Backstage at Ottawa


Backstage at Ottawa


MANY things suggest that this fourth session of the nineteenth Parliament now reassembling on snowbound Parliament Hill will be the most active of the war.

First, there is the Bracken leadership on the east side of the House. When Cabinet Ministers aren’t trying to outwit and confound the new Pro-Con leader they will be trying to head off the forward-looking plans of the new party.

Here is the sort of “coincidence” that will happen increasingly as the rejuvenated Conservative party gets under way: On December 10 the Conservatives passed at Winnipeg a war policy clause which urged payment of a cost-of-living bonus to veterans and dependents of men and women in the armed forces. A week later the Government went the Tories two better. They not only added a cost-of-living bonus but they upped the daily pay of privates and lance-corporals and increased the scale of dependents’ allowances.

Even more important than these hoary tricks for politically outsmarting the other fellow is the fact that 1943 promises to be a very different kind of year so far as war plans and programs are concerned.

For three long and disappointing years Canada’s Army has been fighting a sort of “paper” war. We’ve trained men and built weapons most of which have not yet faced the enemy in a land offensive. With the opening of a European front in 1943 all this will change. Apart from the exacting test of blood and brawn, there will be the firsthand impact of metal and machinery on a scale probably not even experienced in Russia. One thing is certain: in this terrible crucible of battle the best-laid plans and production programs will be in a continuous state of flux—all of which must inevitably be reflected in the tempo and temperament of this coming session of Parliament.

There will be lots of questions for Parliament to answer on the home front.

Butter rationing, for example, has been accepted eagerly by the trade and housewives alike, but behind it is a very audible farm wail that the whole scheme (as in the case of beef) was a policy of “too little and too late.” That’s the criticism that Ottawa already hears rising from the grass roots in respect of agricultural manpower policy: the plaint that the grand and carefully prepared 1943 agricultural program which was disclosed at a federal-provincial conference here in December looks fine on paper but falls down all along the line without supporting manpower policy.

And urban M.P.’s will probably want to know why margarine was not even considered as a butter substitute. The official answer: it takes too much imported vegetable oil and new machinery, neither of which is available.

It is generally recognized here that meat is the next food on the list for consumer rationing with perhaps an official announcement even before you read these lines. One interesting side light on meat rationing is that when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Claude Wickard, ousted Charlie McCarthy from his usual Sunday night radio berth a few weeks ago, the CBC tuned out the broadcast from its network as of no interest to Canadians. Mr. Wickard was talking about the new U.S. ration plans, chiefly canned fruits and vegetables. But he said something which Ottawa recognized as of great interest to Canadians. It was this: “People in some communities today are unable to get their fair share of certain kinds of food . . . that is why meat is going to be rationed.”

Authorities have agreed here for some time that Canada could not avoid meat rationing once the U.S. took that step. That does not mean that Canada will be required to follow-the-(U-S.)-leader in all forms of rationing. We already have different policy on butter and canned foods and different quotas for coffee and gasoline. But meat supplies in both countries are so tied up with continental and overseas policy that Canada, it is felt, would be at a considerable disadvantage if she did not match whatever steps the U.S. took to allocate civilian meat supplies.

Quite apart from what the U.S. may or may not do, beef is shortly due to join milk, tea, coffee and oranges on the subsidy list. In short, the W.P.T.B. will before long be paying a bonus to your butcher to enable him to sell you beef at so much a pound less than you are now paying. And such a step could not be done without coupon rationing for all meats.

As pointed out in Backstage some weeks ago, beef was to have been the bellwether in the new consumer subsidy policy when it was launched early in December. But at the eleventh hour it was withdrawn because of administrative difficulties. So if, as, and when Donald Gordon finds it necessary to subsidize beef Canada will announce her ration program whether or not the U.S. gets there first.

And this beef subsidy is tied in tightly to the next zero hour for the cost-of-living bonus, which is on or about February 5. That’s when the news about the next index will be out.

If the index has risen by more than a point above its October level of 117.8 your boss will have to up your present bonus (assuming you are now getting one). It is just such a rise which Donald Gordon fears as setting off a new and perhaps uncontrollable wage-price inflation spiral. Such a rise would have been inevitable had not the retail prices of milk, tea, coffee and oranges been reduced by consumer subsidy early in December. It is estimated that reducing the price of these items will lower the cost of living index by as much as 1 )i points, most of which is due to the two cent a quart cut in milk prices. If beef were cut as much as say five cents a pound, it should relieve the index by almost another full point.

Some Prices to Rise

MEANWHILE, be prepared, under the new W.P.T.B. policy to pay more for nonessential and durable goods, especially those which do not affect the cost of living index. Though it was not generally recognized, there was a clear implication when the ew policy was announced that there wouldn’t be the same deference toward an inviolate retail price ceiling for nonessential and durable goods whose costs have risen and whose sales volume (furniture for example) is reduced due to circumstances not foreseen a year ago.

One further word on rationing: there will be no coupon rationing of luxury goods, only of essentials. It will be up to merchants themselves to protect in whatever way they like their slimming stocks of thousands of items now disappearing from production “for the duration.”

As to clothing, the decision which may soon have to be faced is how far the standardization and simplification of main items of dress can be carried as an alternative to formal coupon rationing. It is possible that if all of us were prepared to forego all style and variety for the duration there might be no need for coupon rationing of clothes. This probably won’t happen and a point system will probably come in long before we are reduced to one kind of dress or shirt or suit. Meanwhile raw material supplies are good. It will be maldistribution of goods and “hoarding” of clothes that will probably cause action in this field rather than an actual shortage of material.

Manpower Duel

THERE is bound to be a tremendous verbal duel in the House on manpower. This time the opposition will have the Elliott Little correspondence with its charges of delay, obstructionism and failure to lay down overall policy. For its part the Government will be armed (at the taxpayers’ expense) with 9,600 copies of the famous seventy-page Little draft Order in Council in which Mr. Little outlined what he believed were the minimum powers required by anyone setting out to do the job of manpower boss. In face of objections by Col. John Thompson, economy czar, the Minister of Labor is reported to have ordered 9,600 copies, allegedly to enable the Government to send copies to every local labor organization, doubtless in the hope that the hue and cry that Labor had raised against Hon. Humphrey Mitchell, and in support of Mr. Little, might be silenced.

The most startling manpower statistic Ottawa had heard in a long time is the figure of 200,000 as the number of men who failed to report when sent a draft notice by the mobilization (N.R.M.A.) organization or the Department of National War Services. This is the so-called manpower “pool” which the new draft organization now attached to the Department of Labor is going to attempt to track down in the hope of finding enough men to meet the immediate needs of the armed services.

Since official figures released late in December by the Department of National Defense showed only 94,149 enrolments under N.R.M.A. up till the end of October, the 200,000 figure if it really were accurate would seem to mean that for every man who actually enrolled under the plan to its two years of operation, two other men evaded or avoided the draft.

But the fact is that the information on which most of the 200,000 calls were based was so hopelessly inadequate and out of date that many of those who were called were actually overseas or even war casualties before their names were called.

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Speaking of casualties, it looks as if Charles Vining’s much-touted War Information Board may be some sort of a casualty before long. Apparently the board not only lacks authority to do many of the things it set out to do but is running into heavy personnel weather, interdepartmental opposition and many other problems.