March 29, 1927

CON

Richard Bedford Bennett

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

An arrangement of time

but not method.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

Yes.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

I agree that the time was arranged but not the method, and when the suggestion was made to me there was nothing further from my mind than that such a method should be selected for this important discussion.

This matter was discussed to some extent at an earlier date this session, Mr. Speaker. On December 13 last', when the House was occupied in discussing the address in reply to the speech from the throne, the subject received some considerable attention, and reference was made this afternoon by the right hon. the Prime Minister to that debate. No objection was taken to his so doing and I presume the same courtesy will be accorded me, because it is my desire to make reference to the remarks of my right hon. friend on that occasion to show the idea I had with regard to the method to be adopted by the government in bringing this question to the attention of parliament. During the discussion in December last my right hon. friend made it abundantly clear that the report of the conference would be submitted to parliament in due course; he did so in precise and emphatic language which will be found at page 43 of Hansard: .

It was a conference of representatives of the different governments, and everything that conference did, before it begins to bind a single part of the empire, is subject to the approval of not only the governments but also the parliaments of the different parts of the empire.

A little further down on the same page he used these words:

I may say to my hon. friend that the government intends to put the report before this House just as it appears, and to recommend its adoption.

1062 COMMONS

Imperial Conference-Mr. Guthrie

There can. be little surprise, therefore, that I was misled by the positive statements made by the Prime Minister on December 13 last. I assumed that my right hon. friend would bring this report forward to-day in the form of a motion expressing the approval of this House of the report and the proceedings of the conference of 1926. When he spoke in this chamber on the 13th of December last he declared that he would do so: he meant to bring the report here and ask this House to confirm and approve it. But in the interval he has changed his mind for some mysterious reason best known to himself.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

May I give

my hon. friend the reason?

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

Not just now. I do not

want to be interrupted and I do not want to be discourteous either; but I myself do not interrupt and I do not like to be interrupted. For some mysterious reason best known to himself, which he did not give the House to-day, the Prime Minister has changed his method of procedure. He does not now ask parliament to approve this report. As I listened with the greatest respect and with the greatest attention to his remarks this afternoon I gathered that in his view all the consent, or assent, or approval, which this parliament need give had already been given by the Prime Minister when he supported the motion in the Imperial conference which carried the report. I must dissent entirely from that position. I submit to my right hon. friend and to the Minister of Justice that they never were authorized by this country or this parliament to go to the conference for any other purpose than to confer, to advise, and to consult, and the Prime Minister had not the power, nor had his Minister of Justice, nor had either or both of them, to commit this parliament or this country to a single proposal, and it cannot be done to-day save through the action of this House. It has always been laid down in this House, and I think in the conferee re itself, that all proceedings at these conferences are purely advisory.

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. LAPOINTE:

Hear, hear.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

And my hon. friend the

Minister of Justice interjects the remark "hear, hear".

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. LAPOINTE:

It is a truism surely.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

Does he agree with me

in that?

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. LAPOINTE:

Surely.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

Does he agree that this

parliament has not in any way, shape or form been committed upon the report of the conference?

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. LAPOINTE:

Surely.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

Then why the discussion this afternoon? Why take up the time of parliament further if approval of parliament is not asked by my right hon. friend the Prime Minister, and will not be asked by the Minister of Justice?

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. LAPOINTE:

It was not taken up in the British parliament.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

I am not discussing the

action of the British parliament. I am talking of the action of this government, and of the statement made by the Prime Minister in this House on the 13th December last that this matter would be brought up, a report laid before parliament, and the approval of parliament sought. That has not been done. It should have been done; and I entirely dissent from the proposal that we in this country or in this parliament can be committed in any degree whatever by the action of the Prime Minister and his cabinet in a matter of this kind. I mention this particularly now in view of what took place at the conference of 1923. The danger of the situation is that unless we do take some definite action in regard to these proposals, as time goes on we may be taken to have acquiesced in them whether we have done so or not. That is precisely the difficulty in which we find ourselves in regard to the conference of 1923. In the conference of 1923 certain recommendations were made in regard to the negotiation and the ratification of treaties and carried unanimously. That conference was attended by my right hon. friend the Prime Minister and by the then Minister of Justice, Sir Lomer Gouin. They heard the resolution in regard to treaties read and discussed at the conference; they both voted for it, at least they did not dissent, because the report says it was carried unanimously; but it has never been laid before this House for approval or adoption. What are the words of the resolution itself? It says:

The conference recommends for the acceptance of the governments of the empire represented, that the following procedure should be observed in the negotiation, signature and ratification of international agreements.

It recommends "for the acceptance of the governments concerned." Parliament has never approved that resolution. Is it possible that the government has approved it? Because "government" is the word used in the

Imperial Conference-Mr. Guthrie

resolution. Is it possible that an order in council has been passed by this government, of which parliament knows nothing, approving the resolution in respect of treaties passed in 1923? I do not think that any order in council has been passed. I do not think the government has ever approved the resolution of 1923. I am sure the House has never approved it. Now the difficulty is this: We have acted upon that resolution without approval. It may be said we have adopted it, and I think we should be very careful that we are not involved in the same manner in the present instance. In the year 1924, and again I think in the year 1925, treaties have been ratified and signed in accordance with that resolution passed at the conference of 1923, which was not to come into force until it was accepted by the governments of the selfgoverning dominions. This government has never accepted it so far as I know, but we have acted upon it and consequently we will be held to have ratified it.

Now I think my right hon. friend realizes that if we simply discuss the present resolution, if parliament takes no action upon it, if we allow it to lie upon the table without dissenting, we will be held, as the years go on, to have acquiesced in it and to be bound by it. I propose then to offer formal dissent, to make clear that this parliament has not approved of it and is not bound by it. I submit that the principle that ministers are entitled to go to these conferences and in any way commit this country is absolutely untenable.

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. LAPOINTE:

Hear, hear.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

No man could have made it plainer than the late Sir Wilfrid Laurier did in the conference of 1902, again in 1907, and again in 1911, when he even objected to the change of the name from "Imperial conference" to "Imperial council." He said the words "Imperial council" might imply a body which has some power to enact or to legislate. He dissented from that idea altogether, and made his dissent very marked and very plain. No one has ever considered, from his day down to the present time, that the mere reports of these conferences, although unanimously passed, committed anybody until they had been expressly approved by parliament.

My right hon. friend has brought this matter up in such a way that it is difficult to express ourselves without being charged with partisanship in so doing. No one knows better than my right hon. friend that any motion we may make, by way of amendment to the motion now before the chair, is a motion of want of confidence in this government; and nobody knows better than my right hon. friend that he can successfully stifle free discussion and the expression of free opinion on this question by simply saying to his followers behind him, "This is a want of confidence amendment and must be voted down." He has taken a strangely inappropriate opportunity to consider this question in an absolutely unpartisan manner.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

If my hon.

friend wishes to bring in a motion, I will undertake to say on behalf of the government that we shall not regard it as a want of confidence motion?

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

Whether he so regards it or not, it is, and it would be an amendment to a motion to go into supply. I think, however, my right'right hon. friend in his speech in the House to-day has discussed this question upon fairly broad principles and has so far as he possibly could, avoided that taint of partisanship which he is always inclined to impute to this side of the House in our discussions and as he did impute to me when I discussed this matter in December last. I will discuss this question upon just as high a plane and upon a plane just as nonpartisan as has my right hon. friend, and in the remarks which I propose to offer upon this matter I shall have no regard whatever to party politics. I shall have regard only for the well-being, present and future, as I see it, of the Dominion of Canada. It may be that many will be in absolute disagreement with the propositions which I propose to lay before this chamber before I conclude my remarks; but I am convinced that I am right in the view which I hold, and I discern in this proposal elements of the gravest danger to this country, although not perhaps in the immediate future. I do not say that serious dangers exists to-day; but what I fear in this report is that it opens the door to future possibilities which may end in serious consequences to this country and the time to avoid and to check the possibilities of future trouble is now.

The difficulty could have been avoided very easily by the insertion of a few words in this report. Had the Prime Minister and his colleague the Minister of Justice fully appreciated the whole matter involved in this report, a slight limitation or reservation in respect of Canada might have saved the situation. I do not for one moment say that the whole report is open to objection, far from it. In regard to most of it, I heartily agree with the Prime Minister. I could go over many of the statements which he has made to the House this afternoon, and in

Imperial Conjerence-Mr. Guthrie

regard to them I would have to express my full accord. Nor do I take issue with his remarks in regard to equality of status; I agree with him on that point. To my mind he laboured the question of equal status far too much in his speech this afternoon. We have always asserted an equality of status for this country; whether our assertion has at all times been well founded or not is another question. We have at all times during iny public life proclaimed it; we rejoice in it and we desire to maintain it. But any proposal which by any possibility may interfere in the future with the special conditions and circumstances which exist between peoples and provinces in this country we must avoid.

At six o'clock the House took recess.

After Recess

The House resumed at eight o'clock.

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CON

Hugh Guthrie (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GUTHRIE:

Mr. Speaker, before the six o'clock adjournment, while discussing the report of the Imperial conference of 1923, I had stated that that report had never been adopted by this House. I must express my thanks to my hon. friend from Labelle (Mr. Bourassa) for having drawn to my attention that during the closing days of the last session of parliament a resolution was submitted to this House, which was adopted, approving of the resolution of the conference of 1923. I had looked through the records for 1924 and 1925, but I had not looked through those for the year 1926. I find, however, that during the last week of the last session the report of the conference of 1923 was formally adopted by a resolution of this House.

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March 29, 1927