January 26, 1937

CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Yes.

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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:

It was suggested that we have a new constitution drafted.

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Constitutional Conference-Mr. Mackenzie King

I must thank my right hon. friend for having drawn my attention to the fact that it was a question of the drafting of a new constitution by a constituent assembly or, as my right hon. friend suggests, by a constitutional convention. The two may be different in some particulars, but I believe the argument with respect to the merits of the suggestion would be the same. .

The point I wish to bring out is that the suggestion has received the consideration of a special committee of this chamber appointed by my right hon. friend the leader of the opposition while he was in office. Having that, among other suggestions, before them, the committee reported:

In view of the fact that the several provinces did not feel it advisable to give the committee the benefit of their views with respect to the method of procedure to be followed in amending the constitution, the committee is of the opinion that before any decision upon the subject matter of the resolution is finally made, that the opinions of the provinces should be obtained otherwise if at all possible and for that reason recommends that a dominion-provincial conference be held as early as possible in the present year to study the subject matter of the resolution.

That brings to one's attention the importance of at least one consideration of which full account would have to be taken before any such method of procedure could be successfully adopted, and that is the attitude of the provinces towards such a suggestion.

My right hon. friend has pointed out that the provinces are becoming somewhat assertive of their sovereign powers, to use the expression which has been used previously, and I imagine they would be particularly sensitive with respect to the manner in which changes in the British North America Act might be made. Indeed one has but to look at the report to see the difficulty likely to be encountered the moment one seeks to get the approval of the provinces of any method of amending the constitution. In this connection it is interesting to note the replies made by the provinces to the committee's suggestion that they might submit statements setting forth their views as to how the constitution should be amended.

Prince Edward Island sent word that the-

... dominion government should formulate its plan and policy for the purposes intended and that this should be submitted to the provincial governments and after-wards discussed at a conference of representatives of the provinces and the dominion.

New Brunswick said that they would wire their views as soon as possible, but they never found it possible to wire them.

Nova Scotia replied that it was a most difficult matter, and that they felt it should be approached by a conference between representatives of the provinces and the dominion.

Quebec sent word that in a matter of such importance it was suggested a conference of the dominion and the provinces should be held.

Ontario replied:

Province of Ontario does not desire to make any representation before your committee re British North America Act amendment as no good purpose will be served by attempting to advise dominion government at this time.

Manitoba replied:

The government of Manitoba is of the opinion that the subject matter referred to in the resolution is one of such importance that no written submission, setting out our views in reference to it, should be made without a conference with the other provinces and the dominion government. We would be willing to attend such a conference at any time, with a view to arriving at a definite method of procedure for making amendments to the British North America Act.

Saskatchewan said:

The question of what if any provision is to be made for amendment of the Canadian constitution from time to time is a question which ultimately must be decided by conferences between the governments of the provinces and the government of Canada with the possibility of a previous preliminary interprovincial conference. In view of this fact it would appear to be unwise for the provinces to be giving their views before a committee of the House of Commons. With due deference

States the attorney general:

-might I be permitted to suggest that the proper procedure is for your committee to pursue its present inquiry and to make a report to the House of Commons which I presume will either be accepted or amended or merely received without binding the government to accept the proposals of the committee. . . .

Alberta said that they considered such vital questions should be approached through an exchange of views, by interprovincial conference.

Finally, British Columbia said:

... amendment of the constitution is too important a matter to be dealt with in manner suggested. It is not thought that satisfactory conclusions can be reached either federally or provincially until a conference of the provinces and the dominion is held when full discussion may be had and matters properly debated. . . .

In view of these opinions from the several provinces it is not surprising that the committee should have reported-and may I say unanimously, although composed of representatives of all parties in the house-that they expressly refrained from-

. . . recommending any form of procedure for amendment, so as to leave the proposed

Constitutional Conference-Mr. Mackenzie King

conference entirely free in its study of the question, except that the committee is definitely of the opinion that minority rights agreed upon and granted under the provisions of the British North America Act should not be interfered with.

The dominion provincial conference was held, and I am afraid it did not help to disclose too obvious a method of amending the constitution. The conference was called immediately after the present administration came into office. In calling the conference we acted upon the report of the committee which had been appointed by my right hon. friend, while in office. In some matters we did succeed in securing agreement between the provinces and ourselves, but when it came to the all important question of amending the constitution, to say nothing of the creation of a new constitution, the dominion provincial conference was far from unanimous in deciding upon the best method of procedure.

The question raised by the leader of the opposition and which we are now considering is undoubtedly primarily one of procedure. There are different methods which have been considered at various times. One is the suggestion of my right hon. friend that the question should be considered by a constitutional conference composed, as he has suggested, of members of the dominion parliament and the provincial legislatures, such membership to be representative of all shades of political thought. I believe that method might be described as the ideal one. Personally, along with many others, I have long held the view that such would be the right course to pursue, and at times have so expressed myself. There has always come to the fore the question as to just how far in actual practice it might be possible to get the different provinces into the frame of mind where they would all be prepared to join the dominion in such a constitutional convention. Unless there were to come into convention in a harmonious spirit and prepared to adopt an attitude of cooperation with one another and with the federal representatives, it would be unfortunate to have such a convention called.

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CON

Charles Hazlitt Cahan

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. CAHAN:

My right hon. friend suggested that that harmonious spirit would be fully engendered by the return of his party to power at the last federal election.

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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:

Yes, and I think my hon. friend will agree the spirit is a good deal better than it was when my right hon. friend was in office.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

It looks like it down in Ontario.

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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:

I do not wish to be drawn away from the question I am discussing, of the steps which may best be taken to amend the constitution or to bring into being a new constitution. Possibly we might agree at once that in order to bring a new constitution into being something in the nature of a constituent assembly or constitutional convention alone would be the method to be adopted. As to amendments which are less comprehensive than a new constitution the question arises as to whether it would not be better to proceed in the first instance by having a representative commission consider possible amendments, with all parties in the provinces and in this parliament entitled to appear before the commission and give it the benefit of their views and opinions. That would be a commission having to do with the necessary revision of the constitution as a whole. That has been considered. I may say that since the present administration came into office its members have repeatedly discussed among themselves whether it would be advisable to propose such a step at this time. It has been felt each time that the matter has been discussed that with cases affecting jurisdiction as between the dominion and the provinces now before the judicial committee of privy council, any announcement of the intended appointment of such a commission would be premature if made before the decisions were given. It might be regarded as a prejudging of the probable decisions which would be made by the privy council.

There is a method which perhaps may commend itself even more to the judgment of hon. members than that of a commission to deal with the whole question of the relations between the dominion and the provinces, and that is special commissions to take up special phases of the question, or to consider special amendments-something less wide in its scope than a commission covering the field in general but perhaps more effective in the long run, in that attention would be concentrated more completely on questions that at the moment are the most urgent and the most pressing. In that connection there arises, for example, a consideration of financial relations as between the dominion and the provinces, the question of the relative spheres of taxation, the all-important question of social services as between the dominion and the provinces. Those interrelated questions are, I believe, as urgent as almost any that we have before us at the present time. That is where the shoe pinches as between the dominion and the provinces, and it may be that we shall find it advisable to have some

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Constitutional Conference-Mr. Mackenzie King

immediate action taken, in whole or in part, with respect to that more limited sphere. But there again it is important to consider how such a step is likely to be viewed by the provinces as well as by the dominion. In these matters, affecting the provinces and the dominion alike, it is all-important that there should be a complete understanding that the purpose is one which is intended to serve the mutual interests of the governments of the provinces and of the federal government, and that it has no other possible objective.

I might suggest still other methods of procedure. The one I referred to a moment ago of a select committee of this house is one that has already been adopted. It was not very successful.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

That was only on

procedure.

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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:

Yes, that was on procedure, but if it was impossible to agree on procedure at the outset, I fail to see where there is much likelihood of agreement upon the actual questions which might be submitted for consideration. However, I mention these things not at all to disguise the importance of the question. I agree entirely with the right hon. leader of the opposition that we must find a way, or make it, to have the question of the revision of our constitution somehow considered. The constitutional relations of the dominions and the United Kingdom presented in itself a very large problem, the question whether or not in the course of time a new status had not been reached by the dominions. That question seemed the most difficult which it was possible for the British government and the governments of the dominions to face, but they were able to discuss these matters at imperial conferences, and out of their discussions was evolved a British statute which we have been quoting recently in this house, the Statute of Westminster, which to all intents and purposes, makes clear the relative powers of the dominion parliaments and of the parliament at Westminster, and lays down the formula with which we are all familiar, of equality of status obtaining between these respective bodies. With that great objective obtained in the manner in which it was by the governments of the British commonwealth of nations, I fail to see why we may not be able in this dominion to work out a solution of our own immediate problem as between the provinces and the dominion.

All I wish to make clear this afternoon is that the task is not as easy as by some,

it may be assumed to be. To effect the desired end, it may require a step here and a step there, proceeding little by little, one step at a time, rather than attempting something that may prove after all so considerable that it will fail to get the support that it should.

I wish to add just this further word in conclusion. I believe, as my right hon. friend (Mr. Bennett) does, that this question is one which should be discussed free from party considerations. I believe he, too, holds the view that I am about to express, namely, that the question is so large that its discussion should not be confined to parliament. I believe it is a question which ought to be considered by those who are interested in constitutional problems, whether they are in this House of Commons or in the Senate or outside of parliament altogether. I would hope that as a result of my right hon. friend having brought the subject to the fore as he has to-day, and it having received preliminary consideration this afternoon, we would find that those who are interested in constitutional questions in the several provinces would take up this matter in a serious way, giving it the further thought and study that they may find it possible to give, and that they would give to the country the benefit of their views by communications to or articles in the press or by addresses before legal, political science or other bodies which it might be appropriate for them to address. I am inclined to feel that if a discussion of the kind should take place, and I believe it will, it would go a long way towards formulating public opinion on this all-important question. If there is one problem above another which can only be satisfactorily settled as a result of a united public opinion it certainly is that of the alteration of our constitution or the creation of a new constitution to supplant that under which thus far this country has been governed.

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CCF

Angus MacInnis

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

Mr. ANGUS MacINNIS (Vancouver East):

I and those who sit with me in this corner of the chamber feel that the leader of the opposition (Mr. Bennett) has performed a distinct service by bringing this matter to the attention of the house at this time. Whether we could have had a better discussion if the various groups had been notified, I do not know; possibly a spontaneous discussion of questions of this kind may be better than a set debate, where a great deal of material may be gathered that does not contribute greatly to the light shed upon the question. Members who have sat in this house for a number of years know that we in this comer have been

Constitutional Conference-Mr. Maclnnis

insistent in season and out of season in drawing to the attention of parliament the matter of dominion and provincial relations. It was, I believe, the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Woodsworth) who moved the resolution that led up to the appointment of a committee in 1935. I believe that the discussion this afternoon has demonstrated that the people of Canada are in a better frame of mind than ever before to deal with this matter. For that reason the present government have an opportunity, such as no previous government ever had, of dealing effectively with the questions we are now discussing. They are in a much better position than the preceding government, because since 1930 tremendous changes have taken place in Canada. The preceding government and possibly the members of the present government did not realize a few years ago the import and the extent of social and economic changes which have taken place. We all realize now that we can never go back to where we were before 1930, that we are living in a new world, and that because of that fact we shall have to develop instruments of legislation and administration effectively to meet these new conditions.

What impelled me, however, to say a word now at this time was the statement made by the hon. member for Kootenay East (Mr. Stevens) with regard to the danger of communist and socialist forces displacing our democratic institutions.

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REC

Henry Herbert Stevens

Reconstruction

Mr. STEVENS:

And fascists.

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CCF

Angus MacInnis

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

Mr. MacINNIS:

I am not going to speak for either communists or fascists. Their representatives here, if they have any, can speak for them.

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?

An hon. MEMBER:

Who are they?

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CCF

Angus MacInnis

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

Mr. MacINNIS:

Possibly my hon. friend knows better than I. But I think I can speak for socialists, because I am a socialist, and by reason of that I am here. Not only that, but I had an opportunity last summer of visiting various countries that have governments which are socialist to a more or less degree, and I did not see in those countries any danger to democracy. As a matter of fact, the only safeguard of democracy is socialism, because you can have democracy only when it is based upon an economy of equality, and it is because economic systems are not based upon equality that communism and fascism have developed their ideas of government by force. Communism as we know it to-day had its development in Russia, and every one with a knowledge of history knows there was no other

means by which the working class of Russia could express itself than illegally and in such underground ways as it did express itself. That is the price which every nation must pay for repression and ignorance. I suggest to hon. members that if they want to maintain democracy they can maintain it only by allowing the people an opportunity to express ideas and by making available to them those educational institutions whereby they can secure an understanding of the fundamentals of human society and human relationships.

I visited Norway. There they have had a labour socialist government for the last year or so, working not wholly by itself but in conjunction with the farmer party. I saw there no danger to democratic institutions. I visited Denmark, where the social democratic party has been the government of the country with a clear majority in the lower house for a number of years, and this year got a majority of one in the upper house. I saw there no danger to democratic institutions. I visited Sweden, where they have had a social democratic government working in cooperation with the farmer group for the past three years, and I saw no danger there to democratic institutions. If ever I saw free peoples and democracy in operation it was in those countries. We have much to learn from them.

There came to my attention yesterday a short item in a British weekly, the New Statesman and Nation, referring to the socialist government in Sweden. It says:

The socialist government in Sweden gets much less attention in this country than its achievements deserve. In the king's speech, delivered this week in the Riksdag, it was able to announce a new program which bears eloquent testimony to the success of its measures for coping with the economic crisis. Unemployment in Sweden has been so far reduced as now to present no more than a problem of seasonal variation in the demand for labour. Estimated revenue is up by more than ten per cent without any increase in taxation. The period of borrowing for public works is definitely over, and the government has been for some time past repaying debts incurred during the crisis. With the best economic advice at its command-'for Sweden is emphatically a country where economists of advanced views have played an important part in the shaping of policy-the special crisis taxes are being maintained, and the proceeds applied to the repayment of debt. At the same time, the government is actively pursuing its program of social legislation. Its new measures include legislation dealing with child welfare and mother's pensions, as well as special grants for rural housing and an improved standard of salaries for elementary school teachers and other low paid government employees.

That is a government under a social democratic party.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

It is a unitary government.

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CCF

Angus MacInnis

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

Mr. MacINNIS:

It is a government in cooperation with the farmer group.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

I say it is unitary. There are no provinces.

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CCF

Angus MacInnis

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

Mr. MacINNIS:

I admit that, and because of that it is easier to operate than the government in this country.

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CON

Denton Massey

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MASSEY:

Would the hon. member consider the definition of a socialist in Sweden the same as the definition of a socialist in Canada?

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CCF

Angus MacInnis

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

Mr. MacINNIS:

Decidedly. I found no difference between my point of view and that of the socialists I met in Norway, or Denmark, or Sweden, or the British Isles, or France, or any of the other countries that I visited. There is no difference. A socialist is a person who believes in the social ownership of those things necessary for the production and distribution of the means by which we live, and their democratic operation. Briefly that is a definition of socialism.

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CON

Denton Massey

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MASSEY:

Would the hon. member permit me to ask him another question? Did he find that the trend of the social democratic party in Sweden was toward social ownership?

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January 26, 1937