Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Seaway from Dixie

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK February 15 1949
Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Seaway from Dixie

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK February 15 1949

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Seaway from Dixie

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

PRIVATE forecasts from Washington are that this time the St.

Lawrence Seaway Agreement will go through Congress.

That’s what our Washington Embassy said last year and they were wrong, so Ottawa is still keeping its fingers crossed. However, the 1949 forecast comes from American sources and the reasoning behind it is plausible.

Up to now, the Truman Administration’s support of the Seaway has not been vigorous. The Democrats favored it, but they didn’t really go to work lining up congressional support for it. Anyway, this time last year the Truman Administration’s support for anything was worth very little in Congress.

This year both those conditions have changed. The Administration, according to reliable American sources, intends to put full pressure on the Democratic majority to push the Seaway Agreement through. And the Administration in 1949 is in a stronger position, vis-a-vis Congress, than at any time since the Roosevelt honeymoon in 1933.

Much of the former vote against the Seaway came from Southern Congressmen and Senators who didn’t feel very strongly for or against, but who were inclined to “go along” with the people from New Orleans and other Gulf ports who thought it might be dangerous. These “no” votes from the Deep South came from the very men who were traitors to Harry Truman, before or after the Democratic Convention, and who had good reason to fear that their patronage would be cut off by the re-elected Administration.

President Truman has been notably forgiving toward these repentant renegades. They have been

allowed to retain their patronage, and even some of their rights of seniority. They are now in a mood of grateful contrition and inclined to do anything within reason that the Truman Administration wants.

To these considerations of low-level politics are added, of course, many a more statesmanlike reason. The Labrador iron-ore development gives a new urgency to deep-water transport to the Great Lakes. The threat of war, and of blockade around Atlantic ports, makes internal communications doubly important. The power shortage in both countries creates a desperate need for hydro-electric plant expansion.

For all of which reasons 1949 may be the Seaway’s year.

IF THE SEAWAY does go through, Ottawa of course will stand up and cheer. By a sad paradox, however, the imminence of actual work on the deep-water canal has revived an old unsolved problem—the question of tolls on the new canal system.

The United States has always favored tolls on the international section of the route. Canadian canals, on the other hand, have always been tollfree, and so have American canals on the Great Lakes. When the present Seaway Agreement was negotiated in 1941, Canada was persuaded to agree “in principle” that tolls should be levied, in the erroneous belief that this would wipe out Congressional hostility to the whole scheme.

Now that the job seems about to begin, Canada’s agreement to the

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“principle” of tolls is coming back to plague us. High tolls on Labrador ore would divert it from the Great Lakes area to the Atlantic seaboard. It would create an unfair disadvantage for Canadian ore from Labrador, while American ore from Minnesota continued to float through the Sault Ste. Marie locks without charge.

Worst of all, if present St. Lawrence traffic were to continue toll-free, we’d have to maintain the present 14-foot draft canal system. We would be like the farmer who cut a large hole in his barn door for the dog to get out and another smaller hole for the cat.

Ottawa is hoping desperately that when the Seaway Agreement is put before the repentant and co-operative 81st Congress, all reference to canal tolls may be deleted.

* * *

As the new session gets under way, the question of Senate reform is again being discussed—this time with a slight difference. Even within the well-insulated walls of the Red Chamber, there’s a growing realization that the present constitutional system is moving rapidly from the ridiculous to the impossible.

In the present Senate there are 80 members—65 Liberals and 15 Conservatives. No Conservative has been appointed since the Bennett regime fell 13 years ago. Some time before the general election the Government will fill 16 Senate vacancies and appoint six new Senators from Newfoundland. The count will then be Liberal 86, Conservatives 15.

The Senate death rate is normally about six or seven a year and the Conservative group, because of its advanced age, loses more than its proportionate share. One more Liberal term in power might well reduce the Senate to little better than a one-party House.

A few people, in the Government and

in the Senate itself, have seen this coming for several years. Two years ago it was suggested that the senators themselves devise a plan of reform.

Against considerable opposition they did at least change their own rules to permit Ministers to enter the Senate Chamber and initiate legislation there. This could have the effect of giving the Senators more work to do, although up to now it hasn’t made much difference. No other reform has yet been suggested.

An age limit of 75 for newly appointed Senators has a good deal of support even in the Upper Chamber. That would not correct the disparity of party representation at once, but it would soon help to alleviate it if there were a change of government.

Another alternative often suggested is that a certain number of Senators —one third, perhaps—might be appointed by provincial rather than the federal government. Thus Ontario could then boost Conservative strength, Saskatchewan could introduce a few CCF-ers and Mr. Dupleasis would find a haven for elder National Unionists. But however logical this scheme might be, it is unlikely to find much favor with either the Senate or the present Government.

A third solution, which would require no formal change in the Constitution but a major departure from custom, would be to take the Senate out of politics altogether. The Government could appoint, instead of superannuated politicians, a group of men whose claim to distinction has nothing to do with party activity—outstanding businessmen, teachers, labor leaders, university presidents, doctors, artiste, community leaders of all sorts. The Senate might then become a genuinely consultative body with little or no partisan slant. Then the disappearance of the Senate Opposition wouldn’t matter.

However, one thing is certain. If such a reform were ever made, it wouldn’t come during an election year.