Backstage at Ottawa


May 1 1942

Backstage at Ottawa


May 1 1942

Backstage at Ottawa


WAR IS doing something to government at Ottawa; it is driving a coach-and-four through our old concepts of the meaning of Parliament. Thus with the House of Commons closed for an Easter recess of three weeks, government went on the same as before, and powerful bureaucrats like Donald Gordon made momentous decisions and told industry and business where and how they must toe the line to conform with total war. Ordinarily, under our old ways of government, Mr. Gordon’s pronouncements would have been made by a cabinet minister—and made to Parliament. Under the new dispensation the ministers were silent, and Mr. Gordon, who is responsible to nobody, is understood to have consulted with nobody before telling the public: “Do this—or else!”

Mr. Gordon is not acting under a law of Parliament. He derives his powers from an order in council. Evenso, Mr. Gordon does not trouble to preface his pronouncements by stating, “The Government authorizes me ...” Mr. Gordon just pronounces. Issues his warnings and decrees, and edicts right and left. And the country, apparently, likes it.

Whether Parliament likes it, or perceives its significance, one cannot tell. The relevant thing is that Parliament acquiesces dumbly; has never as much as discussed or protested at length the principles involved in Mr. Gordon’s position. Indeed, and almost as odd, cabinet ministers seem to be content to have a purely administrative officer take over their responsibilities and functions, the while making over drastically the country’s economy.

Watching this extraordinary development, veterans of government in Ottawa shake their heads dubiously. They do not hold that Mr. Gordon is saying or doing the wrong things. What they do argue is that the right things are being said and done by the wrong man; that Mr. Gordon’s job is merely to act within and administer a law; that this law should have been made by Parliament; and that the policies of the Government should be announced and explained by the Government’s ministers.

Behind these misgivings—technically and constitutionally right—one detects a certain fear of Mr. Gordon, a fear of what he may grow into. Gordon is one of the most formidable figures thrown up by the war in Canada. With talents far beyond those which are necessary in a first-class official, he has many of the qualities—color, power of speech, natural force—which go to make up a potent popular leader. What, it is asked—what if this man, passionate about the war, should some day appeal to the country over the heads of the Government?

The question may come from troubled conscience, or from dismay over the decline and all but abdication of Parliament, or from realization of the seeming confusion of ministers over their responsibilities. Neverthe-

less, the fact remains that some of the most vital war leadership in Ottawa today is coming from a man who is neither a member of Parliament nor a member of the cabinet, and while it would be nightmarish to suggest that Mr. Gordon sees himself as a potential fuehrer (he is in reality a rugged democrat), the implications of the situation can hardly be overlooked. What it means is that not merely is our economy being overturned, but that the overturning is being done by an official while our responsible ministers and Parliament stand silently on the side lines.

Plebiscite Campaign

MEANWHILE Prime Minister King and his ministers, joined by the other party leaders, have been asking the country to vote “yes” on Mr. King’s plebiscite. Whether they have been putting enough fervor and iron into their exhortations is another matter. This plebiscite is probably as important as any general election we have had since Confederation. Yet there has not been put into it anything like the feverish enthusiasm which marks a general election. Mr. King has spoken over the radio, and Mr. Hanson and Mr. Coldwell, but many are asking why Mr. King and Mr. Meighen and Mr. Coldwell and Mr. Hanson could not have appeared together on platforms in cities like Toronto and Winnipeg? Or why Mr. King and his principal Quebec captains, Mr. St. Laurent and Mr. Cardin, could not have appeared together on platforms in Montreal and Quebec City? Inasmuch as on the eve of the balloting the verdict is thought to be in doubt, the questions would seem to be pertinent.

Leaving Ottawa for a moment, there are rumors of an impending change in our representation at Washington, involving the retirement of Leighton McCarthy, who is understood to be in indifferent health. Mr. McCarthy has been criticized in certain quarters on the ground of alleged failure to make Canada’s war effort better known to Americans. It is held in his favor, however,

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that he merely carried out instructions from Ottawa, that he neither sought nor wanted the post that was given him.

Who the Government has in mind to follow Mr. McCarthy in Washington (this assuming the rumors have basis) is not known. Names heard mentioned for the post include J. W. McConnell, publisher of the Montreal Star, J. M. Macdonnell, Toronto financier, Austin Taylor, Vancouver tycoon, Victor Sifton, and Minister of Defense Ralston. In Mr. Ralston’s case it is said that in the event of his forsaking the Defense Department for diplomacy he would be succeeded in the cabinet by Mr. Sifton. Prime Minister King denies that the Washington legation is to be made an embassy.

Actually, the post of Canadian Minister in Washington at present has less relation to diplomacy than to business—to the conduct of the war. More and more, it is being realized in Ottawa, the centre of vital war decisions is shifting from London to Washington, with increasing need for the strongest possible Canadian representation on major committees and boards. Already Washington is the home of the Pacific Board (on which Canada is now represented), directing war strategy in the Pacific, the Joint War Production Committee, the Materials Co-ordinating Committee, and—almost the most important of all—the Munitions Assignments Board. It is not yet clear at this writing whether Canada has actually been given representation on the Munitions Assignments Board, or is about to be; the whole question of this country’s voice in Washington has been blurred and unsatisfactory ever since Pearl Harbor.

The Munitions Assignments Board is important because it decides where Canadian war production shall be sent, and in what quantities. Up to the present, oddly enough, Canada has had no voice in the allocation of her war production; if the Munitions Assignments Board ordered so many of our tanks to the Middle East, and so many guns to Russia or China, Canada agreed—agreed even though she might have thought that the tanks and guns should be sent somewhere else, or kept at home. We have been merely in the position of a contractor. This, considering that Canada is one of three United Nations with a surplus war production, was hardly satisfactory and certainly not in keeping with our status as a belligerent.

In all these circumstances, fresh, strong representation at Washington is deemed desirable. It is deemed desirable for the additional reason that Canada’s publicity in the United States, pitifully weak since the war’s beginning, is weaker now than before; this at a time when Nazi propagandists across the line are working unceasingly—and not unsuccessfully— to injure our unity with the United States. Fifth Column organs and isolationist newspapers and agents are working overtime in turning out a flood of falsehoods and distortions about our war effort, with the falsehoods and distortions in most cases going all but by default. Two months ago, this dangerous situation brought to his attention by a prominent Canadian journalist returned from Washington and New York, Mr. King had promised immediate action. No action was taken. The hope in Ottawa now is that if a new minister be sent to Washington there may follow a new deal in publicity—in the right kind of Canadian propaganda.

Diplomatic changes with respect to Washington may be accompanied by a diplomatic shake-up all round. For one thing, it is rumored in informed quarters that Russia is about to send a Minister to Canada, this necessitating the sending of a Canadian Minister to Moscow. A year ago, two years ago, such a step would have been received with misgivings. Today it would be greeted with acclaim. Incidentally, talk of an exchange of ministers with the Soviets is accompanied by a rumor (which cannot be run down) that Russian agents are seeking a fortyroom legation building in Ottawa.

Reverting to Washington, one man who might be sent there, but who is not likely to be sent, is that obstreperous orphan of our political parties, W. D. Herridge. Herridge has just returned from London, where he won a big case before the Privy Council, and has signalized his return by a call for more of “all-out” war. Mr. Herridge’s brand of “all-out” war is not quite the same as that called for by Donald Gordon; it has more of a resemblance to the talk of Lord Beaverbrook.

Beaverbrook and Herridge crossed the Atlantic to this side on the same Clipper, and observers here were quick to note the similarity in Mr. Herridge’s statement to Canadian newspapers and Lord Beaverbrook’s broadcast to us from Miami. Herridge called for a “second front” and more of the spirit of the offensive;

Beaverbrook told us that big production of armaments was not enough, added, “You know, my fellow countrymen, that this war must be won in the field.”

Mr. Herridge and Lord Beaverbrook, it may be added as a footnote, are fairly old acquaintances. According to report, Mr. Herridge, after a few days spent in Ottawa following his return, flew to Miami to see his Lordship again.

Defense Shifts

NO REPORT has yet come on the Hong Kong enquiry. Those professing to be in the know claim that when it does come it will give a bill of health to the Government, or to the Defense Department, with perhaps a mild rebuke here and there. In the meantime, however, it is being noted that certain shiftings are taking place in the Defense Department. Events sometimes cast their shadows before.

What else? Censorship regulations aie about to be tightened, with a blackout of detailed war production figures and also of the names and locations of important war plants in certain areas . . . The Wartime Prices and Trade Board — Mr. Gordon again—is going to crack down on scare buying, but will not resort to rationing if it can help it . . . The shortage of wool is understood to be less serious than imagined, with a new process of “shoddy” likely to improve the position by twentyfive per cent . . . With restricted motoring, travel by railway is likely to be soon controlled and curtailed,

this to save rail transportation facilities for the movement of troops and war supplies.

Director of Man Power Little, fitting quickly into his job, is understood to be dissatisfied with our latest man-power registration, considers it not sufficiently clear cut, will depend upon more specific checks in local districts . . . Income tax returns and payments up to the zero hour of March 31 exceeded expectations, with thousands finding they had to pay more tax because their wives were working . . . Several ministers took advantage of the Easter recess to get in a bit of vacation, and more than one checked with their doctors . . . An exception was Minister of Finance, most rugged of our war leaders, keeping himself fit by luncheon in one of Ottawa’s most obscure restaurants, followed by a ten minute nap in his office afterward . . .

Production of aircraft in March was the highest since the beginning of the war, is expected to be higher in April. . . Major General Browne, formerly Adjutant-General, has been given charge of our Reserve Army, will aim to change it from a hit-andmiss training army into a real force, try to provide it with adequate equipment and make it an arm of defense . . . Prime Minister King continues to keep the Senate with thirteen vacancies . . . Political rumor says that if the plebiscite goes against him, or is regarded as unsatisfactory, Mr. King will call an election . . . The Senate vacancies might come in handy then.