Mr. E. J. GARLAND (Bow River) moved:
That the interim and final reports respectively of the Hon. Mr. Justice Clarke, commissioner appointed to inquire into the alleged existence of corrupt or illegal practices in the election held in the electoral district of Athabaska, in the province of Alberta, on the 29th of October, 1925, which reports were laid on the table of the house on December 15, 1926, be referred to the select standing committee on privileges and elections.
He said: It may be proper at this stage
that I should survey briefly the incidents that have led up to this motion. On March 18, 1926, as the result of a petition from electors in the district of Athabaska, this house passed a motion approving the appointment of a commissioner to conduct an investigation into the alleged fraud, corruption, perjury, forgery, ballot-stuffing and other misdemeanours that took place during that election. The Hon. Mr. Justice Clarke, a reputable and well known member of the bench, was appointed
Athabaska Election-Mr. Garland (Bow River)
on July 10, 1926, to undertake the investigation. Mr. Justice Clarke submitted two reports, an interim and a final. The interim report included statements or allegations that corrupt and illegal practices had extensively prevailed, and specifically designated a large number of polls, twelve or more, where stuffing of ballot boxes and the forging of returns and other documents had occurred. The report, however, contained no specific recommendation to the government; it simply presented the finding. This and the final report have never been considered by parliament nor acted upon.
Surely it is the duty of members of this house to protect the rights and privileges of the people of this country during elections. It certainly is not our duty to evade our responsibility in preventing, so far as we can, a recurrence of the sort of thing that prevailed so extensively in Athabaska. I have no hesitation in declaring to you, Mr. Speaker, that in my opinion the very existence of democracy itself and the continuance of responsible government in this country will depend entirely upon our determination to stamp out, at its very inception, any attempt at practices of this nature in elections in Canada.
The purpose of this motion is to have these two reports referred to the committee on privileges and elections in order that after a thorough examination of them provision may be made, either by amendments to the Election Act, by amendments to the criminal code, or by amendments in any other direction that may prevent a recurrence of disgusting performances of the kind that took place in Athabaska.
A motion similar to this passed the house on February 15 of last year, but I regret to say the committee never met. I inquired of the clerk of committees recently and found that, from the moment the committee was appointed on February 15 to the end of the session, they -could not secure a quorum. Meetings of the committee were called on March 2, 3, and 8 of last year, and about twelve or thirteen members attended; at that time, however, a quorum of the committee consisted of fifteen. At the request of the members who attended, the chairman introduced a motion into this house on March 8 asking that the quorum be reduced. At first that motion stood over at the request of the then leader of the opposition for further consideration, and no action was taken by the chairman. On March 29, some twenty-one
days later, the hon. member for Athabasca (Mr. Kellner) moved tha-t the quorum be reduced, and although the Minister of Justice objected briefly the motion was adopted. I regret to say that although the quorum was reduced to nine members, still the committee could not hold a meeting.
I am n-ot going to impute motives; I am not going to suggest that this was a deliberately engineered business in order to prevent a discussion of this matter. Frankly, I cannot find it within me to believe that any hon. members of this house or of the government, would consent -for one moment to any such action. Therefore I can only reassure myself by assuming that the reason was the occupation of the members in other committees which were then sitting.
Additional reasons for asking the house to pass the motion will be realized readily when I say that by the report of Mr. Justice Clarke it was found that the returning officer himself could neither write nor read. Think of it, Mr. Speaker; the returning officer for an electoral district of this country unable to write or read. In some cases the registrars refused to send out the voters' lists, and the candidate who contested that constituency from our group had less than 100 of the 235 lists on polling day. Ballots were cast by men who had been long dead; in one case a ballot was cast in the name of a man who had been dead for twelve years, while in another -case a ballot was cast in the name of a man who had been dead three years. Many people voted who had never resided in the district, and in other cases people voted who had resided in the district some several years before, but who had left from three to seven yearn prior to the date of the election. At least three polls were held in a forest reserve, where people were neither living nor permitted to live under the laws of this country. Very briefly,' that is a recitation of some of the reasons why I feel satisfied that this house will pass this motion, in justice to itself and to the people of this country.
On February 15 of last year a fairly representative d-eJbate too-k place on a similar motion, and at that time the Minister of Justice used these words:
I am in favour of the motion, and I may also say that if, as a result of this being referred to the committee on privileges and elections, gQiug way may bs found to prevent electoral corruption as it seems to have prevailed in that election, I and those who sit with me on this side of the house will be only too glad to associate with my hon. friend in that respect.
Athabaska Election-Mr. Spencer
The then leader of the opposition (Mr. Guthrie) said:
If this be so, what is the reason? Has the government taken no action in the matter? Has the government quietly taken the position that having referred the matter to the local Attorney General their duty is at an end?
The hon. gentleman was dealing at that time with the question of the punishment of those who had offended against the electoral and criminal laws in respect of that election. Speaking on behalf of the Conservative party, the hon. member accepted the motion. The Solicitor General (Mr. Cannon), who took part in the discussion, said:
A question has been brought before the house by the hon. member for Peace River (Mr. Kennedy), and I have no doubt that every member of this house, no matter to which party he may belong, is of the one opinion, and that is that every man who has been implicated in electoral frauds should be prosecuted without mercy, and that justice should prevail.
Further, he went on to say:
In conclusion, when these two reports are laid before the committee on privileges and elections, I believe that every member sitting on that committee will be moved by one common spirit, and that is to try and devise means of preventing any such things happening in the future as were proved to have happened in that constituency in the election of 1925.
The hon. member for West Calgary (Mr. Bennett), now leader of the opposition, said:
The first matter that should be considered is: What recommendation can the committee make with respect to amending the election laws of this country so as to prevent a repetition of those conditions? The second is also a matter of some importance as it touches the position of the civil servants of this country. Shall a civil servant who has been convicted of a crime or who admits the commission of a crime and has secured immunity by reason of his confession, continue in office?
The reference of the hon. member was to a statement which was made in this house that the government had allowed to continue in office postmasters, land agents and other civil servants who had been found guilty by Mr. Justice Clarke of the most wilful forms of deliberate ballot stuffing, forgery, perjury and fraud in that election. That was the position taken by the hon. member for west Calgary (Mr. Bennett), who went on to say:
Shall the public service acts of this country not be amended so as to provide that by reason of any confession of that character he shall at once vacate his position?
The Prime Minister interjected the remark " surely ", The hon. member for West Calgary then continued:
This house should use its every effort to stop that sort of thing because, if we do not prevent
it, our very democratic institutions are destroyed and responsible government has indeed become valueless in this country. That is the reason that the motion made this afternoon by the hon. member meets with my approval
I have nothing further to say, Mr. Speaker, except that I feel satisfied that the members of this house will come to the same decision with the same unanimity of opinion, to see that the matter is cleaned up as far as it can be cleaned up by a committee of this house.
I feel that they will be as unanimous this year as was the case last year, and I will leave the matter to the house.
Subtopic: REPORTS OF HON. MR. JUSTICE CLARKE