The Case of the Colliding Elections
BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA
Drew's foes talk of contestation—Russia's facilities for feeding her zone in Europe put Democracies on the spot
THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK
BEHIND the renewed urgency of statements about the plight of starving Europe lies the sudden realization, in London, Washington and Ottawa, that as soon as hostilities cease democracy goes on trial in Europe. And it goes on trial with circumstances heavily against it.
Once the war is over, Europe will be divided down the middle—-officially or unofficially—by a fairly straight line. East of that line the control, economically if not politically, will lie with Communist Russia. West of the line, people will look to the western democracies for order, leadership—and food.
Men may be forgiven for judging political systems by the state of their bellies. Governments may be forgiven for doing their best to persuade people to their way of thinking, and for using food as an argument. And in the weeks now rushing down upon us all the advantages in this argument lie with the Soviet Union.
Russia has conquered the natural breadbaskets of Europe—not only her own Ukraine, but Poland, Romania, the whole Balkan Peninsula and the fat fields of Hungary. That’s where the great bulk crops are grown. That’s where, in an emergency, enough could be raised quickly to feed many armies.
Western democracies have liberated the ravaged fields of France, which were never more than selfsufficient in staples; the salt-flooded farms of Holland, ruined for years; and the richest lands of Germany herself, true, but the war has gone on long enough that seeding time has passed in most of those lands. And the transport of Germany has been ruined by ourselves, after the transport of France and the Low Countries had been ruined and stripped by the Germans.
We shall have to rush sea-borne food if we are to come anywhere near the standards, on our side of that European line, that the Soviet Union will establish east of it. As Lenin said of Herbert Hoover’s Red Cross aid in the famine, food is a weapon.
IMPARTIAL observers here incline to agree with gleeful Liberals that Premier Goerge Drew of Ontario, in his determination to get to the people ahead of Mackenzie King, faces two quite separate difficulties:
1. They doubt if he has allowed himself time to give overseas soldiers the vote.
2. By setting up two nomination days, an unofficial one on May 7 for overseas purposes and an official one May 28, they claim he has left himself vulnerable to having the whole election challenged in the courts. ^ ,
Naturally Col. Drew wanted to have his election ahead of the federal, so that if his Progressive Conservative Government were victorious—as he’s confident it will be— his Party’s prestige would be boosted and it would reap the benefit federally. When he picked June 11 as election day, he doubtless supposed that Mackenzie King would be condemned to a later date. The Election Act wouldn’t have allowed Mr. King to cut inside that slim margin.
Liberals admit that Mr. King’s choice of the same date, June 11, was just a smart political manoeuvre. Some of them even doubt if it was particularly smart—they think the Drew argument is soun(^ that it would have created hopeless confusion to hold two elections in one day. But, they say, if Col. Drew Ranted to avoid confusion, why didn’t he m5ve tjie Ontario election date back to June 18 or June 25? Why didn’t he leave to Mr. King thé-, overripe plum of priority, scorn political footwork but make sure at least that th$ sojffiers get a vote? Instead, they say, by mdving election day a week ahead, he has simply made a difficult task impossible.
Shopping around among people who have to do with the mechanics of elections, you find
a good many who agree with this view. A parliamentary committee of all parties looked into the question of overseas voting last year, and it recommended that at least four months should elapse between passage of legislation and an election—two months before the issuance of writs, two months between writs and polling. And 28 days should elapse between nomination and election.
These delays were recommended to allow time for preparatory work which in fact began immediately after the Dominion Election Act 1944 was passed, last
August. By September election officers were overseas in such remote parts as India, Burma, Australia, Egypt. In all these places, and in Italy, they had to wait three weeks for various inoculations before the Medical Corps would let them go up into the line—to mention only one difficulty.
But even with all these preparations it was felt that the Prime Minister’s choice of June 11 left no time to spare—it meant that the two-week voting period for service electors would run between May 28 and June 9, which gave little enough time for the cabling of lists of candidates, the setting up of polling stations, the printing of ballots and so on.
. And for Ontario, of course, the difficulties of June 11 Would have been even greater, for Ontario hasn’t had any chance to do the kind of preparation that the federal machine has been going through since last September. Ontario hadn’t any election officers overseas at all when the election was announced—the regulations for service voting hadn’t even been drawn up, and weren’t for some time afterward. And it goes without saying that an election June 4 will be just that much tougher again.
THIS objection is practical. Objection No. 2 is technical—but, in its way, it’s even less superable. The claim may be made that the Ontario election on June 4 will be technically illegal, by Ontario’s own election laws. ' >
Here’s the setup as some procedure experts see it. Just before the Ontario House was dissolved, the Government rushed through its bill abolishing the “proxy” system by which soldiers had voted in 1943, and providing for new regulations which were drawn up subsequently, but which were to provide every servicemanwith a chancetocast hisown vote in hisown riding. At the same time an Ontario Election Act 1945 was drafted, which, like the Dominion Act 1944, would have extended the period between nomination and election to 28 days.
But the Ontario Act 1945 was never passed—the House was dissolved too soon. ’ Service voters regulations must, therefore, operate under the old Election Act of 1937, which suys nomination and election must be seven days apart.
Now it’s utterly impossible to run an active service election in seven days. It takes 3}4¿ days just to cable the lists overseas—they still have to be printed and circulated, the ballots printed and circulated, the polling stations set up and the poll itself held. Nobody could do this in a week.
There were two courses open to the Drew Government in this dilemma. One was to go ahead and declare a nomination day with election day 28 days later. Section 2 of the Service Voters Act, which did get passed, provides that the regulations “may have the effect of altering any of the provisions of the Election Act 1945.” They could have applied this to the old act, pleading the force majeure of the soldier’s right to vote. Technically it would have been illegal, but if they’d set nomination day far enough ahead to give no Party a legitimate grievance, and if they’d explained that the only alternative would be to disfranchise the troops altogether, no Party would have dared challenge them. Even if they’d been challenged by an independent candidate, they’d have had a good common-sense case with which to go to court.
fThe other course, which the Government adopted, was to set two nomination days—an “unofficial” one for the troops, May 7, and the official one, May 28, for the folks back home. This plan depended entirely on the co-operation of all Parties and all candidates. The Drew Government, having admitted by proclamation that the legal nomination day is May 28, cannot debar any candidate from filing his papers on that day and ignoring the “unofficial” nomination day, May 7. And having filed his papers in accordance with the law, he has the right to demand that his name be submitted on all the ballots, to all the electors. If he can prove this hasn’t been done he can demand that the election be voided.
The Ontario Government hopes to get around this difficulty by cabling, after May 28, “supplementary lists” of any names that may have been added to the list as of May 7. Opinion is unanimous here that this won’t work. For one thing, if they follow the same system of taking the soldier vote as the Dominion will follow, the soldiers will be actually casting their votes by May 21—a full week before the official nomination day.
All opposition Parties art*' aware of the Drew Government’s anomalous position. The Liberals here don’t say what they’ll do with the knowledge, but Mitch Hepburn is unlikely to throw away a pair of brass knuckles. Ditto the Communists. As for the CCF, national leader M. J. Coldwell says, “Our party will adhere to the letter of the law”—but he intimates very plainly that they won’t let the Drew Government get away with anything beyond its legal rights.
Altogether, the opposition appears to
think the Lord has Continued on page 64
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delivered their enemy into their hand. On the other hand, the Queen’s Park Government is fully aware of what the opposition thinks and is proceeding with its plans, confident that it is on safe ground so far as both points are concerned.
There was more than rumor in those stories about Prime Minister King wanting to get out of Prince Albert, where he’s quite likely to be defeated, and running instead in Russell County, near Ottawa, where he’d be pretty sure to win.
Very serious consideration was given to the Russell County plan—some people even say a favorable decision was taken, although Liberals close to the PM deny this. But anyway, it was studied. The arguments in favor of it were manifold. CCF-ers in Saskatchewan will accept bets at five to one that their man, a Mormon farmer named Barrowman, will beat the Prime Minister in Prince Albert. Progressive Conservatives hope that their Squadron Leader Walter Nelson will win, but they agree that the CCF-er is the man to beat. Mr. King was a minority victor even in the Liberal landslide of 1940—against his 8,310 votes were cast 7,534 for the Conservative, 1,993 for the CCF-er and 243 for the Communist, a total anti-King vote of 9,770. And since 1940 the CCF strength in Saskat-
chewan has multiplied; in the provincial election last year their man got almost twice as many votes as the Liberal, and the Progressive Conservative was nowhere at all.
So, all things considered, it looked bad for Mr. King in Prince Albert, and the sitting Member for Russell saw his senatorship dangling before him, almost within his grasp. But when the news of this project leaked out, Western members woke up screaming.
No matter what happened to Mr. King personally, they cried, he had to run in Prince Albert or they were ruined. Let the Liberal leader back away from this fight, the big boss man himself, and the Party wouldn’t take a seat from the Head of the Lakes to the Pacific Coast, they said.
Maybe this fear was a little exaggerated, but it had point. Mr. King saw the point. He’ll run in Prince Albert and take what comes.
Don’t pay too much attention to the rumors, lately revived, that the Liberals and CCF will form a coalition if the election result is close. So far as can be learned here, the tale is founded only in Liberal hopes.
Latest version of the story is that Prime Minister King would invite the CCF into coalition, promising that M. J. Cold well should be his successor as Prime Minister. Mr. Coldwell, asked about this, returned the same answer as he has done to all the coalition rumors: “I have no intention of entering a coalition with the Liberals on any terms or under any circum-
stances. It would be the end of the CCF, as it was the end of the Progressive movement in the 1920’s—we’d simply be swallowed up. I wouldn’t enter into any such arrangement, not even to be Prime Minister of Canada. I’ll be Prime Minister as head of a CCF Government or not at all.”
Mr. Coldwell does not add, but his followers do, that in the unlikely event of his yielding to persuasion and changing his mind on this thing, his Party wouldn’t support him anyway. They’re firmly behind his decision not to coalesce; they say that even he couldn’t lead them into any other Une of policy.
Biggest trade story of the year is concealed in a couple of sober sentences in one of the stodgier paragraphs of the White Paper on reconstruction policy, presented to the House just before dissolution. On page 9 of that booklet it’s set forth that our old customers, like Britain, who have been temporarily bankrupted by their war effort, will be given whatever credit they need to buy things from us. Then the White Paper goes on:
“In the view of the Government, appropriate terms for repayment of these credits would recognize unequivocally the dependence of such international debt payments on the expansion of world trade and ample markets for the exports by which credits must be repaid.”
In other words, “Pay us when you have the money. If you don’t have it, we’ll wait until you do have it.”
This is a pretty sensational offer. It’s apparently made to all our warstricken customers overseas, but, of course, the biggest is Britain. Few details are available in Ottawa, since no announcement of any specific negotiations has been made either here or in London, but from what can be gathered our proposition is something like this:
We’re offering our customers a longterm credit up to very substantial amounts, and on unchallengeably generous terms, to tide them over the critical postwar years. Repayment would be in annual installments. If in any year our customer’s gold holdings showed no surplus above a certain agreed minimum, and if our customer had no surplus of Canadian dollars from goods sold here, we’d simply forego that year’s installment and move it back to the end of the ine. We’d want our money back
eventually, but the rate at which we’d get it would depend on the state of world trade and the prosperity of our customer.
Partly, this offer is motivated by our desire to help Britain and our other wartorn Allies—certainly Canada believes they deserve a break after all they’ve done and suffered. But the main motive isn’t altruistic at all, it’s plain hard business sense in Canada’s own interest. We think that Britain has to have this kind of assistance to tide her over the next few years. Without it she’d be ruined—and we’d lose our best customer. With it, we’re convinced, she’ll come back once more to a leading position in the world economy, and we’ll all benefit.
Another big story in the reconstruction White Paper is its plan for public investment after the w&r. Reconstruction Department planners have the idea that public funds ought to be spent in time of depression on schemes for the conservation and development of natural resources, instead of on dole or on profitless, planless “public works” in the neighborhood of large cities. Money spent outside a metropolis flows in, naturally; public money spent in a metropolis doesn’t flow anywhere.
Reconstruction’s idea is to get together not only with the provinces but also with the industries using natural resources. Get their technical people together to lay out a broad, general plan for development of all natural resources in a given regionforests, mines, streams, soil, everything. Let each agree to do whatever lies in its sphere to advance this general plan-—the provinces to build their roads along certain agreed lines, so as to open up territory in the best way; the industries to follow certain practices like replanting a cleared forest area, and so on.
And in time of depression, in time when the export industries might be thrown into a slump by a falling off in foreign trade, then let the Federal Government step in and proceed with the plan as a whole. Thus it would employ the very people thrown out of work by the slump, let the money thus spent flow in the same channels as it had always flowed, to irrigate the rest of the economy. We’d be grappling with depression at its starting point instead of trying to put a plaster on its outward lesions after its infection had gone all through our body politic.