BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

The Election Mud Starts to Fly

BLAIR FRASER May 1 1953
BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

The Election Mud Starts to Fly

BLAIR FRASER May 1 1953

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

BLAIR FRASER

The Election Mud Starts to Fly

OFFICIALLY the federal election campaign hasn’t opened even now, but unofficially it’s been going on all through the session. A lot of political infighting has already taken place and some rather low blows have been struck.

For example, there was the industrious and successful circulation by the Liberals of a rumor that George Drew was to he fired from the Conservative leadership before the election. This got into print in several newspapers, finally had to he denied by such eminent Conservatives as Premier Leslie Frost of Ontario and George Nowlan, MP, president of the National Progressive Conservative Association.

Conservatives admit that the story wasn’t necessarily devoid of any grain of truth. There has always been a group of rich men “Bay Street colonels,” the Conservatives call them— who fancy themselves the owners of the Progressive Conservative Party and who speak of its members as if they were menial employees. These moguls dislike defeat and they have been displeased with George Drew ever since he failed to win the 1949 election. From time to time the most incredible stories seep out of Toronto and Montreal clubs, reports of overheard conversations among tycoons who are deciding to fire the present Conservative leader and hire a new one.

But the Liberals know better than most people how empty these trumpetings are. The only way a new Conservative leader could be ohosen would be by a party convention, summoned by George Nowlan in his capacity as president of the association. One of the candidates

rumored as George Drew’s successor was Dr. Sidney Smith, president of the University of Toronto. When Nowlan’s confidential secretary was asked about this one she replied quite innocently, “Who is Sidney Smith?”

It takes months to plan a party convention, more months to build up a new party leader. No party in its right mind would switch leaders on the eve of a campaign, and the Liberals know this very well. But that did not prevent them from pushing the Drew story with energy and adroitness.

PROBABLY the nastiest foul of the whole campaign was the one thrown by a Liberal backbencher named Joseph Gour, of Russell County, an eastern Ontario riding which includes some suburbs of Ottawa.

Speaking in French to a half-empty House one Friday evening Gour remarked that the Leader of the Opposition had exposed Canada to ridicule in Europe “because he sent his children to school there.”

“People often mentioned this fact to me last summer, during my trip when I had the pleasure of visiting six countries overseas,” said Gour. “They would put this question to me: ‘Are there good schools in your country?’ To my reply ‘You couldn’t have any better,’ they would answer ‘That’s what we always heard. How is it then that . . . the Leader of the Opposition in Canada wants to send his children to study outside your country?’ ”

By a fortunate combination of circumstances the two Drew children have been able to spend the current year at school in Switzerland. It was an opportunity that almost any parent would have welcomed. Anyone who would refuse it out of concern for his own political safety would be beneath contempt.

Drew spoke later the same evening. He made no reference to Gour’s remarks except to say:

“1 am not going back over some of the things that have been said in this House, Mr. Speaker, and I will do no more in that respect than express the hope that those outside this House who do read Hansard will read a speech that was made here tonight, and will know that the Prime Minister was in his seat at the time, as well as several other ministers. The remarks which are on the record, and which 1 hope will be read, are an indication of some of the kinds of remark made on the other side of the House which meet with the approval of members on t hat side.

“I need say no more because the remarks that were made speak eloquently for themselves. They are a preview of the kind of thing that doubtless some of us may expect in the coming election.”

That same speech by Joseph Gour produced one of the funnier interchanges of the session, too. Earlier in his remarks, Gour threw a facetious harpoon at Henri Courtemanche, of Labelle, one of the two Canadien Conservatives to be elected in 1949. Gour referred to “l'honorable député de Labelle, monsieur *courte vue' (short view) . . .ah! non, excusez, monsieur Courtemanche ...”

Henri Courtemanche rose to the bait: “On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I would like ...”

Another Liberal, Leopold Langlois, of Gaspé, cut in: “Parlez le français, s'il vous plaît . . . Avez-vous honte de votre langue/ (Are you ashamed of your language?)”

Poor Courtemanche, hurriedly switching into French, answered “I’m not ashamed of my language, but I understand that Mr. Speaker understands English better than French . . . Mr. Speaker, I invoke the rules. I ask the honorable member not to mention the name of a fellow member, as he has just done.”

Getting no response from the chair

he switched back to English: “I rise on a point of order.”

Speaker Ross Macdonald, whose French is the subject of much goodnatured mirth in parliament, then said, “What is the point of order? Quel est le point d'ordre?”

Courtemanche, again in English: “I understand that the rules do not allow a member to refer to another hon. member by his name. 1 should like the hon. member for Russell to withdraw that word.”

Langlois, also in English: “You are asking him to withdraw your own name? Are you ashamed of it?”

“No,” said the unhappy Courtemanche, “I am not ashamed of it.”

Meanwhile Joseph Gour, whenever the other three paused to draw breath, had been going placidly on with his speech in French. Mr. Speaker finally interrupted him: “Order. The hon. member should refer to another hon. member of the House by his constituency and not by his name.”

Said Gour in English: “I am sorry if I made a mistake in his name.” He then continued in French.

• • •

UNEMPLOYMENT was probably worse this spring than at any time since the war. Yet t he t wo labor federations, which in 1950 were clamoring for federal action, this year made no fuss at all.

One reason is that the federal Labor Department finally lost an old argument with other branches of the government service. It has stopped issuing figures which grossly overstated the unemployment situation and spread alarm and despondency among Canadian wage earners.

Until this year the Labor Department issued a weekly statement of total “unplaced applicants” for jobs. This figure was intended, and both labor congresses accepted it, as the most accurate measurement of current unemployment in Canada.

Other analysts disagreed. They pointed out that even in times of maximum prosperity and peak employment the Labor Department’s books always showed at least a hundred thousand “unemployed.” Also, they could produce other figures which they believed to be much more accurate.

Every three months the Bureau of Statistics used to carry out a “laborforce survey” based on exhaustive

SELF-SERVICE

The helping hand that’s always kind And ready to assist Is one I generally find

Extending from my wrist.

LEONARD K. SCHIFF

questioning of a representative sample —thirty thousand families across Canada, or about one hundred thousand people over the age of fourteen. These questions established several categories —people working full time; people working part time, and why; people not working but having jobs (temporary lay-offs, etc.); people working but looking for other jobs; and finally the hard core of genuine unemployment, people who were not working but who were looking for jobs. This last figure was normally less than half the Labor Department’s total of “unplaced applicants.”

Labor Depart ment statisticians poohpoohed the bureau’s results. “That’s only a sample,” they said. “Our figures represent real people. Those are just lines on a graph.”

What first shook them was the publication of 1951 census results. These showed the bureau’s labor-force survey to be substantially correct evidently the sample had been an accurate cross section of the Canadian working population.

An interdepartmental committee suggested, last fall, that both the bureau and the Labor Department carry out a thorough check of the Unemployment Insurance Commission’s records in some area chosen at random. They made a survey in Toronto. It showed that about one third of the “unplaced applicants,” formerly taken as unemployed, were actually at work. Others were not much interested in finding work.

The Labor Department discontinued its weekly press releases. The Bureau of Statistics was asked to make its labor-force survey monthly instead of quarterly. The two departments now issue a joint release each month showing alt the figures relating to unemployment.

April figures, normally the peak of seasonal unemployment, have not been published at the time of writing (they’re due this week) but the “unplaced applicants” are expected to number about the same as the 1950 peak, 428,000. However, the sai e press release will show fewer than t\ o hundred thousand “not working and looking for work.”

Bureau of Statistics people themselves point out that their figure somewhat understates the real unemployment situation. About twenty thousand people are “working and looking for other work.” Others are working part time and would like to work full time. Still others are actually unemployed and depending on unemployment insurance unt il their local factory reopens

but they are not looking for jobs, because they have jobs already.

The bureau also points out that there is a very different economic climate now from that of 1950. Then there was widespread fear of a depression, and the spring unemployment was taken as a storm signal. This year everything points to continued prosperity.

But, when all that is said, it is still true that labor federations and workers generally are less likely to be excited by a complete balanced table of figures than they were by “raw” totals from the U.I.C. *