GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 1 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 1 1942

Backstage at Ottawa

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

AT THIS writing, the imperturbable and imponderable Mr. King has been “in retreat” for more than a week. And don’t mistake the meaning. The word “retreat” may mean either “go back, retire, relinquish a position,” or it may mean “withdrawing into privacy or security.” It is definitely the latter

which the Prime Minister has been engaged in.

While Parliament mumbles along and bombing planes visit Cologne, Essen (and Alaska) the Canadian leader retires to Kingsmere for quiet contemplation, just as in December he shut himself in Laurier House for a week during the “man-

power” crisis.

But the days at Kingsmere don’t seem to have been entirely uneventful. It can be told on excellent authority that there have been luncheon meetings of the utmost import. One by one, persons of great influence in French Canada have been summoned to a noon repast — Georges Pelletier (Le Devoir), M. Nicol (Le Soleil), M. DuTremblay (La Presse). One by one these men (and perhaps others of journalistic influence) have been closeted with their Prime Minister. The effect, it is said, is already beginning to show itself in a marked change in their editorial policies and leadership.

At long last Mr. King is apparently heeding the advice often tendered to him by certain of his advisers, advice to speak out boldly and bluntly— and frankly. It’s an unpleasant task (especially since the plebiscite) but even now it may bring rich rewards in bridging the chasm which April 27 revealed so clearly and which for three or four weeks at least grew steadily wider.

It is reported as well (a fact which may or may not be common knowledge by the time these words are read) that Mr. King has become definitely reconciled to limiting the House debate on conscription to the passage of an amended Clause 3 in the National Resources Mobilization Act. This is the point on which Messrs. Ralston and Macdonald were said to be adamant. They insisted that once Clause 3 was amended to permit calling of men for overseas service, the final step (actual calling of the men) must be taken by the Cabinet and that there must be no more debate in Parliament.

Look back at the Hansard of February 25, 1942, and you will find Mr. King has a contrary commitment—a pledge that “when we find that we cannot raise the required number of men for enlistment overseas by the voluntary method and it is absolutely necessary to raise more men by other methods, then we will make our decision, present it to parliament and have it discussed on its merits.”

But the strict maintenance of that pledge would have left Mr. King without the strongest men in his Cabinet, perhaps without a government of any sort. So, once Clause 3 is altered, the road now seems clear—or much clearer than a few weeks ago. Should Canada suffer battle casualties or should the voluntary system fall down (at present it is said to be producing more men than at any previous time) the Cabinet will be free to move swiftly and decisively. At a moment’s notice there will be conscription, with perhaps a vote of confidence from Parliament the next day if the House is in session.

And if that plan doesn’t work you will probably find Mr. King has slipped away to Kingsmere again while the rest of us stew in the political juice which is admittedly of his making.

The present session of Parliament promises to be one of the longest on record. With Clause 3, the budget and many other important matters still untouched at the end of the first week in June, it seems highly probable that the House will be in session at least through August. That’s hard enough on the score upon score of lawyers who want to get back to their home town practice, but it’s even harder on the war ministers who must try to be in attendance in the Commons day after day and at the same time direct the conduct of the war. Some system of undersecretaryships is long overdue if Canada is to get the sort of leadership at the top which the effort of the common man deserves.

“Offensive” Trend

AS TO the conduct of the war itself, the emphasis - in these last few weeks has been changing rapidly. Spurred by the new “offensive” concept, scores of projects are being examined and reexamined to see what they can produce of new or additional material in the next critical six or nine months. It doesn’t matter so much what a proposition will cost (we’ll soon be opening up base metal and possibiy silver mines that wouldn’t have been considered a short time back); what matters supremely is whether or not a critical war need can be met within say sixty, ninety or a hundred and twenty days.

In this we are alongside the United States. A few weeks ago, Production Czar Donald Nelson struck off the list about sixteen billion dollars worth of war contracts because they would not be in production prior to midsummer, 1943. The dramatic upswing in mass-producing planes, guns, tanks and munitions has created such a vacuum for critical materials that every possible source of supply that can be tapped immediately is being seized.

One proposal under scrutiny which will strike a responsive chord in many a Westerner’s breast is the use of grain alcohol from wheat for making synthetic rubber. Principal argument in favor of the plan is that if butadiene, the chief component of synthetic rubber, is made from grain alcohol (as it can be), less steel and other critical materials for plant construction would be required than if the

butadiene were made from oil. Dollarwise, however, the grain alcohol plan would be much more expensive than the oil method, and although the United States is planning to make 200,000 tons (one fifth of its synthetic rubber program) from grain alcohol, the more economic decision for Canada may be to concentrate entirely on oil. The decision will be made shortly.

In any case the facts about grain alcohol and rubber are striking. Here they are:

100 pounds of wheat would make about 30 pounds of alcohol.

30 pounds of alcohol would make about 7 pj pounds of buta• diene.

7 y pounds of butadiene would make about 10 pounds of rubber.

Since Canada’s present program calls for about 40,000 tons of synthetic rubber, a little arithmetic uncovers the pessimistic

fact (pessimistic at least to prairie wheatgrowers hoping for large-scale reduction of the wheat surplus) that 13,000,000 bushels of wheat would produce sufficient alcohol for Canada’s entire synthetic rubber program.

A word may be necessary to warn those who think it should be possible to get a lot more than 240 pounds of alcohol from ten bushels of wheat. The alcohol which is used for making rubber must be about ninety-five per cent “pure”—about a third stronger than the stuff usually used for industrial purposes.

This and other matters bearing on war production are at last being tied together through the very important series of joint boards and councils which are a direct result of the Churchill-Roosevelt conversations at Washington last January. Present indications point to six supreme authorities for United Nations strategy and production:

Combined Chiefs of Staff (strategy)

Joint Production Council Combined Raw Materials Board Combined Shipping Adjustment Board Munitions Assignments Board (allocation of finished weapons)

Combined Food Board

Canada is expected to be represented on the “top” level in only two of these boards: the Food Board and the Munitions Assignments Board. In the others we will have representation at the “working” level. One reason Canada’s interests are said to be well looked after (irrespective of whether or not we are represented at the top) is the smoothworking U.S.-Canada machinery which has been welding this continent into an integrated war machine since the original Permanent Joint Board on Defense was named in August, 1940.

Other Canada-U.S. bodies now functioning include: the Joint Economic Committee; the Joint War Production Committee and the Materials Co-ordinating Committee.

It is a matter of justifiable pride that the pattern for integration and co-operation worked out originally on this continent is now being matched in the larger sphere of the United Nations as a whole.

Continued on page 37

Continued from page 12

Here Come the Coupons

ON THE domestic front, the announcement by Donald Gordon that coupon rationing is “around the corner” is clear evidence that the strong-willed Scot who heads the Prices Board can change his mind when the need arises. It is well known here that Gordon has fought coupon rationing to the last ditch. His arguments: tremendously expensive, leads to evasion, wasteful of man power in enforcement. Now his associates, and those who have studied the British plan at first hand, have won him round—much more quickly than was thought probable a week or two back.

And it looks as if Ottawa is finally ready to remove some of the befuddlement about Canada’s war effort which has been allowed to spread in the minds of our American neighbors. First, the appointment of Charles Vining, former journalist and now president of the Canadian Newsprint Association, as a one-man commissioner to report on what sort of a publicity setup we should have in the States, is important. It was Mr. Vining who made an original submission (privately) to Ottawa more than a year ago. For a while it looked as if something would come of his proposals. Then internal bicker-

ing and ministerial ineptitude tossed | the whole thing into limbo. Now the “face-saving” formula is to get Mr. Vining to make an official report.

Second only in importance to the Vining deliberations is the naming of Lester B. (Mike) Pearson as Minister-Counsellor at Washington. Mr. Pearson came back from London a year or two ago and now switches jobs with Hume Wrong, who returns to Canada as Assistant Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs. The fact is that Mike Pearson takes to newspapermen like the proverbial duck to water—and vice versa. He earned his spurs at the Ottawa Imperial Conference in 1932, and has been winning friends and influencing people in publishing circles ever since. It’s an easy bet that “Mike” will have the hard-boiled Washington correspondents talking about Canada and “liking it” before, he has been in the Capitol very long.

What about the Tory party? What about its leadership? Most people around Parliament Hill feel that the party’s performance in the House so far this year hasn’t been particularly impressive. Actually there is considerable talent in the opposition benches but it lacks drive, organization and guidance. Some indication of a new Conservative awakening would be one of the most welcome sights that Parliament Hill has witnessed in many a day.