January 11, 1926

LIB

Ernest Lapointe (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. LAPOINTE:

Thank you.

Government's Right to Office

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

These are the words

which my hon. friend used with reference to the spirit and the traditions of parliament:

It-

That is, the retention of office by my right hon. friend now leader of the opposition (Mr. Meighen).

It is in direct violation of the spirit and traditions of the British constitution that a parliament should continue its existence when it is clear that it no longer represents, carries the support, or enjoys the confidence of the people.

Aipiply those words to the present situation and see whether they are not absolutely pertinent. After listening to the observations this afternoon of the hon. member for Kindersley (Mr. Carmichael), it is clear that although there are a large number of members in this House who do not belong to the party with which I am associated they belong to a group which was opposed to the present government and it is clear further that the government no longer "represents, carries the support or enjoys the confidence of the people," and that its continuance in office is a violation of the spirit and the traditions of the British Constitution. But there were others besides the Minister of Justice who made observations of somewhat the same startling character. Their vision was not so wide nor were they so dispassionate in what they said; but their remarks were largely to the same effect. The gentleman who recently was Prime Minister in this country concluded a speech, as reported in Hansard of the year 1921, in -these words:

They find in office to-day only office seekers, and office holders, those who love the loaves and the fishes, who make broad their phylacteries, who enlarge the border of their garments, who love the uppermost rooms aft feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, who make clean the outside of the cup and the pdatiter, but within are full of extortion and excess. Confidence in government, Mr. Speaker, will never be restored till the people regain the control over parti ament and the executive which they have lost.

Who would have thought that in four or five short years these words would be so applicable to his own party? There is the story of the feast and of the chief seats in the synagogues, besides the greetings in the market places-I do not think he meant markets but market places. These, Sir, were the words of hon. gentlemen at the moment when they sought office and looked) for power; and now having obtained office and achieved power they say, "Let our past be forgotten and take us upon trust". Surely the observations of the hon. member for Kindersley this afternoon sufficiently indicate why there should be some difficulty about taking the

government upon trust. I was glad that my hon. friend this afternoon also referred to the remarks which had been made by someone with reference to the indemnity, because I remembered that Mr. King during the recent campaign visited the province of Alberta and, in the presence of the Minister of the Interior (Mr. Stewart, West Edmonton) in the city of Edmonton, made a speech in the course of which he referred to his majority of one in the last parliament. These were his words on that occasion as reported by the Canadian press:

The Prime Minister spoke of his majority of one in the last parliament.

"Why," he said, "if I went out for dinner, my majority was gone." When he formed his administration however, he had felt that he would get sufficient assistance from the other side of the House to enable him to carry on. ''There is an indemnity of $4,000" he had thought, "and they will think twice before voting us out."

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An hon. MEMBER:

It is the origin of the thought.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

It would seem to be the origin of that part, if you call it thought, of the utterance to which the hon. member for Kindersley -referred this afternoon.

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Mines; Minister of the Interior; Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs)

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (West Edmonton):

Will my hon. friend tell me what paper he is quoting from?

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

What I have read appears in -the Winnipeg Tribune of October 6, 1924, and it is a Canadian Press despatch.

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Mines; Minister of the Interior; Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs)

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (West Edmonton):

I

thought so, for I had very grave doubts about its authenticity.

,Mr. BENNETT: I assure my hon. friend that it is a report of the Canadian press and not of a newspaper. I will ask the page to hand it to the minister.

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Mines; Minister of the Interior; Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs)

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (West Edmonton):

We have frequently heard the leader of the opposition (Mr. Meighen), whose position in the matter I can well understand, denying statements quoted in the press. I was present at this meeting and I have no recollection whatever of the Prime Minister having made any such statement.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Could anything more delightfully illustrate the violation of parliamentary custom and tradition than the scene we now witness? There is one man above all others who by parliamentary law should be present to confirm or deny a statement attributed t-o him, and the denial must come from someone else.

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LIB

Frank S. Cahill

Liberal

Mr. CAHILL:

Is that the hon. member's reason for attacking the Prime Minister- because he is absent?

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

The reason for my attacking him is simply this, that under our parliamentary institutions the actions of the king's ministers must always be subject to criticism by parliament. I wonder whether my hon. friend has forgotten for a single moment that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Has he forgotten that? Unless this House studies, criticizes, analyses and, where proper, condemns the actions of a Prime Minister who is absent, it is recreant to its trust, and has sunk back into the state of a debating society such as the Minister of Justice spoke of, and is but a memory of the dark ages. The question asked me carries its own refutation. Nothing could be better for parliament than that such a question should be asked, for we must criticize where criticism is necessary. I am now told that because I venture to look into the public] actions of one who ought to be present in the House, one who is supposed to be here, I am guilty of some wrong. What is to become of all the sacrifices of past generations if criticism is not to be allowed under such circumstances? They are futile. And the chivalry of the Prime Minister's supporters would save him from attack! Let us conclude.

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Some hon. MEMBERS:

Oh, oh.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Well, all I-invite is more interruptions and I shall not conclude so soon. Now, let us proceed.

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LIB
CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Not at all. I assure my

friend I have a great sense of humility, because this moment in which I speak I regard as fraught with greater disaster to the achievement of centuries than any other moment in the life of the House. If by any chance my manner should seem arrogant, I offer my apologies to my friend, for I have no desire that it should so seem. I desire rather in a sense of great humility to present to this House some of the reasons which influence me in my course. Now, Sir. one step further. I have endeavoured to make plain to this House that there is a clear distinction between law and custom. I have endeavoured to indicate by citations from many authorities what I conceive that distinction to be. Perhaps I have not succeeded as I should like, because I am more accustomed to other tribunals, but I trust to grow more accustomed to this Chamber. I have endeavoured to indicate to this House that the line of distinction between

law and custom is clear and well defined, that there may be matters that are legal, considered from the standpoint of pure law, such as the possible repeal of the British North America Act itself by the Imperial parliament; there are matters which may be regarded as wholly and truly legal, and yet by custom and tradition, by usage and by practice, they are not possible of being effected. That applies to the great body of law that we call the law of parliament-the custom of the constitution. These things may not lightly be disregarded. They are indeed, as has been pointed out by the most eminent commentators and those who have investigated most closely-jurists, men of letters and others, Morley, Redlich, Anson, Dicey, May, Todd,-all these great investigators and writers have indicated that the great reforms which have been achieved and are now recorded upon the journals of our history are there by reason of custom and usage and not by strict letter of the law. You may search the statute books in vain for them. It is because of the violation of these customs that we appeal to this parliament with this amendment. We say, Sir, that this government should not and must not, so far as we are concerned, function as such in this House of Commons unless and until this House has passed judgment upon this usurpation of power, this violation of custom, this breach of tradition and authority. That is the position which we take.

May I offer one further observation to my hon. friends who sit to my left. Sir, this House is not concerned only with the affairs of to-diay. We are indeed the trustees of all that has been achieved in the past; all the glories, all the parliamentary reforms, all the great achievements that have been wrought by sacrifice and sometimes by loss of life, have come to us as a sacred trust. We are not here to-night nicely calculating just what the policy of one party or the other will be; we are here to-night to weigh in the balances the constitutional conduct and the parliamentary procedure of that party which calls itself the government-a party without a Prime Minister; a party whose cabinet has been decimated, whose ranks have been riddled with shot and shell of the enemy until they are no longer fit and able within themselves to function with respect to the many departments of government which are provided for by the statutes of this country.

And, Mr. Speaker, I do say there are considerations greater than material things. I have lived long enough, Sir, to realize that the measure of a country's greatness is not found in its accumulations of wealth. There are other things that are greater. Disraeli, half a

* Government's Right to Office

century ago, in the great mother of parliaments, pointed out that there were matters which men might well ponder far transcending purely material considerations. Your mercantile marine might sail on every sea; your commerce might expand; your imports and your exports might be so great as to command the admiration of all the nations of the world. But not in these things lie the greatness of a nation. The greatness of a nation lies in the character of its people, and that character is to be measured by their regard for the sacrifices of the past and by the spirit in which they approach the duties and the obligations and the responsibilities of high citizenship; how they hold in trust for posterity the great powers that have come to them, the great customs, usages and traditions of which they are legatees. In the discharge of our duties we must measure these things not by material balances, not by bids for this measure or that, for this concession or that, but ralther by determining whether or not we have been true to a great past and are worthy trustees for posterity of a great future, maintaining and handing down intact the customs, the practices, the usages, the *privileges of this parliament, as the daughter of the great mother of parliaments at Westminster.

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LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Hon. LUCIEN CANNON (Solicitor General):

Mr. Speaker, with all due deference to my learned and bon. friend who has just resumed his seat (Mr. Bennett) I may say that his performance to-day reminded me of the old saying to the effect that history repeats itself, and that long ago Joshua captured Jericho with noise. In the opening part of his speech my hon. friend quoted the highest constitutional principles which should guide the House in reaching a true decision; and later, to my great surprise, the same member brought down the level of this House to an auction place. I do not wish, Sir, to follow the hon. gentlemen in the second1 section of his speech, for I have no desire to have this House compared in any way to an auction place. We are here to discuss one of the most momentous problems ever submitted to the parliament of Canada, and I have no doubt that every member of this House, be he a Progressive, a Liberal or a Conservative, will reach his decision in the best interests of our country, guided by the sound principles of constitutional law and constitutional precedent.

My hon. friend has given us a very interesting lecture on constitutional law. He has quoted to a considerable extent constitutional authors. As a lawyer, I may say that I admire his great knowledge, and I may say

also that most of the principles which were laid down by the hon. member are absolutely elementary and are familiar to every lawyer the first year he attends his university course. The question before this House is one that does not call for speeches as to the constitution of parliament, as to the authority of the king, or as to the creation of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The question before us is a very simple one. It is whether this government had the right, first of all, to meet parliament; secondly, whether the government was justified in asking the members of the House of Commons to decide as to whether this government should remain in power or as to whether another administration should be formed. The question, I say, is a simple one, and I intend discussing it from that angle solely. I shall discuss it as a lawyer ought to do, with ad little animosity as possible.

Before I enter into the question, I would call the attention of my right hon. friend the leader of the opposition (Mr. Meighen) to the fact that his speech would have carried more weight by far if he had) eliminated from it all animosity andi violence. It was said long ago by an orator who could certainly serve as an example even to my right hon. friend-I am referring to Cicero-argumen-tum. non est contumelia, abuse is no argument.

I do not wish, Sir, to discuss the details of the motion introduced by the Minister of Justice (Mr. Lapointe), or of the amendment introduced by the leader of the opposition. Every member of the House knows exactly the nature of both the motion and the amendment. But What is the real meaning of the procedure which is now before the House? The true meaning of that procedure is that should a vote be given in favour of the amendment, that vote will be equivalent to a vote of non-confidence, and then the present government will be out of power. What would be the immediate consequence of such a vote? The immediate consequence would naturally be the withdrawal of the present administration, and the temporary formation of another administration, followed immediately, and it is to this immediate consequence that I wish to call the attention of hon. members of the House, by another election.

Mr. MfANION: No chance.

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Some hon. MEMBERS:

Not at all.

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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

The hon. member is

on the $4,000 argument now.

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LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

Mjy right hon. friendl is always prone to restrict an argument even when that argument is brought by someone other than himself, but my views are much broader. I had no idea that he could be thinking of his1 sessional indemnity.

In the remarks which I shall offer to the House I wish to develop as briefly as possible two arguments. The first is the argument that, in law, the amendment is unfounded; the second argument is to the effect that the amendment is in fact a mis-statement, and that its adoption would bring political chaos in Canada. The gentlemen who have addressed the House from the other side have spoken about the British constitution. They have said that it is from the British constitution that we are to derive the guidance which will enable us to reach a true solution. As to the British constitution, I wish to state, as a preliminary to my argument on the merits of the amendment that the British constitution has three special characteristics which are not to be forgotten. First of all, contrary to the American constitution, the British constitution is not a written document. It is not contained in any one single statute or in many statutes. The British constitution is altogether unwritten save for a few statutes or a few documents. Secondly, the British constitution, by reason of its being unwritten, is flexible, pliable.

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January 11, 1926