April 28, 1936

NATIONAL HARBOURS BOARD

OPINION OP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AS TO PROVISION THAT BOARD SHALL BE BODY CORPORATE AND AGENT OP HIS MAJESTY


On the order for motions:


LIB

Clarence Decatur Howe (Minister of Marine; Minister of Railways and Canals)

Liberal

Horn. C. D. HOWE (Minister of Railways and Canals):

Mr. Speaker, during the debate on the national harbours board bill I was

Beauharnois Power Corporation

asked by the hon. member for St. Lawrence-St. George (Mr. Caban) to lay on the table the opinion of the Department of Justice with reference to subsection 2 of section 3 of the bill. I now lay on the table a report signed by Mr. W. Stuart Edwards, Deputy Minister of Justice.

Topic:   NATIONAL HARBOURS BOARD
Subtopic:   OPINION OP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AS TO PROVISION THAT BOARD SHALL BE BODY CORPORATE AND AGENT OP HIS MAJESTY
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BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

ANNOUNCEMENT AS TO PRESENTATION OF BUDGET ON FRIDAY, MAY 1


On the orders of the day: Hon. CHARLES A. DUNNING (Minister of Finance): In reply to the question asked yesterday by the right hon. leader of the opposition (Mr. Bennett), I hope to be able to present the budget on Friday of this week.


BEAUHARNOIS POWER CORPORATION


On the orders of the day:


CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. M. J. COLDWELL (Rosetown-Biggar):

Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) if his attention has been drawn to a circular letter signed by J. S. Norris, president of the Beauharnois corporation, and dated at Montreal, March 20, 1936, in which appears this statement:

The project became the subject of entirely unwarranted and purely political attacks in the federal parliament of Canada early in 1931.

In view of the verdict of parliament given at that time, what steps will the government take to see that parliament is protected from unwarranted statements and attacks of this description which will mislead the bondholders who are meeting to consider the matter?

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LIB

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

Liberal

Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

Mr. Speaker, the House of Commons is master of its own house. I prefer to leave it to the House of Commons to say what shall be done.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Right Hon. R. B. BENNETT (Leader of the Opposition):

I wonder if the hon. gentleman (Mr. Coldwell) would let me see that circular? If I understood him aright I think the matter is more serious than one which could be left merely to the House of Commons. This statement challenges this house in a very peculiar way. I quote from the letter as follows:

The project became the subject of entirely unwarranted and purely political attacks in the federal parliament of Canada early in 1931.

The effects of these political attacks upon the enterprise were extremely serious and far-reaching. They resulted:

In the cancellation of the approval previously obtained under the Navigable Waters Protection Act;

In the reestablishment by special act of the federal parliament of a basis of federal approval subject to new and undisclosed conditions;

In Beauharnois Light, Heat and Power Company being forced to convey to the crown over 9,000 arpents of land (representing a cash outlay of over $1,800,000) upon which works had already been constructed by the company costing upwards of $15,000,000. The company received no compensation whatever for these works other than an easement to use the property, so conveyed, for power purposes;

In the federal government being forced to assist in the temporary financing of the enterprise by guaranteeing, against ultimate loss, bank advances aggregating nearly $16,000,000 made to prevent the collapse of the enterprise;

And finally, in the reorganization of Beauharnois Power Corporation Limited and Beauharnois Light, Heat and Power Company, in June, 1933.

I have not had any previous conversation with the hon. gentleman who has brought this matter to the attention of the house, but on listening to him it struck me that this is a serious reflection upon the privileges of parliament. I think perhaps this house has been rather careless in the assertion of its privileges, though in one or two instances it has done so. As soon as the hon. gentleman began to speak I sent for Sir Austen Chamberlain's book, Down the Years, and I would direct the attention of the house to this one reminiscence as given, beginning at page 70, because Sir Austen Chamberlain refers to a matter of this kind with a good deal of care:

Parliament was dissolved only four months later and my first House of Commons has left only one abiding impression on my mind. It is of the greatness of Mr. Speaker Peel. The house has had many great Speakers, but I doubt whether in its long history it has ever had a greater than Arthur Wellesley Peel. Others have served it faithfully and many of them with great distinction, but Speaker Peel dominated it. In the opinion not only of one like myself who was still a young member when he retired, but of older men who had been present at his first election, he stood in a class by himself, over-topping his predecessors, never equalled even by the most successful and respected of his successors. He had a natural dignity and a formal but genuine courtesy which well became the occupant of the chair, and, besides, a dramatic gift which in great moments raised him far above his fellow members that the whole house trembled at his rebuke. At such times his stature seemed to grow before our eyes, his deep resonant voice dominated the tumult and he appeared as the living embodiment of centuries of parliamentary tradition.

One such moment occurred in the closing days of the parliament of 1892. A select committee of the house had been inquiring into

Beauharnois Power Corporation

the hours of work of railway servants, and among the witnesses who had given evidence before it was the stationmaster of some small station on the Cambrian railway. He had subsequently been called before three of the directors and the general manager of the company and dismissed, nominally for some irregularities in his accounts but really, as was obvious from the questions put to him by the directors, on account of the evidence which he had given before the select committee. The committee, of which Sir Michael Hicks Beach was chairman, took evidence as to what had passed and made a special report to the house on the case as a breach of privilege. Of the three directors involved one, Sir John Maclure, was an old and much-liked member of the house. A day was fixed for the discussion and an order was made by the house that the honourable member for Stratford should attend in his place and that his co-directors and the general manager should appear at the bar. They were asked if they had anything to say and Sir John Maclure offered an apology with which the others associated themselves. They were then ordered to withdraw while their case was considered, and Hicks Beach moved: "That this house while recognizing

that they had expressed their unqualified regret for having unintentionally infringed any of its rules and privileges is of opinion that they have committed a breach of privilege . .. and that they be called in and admonished by Mr. Speaker."

This seemed a rather lame conclusion and there was a good deal of sympathy -with the proposal made by T. P. O'Connor to add that the house would not consider that they had purged their contempt till they had reinstated the discharged man. Efforts were made privately to get them to do this, or at least to compensate him, but they remained obdurate. Hicks Beach's resolution was supported by Mr. Gladstone, but his advice was rejected by the great majority of his followers whose zeal for the injured man was perhaps stimulated by the value of the railway vote at the general election which was known to be imminent. A long, wrangling discussion followed and it was not till midnight that a division was taken and Hicks Beach's resolution carried.

Then the directors were once more called in. Sir John Maclure evidently felt his position acutely^ but the other three appeared at the bar defiantly and almost jauntily. They had successfully resisted the desire of many members, not confined to one side of the house, that they should compensate the man, and now they were to have what schoolboys call a "pi-jaw" from the Speaker-that was all the House of Commons could do to them.

Mr. Speaker Peel spoke for less than ten minutes. "I would have you to know-each and all of you gentlemen-that though the privileges of this house are not be put into operation on any light or trivial occasion ... yet a privilege of this house is no unreal, shadowy or unsubstantial thing; it is what the house clings to and what it is determined to maintain." And then after expatiating on the enormity of their particular offence, he declared "The house in its judgment and, I should add, in its mercy has decided that I should admonish you," and he proceeded to administer the admonition.

The bald words of what he said, recorded in Hansard, convey no idea of the devastating

{Mr. Bennett.]

effect of that short allocution. The men who had come to the bar so defiantly a few minutes earlier wilted under his admonition; beads of perspiration stood out on their foreheads and, when he dismissed them, they crept away like whipped hounds, while the rest of us shook ourselves like dogs coming out of the water and thanked heaven we had not been in the position of poor Maclure.

I do say that the statement sent- broadcast to the shareholders of this enterprise over the signature of Mr. J. S. Norris, president, is a distinct breach of the privileges of this house; and thus to reflect upon the action that was taken not only by the committee but by the House of Commons itself, ultimately by unanimous action, is something that should not be tolerated or permitted. Moreover, one at least of the statements is not correct, I refer to the paragraph indicating that all they had received was an easement to use the property, so conveyed, for power purposes. That is entirely beside the question and is not in any sense an adequate expression of what was received in compensation for the title being vested in the crown, and I cannot but think that it is the duty of the government to take cognizance of this matter, for the maintenance of the traditions and the honour of the house is in the keeping primarily of the government of the day; and possibly a committee should be set up for the purpose of investigating the matter, so that if there is found to have been a violation of the privileges of this house appropriate action may be taken.

These things seem trifling and perhaps they are; they seem to be matters that should be treated as a joke, of little importance; and yet the maintenance of the privileges of this house is fundamental if we are to maintain the supremacy of parliament itself. Parliament cannot retain the respect and esteem of the people if it permits itself to be attacked in the way in which it has been and men feel that because they occupy the position of members of the House of Commons they must be subject to this sort of criticism and attack upon their actions. The parliament at Westminster, even in the most turbulent days, has been very careful to preserve untarnished its honour and undimin-ish'ed the assertion of its rights, to maintain the privileges of parliament as such.

I think the hon. gentleman is to be thanked for bringing the matter to the attention of the house. I had seen reference to it in the newspapers but I had not seen this document in its entirety, although I had heard what the general- contents of it were. I suggest it warrants careful consideration on the part

Beauharnois Power Corporation

of the government and in particular of the Prime Minister. It might be that, inasmuch as there is little time now to consider it, in view of the record-and I think I have given the whole of the statement, as will appear in Hansard-the right hon. gentleman should take time to look into the matter and determine what should be the appropriate action in the circumstances with a view to maintaining the ancient privileges of parliament and its position in the country itself.

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LIB

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

Liberal

Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

I must confess I have

been at a loss to know just what we have been discussing. We are on the orders of the day, and the leader of the opposition (Mr. Bennett) 'having been for a long time in parliament and having for some years held the position of first minister, I did not think it proper to interrupt him or to call him to order. Certainly, however, I think he was decidedly out of order. If the subject under consideration is a question which affects the privileges of the house I suggest that in its consideration there ought at least to be an observance of the rules of the house on the part of all who are present.

First of all, speaking of the privileges and the rules of the house, may I say that it is customary, when an important question is going to be asked of the government on the orders of the day, for at least some intimation to be given in advance to the leader of the government or some member of it. The hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) asked the question which he did without having given previous intimation to me or, as far as I can gather, to any of my colleagues, with respect to the matter to which he was referring. He brought a document into the house, made some reference to it and asked me what the government was going to do about it. I am not the government-I differ in that respect perhaps from some others-and I like to have at least an opportunity of conferring with my colleagues before answering a question addressed to the government as such. I would have told the hon. member very frankly that such was my position if I had not thought that the answer which I gave was all-sufficient. To my amazement, I next find the leader of the opposition taking possession of the document, reading the whole of it for the purpose, as he says, of placing its contents on Hansard, giving his views with reference to the same, and then reading from some authority in alleged support of what he is saying. I have not, like the

leader of the opposition, come here armed with authorities purporting to support what I wish to say and of the point which I.am making. I think, however, there should be very little difficulty for any hon. member of the house to know where ample authorities may be found for what I have already expressed, namely that if the privileges of this house have been violated in any way it is open to any member of the house to bring the matter up and it is for the house itself to take such action as it may deem necessary and advisable. The House of Commons is the custodian of its own privileges; the government is not the custodian of the privileges of the House of Commons. Every hon. member has the same right as the Prime Minister in a matter of privilege, and no one knows it better than the leader of the opposition.

May I say one thing further with regard to the question which has been asked. Is it to be assumed that a citizen of this country is not to have the right to criticize the action of a government? AVhat is to become of freedom of expression in this country if every citizen is to be told that if he ventures to criticize anything which has been done by the parliament of Canada he is immediately to be brought to the bar of parliament to answer for it? That is not my view, at any rate, of the rights either of government or of citizenship.

I repeat that I had not seen the document to which reference has been made by the hon. member. It had not been brought to my attention. I knew nothing of its contents. He was careful, I suppose because it had some reference to Beauharnois, to seek to make a play with it, just as the leader of the opposition has sought to do.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

That is unfair.

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

But such things are easily understood by anybody. As far as the question asked is concerned I return to what I said at the beginning, that if any privilege of this house has been violated, hon. members may take the matter into their own hands and deal with it as they see fit. So far as the government is concerned it is going to sustain the right of free expression of opinion by the citizens of Canada.

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. COLDWELL:

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order-

Topic:   BEAUHARNOIS POWER CORPORATION
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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Mr. Speaker-

Topic:   BEAUHARNOIS POWER CORPORATION
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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

There are two

members opposite on their feet. I think, Mr. Speaker, that both are out of order.

Beauharnois Power Corporation

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Mr. Speaker, I am now rising to a question of privilege.

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LIB

Charles Avery Dunning (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. DUNNING:

The other man had the floor first.

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April 28, 1936