Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK February 15 1950
Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK February 15 1950

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Articles

For Taxpayers, Some Small Mercies

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

EVER SINCE ex-President Hoover drafted his plan to streamline the American bureaucracy Canadians have been asking, “Why can’t we have a Hoover Commission in this country?”

In a quiet way we’ve been having one. Two years ago the Civil Service Commission set up a special branch to advise departments how to get more work done with fewer people. It’s beginning to show results. Examples:

One department asked for an extra duplicating machine (price $2,175) and a couple more typists. The commission’s efficiency experts moved in for a few days to see how the department was using its present staff and equipment. They showed how a much greater volume of work could be handled by the old machines, with six fewer typists. Saving to the taxpayer, $11,570 a year, plus the lump sum that wasn’t spent for the new duplicator.

A records division in the Agriculture Department was appalled to find that new registry regulations for cattle would triple the work of its staff. They called frantically for more help, more space, and some advice on how to handle this avalanche of work. The experts discovered that records had been kept mainly by pen-and-ink entries. Punch cards were installed; the same old staff can handle three times its former volume of work with rather less effort than before. Estimated annual saving, $50,000.

It’s very difficult to get an aggregate figure for the savings thus effected, but they are beginning to run into millions. The experts rarely have to push anybody out of a job—the staff they release from one office goes to work in another. But the Civil Service as a whole reduced its annual intake in 1949 by 1,024 below the 1948 figure—this in spite of the fact that the work of government services is still expanding.

The pruning is still going on. Not long ago the commission stumbled across this situation: One

government department wants some printed documents for its Toronto office; the documents are printed by a Toronto firm. But for years the department has been placing its orders with the King’s Printer in Ottawa; King’s Printer orders the documents sent to him in Ottawa from the Toronto print shop; then he sends them to the department’s headquarters in Ottawa, and thence they go back to Toronto again. Nobody has yet figured out the saving of money, time and exasperation if the documents were simply sent from the Toronto print shop to the Toronto office that needs them.

WHEN the federal-provincial conference on the Constitution reassembles it will probably be in Quebec City. Premier Duplessis has invited his fellow delegates there and Ottawa, for one, is all for accepting his bid.

In fact this invitation is regarded as one of the most hopeful signs to emerge from the preliminary session. Premier Duplessis was cheerful and friendly all through that week in Ottawa. Pessimists kept their fingers crossed, still thought Maurice would torpedo the conference whenever it looked safe to do so,

As the week wore on, though, the number of these pessimists diminished. There was a moment, when the 11 attorneys-general went into private session to draft the outline of an amendment method, that the conference seemed about to founder—argument was still polite, but it was sharp. Then, miraculously, it all smoothed out again; each side gave a little ground and the committee was able to produce a unanimous recommendation.

It’s true that the real arguments are still ahead but if there is good will on all sides it should be possible to work out a formula within the framework of that recommendation. Duplessis’ invitation is regarded as proof of such good will on his part and he is the man on whom most doubt had centred.

ONE reason why the January conference did so well: Ottawa and the provinces all realized, as they did their homework for the January meeting, that almost any formula for amending the Constitution would leave them all better off than they are now.

As the provinces studied the federal government’s last change in the B.N.A. Act (allowing Parliament to amend it in federal matters) it dawned on them that Ottawa’s power to change the Constitution is now unlimited. Britain’s Parliament will pass without debate any amendment the Canadian Parliament asks. The present Liberal Government is bound by its own solemn and repeated pledges never to ask for an amendment affecting provincial rights unless the provinces consent. But there is nothing in the law to prevent some future federal government from abolishing provincial rights altogether.

This, of course, has always been true, but not everyone had fully realized it. The provinces, at the January conference, seemed aware for the first time just how vulnerable their cherished rights now are.

Ottawa also has little to lose. On paper its rights to change the B.N.A. Act are unlimited; in practice all amendments affecting provincial rights must wait for unanimous consent. It took five years to get all nine provinces to agree to such a simple and beneficial change as the inclusion of unemployment insurance among federal powers. It’s hard to imagine an amendment procedure that would be more cumbersome and rigid than that.

JIMMY SINCLAIR, parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance, is visiting eight European capitals on his present trip and one of them is Belgrade, Yugoslavia. As a present for Marshal Tito Jimmy took along a copy of Fitzroy Maclean’s book, “Eastern Approaches.”

Maclean was the British officer parachuted into Yugoslavia in 1943 to be liaison man with Tito’s partisan army. His book is a thrilling and delightful story which does paint a very likeable picture of Tito. External Affairs people agreed that it would be an ideal gift for Tito, except for two drawbacks: (a) Tito can’t read English; and (b) he already has an autographed copy of “Eastern Approaches,” presented by his good friend Maclean.

SINCLAIR’S purpose in touring Europe is to find a way of spending about $70 millions worth of “soft” currency owed to the Canadian Government by eight Allied countries.

Just after the war, and before UNRRA began to operate, Canada and the United States offered help to the devastated countries through a program of “military relief.” Food, clothing, equipment, services were supplied out of the war budgets of the North American allies, but the 'money was advanced as a loan, not a gift. The debtors are now anxious to repay, but they can’t pay in dollars. The debt is to be paid off in the currency of each debtor country and therefore must be spent within that country.

One way to spend it will be to buy embassies and legations. Canadian missions are living in rented quarters in every one of the eight capitals. The legation in Yugoslavia is particularly ill-housed, in an old rented house with seedy furniture and inadequate space. In Paris, Canada rents a big pleasant house but pays a fairly steep rate for it and wants to move out into a permanent embassy. Realestate deals are cooking in all eight capital cities. The balance of the

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