General Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Security’s Stock Rises

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1948
General Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Security’s Stock Rises

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK March 15 1948

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Security’s Stock Rises

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

SUCH-IS-FAME NOTE: When the New York Times was preparing an item for the Sunday review of the week on Prime Minister Mackenzie King's retirement, the rewrite man added to his story a suggestion for the weekly question box. His question: "Mackenzie King. last week announced his intention to retire as Prime Minister of Canada and as leader of the party he has, headed for the past 29 years. What is the name of the party?" The question wasn't used. "It's too tough," the editor said. "Nobody could be expected to know the answer."

* * *

AFTER TWO years of deathlike coma, the . federal social security plans are showing faint stirrings of life. The matter hadn’t reached the Cabinet at this writing, so there has not yet been any change in Government policy. But it’s possible that there may be a change between now and next summer.

Ever since the breakdown of the Dominionprovincial conference in 1946, Ottawa’s line has been that nothing could be done about social security—old-age pensions, health insurance and the like—without a general tax agreement with “the provinces.” Most people, and most cabinet ministers, took it for granted that this meant “all the provinces.” But the Government has never officially said so—in at least one case, the word “all” was struck out of a minister’s speech after Cabinet had reviewed it.

Today the social security faction, headed by Hon. Paul Martin, Minister of Health and Welfare, is trying to sell the idea that “agreement with the provinces” has already been achieved—in seven out of nine cases. Why not go ahead then, they ask, at least with the beginnings of a social security program?

At the present moment, such a proposal would be unlikely to win much support in the Cabinet. Paul Martin would have one backer, Brooke Claxton, who founded Health and Welfare before he took over National Defense. Finance-minded men like Douglas Abbott and J. L. Ilsley would be against it -—“where’s the money to come from?”—and C. D. Howe, though less worried about money, has no patience with “this social security nonsense.”

Louis St. Laurent, the heir apparent, would likely be a neutral. Milton Gregg, V.C., Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, is an unknown quantity on matters of this kind, but might incline to take the Martin-Claxton side. Other ministers would probably go along with the majority, in either direction.

But, in spite of all these obstacles to social security in 1948, there are two or three reasons to think the program might win.

* * *

IF Prime Minister King should decide to favor the notion, then the minority for social security would become a majority in the twinkling of an eye. Mr. King has given no sign one way or the other, but many people believe the idea would appeal to him.

Mr. King was brought into public life because, as a young reporter in Toronto, he exposed the horrible conditions under which government contract workers were living and working in the

1890’s. He founded the Labor Department and the present Canadian system of conciliation between employe?: and worker.

When Sir Wilfrid Laurier died in 1919, Hon. W. S. Fielding was the preconvention favorite for the succession. Mr. King won the convention and the leadership with a great speech on “industry and humanity.” So at two great turning points in his career, it was Mr. King’s interest in humanitarian measures that decided his course. And he has, in fact, been responsible for every piece of social welfare legislation on the federal statute book, from the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act of 1907 to the Family Allowances Act of 1944.

Now, in 1948, Mr. King is retiring. What could be more fitting, what could more appropriately

climax the longest of careers in leadership than to lay the cornerstone of a new, inclusive, coherent system of social insurance?

* * *

MR. KING’S decision will be final in this matter.

There is no hope that a social security program would proceed without his active support and little danger that it would be blocked or frustrated against his wishes. Nevertheless, there are a couple of secondary influences in the direction of social security which are not devoid of importance.

One is the new Premier of British Columbia, Hon. Byron Johnson.

Mr. Johnson is a wealthy contractor, an employer of labor, a self-made man who biiilt up a fortune from small beginnings. His ambition in public life, his friends say, is to give every citizen the kind of medical care and old-age security that many companies, including his own, now give their employees.

Johnson’s interest in social security is personal, based on experience. As an employer he has seen what can be done by private schemes like the Blue

Cross for hospital care and the Medical Service Association which, on the west coast, pays all doctor bills for thousands of people. He has seen dramatic examples of what this can mean to hardworking, self-supporting, self-respecting people— men who would never ask for charity; but who can’t afford proper medical service on an individual payment basis.

These private schemes have gone about as far as they can go in B. C. They can only be arranged through an employer, so that payments can be conveniently collected. They don’t cover the selfemployed, the casual worker, the farmer, or even the employee of a firm which isn’t interested. To serve more people, health insurance must become public business. That, they say, was a major con-

sidération in bringing Johnson into public life.

The new Premier of B. C. visited Ottawa for a week or so last month. It was a quiet, routine, getacquainted trip. Mr. Johnson held no press conferences, made no public statements. Me talked to a lot of people, including Prime Minister King, but nothing was said of what they talked about. However, before his visit was over, the social security faction among federal Liberals knew that they’d acquired a major ally out west.

* * *

ASIDE FROM this personal support, there are l\ strong political reasons for a new interest in social security. What with the high cost of living and the shortage of American dollars, the federal Liberals are really on the defensive for the first time since the war ended. Especially out west, where Jimmy Gardiner’s farm policy has lost a lot of its backing, the Liberals are in sore need of something new and positive.

Rightly or wrongly, the Grits believe they are losing supporters not to the Progressive Conservatives but to the CCF. If the Continued on. page 71

Backstage at Ottawa

Continued from page 15

present trend is allowed to continue, many of them fear that the Socialists would carry the country from the Lakehead to the coast.

To check or to reverse that trend, the Leftward Liberals argue, they’ll need the kind of platform to which' a leftleaning electorate will listen. Old-age pensions and health insurance, two of the most important items in any social security program, are the planks they would like to have nailed in right now.

If possible, they’d like to have them before the two by-elections that they face in British Columbia. Ian Mackenzie’s seat in Vancouver Centre, left vacant when he went to the Senate, is excellent fighting ground for the CCF. In 1945, the CCF and the Communist candidate together polled about 3,500 more votes than Mackenzie ' —and now the Communists say they intend to throw what weight they have behind the CCF. But even without that dubious aid, the Socialists needed only 800 votes to beat Mackenzie three years ago.

Yale, B.C., the other western vacancy, was held by Hon. Crote

Stirling for the Progressive Conservatives, but it is far from being a safe Tory seat. Even Mr. Stirling, a muchadmired man, had a majority of only 2,000 over his CCF opponent in 1945; the Liberal trailed as a bad third. As things stand now, the Socialists think they have an excellent chance of taking both British Columbia ridings.

That’s what gives urgency to the plea of Leftish Liberals for Social Security Now.

* * *

For all these reasons, the Health and Welfare officials these days are busy as beavers and cheerful as crickets. They have been working all winter on the general background of social security plans for 1948. Dr. Harry Cassidy of the University of Toronto, one of the outstanding experts in the field, spent months in Ottawa on special assignment, bringing the Dominion proposals of 1945 up to date, filling in their gaps. His report has not been published, but it’s known to be in the department’s hands now.

On the basis of that report and of their own ideas and experience, Health and Welfare officials have prepared numerous plans and memorandums of Continued on page 73

Continued, from page 71 their own. The corridor rumor is that they have even got to the point of drafting legislation, though without prior cabinet approval this would have to be highly tentative.

In any case, they have hoped very strongly for some kind of legislative action either at the present session of Parliament or at the very latest by 1949. Their long-term objective, of course, is a complete system of social insurance to protect all citizens against the “universal risks” of sickness, disability, and destitution in widowhood or old age. For the present, though, they are focusing attention on two things—old-age pensions and health insurance.

There’s a constitutional obstacle to national old-age pensions. Under the present British North America Act, care of the aged is a provincial matter. The pensions we have now are issued by the provinces, with a federal grantin-aid making up 75% of the cost. Contributory pensions for everybody, which is the objective, are impossible without a constitutional amendment.

The suggestion is that Ottawa should first of all declare its intention to set up a contributory pension scheme for all aged citizens, regardless of means, and ask the provinces to approve an amendment of the B.N.A. Act to make this possible. Most of the provinces would almost certainly agree—not only the seven who have signed tax agreements, but probably Ontario as well. Quebec is more doubtful—Premier Maurice Duplessis would be unlikely to welcome any amendment to the B.N.A. Act, whatever its purpose, or indeed to favor anything at all that Ottawa wants. However, old-age pensions are a popular issue. Perhaps even Duplessis would hesitate to stand against them.

If the amendment were approved there would be no further difficulty. If not, other things might be tried. Enabling legislation by the agreeing provinces would make possible if not a good national scheme, at least a great improvement over what we have now.

Health insurance could hardly be completed on anything but a national basis, but it could certainly be started. If there is legislation on this matter either this year or next, it would probably run something like this:

Extension of federal grants to agreeing provinces for the planning and organization of public-health projects.

Grants and loans for hospital construction.

Grants for specific projects such as treatment and/or prevention of tuberculosis or venereal disease or cancer, or child-care clinics, or public-nursing services.

Any province applying for such aid would have to undertake that eventually, within a reasonable period of time, it would go on to establish some kind of over-all health insurance. Details would be left to the provinces, which will administer whatever health scheme is finally set up in Canada anyway, but the standard of service would have to measure up to an acceptable national minimum. ★

THE EXPIRATION NOTICE

The notification from Maclean’s Magazine of the approaching expiration of your subscription is sent out well in advance. This is so that there will be no need for your being disappointed by the missing of a single issue.

The demand for copies to fill new orders is so great that, despite our constantly increased pressrun, we seldom have any copies left for mailing to subscribers who are even one issue in arrears.

Subscribers receiving the “expiration" notice are reminded of the importance of sending in their renewal order promptly.