October 20, 1903

LIB

Napoléon Antoine Belcourt

Liberal

Mr. BELCOURT.

No doubt the evil of bribery and corruption is more or less prevalent in Canada, though possibly it may be less prevalent in the rural parts than in the city constituencies, and we would no doubt all welcome a substantial and effective remedy. I do not believe, however, that the remedy proposed by section A is a remedy at all. In my opinion we ought only to impose penalties when dealing with offences per se, things which are of themselves criminal, immoral, unjust or dishonest, and we should not impose a penalty for the mere omission to perform a duty, however necessary the performance of that duty may be. The legislation now proposed is on a line with that kind of legislation by which you try to make people sober, temperate, religious, patriotic, or honest, by Act of parliament. The hon. member for King's, P.E.I. (Mr. Fowler), when dealing with the objection that there is quite a number of people, if we are to believe the hon. member for Westmoreland (Mr. Emmerson), who have conscientious scruples against voting, compared the refusal to vote to the taking of a bribe. But there is a very great difference between the two. The taking of a bribe is an offence against honesty and conscience and quite another matter from the non-performance of a duty, especially when there are conscientious scruples against its performance. Parliament has never questioned the right or the propriety of proposing penalties for the taking of a bribe, but I do not think that even the most ardent advocate of compulsory voting ever proposed that a man should be sent to jail for not going to the polls. My idea of the only solution is the one indicated by the hon. the Minister of Justice, and that is education. The only way in which you can awaken the public conscience to the performance of a duty is to enlighten that conscience, and you can only do that by constantly putting before the electors the great importance and the sacred obligations of casting their ballot at election time. But, if you deprive a man for any number of years of his franchise because at any election he has not cast his vote, you might as well make a law providing that any one who has been asked to become a candidate for parliament shall not have the privilege of refusing, under penalty of being debarred during a term of

years from coming forward as a candidate. If a man is to be punished for not casting liis vote, he should equally be punished for refusing to become a candidate. Then the remedy which section 9a provides is a very peculiar remedy. You declare that it is an offence not to vote, and in order to punish the man who has committed that offence, you compel him to go on committing it during six years longer. That seems to me very contradictory. It is a very poor way of curing one to compel him to remain in his offence for another six years.

Hr. ROBINSON {Elgin). Will the hon. gentleman allow me to ask him a question ? ,Does the hon. gentleman think the law against crime does not prevent crime ?

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LIB

Napoléon Antoine Belcourt

Liberal

Mr. BELCOTJRT.

You have a law against bribery, and my hon. friend from Westmoreland (Mr. Emmerson)

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IND
LIB

Napoléon Antoine Belcourt

Liberal

Mr. BELCOTJRT.

But I am pointing out that the measure proposed will not have that effect, that it is not a remedy for the evil, the existence of which we all admit. If my hon. friend from West Elgin (Mr. Robinson) has a remedy, let us have it.

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IND
LIB

Napoléon Antoine Belcourt

Liberal

Mr. BELCOTJRT.

I repeat that, in my opinion, the solution of this question is education. And I think it devolves upon all of us who are engaged in public affairs constantly to educate the people on the subject. During election time particularly, every member of this House should do what he can to make the people appreciate the franchise and the sacred obligations devolving upon those who enjoy it. If we do our duty in this regard, we shall prevent a great deal of the bribery that now prevails, at any rate we shall do a great deal more than by a provision of this kind which, it seems to me, means absolutely nothing.

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CON

George William Fowler

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. FOWLER.

The hon. gentleman (Mr. Belcourt) says it is a very strange thing to provide that, because a man refuses to vote or abstains from voting you should take away from him the privilege of voting and so continue him in his crime. If we accept the doctrine, which is the doctrine of the schools, that the vote is a privilege and a duty, and that the voter is a trustee not only for himself but for all the people, the Bill is logical and perfectly proper. For, if a trustee neglects to perform his trust what do you do ? Do you contiuue him in his trust ? No, you remove him. The answer to the hon. gentleman's argument is so patent that I wonder it did not strike him.

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LIB

Jacob Thomas Schell

Liberal

Mr. SCHELL.

Will the hon. gentleman (Mr. Fowler) allow me to ask him a question ? Is the voter a trustee for any one except himself ?

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?

William Lount

Mr. BEL COURT.

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CON

George William Fowler

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. FOWLER.

Certainly. The body of voters are trustees for all the rest of the community. The voting privilege is not for the voters themselves alone, but for all the non-voters in the community as well. That is the true principle, that is the only principle that is contended for by any person. Any one who has given any study to the sub.;ect will not attempt to deny that the voter is a trustee for the non-voters. So, the committee were perfectly logical in providing to have the trustee removed for a portion of the time because of his

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LIB

Louis Philippe Demers

Liberal

Mr. DEMERS (St. John and Iberville).

Will my hon. friend (Mr. Fowler) permit me ? He removes a trustee. But who is to replace the trustee during these six years ? If nobody replaces him the parties are abandoned and their interests are no more represented.

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CON
LIB

Louis Philippe Demers

Liberal

Mr. DEMERS (St. John and Iberville).

The mandate of the trustee is revoked. Who, then is to take his place ?

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CON

George William Fowler

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. FOWLER.

He is not the sole trustee; there are all the other voters. Why, the principle is recognized every day. If you have three 'trustees and one of them defaults, will not he be removed from the trust ? And if he is removed does it necessarily follow that another will be put in his place V Suppose there are three executors; one dies and the other two continue in their places; a second dies and one remains as sole executor.

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LIB

Louis Philippe Demers

Liberal

Mr. DEMERS (St. John and Iberville).

I suppose the voter represents the interests of his family. If he is removed, who is to represent them ?

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CON

George William Fowler

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. FOWLER.

Myi hon). friend (Mr. Demers) loses the point entirely. The voter is the trustee not for his particular family or friends, but he is the joint trustee, with all the other voters in the community, for the community.

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LIB
CON

George William Fowler

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. FOWLER.

The trustee has the right to exercise his trust as seems to him best, of course. My hon. friend betrays an absolute ignorance of the whole subject by his question.

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LIB

William Ross

Liberal

Mr. ROSS (Ontario).

I have listened with a great deal of pleasure to the legal gentlemen in the House discussing this question mainly from a legal standpoint. I thought that, perhaps, I might contribute a little from the layman's standpoint. I think there is no hon. member in this House who would approach any measure designed to remove from the community the slur that is cast upon it, through the existence of bribery in any other spirit than that of regard for the public interest. And it is in that spirit that I approach the discussion of this mea-

sure. The trend of legislation in the province of Ontario, from which I come, has been in the direction of extending the franchise. I well remember when no one could vote for a member of the House of Commons unless he had what is called a stake in the community. Now, we have municipal voters who vote on property only, we have also the manhood franchise, which extends the suffrage practically to everyone over twenty-one years of age who is a British subject. This has been done during a series of years, and during that time there have been great struggles for the extension of the franchise. It has come to this perfection; and now it is sought by this Bill, to restrict the franchise to a certain extent. I am sure that every hon. gentleman here would hail with gladness legislation wisely framed to prevent bribery and ensure a free and fair expression of public opinion. But, as against this proposal of compulsory voting, we have heard of people who have conscientious scruples against voting. These scruples may arise in the course of one election to prevent a man from voting, while, in the next election, the difficulty being removed, he would feel himself free to vote. The Prime Minister gave one case in illustration.

I have one in mind that came within my own experience some years ago. I was working in a certain election, and, about an hour before the closing of the poll, it was reported to me that a certain prominent Liberal had not voted. I went to him to ask his reason for remaining away from the polls. He said to me : ' William, I cannot

vote in this election.' He had been my school teacher and was an old and very highly respected member of the community, a man concerning whom nobody would for a moment think that any illicit means had been used to keep him from the polls. I asked his reasons for not voting, and he said : ' On one question I cannot agree with the party

Mr. HUGHES {Victoria). Temperance.

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LIB

William Ross

Liberal

Mr. ROSS (Ontario).

No, not temperance. ' On one question I cannot agree with the party, and for that reason I cannot see my way to vote in this election.' That man had a conscientious scruple about using his franchise in that particular election. Surely under these circumstances, you would not disfranchise a man for six years. For my part I would not think of it. This is only one instance, and I think every member will recall similar instances in his own experience. I agree with the Minister of Justice that this legislation is rather in ad- j vance of public opinion, and the best thing 1 would be to drop it from the Bill. While j there may be some things to commend it- J and I must say that some of the things that I have been repeated here in its support commend themselves to my judgment-still, I! think public opinion is not ready for this I legislation.

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October 20, 1903