GENERAL ARTICLES

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

November 15 1944
GENERAL ARTICLES

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

November 15 1944

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

BY THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

WHEN all United Nations meet to discuss the blueprint drafted at Dumbarton Oaks, Canada will probably have some suggestions about the make-up of the Security Council.

That Council, you’ll remember, has five permanent seats for Great Powers, six nonpermanent seats for little powers. Voting rights are a point of disagreement between Russia and the other Great Powers, but all the big shots seem agreed on a considerable amount of veto privilege for themselves.

Canada is not too happy about this rigid division of the world into bigwigs and little wigs. Power is a relative thing; there is less difference between our power and that of France than between ours and that of Liberia, or Bolivia, or Iran. Canada’s problem is to find some formula that won’t put us on the same footing as the Dominican Republic.

It’s a hard thing to reduce to formal terms. Prime Minister King, in his External Affairs speech Aug. 4, suggested some application of his “functional” principle—for example, why not take a nation’s contribution to the present war as an index of the frequency with which it ought to have a seat on the Security Council? But he recognized that this couldn’t be a permanent criterion, for it would automatically exclude neutrals, not to mention ex-enemies like Italy and Hungary. Neither could you grade countries by size alone, thus putting such a nation as New Zealand far below, say, Brazil.

Geneva used a rough system of regional grouping, which was very unsatisfactory. Canada is not going to be content with any convention which, for instance, would give her a seat once in 10 years, as a member of the British Commonwealth, while another seat was reserved in rotation for each of the nine tiny Caribbean republics. Neither would such a Latin American power as Brazil or Argentina want to rotate on equal terms with, say, Bolivia.

Another thing that worries Canada and the other middle-sized powers, like Holland, is the matter of obligations. Under the Dumbarton Oaks scheme all member states would be bound to support, with economic sanctions and even military action if necessary, the decisions of the Security Council. Canada might hesitate to be bound by a Council consisting only of the Great Powers and half a dozen little nations whose war potential, and therefore responsibility, might be nil.

Speaking of conferences, it’s not just anti-Red prejudice to say that so far Russian delegates have been the problem children of these international get-togethers. They tend to be suspicious, hypersensitive and generally hard to get along with. However, conference habitues say these prima donna traits don’t proceed from any lack of good will, or any reluctance to collaborate for peace. They’re caused partly by suspicion of the bogey capitalist, partly by the language difficulty.

People here often forget that Russians grew up regarding us bourgeois with the same horror that we held for those Bolsheviks. It’s been toned down a lot, there as here, by the new propaganda line we’ve both adopted, but, there as here, a backlog of it still exists.

This prejudice is trivial compared to the language hurdle, which is a really stiff one. Relatively few of the ranking Soviet officials below the diplomatic level have a full command of any other language than Russian. The number of western officials with fluent Russian is even smaller. And there’s “double, double toil and trouble” at those technical discussions where English, American and Chinese experts take off into a stratosphere of jargon that nobody outside their own tight little circle can understand.

Another complication is the subtle difference between English and American, which baffles the foreigner beyond description. At UNRRA, for instance, the Russians put up quite an argument over one clause because of a word which they understood in its English seçise, but which in that context was being used in its American sense. Pretty soon there will have to be some international recognition of the fact that there is an American language.

But to make all these matters worse Anglo-Saxon officials from both sides of the Atlantic are developing a deplorable fondness for officialese. Even such an otherwise sensible man as ex-Governor Lehman, UNRRA’s director, is a prey to this lingual vice. He doesn’t “do” a thing, he “effectuates” it. Things aren’t decided or finished, they’re finalized.

No wonder the Russians have trouble.

* * *

The Wartime Prices and Trade Board has had some practice at listening to squawks, but its biggest days in this line are still ahead. Nothing has yet been heard to equal the shrieks of agony and roars of rage that will break out when the European war ends and half our war contracts are cancelled. ?

Up to now a good many manufacturers have gone on cheerfully (or fairly cheerfully) making consumer goods at a loss, and recouping on war goods which aren’t under the price ceiling. Losses on the swings were thus gained on the roundabouts, and the companies’ over-all operations stayed in the black.

But when war contracts go the deficits on consumer goods will become a net loss. Already, foresighted spokesmen have been drawing the Government’s attention to this cloud on their horizon, and in some quarters they have found moderately sympathetic listeners.

However, Prices Board people are absolutely confident that when the chips are down the Government won’t heed these pleaders but will support Donald Gordon’s “tough” price policy. Mr. Gordon is convinced that 1941 price levels are high enough to allow profitable operation of

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efficient plants. He is convinced that some, at least, of the much-talked-of increases in costs have been due to plain inefficiency—wartime haste, or green help, or the prevalent reflection that “we might as well spend the money, Usley’ll take it anyway if we don’t.”

He and his men have dug their heels in on the principle of 1941 prices, with relief to be granted only in cases of genuine distress and hardship. It won’t be enough for one firm to show a loss, the whole industry or most of it will have to convince Gordon that his price ceiling makes profitable operation impossible. Even then he won’t necessarily weaken in the case of nonessential goods—no bird cage manufacturer is going to be put in a position to hire workers away trom, say, making electric irons that housewives really need. There will be some consideration for “marginal” high-cost factories, but not enough to put the more efficient plants on a very thick cushion of velvet.

* * *

Brooke Claxton’s appointment as Health Minister ended a steady buzz of rumor that had gone on ever since his election in 1940. There was hardly a month in the whole 4j^ years when someone wouldn’t tell you, with the assurance of the inside dopester, that Claxton would be in the Cabinet any day now. One such rumor became so authoritative that Canadian Press departed from custom and carried it as a news item—that was in 1941,

when National War Services were cooking.

Reason for all these premature nominations is simply Claxton’s ability. He and a couple of other parliamentary assistants have been marked men since they entered Parliament, for they have stood head and shoulders over the ordinary run of backbencher. Parliamentary assistantships offered a suitable compromise last year, and Claxton’s appointment as aide to the Prime Minister was regarded as such a safe bet that newspapers were reporting it as a foregone conclusion for weeks before Claxton himself heard anything about it officially.

His appointment as Health Minister will be an expansion, but no drastic alteration of the work he has been doing in the East Block for months. His major job as Minister will be to administer Family Allowances, and he has done more to draft the Act and chart the blueprint of its administration than any other individual.

Two other men who have been mentioned for Cabinet jobs almost as often as Claxton are his friend and parliamentary neighbor, Doug Abbott of Westmount - St. Antoine, and Paul Martin of Windsor, Ont. Abbott is parliamentary assistant to Finance Minister Ilsley, and the two make perhaps the smoothest and most successful team of the lot. Martin is aide to Labor Minister Humphrey Mitchell, and in that stormy spot he has succeeded in alienating far fewer people than the Minister himself.

Both will have excellent chances of Cabinet office if they survive the next election. There will be vacancies all right—Mines Minister Crerar has announced his intention of retiring, and few people would bet a Chinese dollar on the re-election of Labor Minister Mitchell, or of Ian Mackenzie, just appointed Minister of Veterans* Affairs. Ernest Bertrand, Minister of Fisheries, will also have a tough time in Montreal, as will the Minister of National War Services, General La Fleche.

However, Abbott and Martin may have some trouble winning their own seats. Both are personally popular, but Abbott faces the equally popular General Basil Price in a traditionally Tory riding, and Martin has to carry the Liberal banner into a hotbed of the CCF.

* * *

C. D. Howe’s acceptance of the Reconstruction portfolio speaks volumes of the plans in store for that postwar department.

Reconstruction could have been everything or nothing. Its duties, of necessity, must impinge on other departments like Finance, for housing, Public Works, for other building projects, Natural Resources for reforestation, and so on. The choice before the Government was whether to make Reconstruction a mere co-ordinating agency, with little power of its own, or to detach full power over certain major projects from other departments.

If a junior Minister had been brought in for the job, you would have been safe in guessing Reconstruction as a mere co-ordinator. Not so with Howe. The Minister of Munitions and Supply is one of the ablest executives and one of the most senior members of the present Cabinet. Reconstruction will amount to something in the postwar picture or Howe wouldn’t have taken it.

* * *

Looks as if Mitch Hepburn is reenlisting in the Ontario Liberal forces as commander-in-chief, which explains a lot about the Liberal attitude toward

George Drew’s Family Allowances speech.

I A year ago nobody was so scared of an early provincial election as the Ontario Liberals. Results of the first by-election after their disaster of 1943 showed that the previous Liberal vote there had almost vanished, and was divided equally between Progressive Conservatives and the CCF. This made Liberals fear, not without reason, that if a nonconfidence vote last session had brought on another election, their little remnant of 16 seats might have been wiped out altogether.

So when Ted Jolliffe, CCF leader, proclaimed in September that he was willing to form a government without a new election if the Drew regime were defeated in the House, lots of people thought the Ontario Liberals might well support him. Maybe they were right at the time, but not any more— Ottawa has turned a firm thumb down on any monkeying with the Prime Minister’s right to demand a dissolution. If Drew wants an election he can have one, unless the Liberal LieutenantGovernor refuses to heed the advice of headquarters.

But the Ontario Liberals are not as depressed as they were. Under the likable but colorless Harry Nixon they had no chance. Under their old darling Mitch they feel equal to their weight in wildcats.

* * *

Ontario, especially Toronto, started action against VD last month just in time to stave off a major blowoff on the subject from Federal VD control officers who have been unhappy about the Ontario picture for months.

While Montreal has been held up to public obloquy for its flagrantly bad vice and VD situation, Ontarians have

been preening themselves with a wholly unwarranted smugness, control officers say. The Ontario service rate for VD didn’t look too bad at the start of the war, when rates everywhere in Canada were pretty high. But while other parts of Canada buckled down and achieved sensational reductions in its VD incidence, most of Ontario is still only slightly below 1941 and 1942 levels. As for civilian incidence, reported cases have been shooting up ever since the war began.

People here seem to think Ontario’s trouble has been public apathy and official buck-passing. In Toronto, for instance, nearly half of the VD contacts reported this year have been located within five blocks of the City Hall, yet nothing much has been done to clean up. Toronto has not got the open brothel system tolerated in Montreal, but it has got as smooth a “facilitation” machinery as you’ll find anywhere—hotels, restaurants, dance halls, beer parlors are all functioning as rendezvous for prostitutes. The Provincial Government, through its licensing power, holds places such as these in the hollow of its hand. Yet not only has no attempt been made to reprimand or discipline the more notorious spots, the innkeepers are not even notified that VD has been spread in their premises.

Efforts to get more action from the province have been met with legalistic objections that public health is primarily a municipal responsibility. The answer to this is that few municipalities are equipped at all, and none adequately, to deal with a VD situation that is reaching the status of an epidemic. Unless the province acts, no effective action can be hoped for.