GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 15 1938
GENERAL ARTICLES

Backstage at Ottawa

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK July 15 1938

Backstage at Ottawa

GENERAL ARTICLES

A POLITICIAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

PARLIAMENT is being scorched into prorogation. What common sense failed to do in nearly five months, Old Sol now threatens to do in a few days. Which is a blessing. No session in a decade has been more windy and barren, more long on talk, more short on achievement.

It began by promising all but the millennium. There was to be unemployment insurance, a great trade treaty with the United States, social legislation. For good measure, the devil was to be taken out of elections, the railway question looked into, the unemployment question dealt with. Finally, as an overflowing blessing, there would be announcement of a balanced budget.

After five months of talk, none of these things has come. Unemployment insurance is lost somewhere between Mr. Hepburn and Mr. Duplessis. The trade treaty with the United States is still in Washington. The purer-elections bill (at this writing) is in some pigeonhole. The railway and unemployment questions have been merely talked about. And there is no balanced budget. Remembering all the seed of the Speech from the Throne, it is a dismal harvest.

Balanced Budgets Are Passe

MOST extraordinary thing of all was the budget.

Brought down two and a half months after the close of the fiscal year, it contained two changes that any treasury official could have worked out in two hours. Materials entering into houses were exempted from the sales tax. And there was a minor amendment to the income tax. Everything else, the whole tariff and taxation structure, was left exactly as before.

Why the delay? The explanation is simple -Saskatchewan. A Liberal budget without a tariff change in it would be a bad thing in Saskatchewan. Bad for Liberal ballots.

Therefore, the thing to do was to let Saskatchewan go ahead and vote; after which it wouldn’t matter. So while businessmen kept wondering why the budget wasn’t coming,

Ánd the budget, what there was of it, was a ‘‘dud." A long-heralded surplus turnet! out to be a deficit. More than that, and worse, Mr. Dunning budget«! for another and bigger-deficit next year. At that, judging by what is happening, he may be more optimistic than prophetic. Revenues are dropping at the rate of nearly $2,500,(XX) a month. If they keep on dropping, the decline in income ior the year will be $30,000,000. Yet Mr. Dunning, estimating (very conservatively on the basis of his estimates voted) that he will have to spend $524,000,000, hopes for a deficit of not more than $23,000,000. If it comes, it will be a tribute from fate—not from economy.

The truth is that no one in Ottawa thinks of a balanced budget any longer. Nor of lower taxes. In the final days of the session, when everybody was hot and bored, millions were voted without anybody bothering. A stranger, arriving from Mars, might imagine that the treasury was overflowing. Actually, it is overflowing with I O U’s.

The truth is that this Parliament is tired; the Cabinet marking time; its Ministers jittery. When Aberhart invaded Saskatchewan, it went into a panic. Night after

Mr. Dunning kept saying he must wait for the United States trade treaty. The treaty, as everybody in Ottawa knew for weeks, was as dead as Queen Anne. Thus democracy or the abuse of it.

night, as the campaign proceeded, Ottawa talked to Regina, implored it for good news. There must be no thought of bringing down the budget—minus tariff changes. Aberhart’s debt bills mustn’t be disallowed—not then. And the Bank of Canada must be nationalized. These things might help. Only when Saskatchewan had spoken, did the trembling cease; bringing down the budget, disallowing two Aberhart acts. Meanwhile the voting of moneys went on; and the Senate’s talk about the railways; and the veritable Donnybrook of a Civil Service committee. Everybody knew that the Senate’s talk about the railways would get nowhere (though it did bring out some facts) ; while the Civil Service spent two full days discussing how one man got into the servicefifty years ago.

The stark truth is that, at this writing, only two major things have emerged from the session - Mr. Howe’s transport bill, and the low-cost housing measure. Whether the elections bill (which, according to Minister Power, when he introduced it, was to “save democracy”) gets out of its pigeonhole, and whether anything will be done about the Penitentiaries Commission report, is not clear at this writing.

A futile, expensive session, it has been a peculiarly hypocritical one. A committee spent months probing alleged patronage in the Civil Service. Yet every Member of the House knows, and every Minister knows, that the real “spoils system” in Ottawa is the “patronage list’’—the system under which Government departments buy nothing, nor contract for nothing, outside of a list of the “party faithful.” That vicious system, in existence since Confederation, thrives as lustily texiay as ever, and under all Governments; this despite the talk about the “abolition of patronage.” What is happening with respect to defense, nobody knows. Many suspect, and not without reason, that our aircraft program is hopelessly jumbled. Every now and then reports are put out about the British Government planning a vast expenditure in Canada. If such a plan exists (which isdoubtful) nobody in Ottawa can put a hand on it. What is believed (no one has denied it explicitly or authoritatively) is that the British Government was refused permission to have pilot-training stations in Canada. Meanwhile Mr. King, showing extreme weariness (he spent a full week in June in his Kingsmere retreat), is believed to be in indifferent health, is said to be profoundly worried over the European situation.

The Conservative Leadership

HE race for the conservative leadership?

At this writing, the Ottawa Coliseum (where the Liberals chose Mackenzie King as their leader nineteen years ago) is being bedecked with banners and slogans for the Party’s convention. Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier has its rooms sold out from basement to attic; clubs and boardinghouse's have been called upon; arrangements made in 1,5(X) homes for the housing of delegates. Outwardly, in all the signs and tokens that organization can devise, the convention should be a great one; the largest Canada has seen. What it will bring in consequences, for the Conservative Party and for Canada, is. of course, another matter. At this moment, with the first delegates arriving, no one in Ottawa would bet as much as a Sxáal Credit certificate on who will be the choice for leader. 3 he reason is Mr. Bennett, always unpredictable, believed to lx> preparing to succeed himself. He has said nothing about it— publicly ; but all his actions make the sophisticated suspect that he would like to continue on the throne, with his wishes, if or when he makes them known, likely to prevail. The whole tiling seems incredible; but not so incredible when it is remembered that Mr. Bennett is in most ways an incredible person. To Mr. Bennett, in fact, ordinär,rules just don’t

apply. He is and has been a law unto himself; unique.

In the closing weeks of the session, his performance was astounding. Hour after hour through afternoons and evenings he sat or stood continuously in a stuffy chamber.taking upon himself singlehanded the duties of a whole Opposition, discussing a procession of questions with effortless mastery, persuasive in defense, devastating in criticism. If his health was bad, there was no sign of it. Meanwhile the opinion grew that he would remain as leader.

Yet, up to this moment, Dr. Manion’s support has remained formidable. Manitoba’s Sydney Earle Smith, a dark horse with much support by the Party hierarchy, enjoyed a boom for a few weeks, then passed from the picture; but Manion’s adherents, working more openly and more articulately, have kept his name to the front unceasingly. If he misses the prize—his intention is to fight for the post no matter what Mr. Bennett does—he will at least get pretty close to it. All others— Lawson, Massey, Drew, McPherson—are out of it. And Meighen. who could have it if he wanted it, merely for the asking, doesn’t want it.

Who Remembers Platforms?

THE NEW platform? The unsophisticated debate whether it will lean to the Right or Left. Which makes the hardbitten laugh. Mr. Ilerridge won’t write this platform, nor Mr. Stevens; neither will Sir Edward Beatty nor Sir Herbert Holt. It will be written, as party platforms are nearly always written, by a few politicians behind closed doors during the evenings of the convention. On national unity, on the railways, on taxation and the tariff and other things, these Party strategists will write; what they write will be thrown together by a so-called resolutions committee. with the convention as a whole not consulted until the whole business, cut-and-dried, is presented for adoption. Unless a new Pentecostal miracle happens, something not likely in Ottawa’s Coliseum this month, the result will be the usual party platform achievement—a stilted literary monstrosity, without a touch of distinction, notable chiefly as an exercise in evasion.

And what matter? Who now remembers the platform of the convention that nominated Franklin Roosevelt? Or the Liberal platform of the convention that nominated Mr. King? Or the Conservative platform of the Winnipeg convention that nominated Mr. Bennett? “Platforms,^ said the late great Mr. Fielding, “are made to get in on. Regardless of the platform—or leader—the political

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situation will remain scrambled. There is Mr. Hepburn. And Mr. Duplessis. No one knows where they are going, or whether they are going together or separately. The Pope’s cold-shouldering of Hitler in Rome was nothing compared to Duplessis’ cold-shouldering of the Conservative convention. The old Bleus could attend it if they wanted to; Mr. Duplessis, once a Bleu himself, wouldn't touch it. Not any more than he would touch Mr. Rowell’s Royal Commission.

So with Mr. Hepburn. His vendetta with Mr. King goes on, grows bitterer. Relations between Paris and Berlin are

friendly compared to relations between Toronto and Ottawa. What it would all mean in the event of an election—where Hepburn would stand, and Duplessis— remains a mystery.

As much a mystery as what will happen when the Rowell Royal Commission brings in its findings. Lectured in Toronto and officially ignored in Quebec (Mr. Duplessis contented himself with giving it a cocktail party and dinner), what can the Commission say that these two provinces will accept?

The truth is that Ottawa is more worried than at any time since the armistice.

It isn’t sure about what to do with Mr. Aberhart. It can’t make head nor tail of obstreperous gentlemen like Mr. Duplessis and Mr. Hepburn. It doesn’t know what to do about the railway question. Ottawa, in fact, is a bit afraid.

The fear brings talk of union government. Shrewd observers predict that the next election, when it comes, will bring a stalemate; that Liberals and Conservatives will roughly split even; that Left Wingers will have the balance of power. Then, the prediction goes, the old parties will get together —will be forced to—in a union government. We shall see.