Rule By Oratory Is Ended
J. K. MUNRO
THIS “short sharp business" session of Parliament is still dragging its weary lengths along. It was to he all over by the middle of May but the date marked for its finish might better have been designated as its start. For even as this is written Hon. W. S. Fielding has just whispered when the budget will be down, the committee on freight rates is just getting organized and the wheat board is being planed and grooved out of existence in the agricultural committee.
That this is a talkative Parliament none will deny. That the “silent" Government is given to acrobatic stunts no one will gainsay. But that business is its outstanding feature is open to a very grave doubt. It may have initiative concealed somewhere in its makeup but it certainly lacks finishing power. And on more than one occasion it has been demonstrated that as a leader Hon. W. L. M. King is the best little follower that ever honored the Prime Minister’s office with hispresence.
That Hon. A. Meighen is an interesting leader of the Opposition cannot for a minute be doubted. He is a critic by nature. He may never have laughed a real hearty laugh in his life but on occasion he can muster a smile that is more cutting than his most sarcastic remarks. He commands the respect of his opponents and the admiration of his followers. It is doubtful if the love of either will ever come his way.
Hon. T. A. Crerar, on the other hand, is liked generally and sympathized with by many. For his trials are greater than those of Job of old. Like our biblical friend, he suffers from boils, while unlike the latter he has to lead sixty-five Progressives and of these it has been said that they “do their progressing by jumping sideways.”
“Crerar," remarked a candid friend one day, “is 'not cut out for this political game. He’s not selfish enough and he’s not ruthless enough.”
“He should copy Meighen,” chimed in another. “He never forgets an enemy.” “Nor remembers a friend,” chipped a third who can readily be set down as a Grit. And thereupon a mean Tory came back: “Your leader can’t remember even his policy from one day to another.”
Now there is a lot of truth contained in all these remarks. Anyway they give you a general idea of how the daily observers size up the leaders of Canada’s political parties. Never for a moment are you allowed
to forget that Meighen has a contempt for the Premier that can never be put into words. Harsh as his criticisms of his opponent appear in print they are as honey compared to his uttered remarks.
There is an acid quality to the Meighen voice that passes understanding. If there ever was any of this milk of human kindness in his makeup it was curdled by the last election. Every time he looks across the floor of the House it appears to come to him again:
“It was for that the people of Canada rejected me. the smoldering fires wrath are kindled Sometimes the Premier, in his poor blundering way, tries to use common courtesy on his enemy.
He only meets with rebuff and covert insult. And as you look at the two of them you wonder again: `Is it of such stuff that t atesmen are made!"
Drifting Toward the Kocks.'
such leadership, and new democracy that has invaded Parliament sometimes blossoming into open rebellion, you can hardly wonder that progress is slow and that the rumor occasionally starts that we are drifting toward the rocks with a
general election in the offing. But nothing is further from the real facts of the case. On just one thing this Parliament is unanimous and that is that it will continue to carry on. This has been demonstrated not once but many times. For no matter what forces line up against the Government when the division comes it always has votes and to spare. It had the advanced Liberals and
Progressives against it on the McMaster resolution. Theformer dwindled to one, the Conservatives swung into line with the Government and the majorityw'as overwhelming. It had the Conservatives and Progressives against it on the resolution to appoint a select committee on railway rates and a paper majority of nothing appeared to grow from nowhere into an actual majority of fifteen.
In fact it is now openly admitted that the Government can put anything through this House that it has the courage to push to the voting point. And when a certain little dark Frenchman really wants anything he
takes care to provide the necessary courage. Yes, as the session advances it becomes more and more apparent that the real master of the situation is Sir Lomer Gouin. He only speaks when spoken to. But as part of his repertoire he has uncovered a most engaging smile. And he’s Quebec’s one remaining idol. Time was when Ernest Lapointe and Jacques Bureau led the minor statesmen from the Lower Province. But Lapointe
was with King in his attempt to join up with Crerar and leave Gouin in outer darkness. When Sir Lomer stamped out the rebellion he evidently took the
heart out: of Lapointe. The latter has hardly been heard from this session.
Then, it can hardly be claimed that King has lived up to the French ideals of leadership. The memory of Laurier is ever with these Frenchmen. And they can hardly picture the plumed Knight, sitting helpless and suffering, while a little Portage la Prairie lawyer heaped scorn and contempt on his head. The Frenchman must worship an idol. And failing to find one in King or Lapointe he has turned to Gouin. As for Hon. Jacques Bureau, ill-health has handicapped him though he still retains his popularity. Of that there was abundant evidence when his estimates were passed with a laugh and a cheer and without a single item being discussed.
His Enthusiasm Dampened
NOW it must be remembered that Hon. W. L. M. King is working under a heavy handicap. When he was thrust into the Liberal leadership by a careless convention he dropped into Parliament filled to the neck with boyish enthusiasm and prepared to right all the wrongs of a growing nation. This entailed several striking reforms and it must be admitted that reforming from the Opposition trenches is an entirely different matter to doing the same kind of work from the seats of Government.
Take that McMaster resolution for example. It was
to the effect that directors of banks, public utility companies, etc., should not also act as cabinet ministers. Nov/, when the last of the Covenanters introduced that a year ago it was easy for the Opposition leader to utter a glad “hear, hear,” and poll a vote to divorce public from private business.
But when McMaster came again with the same resolution this year there was an entire change of scenery.
The old ministry with its Ballantynes had gone. The new ministry with its Gouins had taken its place. Moreover the edict had gone forth that the master of Quebec would resign his portfolio rather than his bank directorship. So what was a poor Premier to do? Having failed to get the McMaster to withdraw his resolution he had to choose between his ideals and Quebec’s idol. And what are a few ideals—some people call them principles— among friends? Moreover, he needed Monsieur Gouin, his following and his influence, while principles or ideals, call them what you will, are really no part of a politician’s equipment. So naturally Mr. King clung to his minister. Moreover he got his whips busy, or Sir Lomer did, which is the same thing only more so, and of all the Liberals who howled for principle one short year ago, Andrew McMaster stood alone when the division bells rang. ‘
And when another election rolls around Sir Lomer will probably be further vindicated by the retirement of Andrew McMaster to private life. Reformers w’ho try to carry their reforms into practice always were a nuisance anyway. Parliament must be purged of them.
The Pesky Militia Estimates
npHEN there were those Militia estimates. Just a year * ago the Opposition, realizing that Canada had won the war to end wars, moved to cut them in half. That looked like wise economy from the Opposition benches. But closer inspection probably showed it faulty. For when the new Government brought down its militia estimates they were practically unchanged. But various of the rank and file of the Liberals evidently had not been favored with this closer view. Moreover, they had seen Crerar lead the Government one day and Meighen do the same on a subsequent one and may have determined to have a crack at it themselves. So, headed by Major “Chubby” Powers of Quebec, Duff of Lunenburg, and Rinfret of Montreal, they launched a savage attack on those estimates which culminated in Powers moving that a trifle of $1,100,000 be cut out of the appropriation for annual training. Hon. Geo. P. Graham rose and his great voice swelled with the fervor of patriotism. In ringing tones he declared that the estimate had been cut to the point compatible with national safety. The Tories cheered, so did some of the Progressives, but the growls from behind became deeper and more vindictive and the minister hiked for cover and moved the adjournment of the debate. Then there were caucuses and consultations. Men with oil cans hustled from room to room, trying to still the troubled waters.
Finally, Hon. Geo. P. and his estimates came back to the House. But it was a chastened minister who mildly announced, amid snickers and jeers from the Tory benches, that the item for training would be cut by $400,000 while another $300,000 would be whittled off the other appropriations on the militia bill of fare.
The “rebels” had won, the Government which had somersaulted from its position of a year ago had to turn a back flip and it landed in the rear of its own followers.
NOR did the new Minister of Defence take any chances when he brought down his Navy proposals.
He evidently didn’t like the taste of the words he had eaten on the former occasion so he whittled the navy down till there is talk of putting it in a glass case and sending it around the Prairie fall fairs as an exhibit.
And when Mr. Graham explained his scheme for “naval Militia” his reputation as a joker was greatly enhanced.
For who but a man with a fine sense of humor would suggest making semi-ready sailors out of landlubbers in two, weeks’ time? And that without marking anything off for sea-sickness!
However, the editor-sailor-soldi e r -aeronaut minister, had brought down a «naval policy that must meet with the approval of the political economists from Quebec, Nova Scotia,
and the prairies. And that is the chief essential of all ordinary legislation that comes before this House.
Of course, special legislation will come one of these days that will require a different brand of approval. For instance, there’s that Crow’s Nest Pass agreement that should on July 7 restore pre-war freight rates to the prairies. The first step towards its further suspension was taken when the select committee was appointed to consider freight rates. That committee is indeed “select.” It might better be called “a committee to find an excuse for the further suspension of the Crow s Nest Pass agreement.” Will it find it? It will. Even now the best-informed western Progressives feel that the cards are stacked against them. But their mouths are set in grim lines and they declare that it will take closure to put the suspension through the House. Meantime, however, the committee is getting down to work. It is to hear all sides of the case. And it is one of the little things that make parliamentarians shake their heads and prepare for a long hot summer in Ottawa.
Then there is the budget. By the time this is in print everybody will know all that it contains. But at the time of writing only one man can even make a guess as to its contents. The Little Gray Man from Nova Scotia may be the best talker in the House. But one other thing he does better than he talks and that is keep his mouth shut. But let it contain what it will one thing it will produce is sure and that is sixty-five Progressive speeches and mayhap more if there is an amendment.
Just About Ready to Start
ISAAC PEDLOW once said: “Finance is the one thing I know all about.” -For the word “finance” substitute “tariff” and you have sixty-five Pedlows in the Progressive Party. And no Progressive is mean enough to withhold what he knows from the ears of a listening nation.
Add to these conversation-producing subjects the railway question proper, the wheat board and a few other
more or less controversial matters and you will agree that while no one knows when the session will end, it ought to get fairly started by June 1. Also you’ll probably admit that prorogation is further off to-day than it was on the day Parliament opened.
And if there is one thing more noticeable about this Parliament than another it is that it marks the beginning of the end of rule by oratory. The spellbinders of other days are more or less with us still but their voices have been planed down and their vocabularies curtailed.
To be sure, Mr. Meighen hurls volleys of scathing words at the Premier almost every day and Mr. Fielding occasionally obliges with a stanza or two of prose poetry. But King is too busy dodging brickbats to prepare set speeches; “Ned” Macdonald has lost his old love of the game; Sir George Foster has gone to the Senate and Hon. Charles Doherty and Hon. Wesley Rowell are orating for their clients at so much a word. Their places have been taken by men who talk rather than orate.
As the Commons chamber of the new Parliament buildings was built for oratory rather than conversation it will probably have to be remodelled. Men don’t converse at the top of their voices and the acoustic properties of the big schoolroom with the tin ceiling were never fitted to the voices of men who have to think as they talk. Of the ordinary debate all that the gallery hears is “louder, louder” from outlying back benches who don’t feel that they are earning their indemnities unless they catch an occasional idea of what the leaders and those around them are discussing.
The Graceful Speaker
AND just a word as to Speaker Lemieux. It will be
remembered that his predecessor lent his young life to upbuilding the dignity of Parliament. Mr Lemieux is carrying on along the same lines though with considerable more grace and ability. The mace is carried to the chamber each day in solemn state. An additional ornament to the funeral is a sort of outrider in the person of a big policeman who walks in front crying in a fearsome voice “Way for Mr. Speaker.” The entire show has comic opera qualities worthy of consideration. However, it may be one of those “institutions” which the Hon. Rodolphe considers in such danger that he never misses an opportunity of praying the plain people to stand by them. Otherwise Mr. Speaker is a rather human sort of person, admired and liked by all sides of the House.
Another man whom the public occasionally afeks questions about is Hon. D. King, Minister of Public Works. He came in late from B.C. and slipped by so easily that he hardly got a mention in the personal columns of the newspaper—nor indeed is he anyone to write home about.
He looks like a medical practitioner you would call in if you had a bad cold. And when he rises in his place you just naturally expect him to say: “Let me see your tongue.” He has evidently been
used to give an added respectability to British Columbia cabinets. Anyway, his chief characteristic is a large number of relatives who gather in the galleries and gaze at him in undisguised admiration. It may be, of course, that they are wondering how he ever
rose to such dizzy political heights. So is everyone else. Nor has the influx of personalities from all parts of the Dominion been without its usual interest. There were a couple of new Premiers among them—Dunning, of Saskatchewan, and Greenfield, of Alberta. The former is a pretty clever young person who has evidently succeeded in making his province accept him at his own valuation. At that he puts it over with a Western breeziness that should get him by with everyone but the Farmers. They’ll sit in judgment on him in the course of a year or so and then another bright young statesman will gather experience as leader of the opposition. Here’s hoping he takes it more gracefully than some others who might be named.
Dempsey, from Alberta
GREENFIELD, on the other hand, gives an impression of solidity rather than cleverness. With his broad shoulders and square jaw he looks as if he could —and would—give the esteemed J. Dempsey an argument. But he’s a quiet-spoken chap withal and even people who don’t like the Progressives speak kindly of him. Anyway there are those who allege that Wood of Missouri carries all the brains that were left in Alberta when R. B. Bennett moved East and Duncan Marshall took a roving commission from an appreciative Government.
Incidentally, however, there is a hard-headed young fellow named Shaw who may yet fool some of them. To date he has worked his way through college, fought his way through the war and trimmed R. B. Bennett out of his seat in Parliament. You’ll admit a young chap who has done that much has possibilities.
But to get back to the truly great. Among others who have been among us is Premier Norris of Manitoba.
And as his political demise is at hand it may not be out of order to say something pleasant of him. For he is one of the most human of the many Premiers Canada has laid hands on—a likeable chap with a bunch of hard common sense who boasts that at school he never passed an examination. And in these days of uplift and uplifters you somehow warm to a chap who can’t be made the hero of a Sunday School story. But, like many another in the West, Mr. Norris is dancing'to the tune of “The Farmers’ll get you if you don’t watch out.” And they’ll get him whether he watches or not. For the elections in Manitoba are near and the horny-handed are on the warpath. Just how bad they’ll do it to the Premier can only be guessed, but one well-informed chap from out that way says he’ll carry only two / seats; that the Farmers will carry all the outlying constituencies while the cities will divide between Labor and lor It may not be bad as t hat -it, will be bad enough.
PREMIER TASCHEREAU of Quebec also dropped around and the wise ones immediately reported that Quebec was to be rushed into the horrors of an election. They haven’t had one of the provincial brand down that way since Gouin slipped out and let Taschereau slip into his seat. And times appear to be propitious. With a solid sixty-five in the Federal House and the Tory host all shot to pieces the present Premier would appear to be well-advised to look fora new lease of power. By the way, when Sir Lomer stepped out he was to devote the rest of his life to business. And it looks as if he was keeping his word.
Then one bright sunny morning the most of New Brunswick happened along. A vacancy in the Senatorial representation fromN. B. had occurred. “Up in Canada,” we hardly noticed it, but down where the tides rise and fall in the Bay of Fundy the usual sleepless nights followed. Finally, however, the funeral was over and the rush on Ottawa that came brought memories of early days in Oklahoma. So far no one has been named to fill the vacancy. The Government has been too busy interviewing candidates to make a selection. But hopes are expressed that when the choice is finally made it will restore to Parliamentary circles one of its lost treasures, viz. and to wit, Hon. William Pugsley.
The Government needs “Sweet William’s” smooth tongue in the Senate. For in the Old Folks’ Home the Liberals are woefully weak both in numbers and debating ability. The Conservative majority may not be inclined to hold up legislation but it takes a sinful satisfaction in making the Dandurand whiskers bristle—and bristling whiskers do not oil the skids for pushing government business across. So the Government will be wise in its generation if it brings William back.
And everybody connected with either House will give a glad welcome to him whose keen wit and subtle jokes have been too long missing from halls now sadly lacking in “national figures.”