January 12, 1926

LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

That is why we called parliament.

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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CON

Hugh Guthrie

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

AH we ask parliament to do is to exercise its power constitutionally.

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LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

We agree again.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

That is all we ask for.

Now, there were other parts of the argument of tile Solicitor General to which I think more serious objection could be taken. There were his references to the speeches made in the province of Ontario since the election, by my right hon. leader, -and notably a speech made by him in Hamilton. If there is a single member of this House who should be careful in regard to election speeches, either pre-election speeches or post-election speeches, that man is the Solicitor General, and I think I might couple with him his colleague the Minister of Marine and Fisheries (Mr. Cardin).

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LIB

Pierre-Joseph-Arthur Cardin (Minister of Marine and Fisheries)

Liberal

Mr. CARDIN:

If I may be permitted I will inform my hon. friend I am not afraid of anything I said during the campaign.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

I object to being interrupted in this way.

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LIB

Pierre-Joseph-Arthur Cardin (Minister of Marine and Fisheries)

Liberal

Mr. CARDIN:

I am ready to repeat anything I said during that campaign; I have no wish to deny it.

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LIB

Hewitt Bostock (Speaker of the Senate)

Liberal

Mr. SPEAKER:

No hon. member has the right to interrupt without the permission of the hon. gentleman who has the floor.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

I shall not discuss the subject further except to say this: Anyone who wishes to take the political measure of the Solicitor General or the Minister of Marine and Fisheries only needs to read the files of the press during the last election. They must then be convinced that so far as their work in the last election was concerned the campaign was conducted on the old Conscription Act of nine or ten years ago and a Turkish war to take .place five or six hundred years hence.

At six o'clock the House took recess.

After Recess

The House resumed at eight o'clock.

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
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CON

Hugh Guthrie

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

Shortly before the House took recess my hon. friend the Solicitor General (Mr. Cannon) cited another precedent, or alleged precedent, in regard to the question whether a prime minister could hold office as Prime Minister without a seat in the House, and he instanced the case of Sir Charles Tupper and intimated that Sir Charles Tupper -had occupied the office of Prime Minister of this country without a seat in the House. At the time I was unable to look up the citation, but during the adjournment I have been able to do so, and I find that the statement of the Solicitor General in that respect is entirely erroneous. Sir Charles Tupper returned from England to Canada in January, 1S96, and was sworn in as a minister of the crown, with the portfolio of Secretary of State. Immediately thereafter he went down to the riding of Cape Breton for reelection, was returned for that riding and took his seat in the House of Commons as Secretary of State in the Mackenzie Bowell government. That government resigned office on April 27, 1896, when Sir Charles Tupper became Prime Minister, at a time when he certainly occupied a seat in this House as member for the constituency of Cape Breton.

I have now covered the three alleged precedents which have been mentioned on the government side during this debate and I think I can say with a good deal of assurance that none of them has the slightest application to the case before us at the present time, and that the statement of my hon. friend and leader (Mr. Meighen) on Friday last, that you could trace all precedents and all authorities for the last eighty years and you could not find a single instance of a prime minister who had not a seat in one or other of the houses of parliament, either in this country or in- Great Britain, has been verified. No precedent can be found to justify

Government's Right to Office

the Prime Minister of this country in the extraordinary position which he has taken or in his determination to hold on to office.

Passing, however, from -that particular branch of the subject, let me say a few words upon another branch which is, I think, of great importance in the discussion of this subject, and which has not yet been sufficiently emphasized or discussed by this House. We have heard something in the course of this debate of the possible results of whatever action the House may take on this motion. It has been intimated that if this motion carries the government will of necessity resign, and that the country will immediately afterwards be plunged into a general election. It has been intimated, on the other hand, that if this motion is defeated the government will seek an adjournment of the House to enable them to complete their cabinet, and that the House will be reassembled later on and the ordinary work of the session will proceed. I do not know that we are much concerned, or should be much concerned, with the ultimate result in a matter of this kind. We should be more concerned with upholding constitutional authority, be the result what it may. However, I propose to discuss very briefly what may possibly result from the adoption or from the rejection of this motion. Unfortunately we have not the advantage to-night of the presence in this House of the Prime Minister. We can obtain no leadership from him, no guidance from him; but in another view of the question we are fortunate, because we know precisely what he would do, and what he said he would do, under a given set of circumstances which has now arisen in this House. I propose, therefore, to look at the great speech, the preelection pronouncement of the Prime Minister of this country, made upon a formal and solemn occasion, when he informed the electors of Canada, why he had decided to dissolve the House, and what would be done, or what he proposed to do in regard to the future. If the speech which the Prime Minister delivered to his constituents on the 7th September last at Richmond Hill were in the nature of an offhand statement made by a minister on the hustings or on any other similar occasion, I would not take it too seriously. But when the head of a government, at a critical time prior to a genera! election, gives to the Canadian electorate a manifesto or formal pronouncement of his sincere views and conclusions, the people of the country are entitled' to take him at his word.

The last parliament was elected for the usual parliamentary term of five years. It had run but three years and a half at the time the Prime Minister determined upon a dissolution. After the general election of 1921 the government was able to count about one-half of the House of Commons as its supporters. The Conservative party mustered only something like fifty or fifty-two supporters. The remainder of the House, to the extent of some sixty-seven, was madie up of Progressives and Independents. Foir three years the Prime Minister struggled along under what, I admit, were very adverse circumstances. We have seen him and his government humiliated in this House. Those of us who sat in the last parliament will remember many an instance of this kind simply because the Prime Minister was not sufficiently in control of parliament to carry on the government. He must have felt that the humiliation and the experience was a trying one for any government. That the government failed was not wholly its own fault. It was the fault of the composition of the House of Commons which differed from the government to a very great extent. Let us recollect that night when perhaps the most- popular member of the administration was humiliated in this parliament. Those of us who are here will remember *when Mr. Graham, then Minister of National Defence, brought in his militia estimates, assuring the House that he had cut the amount down to the last dollar and saying: "If I cut them

another dollar, I shall have to go below the margin of safety, which I cannot do." We on this side of the House cheered him. If a minister of national defence has one duty it is to keep up the margin of safety in our national defence. Yet his own followers repudiated him. Chaos arose in the Chamber: the militia estimates had to be withdrawn, and two days later Mr. Graham had to come to parliament and say: "Notwithstanding

my assurance that I had cut my vote down to the margin of safety, I have had to take some two or three hundred thousand more off and consequently I have gone below the margin of safety." The government could not do otherwise and hold office. That is only one instance. Take the freight rates muddle into which this government plunged the country,

not of their own volition, I grant, but through force of circumstances; because the government was not strong enough in the House of Commons to resist the demands that were made upon them.

Take the lake freights fiasco, where the government, yielding to demands made at

Government's Right to Office

that time, passed laws in this parliament which they could not enforce, and the whole country was humiliated by the fact -that notice had to be given subsequently by the government to American vessel owners that they might disregard Canadian laws. Take the annual tariff tinkering. Take a prime minister who was a member of a government that enacted the FieldingiLaurier -tariff-I supported it in those days and I was proud of it, thinking it was a good ita.riff; a prime minister who was in the government which passed (the 1907 tariff at the demand- of opposing forces in -the House of Commons he had to tinker with it at practically eveiy session until he took all the protective element out of it. He -rendered if innocuous and worthless for any -purpose whatever, not' because -he desired to do so but because he was forced to do so owing to the situation in the House of Commons. I have mentioned only a few of the muddles and a few of the difficulties of the King government during three and a -half years.

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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CON

Henry Herbert Stevens

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEVENS:

The Petersen contract.

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
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CON

Hugh Guthrie

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

I will leave that to somebody else to deal with. These are only a few of the muddles, misfits and miscalculations of the government. We sympathised with the Prime -Minister and his colleagues m his troubles. He was entitled to sympathy. He had a hard load to carry, and after three years and a half-not five years, which was the parliamentary -term-he concluded that things could not continue. He concluded that he had not the support of this House to the extent that he should have it if he was to give a satisfactory account of himself and properly govern the country. He had actually the support of half the House in those days. Now he says, to quote in his own words: "I consulted with my colleagues over the situation." I fancy all the ministers at present sitting in this chamber were consulted upon the situation last September by the Prime Minister and after consultation with his colleagues he prepared for the people of Canada a formal pronouncement, a serious document based on -three and a half years of parliamentary experience, of governing under adverse conditions; a document meant for the electorate of the Dominion of Canada, prepared in advance and circulated amongst the newspapers of Canada in advance. In the town in which I live I was told in the morning of the day on which the speech was delivered that I could see it in the newspaper office. It was a speech -much advertised, much heralded, a speech of which the Toronto Daily Star says: "There was a tremendous crowd to

hear it and over five hundred thousand people heard it by radio." The speech was published in every quarter of the Dominion and it was intended as an official manifesto to the people of Canada. Let us take the Prime Minister at his word-but perhaps I had better put on Hansard his exact language, although it is already there. He said:

As I have already said, I have not the least doubt we shall be able to command such support as we all along have had in the House of Commons at another session; but shall we be able to do more than that? That is the question I have put to every one of my colleagues in the government, and to not a few of the members. It is a question I now put to you who have honoured me with your representation in the House of Commons. It is a question I put to the electorate of this country. Is it sufficient that as a government we should continue in office, drawing our indemnities as members and ministers, and enjoying the other fruits of office, when great national questions press for solution, with which for want of an adequate majority in parliament we are unable satisfactorily to cope ?

Let me read another quotation further on.

I refer now to all important national problems that are pressing for solution, and which cannot be solved in a parliament constituted after the manner of a parliament elected in 1921, or by any government which does not command a substantial majority in the House of Commons.

Further down:

At most we would be reduced to marking time. This is not a moment in our country's affairs at' which to mark time; it is a time to march forward.

Then later on:

May I say further, I believe each of the problems mentioned is a pressing one; I do not believe any one of the four can be dealt with effectively at a last session of parliament. They can only be satisfactorily dealt with by a House of Commons fresh from the people and with a mandate from the people to carry out their will. I would say -further, I do not believe that any one of the four can be dealt with effectively by a government which is not supported by a substantial majority in the House of Commons. Group government and minority government may be inevitable in transitional phases of our political history, but neither is the kind of government wherewith to achieve great reforms.

That, Mr. Speaker, was a solemn official pronouncement and expressed, I believe, the considered judgment, the absolute conviction of the Prime Minister and his colleagues. May I quote in respect of that speech what the Solicitor General (Mr. Cannon) said last night in reference to the speech alleged to have been made by my leader (Mr. Meighen) in Hamilton? I will use the very words of the Solicitor General and ask the House to apply them to the position of the Prime Minister himself. Speaking last night the Solicitor General said:

Your leader was either sincere when he made his declaration in Hamilton or he was not.

Government's Right to Office

I say to the government: Your leader was either sincere when he made his declaration at Richmond Hill or he was not.

If he was sincere, how many will stand up in this House and support him?

I ask hon. gentlemen opposite now, how many of them will stand up and support what their leader said at Richmond Hill?

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

Will the hon. gentleman tell us whether the question-about which the leader of the opposition made his speech in Hamilton-is unchanged to-day? And has not the situation of both political parties been changed? [DOT]

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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CON

Hugh Guthrie

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

I am not going to be drawn aside by a question of that kind. I will reply as the Solicitor General replied to a question last night-"I will not reply to stupid interruptions." The Solicitor General made this statement last night in reference to the leader of the opposition:

If he was sincere, how many will stand up in this House and support him?

I ask the hon. gentleman the same question in regard to his leader's speech at Richmond Hill

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LIB

Lucien Cannon (Solicitor General of Canada)

Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

Why borrow anything

from a stupid man?

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Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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CON

Hugh Guthrie

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

The hon. member asked further:

If he was not sincere do you think for one moment that he should become Premier of Canada?

I put the same question in regard to the Prime Minister's speech at Richmond Hill. If he was not sincere in that solemn pro? nouncement to the electors of Canada as to his difficulties in the past and his prospects for the future; if that pronouncement was merely a piece of cold calculated deception- which I am sure it was not-he should be rejected not only by the House but by every voter in the Dominion of Canada. Every hon. member of this House knows in his heart that the statement was genuine; it was sincere. The statement was made after the Prime Minister had had a conference with all his colleagues, and it came after an experience of three and a half years of government under adverse circumstances, when he had at his command one half of the House of Commons at least, or a majority of two. as I think he said in his speech. The Prime Minister pictured to the people of Canada four great outstanding problems with which he said he was unable to cope unless he had a substantial majority in the House of Commons. And they were important questions. Transportation was a mighty problem; the

railway problem was another one of tremendous importance; and immigration and senate reform were also both vital questions. These I think were the questions which he was discussing at the time, and his statement was that unless he had a substantial parliamentary majority he could not cope with them and that all he could do for Canada was to mark time or, in other words, to stagnate. This, he said, was a time for marching forward, and without a substantial parliamentary majority it was impossible for him to do so. That is a plain statement; it is a fair, honest, candid statement based upon conviction and experience, and made a few short months ago, seven weeks before the election and two or three days prior to dissolution. Has anyone any doubt as to the reasons he gave His Excellency for obtaining a dissolution? In the very language of his speech you will find his reasons set out.

Now. in a body of serious-minded men such as we find in this House, for the most part business men, what should we do with that statement before us? What is our duty in the matter? Here is a situation far worse, from the Prime Minister's point of view, than anything he ever experienced in the last House. There he had 116 or 117 members while here he has 101. Here the Conservative opposition comprises 116 members while in the last House it numbered only 51 or 52-48, someone says. In the last House the Prime Minister had the support of some 67 Progressives and Independents; in this House the members of these groups number only 28. If his statement was sincere is jt not our duty to take him at his word? Should we not believe him? I will put a question to my hon. friends in the far corner, some of whom have expressed some concern as to what might happen in the event of this amendment either carrying or being rejected. What will any man say to his constituents if he votes to retain this government in power, having before him positive notice from the Prime Minister himself that he cannot do more than mark time, that he cannot cope with the great and pressing questions that confront the Dominion of Canada to-day under existing conditions in this House? Would any man in his right senses employ as manager for his farm or his business or his factory one who said at the outset that under the conditions then existing he could only mark time and could not cope with the big ends of the concern? If such a man should say, "This i3 a time for marching forward but jl can only mark time," would any one of us employ him to manage anything at all? Then, if not

Government's Right to Office

in private or in corporate business, would you ask such a man to manage the affairs of this great Dominion after he had1 solemnly assured the people that he could not cope with the great questions under such conditions as exist at this very moment? If we are honest with ourselves; if we are honest with the Prime Minister himself; if we take his statement as an honest, truthful assertion of his conviction and of his experience, and of what he will do in the future under conditions similar to those which exist in this House today, there is no alternative in regard to our vote on this matter. I submit that no member of this House should look beyond the question in the resolution; but if we are tempted to go beyond it, if we are tempted to consider ulterior results, then let me say this in the presence of my leader and with his authority, that if this motion carries, if this government resigns, and if he is called upon to form a' government in this House, he will undertake the task. He will undertake to carry on that government from session to session without dissolution, and he will do so just so long as he receives parliamentary support. Hon. members who form the Progressive group in this House will realize this: Their position will be just as strong under a new administration as it is under the presejit one. They will occupy the same dominant position in the councils of this House as they do to-day, and if a new government were formed and legislation satisfactory to them introduced and proceeded with, there is no reason why such a government should not continue to the end of the parliamentary term. But the Progressives have this safety valve. Should legislation be introduced not acceptable to them, then on account of the peculiar position which they occupy, they would have the remedy in their own hands. Oh, let no hon. member fear the result of this motion. If this government is displaced a new government will be formed under a leader who is outstanding in the political life of this country, a leader in whose ability we trust, whose courage we know, who is not afraid to cope with those great questions which' demand settlement and which, on his own statement, the present Prime Minister is unable to cope with. How, without repudiating the Prime Minister; how, without telling him to his face, "You did not tell the truth on September 7", a man can vote now against this amendment, I do not know. If the Prime Minister spoke the truth in his speech at Richmond Hill, surely we can take him at his word. If he did not speak the truth to the electors at Richmond Hill, then 14011-7

lie has no right to occupy any position in this House.

Now, Air. Speaker, I sincerely hope that the House may not be led away by any ulterior consideration or by any side issue. I trust that when we come to vote we will vote upon the simple question that is before the House. That, it is true, is a constitutional question, but it has a very large and important practical side to it: Shall we uphold by our votes in this House the constitutional usage and practice of all British parliaments in all quarters of the world?

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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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

Hon. CHARLES STEWART (West Edmonton, Minister of the Interior):

Mr

Speaker, the debate so far has been carried on by the legal members of this House both on behalf of the government, and-very largely so; indeed almost altogether-by the members of the opposition. The fact is stressed by the leader of the opposition (Mr. Meighen) and by those who support him that the government, up to a certain period, have acted constitutionally in remaining in office and in calling parliament; but now we are on the horn; of a dilemma because, forsooth, the Prime Minister has not a seat in this House. Well, Mr. Speaker, as a member of the government I have been- intensely interested in the discussion on this very important question.

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

I do not want the minister to leave a statement attributed to me in an incorrect form. I did' not say that. I stated that they could legally justify themselves, but-that it was not the best constitutional practice. .

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Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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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 am speaking of the legal aspect of the question.

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

You said, "constitutionally".

Topic:   GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
Subtopic:   MOTION FOR PRECEDENCE-GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO RETAIN OFFICE
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January 12, 1926