June 5, 1908

LIB

William Stevens Fielding (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. FIELDING.

Yes, but in the so called hold up in 1896 there never was an hour when the necessities of the public service were not provided for. In all the discussions in 1896. supplies

were available, the public servants were being paid, the public works were going on, contracttors were getting their money and they were paying their workmen, and these, in turn, were paying the grocer, the butcher and the baker

all the wheels of government were turning and there was no obstruction. That is not the condition to-day. Supplies that were held up in 1896 were the supplies of a future period, and there was always abundant money for the immediate purpose of the government. That is not the situation today. To-day, by the exercise of a privilege that this House mistakenly has given to the minority, a privilege which is not granted in the mother country, a privilege which is not granted in the corresponding body at Washington, a privilege more liberally interpreted in this House than in any other legislative body in the world, hon. gentlemen opposite have been able to hold up the supplies and prevent the people of this country from getting the money which is their due.

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. D. A. GORDON (East Kent).

Mr. Speaker, the innocence of hon. gentlemen opposite is certainly most notable.

I think the time appropriate to discuss at some length the question of obstruction so that we may see where these hon. gentlemen stand. Before I finish, I will take opportunity to refer to the rules that have been adopted in the British parliament, and I think it will be seen that hon. gentlemen opposite stand in exactly the position in which the Minister of Finance has put them to-day so far as their relation to the voting of supplies is concerned. I fully realize my inability to discuss this question from either a legal or technical standpoint, but must content myself with viewing it from the standpoint of the plain, ordinary business man dealing in simple parlance with the organized tactics that are daily pursued by hon. gentlemen opposite for the purpose of obstruction. It is a time-honoured custom, on going into Supply, for an hon. member to discuss any question affecting his constituency or the country at large, to air a grievance or complaint. This rule is a most salutary one and, particularly in the earlier part of the session, the greatest latitude of debate in this respect should be allowed and should be taken advantage of by members on both sides of the House. This is consistent with free speech, as it affords ample opportunity to discuss questions of importance. On this freedom we pride ourselves. But we should jealously guard our discussions and in no way permit them to interfere with the transaction of public business. When this good rule is broken, when freedom of debate is taken advantage of, not to discuss matters of urgency or importance, but simply to delay or block

the despatch of legitimate business in the House, then, Sir, I submit, the freedom which is so abused should be curtailed in some way. It is my humble opinion that, after a certain stage in the session, such discussions as I have referred to should not be permitted on more than one day in the week, and even then only for a limited time-at most for an hour or two.

Although the government, as is well known, was ready with its work at the opening of this session, practically nothing has been done to date; in fact, any reputable business house in the country could transact in six weeks' time as much business as we have put through here in six months. Generally speaking, I believe the average voter throughout the country feels disposed to hold the government responsible for the delay, not understanding clearly our methods of procedure, not realizing that a dozen men-or two men, for that matter-can hold up indefinitely the voting of supplies or the transaction of the country's business. Under such conditions, it becomes, in my judgment, our duty to find such a solution of this difficulty as will effectually overcome the evil we have to face. We are sent here to legislate for the country's benefit and generally to assist in the transacting of the country's business. We believe it to be our duty to assume any responsibility necessary to attain these end's and to render an account of our acts not to the opposition in this House but to the people we represent.

Mr. Speaker, I desire to put myself on record as advocating the adoption of such rules as will enable the House to proceed with the business of the country, giving that business preference in all eases, and shutting off the long, windy speeches, which, at best, are only for party purposes and cannot serve the best interests of the country in any sense. Year after year the length of the session is growing greater. In order to make the comparison clear, yet as brief as possible, I have made up the figures in 10-year periods.

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CON

Frederick Debartzch Monk

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MONK.

Is not my hon. friend (Mr. Gordon) delaying the House by this long disquisition ?

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. GORDON.

I hope that, in the end, it will have the effect of facilitating the business greatly. In the period from 1878 to 1887, the average length of the session was 100 days, and the average length of each day's sitting was 3 hours and 34 minutes. From 1888 to 1897, the average was 1141 days, and the average sitting of the House was 7 hours and 9 minutes. From 1898 to 1907, the average session was 169 days and the time of the average day's sitting was 7 hours. Now, to make a comparison, I have taken the figures for South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. The figures are as follows :

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. GORDON.

Average Average length of length days of session sitting days, hours

minutes.

South Australia, average for 25

years of 82 4:30

Tasmania, average for 25 years

of

83 4:28Victoria (previous to 1880).... 64 6:51

Now, as to the tactics pursued here, we on this side are not alone in complaining. We find that newspaper organs representing the Conservative party also complain. In this connection, I would take the liberty of reading an article which appeared in the Montreal ' Star,' a paper well known to hon. gentlemen opposite :

So far as we can gather from the sleepy reports which the papers have been able to give us of the ' terrible struggle ' which went on at Ottawa during the last three days of last week, it was a fight for more readiness to bring down information. Now an opposition is certainly justified in demanding the fullest information. But the minister who was behind with his ' information ' explained that his department was getting it ready as rapidly as it could, and that he would soon lay it on the table. He did not refuse to give the information; he promised to give it.. . . The result was the opposition kept parliament sitting, at great cost to the country, through three weary and empty days while they protested against a minister who could not turn out information faster'than his clerks could work. Obstruction is the heaviest piece of siege artillery available to an opposition. It is, moreover, a gun which can very easily blow itself to pieces. At Westminster it has blown itself to pieces, and that is a free parliament. At Washington the very pieces have been buried out of sight, and the minority lies helpless at the feet of the majority

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CON

Alfred Alexander Lefurgey

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. A. A. LEFURGHY.

would like to have.

That is what you

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. GORDON (reading) :

The opposition should think of this before it runs out its hundred-ton cannon to brush away the fly.

I believe the House would agree, and not only the House but the country, that these hon. gentlemen opposite have been every day bringing out their 100-ton guns to brush away flies.

If the minister positively refused information, then the situation would be changed. If the information, when it comes down, reveals scandalous wastefulness or worse, then we shall expect the opposition to make the most of it. But it will only weaken its power to attract public attention to great wrongs if it insists upon flagging the fast express of parliament every time it wants to ask a mail clerk why a letter has been delayed.

Now in view of what has transpired, it is easy for us to realize whether we are drifting when, on many occasions, a

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CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

Whose language is the hon. gentleman reading which speaks of the rights of minorities ?

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LIB
CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

Will he send the book over to the Minister of Finance for his Information about the rights of minorities?

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. GORDON.

If my hon. friend will be patient he will see what this leads up to.

But of late, these salutary rules have been strained and perverted, in the House of Commons for purposes of obstruction. Such a course, if persisted in, would frustrate the power and authority of parliament, and secure the domination of a small minority, condemned by the deliberate judgment of the House and of the country. That it was unparliamentary and opposed to the principles of orderly government was manifest: and on the 25th of July, 1887, it was declared by the Speaker ' That any member wilfully and. persistently obstructing public business, without just and reasonable cause, is guilty of a contempt of the House, and would be liable to such punishment, whether by censure, by suspension from the service of the House, ^or by commitment, as the House may adjudge.

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CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

What about the hon. gentleman's own course at this minute ?

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. GORDON.

If the hon. gentleman will only have patience, the much needed light will come :

That a revision of the standing orders must be made to secure the due transaction of public business, and to maintain tbe dignity of the House, became obvious. The matter was considered by a select committee in 1878, and

a standing order was passed, 28th February, 1880, amended 22nd November, 1882, for the suspension of a member from the service ot the House, on question put forthwith, who shall he named hy the .Speaker, or the chairman of a committee of the whole House, whether he be the chairman of Ways and .Means or any other chairman, for committing the offence of disregarding the authority of the chair, or of abusing the rules of the House by persistently and wilfully obstructing the business of the House, or otherwise. Suspension under the standing orders as amended, 22nd November, 1882. lasted on the first occasion, for a month; the second, for a fortnight; and on any subsequent occasion, for a month; but these periods of time were taken out ot tlie standing order in the course of its amendment in session 1902 with a view to the substitution of other periods. As these, however, were not agreed upon by the House, the suspension of a member under tbe standing older continues for the session unless tbe House terminates it sooner. An amendment o1 the standing order made on the 7th 'March, 1901, provided that if through the refusal of a member who had been suspended to withdraw from the House the .Speaker has to call the attention of the House to the fact that force was necessary to compel obedience to his direction. such member is thereupon without iur-ther question put suspended during the remainder of the session. Notices standing in the name of a suspended member are removed from the notice paper of each day as it is made out, as long as the suspension lasts, bus-pension carries with it exclusion from the precincts of the House. The offence must arise in the House, and be dealt with at once. No motion can be. made that a suspended member be heard at the bar.

Temporary provision was also made bv the urgency resolutions of sessions 1881 and 1882, to facilitate the consideration of several important Bills; and in subsequent sessions resolutions have been agreed to by the House prescribing the conditions under which, and the times at which, the outstanding stages ot Bills should be concluded. ,.

Limitations were also placed by standing orders No 22, 23 and 30, passed during the session of' 1882. amended session 1888, upon obstructive motion for adjournment, and vexatious divisions, and provision was made by standing order No. 19 to check the irrelevance or repetition in debate. These standing orders, during session 1888, received .increased stringency; and the transaction of business was also furthered by providing for the classification, on the notice paper, of Bills other than government Bills, after Whitsuntide, and for the appointment of motions for the introduction of Bills, and for the nomination of select committees at the commencement ot business. -By standing order also, with few exceptions, the Speaker leaves the chair foith with for a Committee of the House.

On page 605 we find the following :

In session 1896 the practice was introduced of devoting a day in each week to the business of supply, and of limiting the time to be allotted for that business during the session. This practice, which was carried on with vaii-ous modifications under sessional orders until

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CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. R. L. BORDEN.

The hon. gentleman's light would have been out some time ago.

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. GORDON.

As far as the member for North Toronto is concerned, I would fear the results.

Mr. Speaker, before closing I desire to enter my strongest protest against hon-members opposite interfering with the transacting of the country's business, by means of obstructive tactics such as has been resorted to during the past six months. We believe many members on both sides of the House would welcome a change in rules, and trust now that the time is opportune, that the House will agree to such changes in the rules as may be necessary to prevent in future such wanton waste of time. If this cannot be done then speaking for myself, I believe the government should take the matter in hand and show the country that while they have been patient there is also a limit to which patient endurance will not submit, and that the country will no longer suffer what we have been forced to endure during the past six months.

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CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. E. A. LANCASTER (Lincoln).

As I am anxious that the proper business of the House shall be conducted, and unlike my hon. friend who has just sat down do not wish to take up the time of the House by talking of matters entirely beside the question before the chair, I desire first of all to say a few words in protest against the language of the Minister of Finance who replied in a very impatient and angry manner to the perfectly proper matter which was brought up by the hon. member for East Northumberland (Mr. Owen), and then I shall say a word or two in regard to the remarks of the hon. member for East Kent (Mr. Gordon). As I said, the question brought up by my hon. friend (Mr. Owens) was a perfectly proper matter to deal with on a motion for supply. The Minister of Customs has seen fit to leave his duties in the House of Commons and to leave Ms department to enter a provincial campaign in the province of Ontario. He has not been talking on provincial politics but, according to a ' Globe ' despatch, he talked of nothing but Dominion matters. The ' Globe ' despatch devotes an inch and a half space to Mr. Paterson and all of that refers to what he said on federal politics. The Minister of Customs is improperly away from this House, and when my hon. friend drew this matter to the attention of the Minister of Finance, he should have thanked him and apologized and promised to do better, if he could, in controlling the noise and thunder of the Minister of Customs and keeping it in this House, in order to get the business done and not allow him to go out of his sphere into provincial politics, during a session of this House. The Minister of Customs, speaking in Brant, as reported in the ' Globe,' said:

There were 1,800 men who could not get their pay because the Tory obstructionists * would not vote supplies.

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LIB
CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

My hon. friend from Cape Breton says ' Hear, hear.'

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LIB
CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

Well, he has forgotten, as the Minister of Finance seems to have, what happened. I do not know whether the hon. gentleman who is so fond of applauding everything said by the ' Globe ' or any of the ministers whom he so blindly follows, was awake in the House when the Minister of Customs ceased to do his work here two or three nights ago. The Minister of Customs got all the supply he asked for through.

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June 5, 1908