The MINISTER OF FINANCE (Hon. W.
S. Fielding) moved that the House again resolve itself into Committee of Supply.
ill'. W. B. NORTHRUP (East Hastings). Mr. Speaker, I rise to call the attention of the House to the proceedings under the writ issued at the general elections of last fall, to the returning officer for the electoral district of Nipissing ; to the proceedings un-Mr. FISHER.
der that writ; to the subsequent writ issued on the 10th of November last to the same returning officer for the same electoral district, and to the proceedings under that writ. I take this course with diffidence and regret ; with diffidence because, realizing fully the dignity of this House and its paramount duty to preserve the rights and privileges of the people of Canada, whom we represent, I fear lest even unwittingly any chance or unguarded expression on my part might happen to light the flames of partyism, and thereby fire the passions and warp the judgment of hon. members of this House. I do so with regret because I feel that no Canadian, proud of his birthright and holding dear the honour of his country, can read the story told by the returning officer for that electoral district, himself under oath, without a pang of shame.
I shall endeavour to state the case as calmly and dispassionately as possible, and if my friends on this side of the House think that I am not stating the case as strongly as it might be stated ; if they think I am overlooking suspicious circumstances and failing to call attention to tell-tale omissions, I wish to assure them that my reason is simply this : That in order to avoid a controversy as to the facts I lay before the House, I will confine myself, as to the statement of the facts, exclusively to documentary evidence, and to the admissions made by the returning officer himself under oath.
The House, of course, is aware that a writ was issued to the electoral district of Nipissing in common with all other electoral districts of this country last October. The writ was received by the returning officer of that district, and his proclamations were posted up the full eight days before nomination day, as required by law. I call attention particularly to this point because I think it is most material when we come to consider the powers of the returning officer to postpone an election, to remember that he himself admitted that his proclamation had been posted up more than eight days before nomination day. Some time after this proclamation had been posted, in looking into the question of his voters' lists, he found a difficulty staring him in the face. He found, on the one hand, a clause of the statute which required him to use the voters' lists which were in force sixty days before the issue of the writ; and he found, on the other hand, another clause that said, that in case the lists were more than a year old, then in such a district as ids, certain steps were to be taken to provide new lists. Accordingly, confronted with this difficulty, he did, I think, a very proper thing, and he came to Ottawa to see the Secretary of State (Hon. Mr. Scott), and to take his advice on the subject. The returning officer tells us himself that he called on the Secretary of State in the morning, that he mentioned the difficulty that had
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arisen, that the Secretary of State said he would consult with the board of legal advisers-that was the expression used by the returning officer. At all events, the Secretary of State was to consult his legal advisers, and he informed the returning officer that if he returned later on he would give his reply. The returning officer did return later in the day, and was advised that he should use the lists for 1898. He, therefore, returned to his home with the instructions of the Secretary of State as to the voters' lists he should use. However, after he returned home, the difficulty still seemed to exist in some minds in Nipissing as to whether or not proper advice had been given by the Secretary of State. The returning officer tells us he was called upon by a gentleman, who asked him to take legal advice there, and on the returning officer declining on the ground that he might be subject to expenses that would not be allowed by the government, he was informed that the Reform candidate, Mr. McOool, would pay the expense of the opinion if the government refused to pay. The returning officer accordingly took an opinion from a local lawyer which was adverse to that given bv the Secretary of State. The returning officer then wrote to the Secretary of State, telling of the opinion he had received, and it seems that in a day or two afterwards, on the 23tli of October, an order in council was passed directed to the sheriffs of Algoma and Nipissing-this returning officer being the sheriff of Nipissing, but the order in council gave instructions, not to him as returning officer, but to him as sheriff, along with his brother sheriff of Algoma. This order in council directed that new lists should be prepared according to the provision of the statute. This order in council was assented to by His Excellency the Governor General on the 26th of October, and the returning officer was at once notified. He thereupon decided to postpone the election, and he posted on the door of the court house a notice, that having received this instruction to prepare new voters' lists, it would be impossible for him to hold the election on the day fixed by law, and that, therefore, he would postpone the election to a subsequent date, when the lists had been prepared. This postponement was, I will contend, wholly without his powers. The day of nomination came on, and the returning officer himself states that he went to his office in the early morning and told his step-son, who acted as his deputy, that he was going out of town, that he would not tell him where he was going, so that in case any person inquired he could answer that he did not know where the returning officer was. The returning officer then sent for the election clerk, and the two together went across the road to the house of the returning officer, where the returning officer told his wife that if any one called for him she should say he had gone away, and she did not know where. The returning officer and his clerk remained hidden in the house all day, and although various inquiries had been made, the answer was given that he was away, and it was not known where he had gone to. The Conservative candidate, being unable to find the returning officer, was consequently unable to make a proper deposit of his money, and of his election papers. This was the 31st of October. A few days afterwards application was made, on behalf of the Conservative candidate, to the officer to see the order in council and any papers he had that would justify this postponement, but he was refused the right to see any of these papers. Subsequently, as we are all aware, the general election was held on the 7th of November, and thereafter, on the 10th of November, and at a time when this parliament had been elected ; on the 10th of November a new writ was issued by the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery to the same returning officer for this electoral district of Nipissing, and he proceeded thereunder as if the said writ had been wholly regular, and held an election at which only one candidate being nominated, he returned Mr. Mc-Cool, the candidate so nominated, as a member to this House from the district of Nipissing. X will contend that the issue of this writ under which the election was held, and by virtue of which this gentleman occupies a seat in the House, is a writ which was issued wholly without authority, was perfectly invalid ; that, therefore, the proceedings thereunder were invalid, and that the seat for tile electoral district of Nipissing is at present legally unfilled in this House. Having thus frankly given the circumstances, I may as well freely admit that I presume hon. gentlemen opposite will take the preliminary objection, that this is not a case for this House to consider at all. I take for granted that the government will contend that his parliament, having passed a Controverted Elections Act, and having referred disputed questions touching elections to the courts, that it thereby divested itself of ii;s authority, and that the motion I am about to bring before the House is, therefore, out of place, and should not be adopted. My motion was printed in the Orders last Friday, and I presume that most members are acquainted with it. My motion is two-fold. One part asks for an inquiry as to the deputy returning officer, and the other part asks for a reference to the Committee on Privileges and Elections, to consider the validity of the writ issued on the 10th of November. Speaking in regard to the question as to whether or not this House has authority to investigate the acts of the returning officer, and, if necessary, to reprimand or punish him therefor, there is very little room for difference of opinion on that point. As far back as 1875, there was a petition presented to this House in refer-