Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

He’d Fire 162 M.Ps

BLAIR FRASER June 15 1950
Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

He’d Fire 162 M.Ps

BLAIR FRASER June 15 1950

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Articles

He’d Fire 162 M.Ps

BLAIR FRASER

Maclean's Ottawa Editor

ON A TRAIN from Quebec the other day I bumped into Frederic Dorion, the former M.P. who was one of George Drew’s chief lieutenants in Quebec. I hadn’t seen him since his defeat last June and I’d never seen him looking so well.

“Best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I wouldn’t go back to parliament for $100,000.” Why not?

“It’s fun, but it’s just too expensive,” he said. “I was there seven years. I managed to keep my law practice going after a fashion—my brother and my other partners helped me. This year, working at it full time, I don’t suppose my gross income will be any more than it was when I was an M.P. But you see, I don’t have to spend the $4,000 or $5,000 a year it cost me to be an M.P so I’m that much ahead.

“Only two kinds of people can really afford to be in politics: the rich, who can make it a hobby; and the others who can’t make as good a living any other way. If you’re in between you’re a fool to stay in the game.”

WHAT, if anything, could be done about this I asked him. Wasn’t there any way to make political life a worth-while career?

“I’ve thought about that a lot,” Dorion said, “and I think there is a way, yes. Cut the size of parliament to 100 and pay each of them $15,000.

“We have far too many M.Ps now. Out of the 262 now in the House, at least 50 will have to sit through the whole term without ever opening their mouths. What are they there for? What good are they doing? There’s work enough for 100 men, but not for 262.”

That might be true of speeches in the House, but how about the work of looking after their constituencies? How could one man serve two and a half times as much territory as each M.P. has to serve now?

He waved that aside. “Simple. Ninety per cent of the work an M.P. does could be done just as well by a good secretary.

“At present they get stenographic help and that’s all —one stenographer for every two members. The M.P has to do everything for himself except the actual typing. He spends most of his time, if he’s conscientious, making petty enquiries of the Civil Service and telling people where to go to straighten out pension claims.

“Give every member a good secretary and a stenographer and you’d get rid of all that routine. Give him a salary that’s really worth working for, and time enough to do some real work on the nation’s business —then parliament could amount to something. It would cost about the same. For 262 members at $6,000 we’re paying $1,572,000 a year; 100 members at $15,000 would cost an even million and a half. What’s wrong with that?”

What, indeed? It’s true that in the present House, especially among the Liberals with their obese majority, the average backbencher leads a dull life. A really industrious man can keep himself busy answering his mail and studying legislation, but there’s no stimulus to work he can get by doing little or nothing. On the rare occasions when he gets a chance to speak in the House, nobody listens.

It’s bad for morale in more ways than one. Many a sober man has taken to drink, many a happy home is broken up by idle philandering, because the backbencher Continued on pufie titi

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Backstage at Ottawa

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has to spend six months away from home with nothing interesting to do. Up to now, all the 3teps taken to correct this situation have cost a lot of money and helped only a handful of people - for instance, creation of parliamentary assistants to the cabinet ministers. Maybe the Dorion plan is worth thinking about.

One backbencher entered into a well-earned reward is Cordon Isnor, the new senator from Nova Scotia.

Gordon had been in the House of Commons since 1935 and he seldom, if ever, made any headlines. He never pretended to be a statesman, but he was a cracking good politician who kept a big shifting urban riding in the hollow of his hand. In the Commons chamber the Government didn’t seem to notice him much but it was very glad to have him around on election

If loyalty and political security had been the tests fas they often have been in other cases) Gordon Isnor would have got the Nova Scotia cabinet post when J V. Ilsley retired. It went instead to Boh Winters, the able young Minister of Resources and Development who’s become one of the Liberal Party's rising stars. Isnor didn’t complain, didn’t sulk; he worked just as hard to deliver Halifax to the Grits in 1919 as he had for 15 years. But nobody was surprised, this year, when he was appointed to the Valhalla of

all good political warriors. The Senate may not be as glamorous as Cabinet, but it’s delightfully permanent.

Next week George Nowlan, president of the National Progressive Conservative Association, gets another crack at the Annapolis Valley seat of which a malignantly Liberal fate cheated him last year.

Nowlan first sprang into national fame when he won a by-election in December, 1948, capturing J. L. Ilsley’s old riding which had been continuously Liberal for nearly 25 years.

Last June 27 one of the first tip-offs of the Liberal landslide was the close race in Annapolis-Kings. Nowlan was reported beaten. Later in the evening he was reported victor by a narrow margin. Next day the final score went up Nowlan was defeated by four

On civilian returns alone he had won by about 60, hut the RCAF station in his county voted Liberal two to one. Their 200 votes were just enough to beat him. Then if. turned out that of the 200 RCAF men on the station, only 63 had a right to vote in that riding, ft was impossible, of course, to ti ll which 63 ballots were the legal ones.

Nowlan argued that the court should give him the election. After all. his civilian majority had been 59 and his opponent’s over-all majority was only four. If even three of those 6.3 airmen had voted Progressive Conservati ve victory was his; surely it was a logical inference that the 63 good ballots weren’t all Liberal The court disagreed there was no way of telling which ballots were which. The only

thing to do was hold the election over

Around Ottawa the betting seems to be on Nowlan to win this time. Liberals are not fanatically bent on adding one more to their colossal majority — many of them admit, pri vately, that a stronger Opposition would be good for this Parliament and for Canada. Also, they like Nowlan personally.

For the PCs, on the other hand, the election is crucial; the party’s prestige is at stake. Plain George Nowlan has already shown he could win the scat unaided; it would be a sad blow if PC President Nowlan were defeated.

Also, it’s important to the party that its national president should be an M.P located in Ottawa. Sitting in on the parliamentary caucus, working full time at politics (and incidentally traveling on an M.Ps free railway pass), he can work far more effectively than if he’s practicing law for a living down in Wolfville, N.S.

Win or lose, of course, Nowlan is still PC president and expected to do a good job. He has several points of resemblance with his predecessor, J. M. Macdonnell, of Toronto. Both are six feet four inches tali; both were artillerymen in World War I iMacdonnell was a major, Nowlan a gunner); both have almost as many friends in other parties as in their own. Nowlan went to law school with Senator Gordon Fogo, president of the National Liberal Federation, and played on the same Dalhousie football team as Angus L. Macdonald, the Liberal Premier of Nova Scotia; hr:'s on the warmest personal terms with both of them.

In other ways, though, he’ll be a

different kind of national president. The party wanted to hire him as national organizer last fall; Nowlan turned the job down, but his talents as an organizer won’t be wasted in his present honorary post. And. by common consent, a good practical organizer is what the PC’s need most.

When the Liberals came back last year with the biggest majority in history everybody assumed they could do what they liked in Parliament. Yet for two whole sessions the Government and its myriad backers had to sit by helplessly while a tiny opposition—not even the whole Opposition, for Social Credit took no part—held the Grit steamroller to a standstill.

How? And still more important, why?

The “how” is simple enough. The bill to incorporate the Alberta Natural Gas Company was a private bill: under House rules it could be debated only on certain days at certain hours. For its own measures the Government can, and usually does, get the rules suspended to give priority to Government bills. It can’t do this for a private company’s bill. Conservatives and CCF-ers, few as they are, have been numerous enough to talk the thing out day after day, week after week.

The “why” is not so simple. Of the five pipe-line companies that did get charters last year, one—the Westcoast Transmission Company—is interested in piping natural gas from Alberta to Vancouver. So is the Alberta Natural Gas Company, whose application for a similar charter was delayed for two sessions by the filibuster. In both cases the charter itself (the one Westcoast Transmission already has, and the one Alberta Natural Gas wanted i provides for the building of pipe lines in both Canada and the United States. It must, for everyone agrees that eventually the gas must be sold in the U. S. or there won’t be enough market to pay for the line.

The argument is whether to pipe gas straight into the U. S. from Alberta, with a line running up to serve Vancouver; or to take the pipe line through the interior of British Columbia and thus bring cheap gas to a lot of little B. C. towns. Westcoast Transmission proposes the latter course; its chosen route runs from Edmonton through the Yellowhead Pass to serve Kamloops, the Okanagan Valley and other Canadian centres.

Privately, C. D. Howe will assure you that both Alberta Natural Gas and Westcoast will be required to build through Canada, that the Board of Transport Commissioners won’t approve any other route and that even if they did the Government won’t give an export license to any other route. Up to this moment, though, he hasn’t

made that statement in the House of Commons. Alberta Natural Gas itself admits quite frankly it will build through B. C. if it’s ordered to do so, but through Washington State if it can.

On both sides, bitterness and slander have reached new heights, or depths. Each side accused the other of lying, concealing the truth, and accepting bribes. The “pro” group, which includes most of the Liberal majority, called the filibuster just a stall to give Westcoast Transmission a monopoly and make its franchise worth that much more money. The “anti” group said the Government has made a sinister deal with American interests to sell out British Columbia in return for (a) campaign fund contributions, or (b> cheap American gas for industrial Ontario.

Both sets of charges are irresponsible and false, so far as anyone has been able to prove. There may be, and probably are, interested parties on both sides, but anyone who tried to bribe Ralph Maybank, who sponsored the Alberta Natural Gas bill, or Howard Green, who led the opposition to it, would be thrown out bodily from the fifth floor of Parliament Buildings.

In fact, neither Maybank nor the Government cared particularly whether the Alberta Natural Gas Company was incorporated or not. Maybank sponsored the bill as a favor to Ralph Campney, Vancouver Liberal M.P., who couldn’t sponsor it himself because he is, or was until recently, personally interested in the company.

“My big mistake was saying ‘yes’ too quickly,” Maybank says. “It’s like when a man comes up to you in the railway station and asks you to hold his baby for a minute. He goes away. The baby starts to yell, but what can you do? You’re stuck with it.”

Prime Minister St. Laurent told the Liberal caucus he didn’t care whether they voted for or against the bill—they could do as they liked. He has fought the filibuster to a finish for one reason only; the Government stipulated in the Pipe Lines Act it passed last year that pipe-line companies must come to Parliament for their charters. Having made that stipulation he thinks any company is entitled to an answer from Parliament—yes or no.

But even if the Government is rated victorious the filibuster has won its essential point. No company is likely, now, to get permission to by-pass the interior of B. C. with a gas line to Vancouver.

Gordon Wismer, Liberal AttorneyGeneral of B. C., was in Ottawa a few weeks ago and told the Government flatly: “If you let that gas go outside Canada before it gets to the Coast, the Liberal Party is sunk in British Columbia.” Whatever Howe might personally prefer that warning isn’t likely to be ignored. -fc