July 22, 1903

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The PRIME MINISTER.

I knew it all along, but I did not expect to have it admitted by the leader of the opposition, that we had been marking time. Whether we have been discussing estimates from day to day, or talking about small matters, or asking little questions about petty details, ail this was simply to mark time, because we were to have a Redistribution Bill, and that has been the reason why we have been marking time for four months or thereabouts.

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CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BORDEN (Halifax).

I beg my hon. friend's pardon. I did not say we had been marking time ever since the commencement of the session. I said we were marking time at present, and I refer to the incident of yesterday as one of the examples of it.

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The PRIME MINISTER.

My hon. friend had better confine his remarks to his own side of the House. If the hon. gentleman says that yesterday we were marking time, I have only to refer him to the remarks which he himself made in discussing, with some interest and some profit to the House I must say, the question that was brought up by a member on this side of the House. If the hon. member believed that that question was brought up in order to kill time, I do not suppose that he would have favoured the House with the remarks which he did on that occasion. If he has followed, as I have sometimes done, the discussions which have taken place on the estimates, he will agree with me that we were marking time on those occasions. But the statement was made at the opening of this session that the snow would fly before the sesision was over, or before the Redistribution Bill would be accepted by that side of the House.

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CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BORDEN (Halifax).

Who made that statement '!

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The PRIME MINISTER.

The hon. gentleman's friends.

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Some hon. MEMBERS

Name, name.

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The PRIME MINISTER.

I think it would be invidious to mention any names, but, if anybody says that I am not correct, I am willing to be corrected.

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CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BORDEN (Halifax).

I wish to state, that, so far as I am concerned, the right hon. gentleman is absolutely incorrect, because I have stated over and over again, when the inquiry has been made of me as to the probable length of the session, to hon. gentlemen on that side of the House as well as to hon. gentlemen on this side, that I saw no reason why we should not conclude our labours by the 1st of August at the latest.

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Tlie PRIME MINISTER.

Before we can conclude our labours, my hon. friend will agree with me that we have to pass the Redistribution Bill. If the Redistribution Bill were put over to another session, the session would be very short-I think I have heard that stated on the other side of the House.

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Some hon. MEMBERS

No, no.

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The PRIME MINISTER.

Though we have had it before us three or four months, we have not yet passed the Redistribution Bill. For that I do not blame the members of the committee who have been struggling with it; I suppose they have not been marking time; but have done good work. But my hon. friend will agree with me that we have to stay here until we dispose of the Redistribution Bill, and therefore my hon. friend is quite in error and without justification in saying that the government have been remiss in regard to bringing business before the House because we have not brought down a certain important measure. We have been supplying business to the House from day to day. If I look at the Order paper of to-day, I see that there are several measures of great importance still to be discussed and disposed of before we could take up the railway policy of the government, even if it were introduced to-morrow. First of all, we have the Railway Commission Bill, a most important matter, which lias been partly disposed of, but to which some further labour is to be devoted ; we have the resolutions concerning the judges, important resolutions relating to a bounty on lead, also important resolutions relating to bounties on steel ; we have still to vote the railway estimates ; and we have some other matters to dispose of. Under these circumstances, we have plenty of labour supplied to us by the government in the form of legislation, and I think it is not fair for the hon. gentleman to say that we have not been attending to the duties required of us, and certainly not fair to say that we have been marking time. We have been disposing of the business of the House as spee'dily as it has been possible to do so. I have been in the House for more than twenty-five years, and I remember that one of the leading parliamentarians of that day, Mr. Holton, used to say that a four months' session was not long enough to do the business of the country. Since those days the business of the country has doubled, the revenue has more than doubled, the country has grown much larger ; and if four months was not long enough for the business of a session twenty-five years ago, my hon. friend has no reason to complain if we have not disposed of the business of the country in a session of five months. We are in the fifth month of the session, and a good deal of business yet remains to be disposed of ; and even if we brought down the railway

policy to-morrow, we would still have to dispose of that business. But, I can assure my hon. friend that the government has no intention at all of delaying that matter or wasting one single moment of the time of the House. We want to dispose of the business as soon as we can ; but my hon. friends must not be surprised if we do not bring before the House all our measures at the same time. I hope we shall have the report of the committee on the Redistribution Bill soon, perhaps to-morrow. Then we shall be in a position to take up that question and I hope dispose of it. I can only repeat that the policy of the government with reference to the railway question will be brought down, I hope before the end of this week. I hope that we shall be in a position to invite my hon. friend to discuss that measure at an early date next week; and, if I may judge from the applause which greeted his statements to-day, we can rely upon the support of the hon. gentlemen opposite to that measure, because they already relish the great boon that this policy will be to the country. However, Mr. Speaker, I cannot be drawn into making at this time a more formal Statement of that policy than I have made already. We are working on that policy, but it is a policy which is not at all an easy one to adjust. There are certain questions which have to be determined and adjusted even after the principle is settled upon. The details of this matter are as important as the principle itself. We are working at it, however, and if my hon. friend will only possess his soul in patience for a few days more, he will be gratified perhaps more than he has reason at the present time to suppose.

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CON

Thomas Simpson Sproule

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. T. S. SPROULE (East Grey).

The hon. First Minister's observations largely consist of hope ; but a good judge of human nature, looking into the faces of hon. gentlemen opposite, would conclude that their consciences were greatly troubled with despair. They have been vac-cilating between hope and fear and despair for many weeks, and have not given this House the information it was justly entitled to, nor the country their decision which they ought to have come to long ago. The right hon. First Minister asked, who prolonged this session ?

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An hon. MEMBER.

Yourself.

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CON

Thomas Simpson Sproule

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SPROULE.

An hon. member says ' yourself.' The hon. member cannot have given very much attention to the work of this session during the last three or four months, or he would not have made that statement. We have been jollied along from week to week without any government policy, without any definite principle laid down, without any important measure of the government before ns ; and we have been obliged to decline voting the estimates, on

the strict constitutional ground that we must have the government's policy before we vote the money to carry on the affairs of the country. That is the right of the opposition ; that is the function of the opposition, and we are endeavouring to discharge that function to the best of our ability. But we have been deprived of the government's policy, and we have been jollied along without any sincere desire on their part or on the part of their friends to bring the work of this session to anything like a speedy conclusion. The Prime Minister says that twenty-five years ago it was believed that the work of parliament could not be done in less than a session of four months. Why, thirty-three years ago, when the sessional indemnity was fixed, it was fixed on the basis that a parliamentary session would last only thirty days ; because it was provided that in the event of a session lasting less than thirty days, the indemnity would be $10 a day, but that if it lasted more than thirty days the indemnity would be $1,000. I give that as an answer to the observation of the Prime Minister. Now, I say that the opposition could not properly let the work of the session go on unless we had the government's policy. The House has been sitting for a little over four and a half months. In the speech from the Throne at the beginning of the session the government definitely' outlined a policy. Why have they' not brought down that policy and pressed it ? During these four and a half months they7 have been hatching half a dozen policies, not one of which has been brought to fruition and presented to this House and the country. But we witness the unseemly spectacle of the government hatching out a policy7 while the House is in session, instead of having it ready and bringing it down when parliament opened. That is the reason we are kept so long, that the government have not reached a definite conclusion in regard to their policy.

We have the very unusual spectacle of a government frittering away the time of parliament while wrangling among themselves over a question of policy. Can that be denied ? The other day one of their ablest ministers resigned because he disagreed with the policy they had hatched out about ten days ago. Evidently up to that time they had not concluded on any policy ; and just as soon as they7 come to some determination and were about to present it to parliament, we had the resignation of one of their most important ministers. Since then they have been in a condition of statu quo. They do not know where they are or what to do. This policy, for the presentation of which we have been so long waiting in vain, should have been decided on before parliament was called together. I can understand the government not being prepared at the opening of parliament to meet some grave question arising Mr. SPROULE.

during the session, something not previously anticipated; but that is not the present case. We had an intimation more than a year ago of the policy which the government were contemplating, but during all the intervening time they7 have not succeeded in putting it in such a business shape that they can present it to parliament. I protest against this frittering away the time of parliament. I protest against the great expenses with which this government is saddling the country, by thus unduly prolonging the session, through their own lack of business capacity. Let them bring down their policy so that we may deal with it, or acknowledge their incompetency by resigning office. At the rate we are going, we shall probably be here six months before this session closes. To what must we attribute this delay ? To nothing but the vacillating unbusiness like course of the government. It is due solely to the fact that they had not their work prepared to be submitted to parliament. The right hon. the First Minister tells us that he hopes to present iu a few days the railway legislation of the government. But he expressed the same hope last week, and several weeks ago, and we are still living on hope. It may7 be weeks yet before we will see that measure brought down. On behalf of the people of this country I protest against the inaptitude and utter lack of business capacity displayed by this government during the last four months and a half. We have here 213 members kept in session month after month, kept away from their business, and all for no other reason than that the government is incompetent to deal with the business of the country. How much longer we may be still kept here because of that government not being ready with its policy, it is difficult to say. All the indications are that the government has as yet no settled policy on this railway question. They are evidently fighting among themselves and may fail to pieces any day. One day we hear that the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Rt. Hon. Sir Richard Cartwright) is going out because he cannot agree with his colleagues. Another day it is the Minister of Customs (Hon. Mr. Paterson) who is about to resign in disgust. Then we are informed that the hon. Minister of Trade and Commerce is away sulking in his tent. He is said, in this the hottest season of the year, to be suffering from an attack of grip. I should be inclined to think the cause of his malady was rather the choice between losing his grip or silently endorsing a policy which he condemns. Other members of tlie cabinet are also said to be at cross purposes, and in fact no one would be surprised to hear at any moment that it had fallen to pieces and was unable to come down with any policy. In the opinions of many, the only thing that holds them together is the spoils of office. That is the general impression throughout the country. They

dare not dissolve this House and appeal to the people, because if they did they would not come back with a baker's dozen. We are told that growls of discontent have come from the Upper Chamber, that the newly appointed senators have been sending in letter after letter telling the right lion, gentleman that his policy is ruinous, unwise and unsuitable to the wants of the country, and that in consequence of these representations the right hon. gentleman is at his wits' end to discover some compromise that will get him out of his present difficult position. This is why we are being bumped along from day to day waiting for some definite policy to be submitted to us. On account of its vacillating and helpless condition, the government have been consenting to the violation of every sound parliamentary rule. To-day we had another private Bill introduced.

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LIB

Lawrence Geoffrey Power (Speaker of the Senate)

Liberal

Mr. SPEAKER.

The hon. gentleman has no right to refer to a previous decision of the House.

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CON

Thomas Simpson Sproule

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SPROULE.

To what do you refer, Mr. Speaker ?

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LIB

Lawrence Geoffrey Power (Speaker of the Senate)

Liberal

Mr. SPEAKER.

The hon. gentleman was referring to a Bill which has been introduced to-day and a motion passed by the House. If he had any reflection to make on that motion, he should have made it when it was moved.

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CON

Thomas Simpson Sproule

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SPROULE.

I am referring to the constant violation of the rules laid down in the British North America Act for the direction of this parliament, and I am drawing attention to the fact that although the British North America Act limits the time within which certain legislation may be presented to this House, we have been violating from week to week this rule, because the government are hopelessly at sea and unable to control the House. They are, in sporting parlance, sparring for wind and jollying the House along until they can reach some decision and some policy. I am entitled to draw the attention of the country to the hopeless condition in which the government find themselves. I challenge them to resign and to appeal to the country. If they did they would be relegated to that obscurity from which they should never have emerged.

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CON

Adam Carr Bell

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. A. C. BELL (Pictou).

I have listened with a great deal of interest to the reply made by the right hon. gentleman to the very well grounded complaint of my hon. friend, the leader of the opposition, on the unwarranted delay of the government in submitting to parliament the most important business of the session. The right hon. gentleman displayed a great deal of tact, cleverness and ingenuity in avoiding the point. He gave no satisfactory answer to account for the amazing delay which has occurred in submitting to parliament a measure involving, so far as we can judge,

a liability for the Dominion amounting to something like $100,000,000, by far the most important measure that has been submitted to parliament since the day of the resolution in reference to the Canadian Pacific Railway was submitted. And what is the reply of the right hon. Prime Minister S He says, with the utmost bonhommie and kindliness, that he long ago made up his mind to a long session, that he came here with that expectation, having gained it from a remark made by a gentleman on the opposition side mat the snow would whiten the hill tops before this parliament would see prorogation. The right hon. gentleman has not been kind enough as a rule, in the past to take the days for the opening and prorogation of parliament from this side of the House. And, if on this occasion we find him saying that the cause of the very tedious manner in which he is proceeding with the business of the session is to be found in a remark, probably of a jocose character, made by a member of this House, we may doubt if he is giving us his sincere idea on the subject. I would remind the House that the condition of business of itself calls attention in a most marked manner to the failure of the government in the performance of its duties, and one of those duties is to conduct the business of the House of Commons. There can be no question that, while it is the duty of every member of the opposition to participate in the discussions which take place in this House, and to give to every discussion which arises his best attention and his best efforts, yet the conduct of the business is entirely in the hands of the government of the day, and the government of the day is solely responsible for the manner in which that business makes progress, unless they can fairly show that the opposition are factiously obstructing. I am sure it would be impossible, in the case of the present session, to point to any evidence to show that the opposition has obstructed the business. They have discussed the estimates at considerable length, it is true. But the right hon. Prime Minister himself has to-day given us what he considers to be the sole reason why the business of parliament is in the backward condition it unquestionably is in, and that is that until the Redistribution Bill is submitted to parliament and disposed of we cannot see prorogation. And that Bill has not been submitted to parliament at the end of nineteen weeks of sitting. Who is responsible for that delay ? Is the opposition to be held responsible for it ?

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The POSTMASTER GENERAL.

Yes.

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July 22, 1903