January 11, 1926

LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

Certainly it is.

Mr. MACLEAN (York). No, it is not flexible.

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LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

This being a question of

law I say with all respect to my hon. friend that if he should state anything like that in his newspaper I fehr some of his readers would not continue their subscriptions. I say, Mr. Speaker, that the British constitution being unwritten is for that reason pliable, flexible; it is an institution of so flexible a nature that it can meet any new emergency. Thirdly, I say that the constitution in itself, as we have it to-day, is simply the sum and substance of decisions reached by the members of parliament in England, or by the members) of parliament in Canada, when they have had to face new problems which have demanded new solutions!. I think that every member of this House, if he will bear in mind, first, that the British constitution is not written, secondly, that it is flexible, thirdly, that it is made up of precedents, will be in a (Mr. Meighen.]

better position to view the question as put before the House to-day in its true light.

To show that what I have contended is true, I shall in a very few words illustrate my thought with some examples taken from the history of England. In 1688 William III was called to the throne of England. James II had fled to France, and parliament had to be summoned in order that the accession of William III should be made legal, and in order also that very important legislation should be enacted. Who might call parliament? The king was in exile, the king was in France. This was a new situation; it was an emergency. Did parliament declare itself powerless? Did the members at that time declare that they could not do anything because the situation was new? No, they continued to expand the scope and operations of the constitution by adopting new means; and then some high officials of the government took upon themselves to form a sort of council. Writs of summons were issued, and members wrere called to London. Parliament met, first under the name of a convention and afterwards under the name of parliament; and it is that parliament which has passed and enacted the most important law in England, the law of succession. This is one example. In those days if-like my hon. friend from 'Calgary (Mr. Bennett)-a member had got up and said "This is something new, you cannot do anything," what would have become of England, what would have been the result? Where would William III have been after his landing at Torbay?

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?

An hon. MEMBER:

Ask the member for Frontenac.

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LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

I am quite sure the member for Frontenac would have felt sad if William III had not landed in England.

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CON

John Wesley Edwards

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. EDWARDS (Frontenac-Addington):

I certainly would. And you should have been too.

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LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

I will give another example. Under William Pitt-and no member of this House will deny that he was one of the greatest statesmen in England, one of the greatest exponents of reform, and one of the greatest respecters of parliamentary liberties-King George IH became insane. That was an awful situation. It was something new. Did parliament say " We are powerless, we cannot do anything?" Parliament met and devised means whereby a regency was established. The Prince of Wales became regent of England and every one of his acts was legal and regular. Why should we in Canada, when we are told that our institutions are derived from England, declare our inability to cope with a new situa-

Government's Right to Office

tion? We have parliamentary experience, we have constitutional knowledge. Are we to say to the country that 245 representatives of the people are unable to find the solution to a new problem? Applying the principle which I laid down that in England the constitution is used in such a way that every emergency and every new case is met, I say that in Canada to-day we have a new situation and we have to meet it by new means.

Up to 1921 we had no groups in Canada. Until Union government existed in Canada people were satisfied to follow the two great parties. But the hon. member for South Winnipeg (Mr. Rogers) will bear me out when I state that Union government was the root of our present trouble. New groups were created, new factions arose. In Canada in 1921, for the first time we had three parties, and in 1925 or 1926, as I will prove later in my remarks, not only have we three parties but in this House we have no less than eight parties. This is, therefore, a new situation. If it is a new situation parliament is the sole master, and parliament has the right to decide. The government are not coming before this House and stating that they should be sustained, but our contention is solely to the effect that the decision with respect to the present political situation in Canada belongs to the representatives of the people. Is there any member here, no matter how reactionary he may be, no matter how Tory in his tendencies, who will deny to parliament, the right to decide this issue? Parliament in this matter must be supreme, and it is in the decision of parliament that we trust and rely. Let parliament decide the issue. If parliament decides that we should continue in office we will accept the mandate. If parliament decides that some other person than the present right hon. Prime Minister should be entrusted with office that decision will become law. In matters of this kind parliament is supreme and its decision will be binding. This is very plain language. I am not quoting from books. Constitutional law in its essence is simply human common sense applied to a political situation.

As far as the law is concerned I do not wish to discuss the question as to whether the Prime Minister, after the election, had the right to summon parliament. I do not think there is one lawyer in this House with any standing who will claim anything different. My hon. friend from Calgary, showing his thorough knowledge of law, admitted that the present government had an absolute right to remain in power until parliament was summoned. Therefore the first contention of the

leader of the opposition, to the effect that our remaining in power was something illegal falls to the ground; it has been demolished by the hon. member for Calgary.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Will the hon. member permit me? I made it quite clear that while they had the legal right they had not the right by custom. I made that perfectly clear.

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LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

My hon. friend, this afternoon, summed up his argument as follows:

Up till the time parliament met, everything done by the government was legal; but I reproach the government with the fact of having met parliament without a prime minister. Was that not my hon. friend's argument? Now, I claim that up to the time parliament met everything done was legal, I think no lawyer with any knowledge of constitutional law will deny that.

I come now to the second point: was it legal, was it constitutional, for this government to meet parliament without its prime minister in the House? After the elections the Prime Minister took the following position: this government will remain in power until parliament meets. In the meantime there are to be no public appointments, no changes in the representation of the people, and parliament will be called at the very earliest moment. If it was legal for the Prime Minister to remain in power will not my hon. friend from Calgary admit that the stand taken by the Prime Minister and the restrictions adopted by him in the exercise of his authority were characterized by complete dignity and manifested his full knowledge of his responsibility towards the people?

Now the Prime Minister had to face a novel situation as I have tried to prove, and not only a novel situation, but a difficult situa- [DOT] tion. A man with ordinary conceit might have thought he had enough experience, enough judgment, enough personal perspicacity to advise His Excellency, but the Prime Minister took another stand. He said, "It does not belong to one man in Canada, no matter how exalted his position may be, to decide a situation so novel and so difficult. I will have the greatest, the highest and the most competent tribunal of the land to decide it, and instead of giving my own personal opinion I shall ask the two hundred and forty-five representatives of the people to make the decision". Again, Sir, I ask, was the Prime Minister not only justified in retaining office, but was he not the worthy representative of the people of Canada when he took that stand in conformity with the best traditions of the privileges and powers and dignities of parliament?

Government's Right to Office

Now, Mr. Speaker, the legal part of the amendment is contained in the last paragraph. Every member is familiar with its phraseology, but stripped of all legal expressions, put in ordinary common language that everybody can understand, that paragraph means this: the present government has no right to meet parliament because its head, the Prime Minister, does not sit in either House, and the medium, or the via media, or the connecting link between the government, or the parliament rather, and His Excellency the Governor General, does not exist. That is the argument. This argument as a legal proposition is perfectly sound, if it is applied to a permanent situation. There is no doubt that should the Prime Minister to-day, or should any Prime Minister in any dominion, or even Great Britain, attempt to establish a parliamentary system whereby he would remain the head of administration and nevertheless would not sit in either house of parliament, there is no doubt that the argument would be absolutely sound; but such is not the case. The present situation is not a case of permanency. It is a temporary situation, and to use the expression of the right hon. leader of the opposition in his speech, it is a fortuitous case. This situation will not last long. The Prime Minister will seek a seat in the very near future, if he is elected he will sit in this House, and therefore there is no character of permanency to the present situation. Should the Prime Minister fail in re-election it will be for parliament to deal with the situation then created.

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CON
LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

My hon. friend puts a

question which contains in itself an argu-[DOT] ment. There is no doubt that if the Prime Minister, in seeking re-election, would delay beyond a reasonable time, parliament would interfere, and serve on the Prime Minister notice that he must be either in the House of Commons or the Senate or quit.

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CON
LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

Yes, but there is such a

thing as a notice which is given too soon.

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CON
LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

I therefore say that the

principle enunciated by all the speakers on the opposite side has not its application in the present case, as it is not a permanent situation. It is simply an accidental and temporary situation which will soon be remedied. I heard every other speaker on the other side saying, "We defy the speakers on

the government side to give us one precedent of a similar situation". I heard the member for West Calgary -(Mr. Bennett) say that if any member on the other side of the House could give an instance where a prime minister remained the head of his government without a seat in the House that he, the hon. member, would support the government on this question. The hon. gentleman was most express in his terms this afternoon. He asked for a precedent. I will give him a precedent which is on all fours with the present situation. In 1792 England: was facing one of the most serious situations that that country has ever faced. Across the channel the French revolution was threatening. Public men in England, after having looked upon the first glow of French liberty with admiration and love, had changed their minds, and thought that the fire which had been lighted in Paris might spread all over Europe and become a menace. Parliament was summoned and during that session of 1793 railways were not discussed- thank God they were not invented. But they discussed the most vital question as to whether England should enter into a conflict with France and w'hether they should open that long series of wars which spread from 1792 to 1815, in the death struggle between the republic of France and continental Europe, helped by England. Was that a serious question? If the contention of the hon. member on the other side of the House is correct, should not the Prime Minister have been present in the House? Where is the via media which is essential, claims the leader of the opposition? At that time the Prime Minister of England, William Pitt, was not in the House.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Does my hon. friend refer to the time when Mr. Addington resigned the Speakership?

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LIB
CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Jttr. BENNETT:

My hon. friend is aware, I take it, that parliament was then in session.

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LIB
CON
LIB

January 11, 1926