Hon. R. B. HANSON (Leader of the Opposition):
By leave of the house, Mr. Speaker, and under this heading, which I presume to be the appropriate place, I should like to make some observations with respect to the proposals made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) earlier this week.
On Monday last, in the course of his statement on the reorganization of his cabinet, the Prime Minister made a proposal which has
been given widespread publicity and has attracted a great deal of attention. He stated that realizing the importance of increasing public confidence-meaning, in my view, public confidence in himself and his government- through bringing to the aid of the ministry all points of view and opinions, in addition to other means to which he had alluded he had considered inviting leading members of the opposition to become associate members of the war committee of the cabinet, to share in its deliberations and to assist in the formation of its proposals to the cabinet. He then stated what of course is fundamental, that in the last analysis the government must take tne responsibility for whatever is done or left undone. That responsibility could not be escaped or evaded, and of course with that I am in complete agreement.
He then went on to enumerate what he considered would be the advantages of having members of the opposition join the war committee in an advisory and associate capacity. Those advantages, as I appreciate them, were two in number. In the first place the government's policy would be shaped and made effective under the open gaze of the opposition and with their assistance, experience and counsel. In the second place, in all major matters of defence, internal security and international cooperation, the leading members of the opposition would be fully informed. He then went on to state that as at present constituted, that is to say, a purely party government, one of the greatest difficulties confronting the government lies in the fact that many matters of which the government has knowledge, and many actions the government plans, in the very nature of things are highly confidential and must remain so indefinitely. That, of course, is a very significant statement, to which I shall allude later.
Then the right hon. gentleman observed that this obstacle would be overcome, at least in part, by the proposed associate membership of opposition leaders in the war committee of the cabinet, where our experience, advice and point of view would be of value, and added that in his belief such a step would be of real assistance to the government in the discharge of its responsibilities. He then invited my colleague the hon. member for Yale (Mr. Stirling) and myself to become associate members of the war committee of the cabinet. If the invitation were accepted we were to be invited to be present at all meetings of that war committee and to take part in its proceedings.
Right here I should like to interject that neither my colleague nor myself ever contemplated such a course until the Prime Minister mentioned it to me some days ago.
Mr. Hanson (York-Sunbury)
Neither did we-and I desire to emphasize this point-at any time wish to enter the government. I say that because a dispatch-I think it was a Star Syndicate press release- appeared in a newspaper published in my own city, to the effect that I was anxious to join the government. Anyone who knows me knows that nothing has been further from my thought, and I think I can speak also for my colleague. Speaking for myself, at any rate, such a course was never contemplated.
In the next paragraph of his statement the Prime Minister took what to me was a rather inconsistent position which, in my view, needs clarification. If the proposal were accepted, he said, the country would have the benefit of our wisdom, advice and experience. The government would retain responsibility for the direction of Canada's war effort. Then he added:
It would also be understood that members of the various opposition groups in this house would continue to be free to criticize the administration as they think fit, and to vote and act with complete independence.
It will be observed, however, that he did not include myself and my colleague, or members of other opposition groups who might join the war committee of the cabinet, in this category. On this theory we would not be free to criticize the administration as we thought fit, or to vote and act with complete independence. No other logical inference can be drawn from that statement, and in my view that is the inherent weakness of the whole proposition. I shall refer to this matter later.
It has been suggested to me that a proper reaction to this proposal by the Prime Minister is contained in the words of Solomon as they appear in the book of proverbs, chapter 1, verse 17:
Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.
As an alternative the Prime Minister suggested that if we should feel unable to accept his invitation on the basis stated, which I think I have accurately and fairly described, be was prepared to make yet another proposal, the acceptance of which he thought would not occasion embarrassment. In brief this second proposal was that while parliament was in session there should be regular weekly conferences between the war committee and the members of the opposition, with similar conferences held at intervals while parliament was not in session. At such conferences the government would be prepared to disclose, but in confidence, full and detailed information both as to its actions and the considerations upon which those actions were based. He added that the effectiveness of the opposition, far from being impaired, would be greatly increased by the knowledge gained by their leaders in such conferences, and that members of the opposition, as regards their right of criticism, would have only the limits imposed by their personal sense of responsibility as citizens and members of parliament.
I shall refer to this proposal a little later on in my remarks.
Now, as I intimated to the house on Monday, the Prime Minister, in the course of a private conversation with me on June 28 last, to which allusion has been made by him, suggested to me that I and my colleague should sit in with the war committee of the cabinet in an advisory and consultative capacity. On Monday last, when making this statement, the Prime Minister interjected the words "associate members". I have no recollection of the word "associate" having been used, and I am very firm in my own memory that the word "associate" was not used but that the term "advisory and consultative" was used, and that it was in that capacity and in that capacity alone that we were to sit in at the meetings of the war committee. I am borne out in my recollection because, with the permission of the Prime Minister, I had a word with my colleague and these words "advisory and consultative" were the words I used to him in reference to the matter. In my view, sitting in in an advisory and consultative capacity is quite distinguishable from the idea of being an associate member of the war committee. The latter goes much farther than the former. However that may be, that was and is my interpretation of the Prime Minister's suggestion of June 28. His direct proposal of July 8 goes much farther than that.
Now, what is his proposal? It is that myself and my colleague-leaders, if you will, of the Conservative party in this house-are being asked to join the war committee of the cabinet as associate members. We are to assist the government in the formulation of war policy and assume all the important responsibilities which attach to such a position, and we are to be absolutely without power to carry out the policies agreed upon or arrived at, whether suggested by us or not; and if we suggest policies and they are not agreed upon and another course is adopted, we shall be expected to support such policies, although they do not meet with our approval, otherwise we must resign.
What is the essence of this new proposal? The very essence of it is responsibility without power; and because that is so, the acceptance of the proposal is impossible. I want to make it quite clear that at no time have I ever sought to become either a member of the
The Ministry-Mr. Hanson (York-Sunbury)
administration or to be charged with the responsibility of formulating its policies. I was elected to oppose this government, make no mistake about that. My fellow members of the National Conservative party honoured me by electing me their leader in this house.
Subtopic: STATEMENTS OF OPPOSITION LEADERS AS TO PRIME MINISTER'S PROPOSALS CONCERNING WAR COMMITTEE AND WEEKLY CONFERENCES