mitch” Hepburn, backed by Lieut.-Colonel George Drew.

And so with York South. Arthur Meighen attempted a comeback in a constituency where there was a minority Conservative vote. That doesn’t alter the fact that his onslaught on Mr. King’s plebiscite plan failed him decisively. Neither does it alter the fact that the Liberals of York South, throwing their votes, for the most part, to the C.C.F., passed up a chance of a protest against the plebiscite. Whether Mr. King’s satisfaction over the defeat of Meighen is greater than his satisfaction over the spanking of “Mitch” Hepburn, it would be hard to say.

Mr. King, assuming that he wants release from his anticonscription pledge so that he may bring in conscription, must take less satisfaction from the results in Quebec. More than once since the by-elections he must have studied the figures of Quebec East, where Mr. Paul Bouchard, running as the candidate of the new “Canadian” party, and using speech that has brought more than one Canadian to jail, (some of it was suppressed by trie newspapers on the suggestion of the censor) polled more than twelve thousand votes. Nor can Mr. King be taking much joy from the results in St. Marys, Montreal, where all four candidates pronounced against conscription, and where none (including the victor) was given his benediction.

Yet Mr. King—there need be no doubt about it now—will go on with his plebiscite plan, and with more confidence. He will go on with it without telling what he will do in the event of its giving him release from his anticonscriptionist pledges—will demand his blank cheque with more sureness. In the ranks of his own party, half a dozen bolters excepted, he has silenced his critics.

As for the Conservative Party, it is once more rudderless, temporarily orphaned of a leader. Whether it will be disposed to leave the luckless Mr. Meighen lying on the field fit is a habit the Conservative Party has been getting into) remains to be seen. Thus far the only clue to its thought is in the not overly delicate statement of its House Leader, Mr. Hanson, that “the defeat of one man doesn’t mean the death of the Conservative Party.” But it may be that in its rank and file there is more of chivalry. When Mr. King as Prime Minister and party leader was defeated in York North, in 1925, his followers got him a sear in Prince Edward Island and later on in Prince Albert, Sask. The Conservatives, if similarly loyal to Arthur Meighen, can find him a constituency.

What of the C.C.F.? Hard-bitten politicians refuse to take its victory in York South seriously

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

What they argue is that Meighen was beaten not by C.C.F. voters but by Liberals who voted C.C.F., that it was a case of York South’s electors not liking Mr. Noseworthy more, but Arthur Meighen and the Tories less. In support of this reasoning they point to the poor showing of the C.C.F. candidate in Welland.

Debate Drags On

AP THIS writing the debate on the plebiscite • proposal drags on. It has been a poor debate; unheroic, mediocre, at times divorced from war realities. Old-timers who lament the decline of the House of Commons may be victims of nostalgia for yesterday, but their lamentations have had heavy support during the past fortnight. Not at any time did a voice arise with the authentic accents of eloquence. No flaming spirit spoke out for or against the plebiscite. No solemn note was struck in harmony with the war’s peril. At times, indeed, the debate fell below the level of even mediocrity into a pitiful buffoonery, with all the empty laughter and desk-thumping of a parish-pump Donnybrook.

An exception was the speech of Mr. Ilsley. Out-distancing all his colleagues in reputation for ability and sincerity, Mr. Ilsley easily made the best speech from the treasury benches in support of the plebiscite. Unlike Mr. King, the finance minister left no doubt about what would be his attitude in the event of the Government being relieved of its “commitments.” He would be for conscription. Minister of Pensions Ian Mackenzie struck the same note a few days later, though less impressively. Unfortunately, from the standpoint of the country, other ministers were less explicit; seemed to be standing with one foot in Quebec and the other in Ontario.

The excommunication of Mr. Mitchell Hepburn, pronounced with bell, book and candle by a caucus of Ontario Liberal members, created little but amusement. “Mitch” had been excommunicated before. At the same time there is speculation over Mr. Hepburn’s future; plenty of prophets who hold that he will shortly find himself in the Tory

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Cartoon by Grassick

Backstage at Ottawa

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temple, sitting in the same pew with Arthur Meighen and Colonel Drew. Others, arguing sadly that the capacity of Liberals for reconciliation is inexhaustible, predict that “Mitch” will sooner or later find himself back in the fold, his excommunication forgotten.

Meanwhile, unfortunately, there is that tax agreement between the Dominion and the Province of Ontario, more interesting to taxpayers than to politicians. Will “Mitch” now scrap the whole business, refusing to have truck or trade with Mr. King’s Government, and leaving Ontario outside the Dominion war tax unit? Political bitterness and caucus excommunications can have repercussions in more ways than one.

There is speculation, too, and some anxiety, over the effect of plebiscite bitterness upon the current war loan. Fortunately, an attempt by certain hotheads to have the loan boycotted was quickly nipped in the bud. Fortunately, because it is no secret that the Government would almost certainly have met any attempt to hold out on the loan by a resort to compulsion. As it is, a great deal in the future financial war policy of this country is going to depend on how this loan goes over. If it is subscribed without trouble, or oversubscribed, nothing much will happen. But should it drag in difficulty, or fail to attain its objective, then the Government without a shadow of doubt will consider compulsory loans, allied with higher taxes on large incomes. The Government’s position, in short, is that it must have more than fifty per cent of the national income, or more than $3,000,000,000, and that if it can’t get this by voluntary loans and existing taxes it must get it by compulsory loans and higher taxes. Happily, perhaps, the best informed opinion at this writing is that the loan will be kept apart from politics, and that it will be oversubscribed handsomely.

Incidentally, the Government’s financial chiefs of staff envisage no great difficulty in getting more than $3,000,000,000 for war action during the next year. Their argument is that with ordinary consumer goods becoming scarcer and prices kept down it should be no great trick to get half of the national income for war—that the money will be available. At the same time they warn sternly that Canadians have thus far had but a taste of the rationing that is in store for them.

One commodity that is going to be rationed sharply is rubber. Thus far Japs in Malaya have meant merely a shortage of tires. The prediction of well-informed insiders now is that within six months or a year there will be absolutely no rubber for private use by anybody; that not only will rubber boots and rubbers and such things disappear, but that the possibility will exist of private automobiles being commandeered for their tires.

Canada Left Out?

THERE is not a little disquiet in Ottawa at present over what may happen to Canada in the matter of

war supplies in consequence of the new Anglo-American war supply setup in Washington. In fashioning this new setup Washington and London seemingly didn’t waste much time considering the position of Canada. The setup, briefly, is this: At the top the British and United States chiefs of staff; next Lord Beaverbrook as production dictator in the United Kingdom and Mr. Donald Nelson as production dictator in the United States; then a Combined (Anglo-American) Raw Materials Board, with the United States represented by William L. Batt and Great Britain by Sir Clive Beaulieu.

What it all amounts to is an AngloAmerican pool, with Canada not represented on the big controlling bodies. True, Canadian producers are to be placed on a parity with U.S. producers in securing material priorities but there are many in Ottawa (some of them not outside the cabinet) who think the lack of Canadian representation in the top controls is hardly in harmony with Canada’s role as a war producer. They point to the fact that this country is the fourth largest producer of munitions among the United Nations. They point to a speech just made by Mr. C. D. Howe. Mr. Howe *was able to show that Canadian armament and war material were going to Burma and Singapore and China and Russia; that the first North American war supplies to go along the Burma Road since Pearl Harbor were represented by 1,000 Canadian Bren guns and 10,000,000 rounds of Canadian ammunition.

Lieutenant-General Andrew McNaughton’s sudden visit to Canada has excited a lot of speculation, most of it wrong. Actually, the Canadian Commander in Chief came home partly to recuperate after his recent illness (he suffered from low-grade pneumonia infection) and partly to discuss with the military in Ottawa the character and composition of Canada’s proposed Army of two corps. McNaughton, who insists that modern wars should be fought as much as possible with metal and as little as possible with lives, has a passion for mechanization; is determined that Canadian armored and tank troops shall have greater striking power than Hitler’s panzer divisions. He will return to England soon.

Coming back to the home front, it seems reasonably assured that the 400 or more wheat growers who descended upon Ottawa from the Prairies recently,seekingmore money for their wheat, did not make their pilgrimage in vain. There is difficulty in the matter, including the anomaly of upping prices for anything when the high-powered Wartime Prices and Control Board is fighting to keep prices down. But the best word at this writing is that a basic price of about ninety cents a bushel for wheat is on the way. The feeling behind this, it is understood, is belief by the Government that agriculture, including wheat growing, is a war industry,

and that the industry should be conducted on a basis which will keep it solvent and give to it returns comparable, all things considered, to other war industry. Finally, there is the argument that a substantial carry-over of wheat isn’t a bad backlog for Canada to have lying around in the world’s present condition— that it’s something to bargain with, anyway.

Speaking of wheat and the Prairies, the census figures, showing less population than had been fondly expected, and showing also that Saskatchewan had actually lost population, have shocked Ottawa. There are the usual pros and cons over the matter, but all of them get back to the fact that Canada hasn’t been maintaining her natural population growth—hasn’t been doing it, in fact, for something

like two decades. Some blame the western drought, and some the depression-, but nobody is absolutely convincing.

Apart from the war, or rather apart from talk over a plebiscite, Parliament hasn’t been doing anything in particular. Mr. Coldwell, the C.C.F. leader, wants to start an enquiry into the administration of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but nobody else is much interested. Parliament, in fact, is terribly in eclipse; with the real war work of Ottawa (and the real interest) in the countless and ever-growing offices and buildings of war administration. If there’s a vacant piece of property in the capital that the Government hasn’t started to build on, or taken an option on, nobody in Ottawa can find it.