June 5, 1908

LIB

William Stevens Fielding (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. FIELDING.

The hon. gentleman continues to repeat that I said the opposition had no rights. I said nothing of the kind. I said that every member of this. House has the rights which the rules of the House, passed by the majority, give him.

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CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

We had a lively discussion on that question, and the Minister of Finance said that we have no rights except what the majority chose to give us.

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LIB

William Stevens Fielding (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. FIELDING.

That is right.

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CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

Now the hon. member for East Kent (Mr. Gordon) says our rights should be curtailed.

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. GORDON.

We complain that you are abusing and going beyond your rights.

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CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

If we have none at all how can we go beyond them? The Speaker could prevent our exercising any rights if we have none. When the Minister of Finance said that we have no rights he said what was not true, and now we have the hon. member for East Kent (Mr. Cordon) making a speech to prove that the Minister of Finance was all wrong in his statement and that the rights of the minority should be more curtailed than they are. But he is thus opening up a very large question indeed; and if that question be discussed until midnight, it is entirely his fault. The hon. gentleman said, on the motion to go into Supply, that he had an important question to bring up which should be settled. But he did not move any amendment, and therefore we are completely in the dark as to what method he proposes to curtail our rights. I apprehend that he himself has been taking up the attention of the House simply for the purpose of obstructing Supply. When he talks of preventing members of the opposition from discussing matters which are properly before the House, he should have backed up his speech by a motion so that we might have some idea of what he proposes this House should do in order to accomplish the object he aims at. He should have moved an amendment in concrete form and in not doing so he has been guilty of discourtesy to this House. He urged that before going into Supply, the rules of the House should be amended. In this way he was obstructing Supply, and yet he does not submit any motion which would indicate exactly in what way he proposes to curtail our rights. And while raising such an important discussion and thus taking up valuable time, he expressed the hope that this discussion would not delay the House too long. But if he were sincere in not desiring to waste the time of the House, why did he not move an amendment so that we might know what he means? Possibly the hon. gentleman is one of those many members from the province of Ontario who are convinced that their usefulness as members of this House has gone and that they stand no chance, or very little chance, of being reelected. Possibly he feels that he cannot expect re-election if he undertakes any longer to support this government through thick and thin, and therefore is seeking a pretext which will enable him to go before his electors and claim that he is not backing up the government in everything. True the government were complaining that the opposition were preventing Supply going through, but the hon. gentleman wants to be able to say that he has acted as an independent and was not going any longer to follow the Laurier government in that regard. How else can we account for the fact that when the government is asking for Supply, we find him raising such an important question now as that affecting the rights of members of this House to criticise the conduct of the government. For my part I protest against the hon. gentleman arguing that the rules should be amended and then sitting down without putting his ideas into the concrete form of an amendment to the motion to go into Supply.

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. GORDON.

Was it not the hon. member for Northumberland (Mr. Owen) who started the issue?

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CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

Not at all. That hon. gentleman simply drew attention to a statement of the Minister of Customs (Mr. Paterson), which was utterly unfounded, and which he made while neglecting his duties in this House in order to take part in a local election. Had the hon. member for East Kent not interfered my hon. friend from Northumberland would have made his statement, which did not take him five minutes, we would have had the answer of the Minister of Finance and my reply, and we would have been in Supply an hour ago. But the hon. member for East Kent (Mr. Gordon) stood up in his place; and in order to show the people of his constituency that he was not entirely in the hands of the government on this question, he raised the issue of amending the rules of debate without at the same time indicating, by a motion, in what respect he would have them amended. Had it not been for his interference in the discussion and for his bringing up a question so open to discussion, we would have been in Supply at twenty-five minutes to twelve. The hon. gentleman in fact blocked the Supply and prevented the Speaker leaving the chair, and he did this by raising the question of interfering with the rights of the minority, although his leader, the Minister of Finance, has declared that the minority have no rights.

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LIB

David Alexander Gordon

Liberal

Mr. GORDON.

The hon. gentleman finds fault with me for taking up half an hour of the time of the House, but how many hours has he taken up this session?

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CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

I do not pretend to know, but I do say that the hon. gentleman who has just spoken is the first member of this House who has said that I wasted time by speaking here. He may have plucked up courage enough to say that here, but I venture to say he will take it back if he should meet me at lunch time. He has said to me in conversation, not once only but half a dozen times, that if all the members of the opposition talked as little and as sensibly as I do there would be no waste of time. Now, I do not care a button which of the different opinions the hon. gentleman expressed is his real opinion. Ail I say is that be ought to have a conservative mind and say the same thing whether he is in the House or out of it. He ought not to be so

good a supporter of the Laurier government as to say one thing at one time and a different thing at another time. I am not influenced one way or the other by the hon. gentleman's opinion, I do not speak in this House with a view to either winning or opposing such opinion concerning myself. I think that like other hon. members on this side I speak only when it seems to me in the interest of my constituents and the country that I should speak. But, when we are in Supply and a cabinet minister refuses information, refuses even to produce original documents, would the hon. member say that we should allow that Supply to go through without getting the information to which the country is entitled ? The hon. gentleman's argument is that the rights of the opposition should be curtailed according to the wish of the Finance Minister or any other member of the government who may have certain business he wishes to put through. What would become of responsible government if that view of the case should prevail ? The government undertakes to do something knowing that the people are against them, and knowing that the feeling against them will be the more increased the more the matter is discussed. The hon. gentleman would say : Gag the

opposition. If this could be done, there would be no object in people electing members to check and criticise the government, for the opposition would be deprived of the opportunity to perform that function. What would be the result ? There would be a petition to the King to reconsider the constitution of the country. If the hon. gentleman knows anything about public rights he must know that.

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LIB
CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

Give what to whom? If I could give the hon. gentleman from Gape Breton (Mr. Johnston) some knowledge of the duty he owes to his constituents- who, I understand, are'not very anxious to send him back after the approaching elections-it would be a good thing. But what the hon. gentleman says does not affect me, for he no more than the hon. member for East Kent (Mr. Gordon) gives me sincere advice. The hon. gentleman is willing that the country should be dealt with by the government as the government pleases. But we are not in that position. The people have the right to know what is to be done with the taxes they pay to this government, and it is the duty of the opposition to see that that information is supplied. It would suit the hon. member for Cape Breton (Mr. Johnston) very well at present to have the government all-powerful. But after the next election, he will come to the conclusion that the opposition should have some rights.

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LIB

Alexander Johnston

Liberal

Mr. JOHNSTON.

It is just a quarter to one. Does the hon. member (Mr. Lancaster) think he can talk it out ?

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CON
CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

I will try, if it will accommodate the hon. gentleman.

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LIB
CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

I am willing to sit down now if I have convinced the House of the correctness of the position of the hon. member for East Northumberland (Mr. Owen) in raising this important question. And the hon. members who are interrupting me are doing no good to the country as a whole by taking the position that the Minister of Customs, or any other minister, is justified in leaving the House, especially at a time when business is so pressing that morning sittings have been ordered, to take part in the provincial election and to complain to the public about the business here not being done. I wonder that some good intelligent Reformer, did not ask the Minister of Customs why he was not down here doing what he could, at any rate, to have the business put through. In fact, that may have happened, but the ' Globe ' has not seen fit to repeat it. And the Minister of Customs has not represented the matter fairly before the country, in complaining that the money of which he spoke was voted.

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LIB
CON

Edward Arthur Lancaster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LANCASTER.

That is what he said. What is the use of the hon. gentleman (Mr. Johnston) denying it ? The money was voted in Committee of Supply. ' It could not be available without a Supply Bill, but the Minister of Customs did not propose a Supply Bill. So he is misleading the people when he says he cannot get his 1,800 men paid. In view of the statements made by the member for East Kent (Mr. Gordon) and the Minister of Finance (Mr. Fielding) concerning the rights of the minority, I thought it well to discuss this matter, but I understand that some hon. gentlemen desire to speak, so I will give way.

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LIB

Duncan Ross

Liberal

Mr. DUNCAN ROSS (Yale-Cariboo).

Mr. Speaker, it is not in keepiug with the eternal fitness of things that the hon. member (Mr. Lancaster) should represent Lincoln and Niagara-that there should be so much wind-power located so near the magnificent water-power of Niagara Falls. This question has come up, and I do not think the House could be better engaged than in discussing the situation that has developed here during the last two or three months. I take it that this government was sent here by the people, with a majority of 60 or 70 members, to transact the public business. I also take it that if the rules of the House do not enable this government to transact the business of the country as against a weak minority, the sooner the rules are changed the better. I am not surprised that hon. gentlemen opposite should strive so valiantly to justify the hopeless and in-

defensible position in which they find themselves to-day. They have simply brought the parliament of Canada into disrepute by their actions during the last two or three months. Now they are trying to argue that they have not held up Supply. Why, Sir, they have systematically held up Supply ever since this Hou#b began this session. Every time the government has endeavoured to get 'Supply, some senseless, silly resolution has been moved by some hon. gentleman opposite, and the discussion continued until we find that, after five or six months of session, we have been unable to carry on the business of the country. Let me say in all seriousness to this government, that the responsibility attaches to them to see that the business of the country is carried on; and let me also say that if lion, gentlemen opposite persist in the course they have been pursuing for the last two or three months, the sooner the government realizes the fact that the people of this country expect them to carry on the public business, the better it will be for this parliament and for this country. Let me call attention to the fact that a similar situation developed in the imperial parliament a number of years ago, and the then Speaker, exercising an authority which the House did not give him, but acting in the best interest of the country, put the question immediately without any authority by the rules of the House. A similar situation has developed here, and if the House does not transact the business it ought to transact, business that a majority of this House is no doubt willing that it should do, and which the people are now insisting upon, I am afraid, Mr. Speaker, you will have to do what a distinguished Speaker did in the imperial House, and put the question without being so authorized under the rules of the House. Let me take up a minute of time by putting on ' Hansard ' the position which the British Speaker thought it his duty to take at that time:

A crisis has thus arisen which demands the prompt interposition of the chair, and of the House. The usual rules have proved powerless to ensure orderly and effective debate. An important measure, recommended in Her Majesty's speech nearly a month since, and declared to be urgent, in the interests of the state, by a decisive majority, is being arrested by the action of an inconsiderable minority, the members of which have resorted to those modes of ' obstruction' which have been recognized by the House as a parliamentary offence.

The dignity, the credit, and the authority of this House are seriously threatened, and it is necessary that they should be vindicated Under the operation of the accustomed rules and methods of procedure, the legislative powers of the House are paralyzed. A new and exceptional course is imperatively demanded; and I am satisfied that I shall best carry out the will of the House, and may rely upon its support, if I decline to call upon

any more members to speak, and at once proceed to put the question from the chair.

No doubt that was a drastic course for the Speaker to take, and it was not until a year afterwards that the imperial parliament amended the rules of the House by adopting closure. I say, and say most emphatically, that the minority of this House have absolutely no rights but what the majority choose to concede them. I also say that the rules of the House as at present constituted can only continue so long as the majority wishes them to continue. I am bound to say that when a minority of this House attempts to obstruct business, and attempts impudently to dictate to the majority what legislation shall be introduced and what legislation shall be passed, the sooner the rules of the House are amended the better it will be for the government of this country. Let me quote an authority which even hon. gentlemen opposite will appreciate. In introducing the closure in the imperial House, in 1882, the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone said, as will be found on page 1145 of the British ' Hansard ' of that year :

There is hut one sound principle in this House, and that is that the majority of the House should prevail.

And again later on lie says:

But God forbid that we should see so vast an innovation introduced into the practice of this House, applicable to our ordinary procedure, as would be a rule of the House under which the voice of the majority was not to prevail over that of the minority.

So you see, Sir, that the situation which has developed here is that the minority have said to this government-they cannot get away from it now-that unless certain legislation, good or bad, wise or unwise, is withdrawn, they will refuse to allow the business of the House to continue; that unless certain legislation is withdrawn we are going to be here until the snow flies; that unless certain legislation is withdrawn they will vote no Supply to this government. Now, that is the position they have taken; it is an intolerable position, a position that this House and this government, If it recognizes its own dignity and importance, cannot yield to for a single moment. I do say in all seriousness, Mr. Speaker, that we would be much better employed at the present time in discussing, but uot discussing for very long, the question of amending the rules of the House so that the business of the country may be proceeded with. I say more than that, Mr. Speaker, that while the people sent this government here with a large majority to do the business of the country, if they do it well, it is all right, if they do it badly, they must answer to the people therefor. But the people are not going to stand by and see this government held up by, a hopeless minority, while we

sit here month after month incapable of carrying on the public business.

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June 5, 1908