BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Handwriting On a Quebec Wall

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK January 1 1947

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Handwriting On a Quebec Wall

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK January 1 1947

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Handwriting On a Quebec Wall

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

WIN, LOSE or draw in Richelieu-Verchères, the Liberals could see handwriting on every wall in Quebec. Not that they expected defeat in P. J. A. Cardin’s riding. After all, Verchères had been Liberal since Confederation and Richelieu since the Laurier landslide of 1896. Defeat was unthinkable. “If we lose Richelieu-Verchères,” said a Quebec M.P. early in December, “not a single Liberal could be reelected in Quebec.” And he had no fear of that.

But Quebec Grits did fear a serious loss of prestige. The late Mr. Cardin’s majority in 1945, when he’d broken with the King Government and was running as an Independent Liberal, was nearly 10,000—his largest in all the nine general elections of his 35 years in Parliament. Not even by a miracle could his successor retain such a margin.

Liberals were resigned, therefore, to losing those several thousand ballots (nobody knew just how many) that had been cast for Cardin but not for King. And they thought they knew where a good deal of that former support would go.

SOCIAL CREDIT, with its Union des Electeurs rallying the nonparty vote, looked to preelection observers like the strong political newcomer in Quebec.

Nobody seemed to think Progressive Conservatives had a chance—they themselves didn’t expect a win, or even a strong showing. And this raised an interesting question about the federal future of Premier Maurice Duplessis.

Up to 1935 Mr. Duplessis was a Conservative, and his personal relations with his old party are still cordial. But he has firmly resisted, up to now, all attempts to bring him openly into the Bracken fold. Mr. Duplessis is a very smart political operator. It seemed a fair inference that he was waiting to see whether the Bracken chariot was a band wagon or a hearse.

Pontiac indicated, and Richelieu-Verchères was expected to confirm, that in Quebec the wagon with the band in it belongs to Social Credit. On top of that the present Social Credit Party has more in common with Mr. Duplessis—and, for that matter, with Premier Drew’s Ontario Conservatives—than might appear on the surface.

Certainly Messrs. Drew and Duplessis would not go for such Aberhart doctrines ns $25 a month for everybody, meeting deficits with the printing press, etc. But these are not federal issues at the moment.

They do see eye to eye with Social Credit on one point, which in 1946 is all-importnot: All three want to maintain and

increase the strength of the Provincial as against the Federal Government.

Considered in that light, a loose informal alliance among Progressive Conservatives,

Social Créditera and the Dqplessis party 18 by no means fantastic.

All three would admit that you can’t carry on government in Ottawa without kind of support from Quebec. All would admit that neither Social nor Union Nationale has any hope,

or even intention, of gaining a nation-wide majority in any early election. Even before RichelieuVerchères, a good many Progressive Conservatives would admit that their chances of victory in Quebec, under their own colors, would be exceedingly slim. Equally slim are their chances of any great gains in Solon Low’s Alberta.

What conclusion follows from these premises? By some people’s logic, just one: Let’s have an

unofficial understanding to support each other in the federal field but keep the major springs of power in the provinces.

To some businessmen, fearful of encroachment by Ottawa but confident that nine governments would be powerless to do much, the picture looks extremely attractive.

ALL THIS looked like bad news to the Liberals.

Almost anywhere a combined opposition would beat them; in Quebec and Alberta if would bring them to utter disaster. Question was, what were t hey to do about it?

All Liberals seemed to agree on one thing: Quebec leadership would have to be shaken up. Mr. St. Laurent would have to be persuaded not only to stay on the job but to take a much more active interest in practical politics; or, alternatively, he would have to make room for a permanent leader. After the feast in his honor at Quebec City a month ago, it looked as if the former course had been taken.

Under Mr. St. Laurent, and in actual charge of the federal political machinery, has been a singularly undistinguished group of men. Every Grit

you meet will agree they have to be replaced; no two seem to have the same idea of how to go about this housecleaning, or whom to put in* their place. But there are plenty of young men w ith far more talent than the incumbents, so a change might be put through at any time.

Aside from such local, tangible problems, there’s a movement on foot to revive the Liberal rank and file—and not only revive it but swing it hard to the Left.

The new organization, tentatively called the Liberal League, would be about as formless as an organization could be—no dues, no officers, no permanence. Its aim would merely be to w'ake up people who call themselves liberals with a small 1, and try to get them into active politics where their weight could be felt. Its main purpose would be served if it could get the Liberal Federation called into convention at an early date, and have a few resolutions drafted for its consideration. But when the time does come to pick a new Liberal leader, the League would like a say.

Back of t his rather vague project are Liberals of all ages, from all regions senators like Norman Lambert, House backbenchers of the Little Chicago group, a sprinkling of private citizens interested in a nonsocialist, non tory party.

AFTER a full calendar year of peace, how is the . Canadian veteran doing at his much-talked* about task of readjustment?

The answer seems to be more credit to the veteran himself than to the Canada he fought for. In the things a veteran does for himself, like getting a job,

he has done fine. In the things we were supposed to do for him, like getting him a house, the picture isn’t quite so bright — much better now than a year or even six months ago, but stall not bright.

Re-employment has gone astonishingly well. Of the 646,500 discharged from all three services since V-.J Day, only 43,000, or less than 1'/ , are ata loose end today, according to Labor Department estimates.

More than a third of them, 245,000 to be exact, are back in their old jobs under the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act. There doesn’t seem to have been much truth in t hose horror stories we heard last year the one about the wing commander, D.F.C., “reinstated” as junior office boy at $12.50 a week; the countering one about the ex-officer, spoiled by tax-free pay and allowances, who thought himself too good for the best job fie had training to handle. Neither of these cases turned out to be general, or typical. The great, inconspicuous majority of returned men fit ted quickly and naturally into the old groove, with only the service button to distinguish them from their fellows.

Another 80,000 took training of some kind. Last September, the peak of enrolment, there were 39,000 veterans in vocational schools; nearly 40,000 more are registered at universities this term.

Full-time farmers, established under the Veterans Land Act, number 12,592. Their farms average

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220 acres; about half of them are on the prairies, 2,000 in Ontario, 1,100 in the Maritimes, about 500 each in Quebec and British Columbia.

Nearly 4,000 veterans got re-establishment credits in order to buy themselves a business—all told, they drew $1.6 million for this. There were

49.000 applications for working capital from about 25,000 men and women.

All told, call it 30,000 self-employed in other than farm projects, of whom about 16,000 were still drawing the “awaiting return” benefit at the end of October.

Add ‘the 15,000 wounded men who are still in hospital or drawing benefits as out-patients, and you’ve accounted for nearly 400,000 of the demobilized men and women. Of the rest, about

18.000 are still drawing out-of-work benefits and an estimated 25,000 more are also unemployed, though they’ve exhausted their benefit. The remainder, more than 200,000, are simply on their own—working in jobs they didn’t

. have before the war, running businesses without Government aid, or otherwise occupied without having got themselves on any DVA list.

Altogether it’s a pretty good record.

* * *

Even in housing, the situation isn’t too bad for the great majority.

Canadian builders have run up a lot of houses this year—figures are still unofficial, but there was real hope for a grand total of 55,000 in 1946, an alltime record. On top of that, about

30.000 unfinished dwellings ought to be ready early in the spring,

How many of the new homes went to veterans, nobody can say with precision. For those built with Government loans, the veteran had an iron-clad priority—713 of these were sold in the second quarter of 1946, of which 511 went to veterans. But the thousands built with private money, for sale in the open market, went to the highest bidder.

Up to now about 85,000 veterans have drawn re-establishment credits to buy or build new homes. The total they’ve got this way is about $15 millions. If the average down payment on a house is 10%, that means exservicemen have invested $150 millions in homes at 1946 prices. When realestate prices go back to normal, most of those men will find their equity has vanished.

' But at least they had roofs overhead —or at least most of them did. Not all. , One of the most pathetic letters to reach Ottawa on this topic came from a

man who was living with his wife and four children in two rooms.

“It seems unfair,” he said, “that I have to pay $21.50 a month for these miserable rooms, when I get only $35 rent for the seven-room, solid brick house I own in Toronto.” He had bought a rented house without knowing about the “freezing” order; now he can’t evict his unwanted tenants.

A couple of months ago a quiet survey was taken to find out precisely how many veterans were caught in the housing crisis. Every list was checked at the various housing and shelter registries and every identifiable veteran noted; the total turned out to be 81,000 who had registered for new dwellings.

Questionnaires were sent to all of them; 23,000 replied. Of these, 82% were found to be living in overcrowded unsatisfactory dwellings. People who are used to sending out questionnaires say it’s a safe bet that only about half the persons affected would bother to reply, so that means roughly 40,000 veterans badly housed.

Not many in the total—not much over six per cent. But for the people suffering it, the housing crisis is no joke.

Almost half of those answering the questionnaire were living not in houses, not in flats, but in housekeeping rooms. Their average salary was $32.70 a week; average rent $11.20 per room per month. Nearly a third of them, 7,4.52 families to be exact, were paying more than the 20% of income which is supposed to be the proper maximum.

More than half—12,757 families— had to share bath or shower with some other family. A quarter of them shared kitchen facilities, and the biggest group of all, 13,330 families, shared the use of a toilet. In 11,249 families there were more than one person per room in the present dwelling.

One man had his wife and eight children living in two rooms. “My marriage is headed for the rocks,” he wrote. “I applied to the Canadian Corps Association for help six months ago, but nothing came of it.”

“It seems impossible to get a house if you have children,” said a veteran who has five of them, with his wife and himself, in one room. “It seems it’s a crime to have children—until a war comes along.”

Another couple were living in one room with only two children—but the room was part of a little five-room house into which 11 other people were crammed. “We’re living like pigs, the husband reported.

“I’ve had to send the four children to a foster home,” a veteran wrote from his single room, “and my wife is in a psychiatric hospital with a nervous condition, all due to housing troubles.”

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For ( hose* people it is cold comfort to hear about 55,000 houses built in 1940. Each was asked to state what rent he could pay for the kind of dwelling he

wanted—the replies averaged $30.58 per month. What can you get for $30.58 in any Canadian city nowadays? You can, if you’re lucky, get a Wartime Housing place for only a little

more than that. Wartime Housing is building about 7,000 houses this year. Applications for these now total 41,000. Where the other 34,000 are going to live, nobody seems to know, jç