Backstage at Ottawa


Backstage at Ottawa


Backstage at Ottawa


OTTAWA beat out Washington, but only by a head, for the coming United Nations’ Air Training Conference. Washington, which perhaps pardonably regards itself as the present centre of war gravity, thought it had the gathering as a matter of course; went so far as to issue invitations to the air chiefs of the nations concerned. It was not until the Canadian authorities pointed out th^t air training was one part of the war effort about which Canada knew something, that Washington remembered there was a war capital called Ottawa. Perhaps Mr. King, with his feet under Mr. Roosevelt’s White House table, had something to do with it.

The conference itself, according to all signs, will be of major consequence; concern itself with much more than methods of training pilots. That is told by the joint announcement from President Roosevelt and Mr. King; by Mr. King’s word that the meeting will be “one of the most important ever held in Ottawa”; and by the fact that the delegates will be of ministerial rank, accompanied by their technical experts. Any mere conference to deal with air training methods wouldn’t call for political chiefs, could be confined to technicians.

A far better surmise, all the circumstances considered, is that this conference is to consider the more weighty matters of strategy— the matter, for example, of coming air strategy in the Pacific.

Another surmise, worth keeping in mind, is that some of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan output may be turned over to the United States Air Corps. Already Washington is talking of the extension of air training to the end that “the most effective use will be made of all resources of personnel.” The interpretation placed upon that here is that with the United States embarking upon a tremendous air crew training scheme, calling for a great proportion of its early product being “plowed back” to serve as instructors, it is not impossible that Canada will be called upon to help supply air crews for the planes now coming off American assembly lines in increasing numbers. With air training standardized and the number of types of planes reduced, Canadian-trained fliers (it is argued) could step into U.S. Air Corps planes and into U.S. Air Corps formations without trouble.

In any event, one thing seems certain. It is that with the increase of R.A.F. schools in Canada, the extension of the B.C.A.T.P. scheme, and the likely training over here of Americans or Canadians for American use, Canada seems to be heading for ari air training effort that will dwarf anything we have dreamed of or attempted up to the present. Mr. King’s 1940 prophecy-—which seemed so flamboyant at thé time—that the war might be won on Canadian soil, may in the end come true.

Meanwhile formulas of our economics are being ruthlessly rearranged for us in new patterns every day. Latest tale to come is that we are threatened with a meat shortage, with every day to be a Friday for all of us unless something drastic is done. The drastic thing proposed by the indomitable Donald Gordon was that there should be an embargo on cattle exports to the United States. This seemed logical to many, but not to tough, twofisted Minister of Agriculture “Jimmie” Gardiner, with farmers and what they can get for cattle in the highest markets among his special cares. Mr. Gordon said that if farmers kept sending their cattle across the line a meat famine in Canada, plus higher meat prices, plus a puncturing of the price ceiling, would be a sure thing. Mr. Gardiner said that if this happened it would be too bad, but that he couldn’t for the life of him see why farmers, hard put to make ends meet, should be stopped from getting higher prices for their cattle whenever or wherever higher prices were going. It was a head-on collision by two hard-headed men, but because the farmers were more articulate than the meat consumers (who probably didn’t know what was going on), Mr. Gordon came off second best.

Unfortunately, the meat problem wasn’t solved. Mr. Gordon, who is willing to lose a battle any day to win a campaign, is understood to have returned to the question with some sort of a subsidy plan, but the details of this have not yet been worked out. Unless they can be worked out, or, better still, unless Mr. Roosevelt brings on a price ceiling of his own that will reduce the profit on cattle exports from Canada, a meat shortage in the near future would seem to be a cinch.

“Thou Shalt Not’’

OTTAWA, however, is getting used to shortages, and to rumors of shortages. As this is being written word comes that gasoline rations are not unlikely to be cut; plus word of coming startling news about rubber; plus word of a lot of other shortages and changes and edicts that will alter our living incredibly. For one thing, we are going to have to cut down on our travel. Moving millions of tons of war freight and scores of thousands of soldiers and sailors and airmen, the railways are discovering they haven’t rolling stock to move civilians as well. Already there have been delays and some confusion in the movement of war supplies, with the consequent likelihood of a more drastic control of transportation. We may have a transport Czar who will not merely control all traffic movement but who will tell us as well when we may travel, and under what circumstances, and how far at one time. Where bus and rail services overlap, bus service may be eliminated. Rail excursions, born of the days when the bus and the motor car were threatening the railways with extinction, will probably be out, and people will be permitted to travel only when they have good reasons for travelling. Mere vagabondage, the gypsy spirit, will be a thing of the past.

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Thus Ottawa becomes more and more the breeding ground of revolutionary changes, the citadel of a marching bureaucracy, with young men and some not so young in offices that spring up like mushrooms shaping our way of life and with “Thou Shalt” and “Thou Shalt Not” as their creed. They are a distinctive, aggressive tribe, pushing the politicians and the Ottawa old-timers off the stage and contemptuous of their ways. Industrious, adventurous, debonair in their confidence and with

superb energy, they have a technique and a jargon of their own; everything must “fall into a pattern” or (Heaven help us!) be “finalized”; and memorandums and orders and other documents marked “Secret” or “Most Secret” or “Urgent” or “Most Urgent” (one enthusiast marked one of his documents “Frantic”) come from them like chaff. Everything goes with a sweep and rush, words are wrenched from their meaning, and there is inflation of everything, including priorities. Time was a few months ago when an “A” priority meant a delivery. It doesn’t mean that now. Long ago it gave way to an “A-l” priority; and now the “A-l” priority is just a laugh, with nothing less than an “A-l-A” ranking a green light for a delivery. All this in the “Land of Afternoon,” the place which in the old days reverted between sessions to Bytown.

Mr. King and Washington

PRIME MINISTER King, who would have nothing to do with an Imperial War Cabinet in London, has been down in Washington sitting on the Pacific War Council. The two things, of course, are quite different, and in any event there isn’t much proof that Mr. King embraced the Pacific War Council with anything like ardor. The announcement that he would go to Washington followed a visit to Ottawa by Australia’s Dr. Evatt, and oddly enough it was Dr. Evatt who did the announcing. Usually news of Mr. King’s Washing-

ton pilgrimages is given out with considerable timing and not a little trumpeting. Dr. Evatt, with Australian offhandedness, broke the story to the Ottawa Canadian Club with Mr. King, clearly not amused, sitting right beside him.

Just what Mr. King did or said at Washington is, of course, a secret. What is presumed is that despite his denial that our Washington Legation would be raised to an embassy, with our minister a full-fledged ambassador, he did something about our Washington representation.

But perhaps Mr. King’s pillow in Washington (he was a guest at the White House) was troubled by the thought of another Capital. Of Vichy. Ottawa has a representative —a Minister Plenipotentiary—from Vichy; a slim, aristocratic gentleman who lives mostly behind the shutters of the great stone legation which the France of prewar days built on the banks of the Rideau. Also, in London there is a somewhat mysterious figure, a Mr. Dupuy, who is supposed to be our representative to Vichy; who by some means not known makes his way to Vichy and then comes back again to report to Ottawa—and to Mr. Churchill. The argument for this arrangement has been that Marshal Petain was not so bad; that the French people were against the Axis; and Mr. Churchill, making a case for the thing when he was in Ottawa, said it was a good thing to have one window left on the French courtyard.

Whether it is still a good thing to

have a window left on the French courtyard, now that Monsieur Laval and not Marshal Petain is boss of the yard, is, one imagines, debatable. Suggested by the debate is whether it will be as easy for our Mr. Dupuy to see Mr. Laval as to see Marshal Petain; also whether it is a wise or desirable thing for Monsieur Laval to have a window on the Ottawa courtyard. A growing number of people in Ottawa answer “No” emphatically.

Meanwhile Ottawa, like London and Washington, takes on increased awareness of the war’s gravity. And ministers here, with secret information before them, consider the war at a critical stage, not because of Japan’s threat to India, but for two^ other reasons: one, the greatu'

decision that is impending in Russia, and two, the growing increase in the loss of shipping. So perilous has the shipping position become that in both Canada and the United States new and desperate efforts are being made to get more ships off the ways. As a consequence, most Canadian shipyards have been put on a twentyfour-hour working basis, in an effort to turn out two 10,000-ton ships per week. This, according to claims here, is about equal to Britain’s production (excluding, of course, British warship production), which means 2,000,000 tons or more in the coming twelve months to be added to launchings in the United States—now reaching two ships a day. That, however, tremendous as it is, provides no great margin of safety.