Backstage at Ottawa


Backstage at Ottawa


Backstage at Ottawa


THOUGH Canada is now at war with six countries—Germany, Italy, Japan, Finland, Roumania and Hungary — Ottawa externally, at least, remains what somebody once called the “quietest capital in Christendom.”

No doubt Pearl Harbor and all that has come since, plus a rising tide of demand for compulsory military service, have made an impression on Mr. King and his cabinet, but there are no external signs of drastic reaction to the new crisis. True, Air Minister Power, speaking in Montreal, said:

“We propose in this emergency which confronts us to see to it that every man and woman in this country carries on the work which will be of the greatest possible benefit to the state as a whole.”

But lest this be taken by many to mean what it seems to mean, it must be noted at once that the policy thus announced is rigidly limited by the phrase “in this country.” Mr. Power, in other words, wasn’t including in “work of the greatest possible benefit to the state” the sort of work that is done by soldiers who serve and fight for Canada outside Canada’s borders; that sort of work is still to be left to the whim of individuals and the exigencies of politics.

What Mr. Power had in mind was some sort of new registration of man power—the available supply of skilled labor and technicians— that has just been worked out by some committee; another bit of the sort of tinkering with the man-power problem which began with national registration nearly two years ago and which has been going on intermittently ever since. It is this report, embodied in a new man-power bill, that the Government has in store for the coming session of Parliament; the latest makeshift to try to stave off an ever-rising tide of public conscriptionist sentiment.

Its main purpose, apparently, will be to give the Government more power to shift technicians and skilled labor from peace to war industry. The question of military man power—of getting men for our armed forces—is to be left strictly alone. Despite all that has happened, including the United States at our door with compulsory military service to send men to fight anywhere, we are still to leave recruiting to a mixture of threats and coaxing, with the latest device a leave of one day to soldiers who can come up with a recruit.

There is talk about all this in Ottawa; debate, heated argument, reports, rumors. It is said that the cabinet is in a man-power “crisis;” that seven members of the cabinet are for conscription; that the seven are Ralston, Howe, Ilsley, Macdonald, Mackenzie, Gibson and Humphrey Mitchell; that there are likely to be resignations.

In the opinion of this observer this is just talk. The seven gentlemen said to be in favor of conscription probably favor it and most likely would welcome it, but there is no proof at all that they will carry their opinions to the point of a cabinet crisis. The most that has happened thus far, if the inspired voices are to be believed, is intercabinet argument over whether Canada should send a fifth division to England or keep it here at home. What the outcome of this disagreement will be remains to be seen, but whatever it is it won’t be a cabinet breakup.

Mr. King, master political strategist, will tide over the trouble in some way. After Dunkirk he appeared with his mobilization of resources bill; after Greece he came through with a demand for

more active recruiting. After Japan he will have some other ace up his sleeve—something for public appeasement and his fetish of “national unity.” The odd thing about all this is that the rest of the Government’s war work—its financial policies and war production is rolling up into a magnificent achievement. Canada’s war industries are now streamlined into tremendous production, with this country turning out an enormous number of the items called for by modern war. The United States found this out when, after Pearl Harbor, it began looking around for certain equipment of which it stood temporarily in need. The pity is that the cabinet tends to stand too much on this achievement; to use it as a defense against attack for failure to have compulsory service—advancing it as more important than the marshalling of military man power.

Meanwhile difficulty may well be looming up for the Government’s policy of troops for exclusively home service. Under the Canada-United States Joint Board of Defense arrangement an attack on Canada’s Pacific coast by Japan would bring United States troops (if necessary) to our aid. But if, by Japanese choice, the attack should come on the United States Pacific coast, at, say, Seattle or Alaska, Canada’s home forces defending us on the Pacific couldn’t be sent to Seattle or Alaska to help the United States. The emergency may never arise, but it is by no means impossible, with its possibility suggesting a situation that would be as grotesque as it would be perilous.

More Changes to Come

TURNING to things more hopeful, there are the additions Mr. King has made to his cabinet— all excellent. Mr. St. Laurent, the new Minister of Justice, is the best ministerial recruit to come to Ottawa in the last two decades. A fine intellect and a distinguished lawyer, he is a man of the highest probity and will heighten the level of the cabinet’s average ability. Humphrey Mitchell will also heighten it. A labor man, he is sane and moderate and very able, and has won the respect of both labor and capital through his work as an official in the Labor Department. Perhaps the best tribute to him is that Mr. Bennett, when he was Prime Minister, tried hard to get him for his cabinet.

Mr. King is not yet finished (not at this writing at any rate) with his cabinet job. Mr. Philip Brais, the young Montreal lawyer, is still slated for a post of some kind; the delay in his appointment is apparently due to the fact that Mr. Cardin, whose health has not been good and whose retirement was expected, has decided to remain on in the Ministry. If or when Mr. Brais is secured, the cabinet will be much stronger than it was six months ago.

Mr. Meighen will not be in the House for the opening of the session, which is a pity. His absence is not because as commonly believed—he was slow in resigning from the Senate (his resignation from the Senate did not need to come until the day of his official nomination) but because the Government did not issue a writ for West York immediately Lieut.-Colonel Cockeram retired from it. Mr. Hanson will carry on in the meantime, and apparently intends to carry on vigorously, demanding a national Government and compulsory military service. Mr. Hanson, of course, is acting with the full consent and agreement of Mr. Meighen.

Meanwhile nothing appears to have been done about getting some new blood in the Conservative representation in the Commons. When Meighen accepted the leadership there was much talk about securing Murdo MacPherson, Col. George Drew and perhaps one or two others to enter the Commons with him; and talk as well of a research and publicity bureau for the party—of steps to make the Conservative party a real vital opposition. Now the talk has died; like Pope’s man the Conservative party is “always to be, but never blest.”

The Wartime Prices and Trade Board’s ceiling over prices is meeting expected grief; so much so that even tough Donald Gordon, its chief architect, says that he knows what punishment should be inflicted on Hitler when the war is won he should be given the administration of a ceiling on prices. Yet Gordon, a realist if ever there was one, is going straight ahead with his job, depending upon the process of trial and error, admitting mistakes when he makes them, refusing to try to “save face” by not correcting mistakes. He has made and corrected plenty of them and says he will probably make and correct more, but in the main the plan is succeeding.

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Backstage at Ottawa

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In the meantime, the public had better prepare itself for stiffer and wider rationing; rationing of a multiplicity of things at present easily available. The Government is presently making a list of these things, adding to them day after day as shortages or promised shortages of this, that and the other commodity make their appearance. The coming year will almost certainly bring home to all of us as never before what this war really means; what the winning of it demands of us.

Border Problems

NEW PROBLEMS have come, too, with the United States at war; problems of supplies and priorities; problems of distribution of materials; problems at the border. In both Ottawa and Washington they have begun talking about cutting out red tape at the border; of making it easier and speedier to get goods and supplies from one country to the other, eliminating such delays as customs regulations and duties on war materials and rebates and what not. There is the possibility, too, that the Foreign Exchange Control Board may have some new plans with respect to exchange, with just the chance that the Canadian dollar will find itself at a smaller discount and that some restrictions will be taken off Canadian travel across the border.

The question of information and publicity, seemingly insoluble, remains. Actually it has to be reviewed in the light of the United States in the war; with the aim now to convince our neighbors that we’re no

mean ally; that in two years we really got things going, and that we’re going to continue to pull our weight in the boat. Strangely enough, somebody in the Government recently hit upon the idea that it might be a good thing at the same time to tell Britain about our war effort; to let them know over there what w’e’re sending them in the way of foodstuffs and arms and munitions. The idea is not a bad one, but no one need be too hopeful about its early adoption. The reason is that this Government hasn’t shown much skill in publicity, and has a curious inability to put its point of view or its achievements before outsiders, no matter where they may be.

Illustrative of this is the announcement that when the United States meets with South American countries at Rio de Janeiro, on January 15, Canada will be represented by a mere “observer.” The conference, it is announced, is to deal with matters “economically and defensively vital to this hemisphere,” but this country, which presumably has some interest in such matters, and certainly ought to have, is merely to send somebody along to just watch what the others are doing. The fact that the United States considers the gathering important enough to send to it a delegation headed by its ace diplomat, Sumner Welles, makes no difference; nor even the further fact that only a few months ago the Government thought it worth-while to send its Minister of Trade and Commerce on a goodwill tour of South America.

Some things in Ottawa, backstage or right before the footlights, baffle understanding.