Saturday, April 3, 2010

Canada at War: Saskatchewan - Embattled Socialists

Oct. 02, 1944

The first Socialist Government of Saskatchewan (and the first in Canada) last week found itself at war with Ottawa on two fronts—politics and money.

The King's Man. When Saskatchewan's 80-year-old Lieutenant Governor Archibald P. McNab asked to retire, Saskatchewan's Socialist Premier Tommy Douglas proposed that the Federal Government consult him on the choice of McNab's successor. Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King's reply was a curt, crusty no.

Douglas retaliated by announcing that as soon as McNab vacated the premises Saskatchewan would convert Regina's $110,000 Government House into a home for the aged or for delinquent girls.* Then he had another idea: Let Ottawa instruct Saskatchewan's Chief Justice to perform the Lieutenant Governor's functions.

Ottawa was fish-cold to this idea too, and for a reason. In addition to purely social duties, the King's representatives in the Provinces have one important function. They can refuse to assent to provincial legislation they believe to be unconstitutional and submit it to the Federal authorities for approval or disallowance. When Alberta's late maverick Premier "Bible Bill" Aberhart went off the legal reservation, the Lieutenant Governor held up some of his wild-eyed measures.

The King's Money. Socialist Premier Douglas had given Ottawa a good reason to remember that precedent. He threatened to welch on a $17,500,000 debt. On the joint guarantees of the Dominion and Saskatchewan Governments, Canadian banks had advanced money so that Saskatchewan's farmers could buy seed after the 1937 drought. It was Saskatchewan's obligation to collect the money. Socialist Douglas proposed to collect only 50% of the principal from the farmers, give the Dominion a provincial I.O.U. for the balance. And to the Federal Treasury, which already holds some $75,000,000 of Saskatchewan notes, he added cheerily: "We are not concerned over giving the Dominion Government more treasury bills. . . . We believe that we shall soon have a Federal Government in power in Ottawa that will wipe out the treasury bills."

What Premier Douglas forgot was that until the Socialists took over, the Federal Government of Mr. King still had the last word. If Saskatchewan ran out on her obligations, the Dominion could recoup by withholding Federal grants.

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