May 10, 1929

On the order: House in committee on Bill No. 167, an Act to amend an act respecting the construction of a Canadian National railway line between Pilkington and Niagara Junction, in the province of Ontario. (Withdrawal recommended by the select standing committee on railways, canals and telegraph lines).-The Minister of Railways and Canals. Hon. CHARLES A. DUNNING (Minister of Railways and Canals): I beg to move, Mr. Speaker, that Bill No. 167 be withdrawn and this order discharged.


Hewitt Bostock (Speaker of the Senate)



By unanimous consent, of course.


Motion agreed to.



Hewitt Bostock (Speaker of the Senate)



I promised on Wednesday to give a ruling on the question then raised with respect to standing order 37. I may be allowed to read my ruling to-night:

On Wednesday, the 8th of May, Mr. Robb, on the orders of the day being called, moved:

That Mr. Speaker, do now leave the chair for the house to resolve itself into committee of ways and means.

Thereupon Mr. Woodsworth rose from his seat and said:

Before you leave the chair, Mr. Speaker, I wish to bring before the house a matter that affects a considerable section of this country.

He then recited his grievances having reference to freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.

Having spoken forty minutes, I told him his time was up. The hon. member claimed that he was entitled under standing order 37 to speak beyond forty minutes. He was supported in this connection by other hon. members.

I have been requested to consider more deeply the objection raised. Accordingly, I have gone very carefully into the study of standing order 37, adopted by this house two years ago. If one reads carefully the new rule, it will be found that in order to limit the length of speeches which were unduly

protracted, parliament came to the conclusion that a forty-minute rule should henceforward apply to the debates in the house.

Exceptions were, however, made to that rule and they are set forth in standing order 37, which reads as follows:

Standing order 37. Speeches limited to forty minutes, 22nd March, 1927.

No member, except the Prime Minister and the leader of the apposition, or a minister moving a government order and the member speaking in reply immediately after such minister or a member making a motion of "no confidence" in the government and a minister replying thereto, shall speak for more than forty minutes at a time in any debate.

271a. The following resolution was adopted by the house on April 19, 1886:

"That the growing practice in the Canadian House of Commons, of delivering speeches of great length, having the character of carefully and elaborately prepared written essays, and indulging in voluminous and often irrelevant extracts, is destructive of legitimate^ and pertinent debate upon public questions, is a waste of valuable time, unreasonably lengthens the sessions of parliament, threatens by increased bulk and cost to lead to the abolition of the official report of the debates, encourages a discursive and diffuse, rather than an incisive and concise style of public _ speaking, is a marked contrast to the practice in regard to debate that prevails in the British House of Commons, and tends to repel the public from a careful and intelligent consideration of the proveedings of parliament."

It is argued that the hon. member, by addressing the house as he did on Wednesday, came under the exception "or a minister moving a government order and the member rpeaking in reply immediately after such minister."

My ruling hinges on the interpretation to be given to the words, "speaking in reply." Was the hon. gentleman speaking "in reply" to the motion, "that I do now leave the chair for the house to resolve itself into committee of ways and means"?

He was, as a matter of fact, airing grievances which had no relevancy whatsoever with the subject matter, namely: resolution to amend the Special War Revenue Act by the Minister of Finance in the committee of ways and means.

It is a fundamental principle of parliamentary government that the redress of grievances is to be considered before the granting of supplies (vide Bourinot, p. 419). This principle applies with equal force when the motion is made for the Speaker to leave the chair to go into ways and means. Members may address the house on any subject of public importance or move amendments under the same rules as governed on going into committee of supply (vide Bourinot, p. 423).

Peace River District-Surveys

Therefore the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre had unquestionably the right to speak as he did, on the motion made by the Minister of Finance-but could he speak more than forty minutes? Did he come under the exception provided for under standing order 37? In other words, was he speaking in reply immediately after the minister?

I have since given the most serious consideration to the interpretation of this standing order and as I said the whole question hinges on the meaning of the words "in reply" as they appear therein. What is a reply? According to the King's English dictionary, it is:

That which is said or written in answer to what is said or written by another; reminder; response.

Therefore, Mr. Woodsworth, in order to speak longer than forty minutes, was bound to argue against Mr. Robb's motion.

His speech, in this as in any other instance, had to be relevant to the issue. Was it relevant?

He actually objected to the Speaker leaving the chair until a certain grievance be aired before the house. He gave a reason for his objection, namely, that unless the house heard what he wished to ask the government on the question of freedom of speech, the ways and means for collecting revenue could not be considered.

As I have said, under an ancient constitutional doctrine, the redress of grievances is considered before the granting of supplies or the consideration of ways and means; and members may then discuss various questions without moving any amendment. As Bou-rinot says, 4th edition, page 421, a great latitude is allowed on such occasions.

I have come to the conclusion that the expression of any reasonable grievance on the motion for the Speaker to leave the chair is a sufficient reply to bring a member's speech under the provision of standing order 37. I cannot conceive a case where he could then be irrelevant. It is not necessary that his observations should deal with the subject matter of the resolutions to be considered in committee. The member objects to anything being considered at all until he has had a hearing. Of course, if an amendment or a second reading of a bill, were moved, discussion should be properly confined to its subject matter. But there was no amendment in Mr. Woodsworth's case.

Standing Order 37 being a restrictive regulation, as such it must be given the broadest construction possible. In cases of uncertainty

the benefit of the doubt must be given to freedom of speech in parliament.

I have considered the arguments from every angle and I have reached the conclusion that it is advisable to abide by the letter of this standing order. The ruling is that Mr. Woodsworth had the right to speak for more than forty minutes.


At eleven o'clock the house adjourned without question put, pursuant to standing order. Monday, May 13, 1929

May 10, 1929