GENERAL ARTICLES

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1942

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

AT THIS writing the bill deciding the precise character of the plebiscite to release Mr.

King from his pledge against conscription for overseas service has not been brought down, but from hints dropped by the Prime Minister it is to be taken with meticulous regard for all the niceties of the democratic system. There is to be a brand new voters’ list (the Chief Electoral Officer says it will take ten weeks to provide this), and there are to be returning officers and deputy returning officers and the usual ballots and ballot boxes and polling booths, and people to go overseas to poll the votes of our soldiers and airmen, and other people to get the votes of the men on our destroyers and minesweepers and corvettes. All this, it is expected, will take a good deal of time and also a good deal of money (about $1,500,000 is the Government’s own estimate).

Meanwhile, we have had a secret session of the House and a report on it by the Speaker. The Speaker’s report would hardly win the Pulitzer Prize, but seeing that Prime Minister King had the Defense of Canada Regulations amended to “prohibit publication of, or reference in a public address to” anything that went on other than that given out by the Speaker, no one is in a position to elaborate his story.

However, there’s no law against mentioning some of the matters that many parliamentarians wanted to discuss. There’s the matter, for example, of the situation in British Columbia, where a lot of people not inclined to be jittery think more should be done to provide against possible Japanese bombing, and also to provide against possible sabotage by British Columbia’s Japanese. Also there’s the matter—much in the mind of Parliament and others—of what should be done about our Fourth Division; whether it should be kept in Canada for defense of this country or shipped over to England.

High Army authorities here in Ottawa wanted the Fourth Division for England; wanted it as a part of the new Army of two corps. Unfortunately, a lot of Japanese have spread over a lot of the Pacific since then and many here are wondering whether the high Army authorities haven’t changed their minds or whether, if they haven't changed their minds, they may be wrong.

Ordinarily, such a matter of Grand Strategy would appear to be the decision of the United Nations strategists in Washington, but unfortunately there is no clear picture here of just where Canada fits into the picture of the United Nations strategy—or even of Anglo-American strategy.

The blame for this, if blame exists, is not with the United Nations; not with London or Washington. Mostly, in the view taken here, it is with Canada herself; in Canada’s failure to make her position clear. When the Pacific Council was set up at Washington Canada did not ask for representation, and didn’t get representation. Mr. King’s explanation was that the Pacific Council was concerned chiefly with the Southern Pacific and that Canada was not vitally interested.

In the meantime, however, the whole of the Pacific and the Southern Pacific have pretty much merged as a battle theatre, with Mr. King’s position no longer valid. But though the whole position has changed, this country remains without any direct approach to the Grand Strategy devised in Washington; has apparently not decided what it wants to do, or taken counsel

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

with anybody in authority (so far as grand strategy is concerned) about what it ought to do. In the judgment of many competent observers here—including some, it is thought, in the Cabinet —this position isn’t overly satisfactory.

What is wanted, it is argued (by those who think the existing position unsatisfactory), is a more realistic attitude, with Canada not content to accept a subordinate position either in the matter of strategy or in the hardly less important matter of the allocation of war supplies. There is no disposition to take a narrow, nationalistic view, but there is strong feeling that Canada should take a leaf out of the book of Australia, demand representation and consultation, find out what she wants to do, and stand prepared to take responsibility whatever it is she does do.

This school of thought points out that not merely is Canada without direct approach to those directing Anglo-American strategy, but that she is likewise without direct approach to those controlling Anglo-American war supplies. In other words, the argument is that where there is a direct stake there ought to be direct representation; that the practice under which Minister of Munitions Howe and his officials make day-to-day arrangements with Washington for supplies without regard to long-run policy isn’t good enough.

The time to settle the matter, it is being argued, is when Lord Beaverbrook gets to Washington; with the precise question to be settled simply whether Canada’s requests for supplies from the United States are to go through Lord Beaverbrook or to be made directly by Canada through a Canadian representative. Those who argue that there should be direct approach through a Canadian representative dismiss the contention that everything must be all right so long as Lord Beaverbrook’s organization contains such sturdy Canadians as E. P. Taylor and Morris Wilson.

The budget will be late; perhaps as late as May. The reason is that the Government will want to analyze the results of the war loan, discover not merely how much was given, but who gave it, and where. In other words, the tax changes of the budget are going to depend in no small measure upon the character of the response to the loan. If it is well oversubscribed (which is the prospect at this writing), and if the big fellows Continued on page 61

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put up big sums and the little fellows who are working in war industries (the real gain in the national income) put up a lot of little sums, Mr. Usley may go slow on taxes, decide to leave well enough alone.

On the other hand, if the loan should prove that money is not coming in in sufficient quantity from certain sources, with need of a broadened base in subscriptions, then almost certainly something will be done about it. This despite the fact that a committee which has

made a study of compulsory savings is understood to have turned thumbs down on them. The verdict of this committee, apparently, is that the cost of administering compulsory savings would be prohibitive, involving the need of an army of officials to watch over the incomes of individuals and individual families.

Nevertheless, the view of the Government is that it has to get the money it needs for the war somehow; and that if it is not forthcoming in Continued on page 63

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loans it will have to be got by compulsion of some kind. Also, there is just a chance that the Government, contemplating a prospect of conscription of man power, may decide that there should likewise be some conscription of wealth; or what would look like conscription of wealth—taking the form of higher tases on medium and large incomes and corporations. One wing of the Cabinet, it is believed, holds to this view strongly.

Actually, and perhaps shocking to prewar monetary conceptions, the financial aspect of the war has come to be one of the least of its worries. Any one of a half dozen of the bright young men of the Finance Department or the Bank of Canada can demonstrate to the dullest dunce in Ottawa that all the war money needed is easily available provided there is intelligent organization of production and the national economy generally; listening to them, the thing sounds simple. Their only trouble, as they explain it, is to get it in the right way from the right people; to get the proper war share of the national income. They point out further that the situation may admit of some easing if (as now seems not improbable) the United States should amend section seven of the Johnson act and permit some Canadian borrowing over there.

Donald Gordon’s Shadow

MEANWHILE price control is

getting along, not without some rumbling and grumbling, but with the cost of living index showing that the thing works. Administration of the ceiling appears to have passed almost exclusively into the hands of two men: Chairman of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board Donald Gordon and his youthful assistant, J. E. Coyne. Young Mr. Coyne, the nearest thing that Ottawa has in the way of a Washington New Dealer, becomes more and more a Gordon aide, working with him, lunching with him, dining with him; a veritable shadow. That he is a brilliant young man few people in Ottawa doubt.

The rubber shortage position becomes increasingly grave. Unfortunately the public does not yet understand just how grave it is. The public imagines that it is with the rubber shortage as it was with the gasoline shortage; that the Government is asking people to conserve rubber, and talking about a shortage of rubber, without really meaning it. Actually the rubber situation is many times more serious than the gasoline situation; so serious that, in the judgment of those who know, six months hence is bound to see drastic action to meet it—action possibly involving the disappearance of all private motoring, and possibly involving also the commandeering of tires from all private cars. Indeed, there is disposition in informed quarters here to challenge the Government’s seeming lack of courage in the rubber position; its hesitancy over taking whatever rubber it thinks it needs now and having done with it. The public, it is

argued, would give up its tires without complaint, and certain good people would be shocked out of their complacency. Meanwhile, people putting off their rubbers and overshoes this spring would do well to pack them away carefully; they will come in handy next winter.

Politically, things seem to have subsided since Welland and York South; though the Conservatives seem still to be pitching in the swell which they left after them. Mr. Meighen has been in Ottawa to a caucus of his party and emerged from it as a continuing leader by remote control, Air. Hanson carrying on at the helm in the House of Commons. There were offers of safe (or supposedly safe) seats to Mr. Meighen, but he declined them for the present, perhaps understandably. His position, apparently, is to be one of watchful waiting, with the watchfulness directed particularly to the results of the plebiscite.

The old feud between Premier Alitchell Hepburn and Prime Alinister King is at a new height, with Mr. Hepburn charging that he can’t bring down his Ontario budget until Ottawa finds out what it wants to do about a financial arrangement with the province respecting personal income and corporation taxes, and with the Government here calling Hepburn a blind obstructionist.

Colonel George Drew has returned to the Ottawa scene as counsel for Mr. Hanson in the judicial enquiry into Hong Kong. The enquiry is being held in camera, as it ought to be, and the public will miss some fireworks; but there is hope that Mr. King, taking a leaf out of President Roosevelt’s book in the matter of the report on Pearl Harbor, will insist that the investigation be snappy and that the findings be promptly made public.

The session is being productive of the usual oddities. Also, one fears, of the usual futility. Mr. Churchill’s quick yielding to a storm at Westminster is something that just could not happen in Ottawa. Thus Mr. King took the votes that were cast against him on his plebiscite plan without batting the proverbial eyelash. And National Government, an active issue a few weeks ago, seems as dead as Queen Anne. Actually, all the peace processes of Parliament are being carried out meticulously, with the whips on the job as usual, and the usual party excuses being made and defended, no matter how curious some of them may seem. Thus we have the spectacle of the Minister of Alunitions administering a rebuke to one of his officers (Mr. Ralph Bell) for making a speech in Halifax without getting permission, while at the same time defending another of his officials (Air. Carmichael) who went up to Welland and made a speech in the by-election there—also without getting permission.

Man power in war industry? The latest report is that the whole problem has been turned over to Mr. Humphrey Alitchell. And that Air. Alitchell has a plan.