Backstage at Ottawa

Mr. Abbott’s budget hints at a Liberal right shift. And did you hear about the brigadier who got cut down to corporal?


Backstage at Ottawa

Mr. Abbott’s budget hints at a Liberal right shift. And did you hear about the brigadier who got cut down to corporal?


Backstage at Ottawa


Mr. Abbott’s budget hints at a Liberal right shift. And did you hear about the brigadier who got cut down to corporal?

SO FAR as can be learned from postbudget gossip there’s nothing in the talk of Mr. Abbott’s first-born being “an election budget.” “Nobody ever budgeted for a surplus in an election year,” said one rather cynical Grit. However, Liberals are happy to see their tax cuts applauded; it might still become necessary to have a 1947 election, for other reasons, and a popular budget would be helpful ammunition. But if the Government has free choice in the matter there will be no election this year.

They want to get through the painful process of decontrol which is likely to cause some sudden spurts in the cost of living. Get that over with, let the consumers’ indignation cool and then it will be time enough to check with the voters.

The Abbott budget does, however, look like a very solid cornerstone for a 1948 campaign. Next year, whether the Government does any more economizing or not, expenditures are bound to shrink by about a quarter of a billion. You can pick that much right out of the 1947 estimates— $94 millions in rehabilitation benefits, $80 millions for gratuities and re-establishment credits, $40 millions for price control, $18 millions in flour Subsidies, $21 millions in freight subsidies for western feed grains, and a long fist of smaller items. They may not all disappear completely within a year, but they’ll dwindle like a ^snowbank in April.

It’s true that some revenues will disappear too; This year’s accounts include a number of things, like the $60-odd millions expected from War Assets which can’t be expected to recur. Altogether probably $100 to $125 millions will drop out of the revenue column. But these automatic processes still leave a balance in the Government favor of pretty close to $150 millions.

Of course Mr. Abbott won’t be able just to add that on to the big fat surplus in his present budget. He predicted a surplus of $190 millions but he pointed out that if the new low income tax rate applied for the whole year, instead of half of it, he’d have a surplus of only $85 millions. He also pointed out that if Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia were to sign tax agreements on the present terms this would cost Ottawa another $110 millions. Other things being equal that would have left him $25 millions in the red.

But when you cancel out all these debits and credits and allow a reasonable margin for preelection cheer, you can still see how Mr. Abbott could cut taxes by another $100 millions or so. That would be a very pleasant way to start a 1948 election campaign—and the pot would be further sweetened in the course of next winter by the distribution of $58 millions in compulsory savings.

IN ANOTHER more serious way, Mr. Abbott’s budget has an important bearing on the Government’s next election platform. Amid the chorus of joy over tax reductions most people rather lost sight of a major reversal of policy that the Finance Minister announced in his budget speech. Ever since 1942 Ottawa’s economic policy has been to tax hard in good times and plan on free spending in bad times.

This was all spelled out in the “White Paper on Employment and Income” that Mr. Howe tabled in Parliament in April, 1945. He said the Government intended to “apply war experience to the problems of peace” by using the national budget to fight depression. Large-scale public investment projects to give employment, social security measures to put a high floor under consumers’ buying power, and deficits if necessary to keep this program going—these were the cardinal points of the 1945 policy, which became the Liberal election platform.

“The Government will be prepared,” said the White Paper, “to incur the deficits and increases in national debt resulting from its employment and income policy.”

But the White Paper went on to say, “In periods of buoyant employment and good times budget plans will call for surpluses.”

True, Mr. Abbott is budgeting for a surplus, albeit a rather skinny one. But in his speech the Finance Minister deliberately renounced one half— the “tax-in-good-times” half of the 1945 platform.

He gave it an eloquent eulogy, called it “sensible and farsighted,” admitted that “economic considerations alone would hardly justify immediate tax reductions.” But he went on to say that we had to have tax cuts anyway because the people wanted them.

No party is likely to challenge that opinion. But for all their gratitude for tax reductions, some people are wondering what if anything has happened to the other half of the Liberal policy. Having dropped the tax-in-good-times doctrine, will the Grits still try to carry out the rest of their promises? Will they spend on public works to create employment? Will they keep plugging for health insurance and old-age pensions? A good many of them individually would answer “no.”

For several years Liberals have been under the same quilt with the CCF on social welfare policy. Now some observers think the party is rolling over —1948 may find them snuggling up to the left shoulder of the Conservatives.

IT IS PAINFUL to have to report a major crisis, still unsolved at this writing, in the protocol department at Ottawa.

Not long ago External Affairs published in booklet form the local Diplomatic List. As befits a bilingual country the list is published in French and English.

Unfortunately the translator, doubtless letterperfect in the civilian usages of both languages, was not equally alert to military terms. When he came to the English word “brigadier,” he saw only a word obviously taken from the French— so in the French version he used the word.

It is a French word, all right, but it means “corporal” in the French cavalry, artillery and police. Result is that our official diplomatic list demotes three brigadiersone British and two Latin American —to the rank of bombardier.

IBERALS still have their fingers crossed, but if A they get away without a provincial election in Quebec this summer they will count it as at least a minor victory over Premier Maurice Duplessis and his Union Nationale.

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When the Quebec session opened early this year Grits were rather glumly certain that Mr. Duplessis would go to the people in 1947, a year ahead of his normal time and two years ahead of absolute necessity. As they figured his strategy, it would be to call an election on the “autonomy” issue, win it, come back with five more years of power ahead of him, and then sign a tax agreement with Ottawa. They couldn’t see anything wrong with this plan of campaignthey made no bones about their own inability to boat him.

Of course they may still turn out to have been right. But at this moment they feel a great deal more confidence in their chances of winning such a fight if it does come. And they now don’t think it will.

Four things, as they read the signs from here, have worked unexpectedly against the Quebec Premier’s strenglh:

First, they affirm that the “autonomy” cry, though still potent, has lost a little of its magic. A year ago Opposition Leader Adelard Godbout had some difficulty with the more nationalistic of his followers in giving even guarded and qualified support to the Ottawa tax offer. They kept telling him to lie low, the people wouldn’t stand for it. Now, after further soundings among the electorate, ' they are quite content to go along with him.

Then, the Grits look with great content upon the issue that has arisen on the subject of public morality. Premier Duplessis relies heavily upon the support of the clergy and of religious organizations. A few months ago the League of the Sacred Heart made some investigations of its own among Montreal night spots. In six of these, where they found conditions pretty bad, they turned in formal reports to the Premier, who Ls his own Attorney-General.

Nothing happened—so far as can be learned the reports were not even acknowledged. Thereupon, the League sent copies of the six reports to the Jesuit monthly Relations, which published them verbatim.

Liberals quietly rejoiced. They brought the matter up in the House, and their cup of joy overflowed when Premier Duplessis lost his temper to the extent of expelling from the Chamber two of their most respected members who were speaking on the subject . One of these was Mr. Godbout himself.

Third sector in which, according to Grits, Premier Duplessis has lost ground is in the labor movement. He has always had—indeed, he has openly invited—the hostility of international unions, who have more members but much less public support than the National Catholic Syndicates. But this year the Syndicates, too, have turned strongly against him. His handling of the Valleyfield strike last summer, and still more his attempt to bring in a new labor law in Quebec which labor thought repressive, have united the whole labor movement, Catholic and international alike, against V Union Nationale.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, they think they can see a rift in the hitherto solid farm support for Premier Duplessis.

The cause of this rift was a couple of seemingly urban measures, school bills for the cities of Quebec and Montreal Both bills would abolish the municipalities’ right to name school trustees, leaving the power wholly in the hands of the provincial Government and the Catholic Church.

Rural school boards are, of course, unaffected. But quite a number of school trustees in Quebec villages feel that the precedent is a threat to their status. If it could happen to Quebec and Montreal, it could happen to them — and they don’t like it. School trustees are powerful figures in the back concessions; if they do turn against the Duplessis administration their influence could be serious.

Nobody in Ottawa is so fatuous as to think Duplessis is definitely on his way out. There are few politicians in Canada as skilful as he in a fight; against him the Opposition is still rather frail and not very well organized. But the opinion Ls gaining ground here that the tide has turned against