BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

Maurice Puts The Squeeze On Montreal

BLAIR FRASER April 1 1954
BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

Maurice Puts The Squeeze On Montreal

BLAIR FRASER April 1 1954

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

Maurice Puts The Squeeze On Montreal

BLAIR FRASER

FEDERAL cabinet ministers derive a certain satisfaction, not devoid of malice, from Premier Maurice Duplessis’ new Quebec income tax which runs as high as 12 percent of federal income tax. They are particularly amused at the hopefully indignant editorials, in newspapers friendly to Duplessis, saying it’s up to Ottawa to make the whole 12 percent deductible from the federal levy.

Far from planning any such change j Ottawa politicians are rather enjoying t he discomfiture of those MontI real millionaires who have been Duplessis’ financial backers. This I Quebec tax is just what Ottawa has been predicting for years and Liberals j are not stinting themselves in the luxury of saying “I told you so.” By staying out of the dominionprovincial tax agreements which all other provinces have signed, Premier Duplessis in the name of “autonomy” has been denying Quebec an amount which now runs around twenty millions a year. That’s not i counting the two millions which, in the name of “autonomy,” he refuses to let Quebec universities accept from Ottawa. These two figures roughly equal what Duplessis hopes to get from his new provincial income tax.

Ottawa’s amusement is hardly diminished by the political skill Duplessis showed in devising the tax. Very few Duplessis voters will have to pay it. Duplessis’ electoral strength is in the rural ridings and only about j 400 Quebec farmers pay federal inI come tax. By raising the exemption to $3,000 for married men, fifty percent higher than the federal level, Duplessis has probably contrived to exempt most of that 400.

Of the 300,000 Quebecers who will pay two income taxes henceforth, the vast majority live in Montreal— where Duplessis captured only three out of 14 seats at the last election, and those by narrow margins. Of course the Union Nationale looks to Montreal for a much larger fraction of its money but that’s not in serious danger any more. The Union Nationale is solidly entrenched now and contributions to its war chest are no longer a matter of choice for businessmen.

A COUPLE OF MONTHS ago an item in this column described a fort hcoming booklet about popular misunderstandings between the United States and Canada. Quite a few people wrote to ask when the booklet will be available and where they could obtain copies.

I’m told now that it will be published about the same time as this issue of Maclean’s. It’s been a project of the Canada - U. S. Committee which is maintained jointly by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States (not the International Chamber of Commerce, as I incorrectly reported in the previous item) and the booklet is being put out by t he U. S. section primarily for American readers. Their address is 1615 H Street Northwest, Washington, D.C. Canadians who want copies should enquire through the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade Building, Montreal.

One continuing cause of misunderstanding between the two countries is Senator Pat McCarran’s Immigration Act, with its strict provision for the screening of possible “subversives.” This has put such a burden on the investigating agencies of the United States that cases are held up for months and even years without decision.

Eighteen months ago a large group of Canadian delegates went down from British Columbia to a convention of the International Woodworkers of America in Portland, Ore. The 1WA used to be a Communist-run union, before it cleaned house a few years ago, so the U. S. Immigration officers were on the alert when Canadian delegates went through.

Seven were stopped at the border —more were questioned, but the seven were kept out altogether. The labor convention passed a resolution in jarotest which duly found its way to Ottawa; M. J. Cold well, CCF leader, took the matter up with External Affairs; External Affairs wrote to the U. S. State Department, which undertook to find out why the seven Canadians were on the Immigration black list.

All that took jalace more than a year ago. Last month, External Affairs got the first word as a result of its enquiry. Five of the seven cases had been decided one way or the other, but two were still under investigation after a year and a half.

Of course it is the United States’ own business whom to let in and whom to keep out of U. S. territory, but the delay is vexing -and sometimes more than vexing. Among these seven men was one, not a Communist, who let the incident so jarey on his mind that he committed suicide before the Immigration authorities got around to making uja their minds about him.

The recent revival of this episode reminded Tom Barnett, now CCF member for Comox-Alberni, of a sidelight that hapjtened at the time.

Barnett was not then a member of jaarliament but he was a well-known CCFer, and an IWA delegate from Vancouver Island. He drove down with a party of about ten, and went through the U. S. Immigration enquiry without a hitch.

One of the jîarty, however, produced a wallet which the Immigration officer jtroceeded to examine, and one of the items in the wallet was a membership card in the Liberal Party. The unlucky Liberal was then detained for a considerable time while he endeavored (successfully, in the end) to convince the Immigration authorities that in Canada, at least, there isn’t necessarily anything subversive about being a Liberal.

RECENTLY our other neighbor, the Soviet Union, extended a rather heavy hand of propaganda in Ottawa for the first time since the war. The new Russian ambassador, Dmitri Chuvakhin, called an unprecedented press conference at the Soviet Embassy to urge “restoration of normal trading relations between two neighboring countries, Canada and the USSR.”

It was a queer evening all round. The j)ress conference wasn’t announced in the usual way to begin with—reporters were invited by telephone, individually, which resulted in some curious omissions and some equally curious inclusions. No one could figure out, what standard, if any, they used to separate the sheep from the goats (or, indeed, which were which).

Mr. Chuvakhin is a middle-aged, middle-sized, middle-class type who looks like the jjrogram chairman of a

Rotary Club. He has a genial expression, a quick smile and a firm handshake; his English is quite adequate for social purposes but a bit shaky foipublic discussion. Accordingly he read a prepared statement in English hut took the questions through an interpreter.

The interpreter was Vladimir Bourdin, the handsome first secretary whom some people regard as the man really in charge at the Soviet Embassy, and whose English is almost as faultless as his dijfiomatic manners. It was he who actually answered reporters’ questions, after colloquies with the ambassador in Russian. The method has other than purely lingual conveniences for dealing with embarrassing quest ions.

Practically all the questions turned out to be a little embarrassing. What, for example, did the Soviet Union wish to buy from Canada?

THE AMBASSADOR didn’t know. There would be a trade representative arriving in Canada shortly who would know all fliese details. Under questioning, though, Mr. Chuvakhin thought Russia might buy some wheat, meat,, hides and butter from Canada. (All of these things are produced in the Soviet Union, and used to be important exports.)

Would textiles and farm implements be included?

“Not excluded,” said the ambassador, beaming.

By the way, why should (he Soviet Union be interested in buying Canadian ships, as the ambassador had said in his prepared statement? Canadian ships were among the most expensive in the entire world; the Russians could buy them much more cheajily in Britain or West Germany. Why come all the way to Canada to jiay a higher jirice?

“Perhaps we could settle these details at trade negotiations. I believe your shipbuilders are anxious to sell.” What was the reason for this sudden development of Soviet interest in trading with Canada? What caused the new policy?

“Not a new policy, but a continuation of old policy to expand Soviet trade with all countries.”

All right, an old policy. What, exactly, had the Soviet Union done in the last five years to carry out this old policy?

After a long colloquy in Russian, the first secretary said: “Mr. Ambassador doesn’t remember any special negotiations in last five years.”

What was the target figure the Soviet Union had in mind, for the volume of trade that might be built up in, say, five years?

“That question could be fully answered by the trade representative who is arriving shortly.”

Would this trade representative be a new man on the embassy staff, the first we’ve had since the war?

“Oh no. Third or fourth since war.” Nobody asked what the other two or three trade representatives had been doing. (The volume of Canada’s trade with Russia last year was $240.) Instead, Norman Campbell of the Toronto Telegram ojrened u¡) a new line of questioning:

“Could a Russian citizen buy directly from Canada? For instance, if you were to go back to Moscow and want to buy some Canadian furniture for your house there, could you just order it from a Canadian company?” This time the ambassador was really puzzled. “What’s that got to do with trade between Russia and Canada?” he asked.

Twenty voices tried to exjfiain that if had everything to do with trade —that if we want to buy United States

products, for instance, we can write to a United States shop and buy them. The baffled ambassador conferred with his first secretary.

“We think the play would be not worth candles,” the secretary said at last. “English proverb.”

The ambassador added: “It would

be cheaper to buy in Soviet Union. Perhaps prices would be better if you had lower tariffs.” (Apparently he thought Canada levied a tariff on exports.)

Pat Nicholson of the Thomson Newspapers took him uj) on that point:

“Speaking of prices, what’s the cost of a jjair of shoes, for example, in the Soviet Union? How do they compare with Canadian prices?”

“I want to avoid all these details,” said the ambassador. After one or two more random questions he got up, smiled and bowed, and led the way to a table of drinks and canapes in the next room.

It was probably mere coincidence, but the ambassador’s ¡mess conference was called the day after Molotov had sunk the last hope for a peace treaty with Austria. ★