The house resumed from Tuesday, January 27, consideration of the motion of Mr. Alphonse Fournier for an address to His Excellency the Governor General in reply to his speech at the opening of the session, and the amendment thereto of Mr. Hanson (York-Sunbury), and the amendment to the amendment of Mr. Coldwell.
Mr. DOUGLAS C. ABBOTT (St. Antoine-Westmount): Mr. Speaker, I should like- to add my tribute to those which have been paid already to the hon. member for Hull (Mr. Fournier) and the hon. member for Brantford City (Mr. Macdonald) who moved and seconded the address in reply to the speech from the throne. As the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) has already said, from the point of view of both substance and the manner of presentation their speeches were outstanding. Of course, I may say that that is no more than I would have expected from two such distinguished members of my own profession.
I propose now to place before the house certain views which I hold on two rather controversial questions, the question of conscription and the related issue of the plebiscite. May I say at the outset I realize that for some months there has been a feeling in my constituency that I should have made a public statement of my views on these questions. I have been in public life for only a short time, and, rightly or wrongly, I decided that any statement which I might have to make on a matter of public policy of a controversial nature would be made in the house and not before service clubs or in "Letters to the Editor." So far I have adhered to that rule. I am now taking advantage of the first opportunity I have had of placing my views on these questions on record.
Like most returned men, I am personally a believer in conscription. Those are my personal views and, I think, the views of a good many others, including the majority of my constituents. But I am satisfied that had an attempt been made to enforce this policy at the outset of the war, the result would have been disastrous. I am convinced that it would have split this country from one end to the other, and that our war effort to date would not have achieved anything like it has done.
So far as I am concerned, the question which I must ask myself, and which I think every hon. member must ask himself, is: What policy will result in this country putting forth its maximum war effort? I am prepared to
support any policy which I believe will accomplish that object. I intend that any remarks which I shall make to-day with reference to conscription shall apply to conscription for the armed forces. That is the field in which the controversy appears to be most acute. As the Prime Minister indicated in his speech on Monday afternoon, the war effort of this country covers a pretty broad field. The army aspect is only one aspect of our war effort. It is evident to me that in a country of this size there must be a top limit to that armed force effort.
That top limit is something on which I do not feel qualified to express an opinion, and I doubt whether there are very many people in this country, or, for that matter, in this parliament, who are in a position to give an informed opinion on .that question. It depends obviously, it seems to me, on a great many facts which of necessity can be known to only a few people. As was stated here, yesterday, we are a nation of some eleven and a half or twelve million .people, and as an editor friend of mine wrote the other day, a considerable number of those people have either not yet cut their eye-teeth or lost them forever. Therefore, if we accept the statement which has often been made that it takes anywhere from twelve to fifteen men or women to support one fighting man, it does not require any knowledge of higher mathematics to realize that our armed forces cannot be as extensive as some of our more enthusiastic citizens would lead us to believe.
I take it that the purpose of conscription or compulsory service is to provide an adequate body of trained fighting men; and, of course, since the training takes time, that training cannot 'be deferred until the need at the front becomes urgent. We have at present in this country a considerable number of men in training under the compulsory system. We can call up and train more, and it seems to me that the controversy in recent months has turned entirely on the question whether we should now adopt a policy of saying that these men will be liable for military service elsewhere than in Canada, or whether that decision should be deferred until the need in the fighting areas becomes apparent. At the moment the men we are calling up are not, of course, available for service outside the territorial limits of Canada. The provisions of the National Resources Mobilization Act provide that they shall not be so liable. So far as training is concerned, the result is the same. The men are being trained; but as matters stand at present, when trained, if they are required outside, they cannot be sent. That is because the government went before the people of this coun-
The Address-Mr. Abbott
try in March, 1940, and expressly pledged itself that, if returned to power, it would not enforce compulsory service for the armed forces overseas.
This brings me to the second part of my lanarks, namely, the proposed plebiscite, which in effect is asking, as we all know, that the government be given a free hand, that they be released from that pledge and be in a position, if the situation demands it, to send our armed forces whereever they may be required. We pride ourselves, Mr. Speaker, that we are living in a democracy, and we say that we are fighting to preserve that system. The whole basis of that system, as I have always understood it, is that the will of the majority shall prevail. As I said a moment ago, the government of this country went before the people less than two years ago and made an express statement that it would not enforce compulsory sendee for overseas. The government was returned on that basis. It has frequently been referred to as the pledge of the Prime Minister, but in my view the pledge is not the pledge of the Prime Minister alone but the pledge of every Liberal candidate who offered himself for election.
So far as I personally am concerned, conscription was not an issue in my riding. I do not recall that it was referred to at any time during the campaign. It certainly was not referred to by me; nevertheless I consider I am just as much bound by that pledge or commitment as any other Liberal member who was elected in March, 1940. One reason, by no means the only reason, but one reason wdiv the present Prime Minister of Canada has retained the confidence of his fellow Canadians for a longer time, I think, than any other Prime Minister in the history of this country is that the Canadian people know that when he gives a pledge or makes a commitment, it will be respected.
I have no sympathy with the view that political pledges are made to be broken; I do not particularly care what the circumstances are; it savours too much to me of the doctrine that the end justifies the means. The government is charged with evading responsibility. If insistence on respecting a pledge solemnly given is evading responsibility, the charge is correct, but that does not coincide with my definition of that term.
On this question of responsibility I should like to say a word or two about the Minister of Public Works (Mr. Cardin). As we all know, the minister has gone through a long illness, and we are delighted to see that he has made such a splendid recovery. I do not think anyone in this country could have criticized him had he decided that he had
already given generously of his time and ability to the public service, and that for reasons of health he should now retire to the side-lines and leave responsibility to someone else. He has not done that. I do not know, but I strongly suspect, that his return to the duties of his office and in this house are much against the advice of his medical advisers. Whether that be so or not, it does not strike me as being an evasion of responsibility, and I commend his action as an example to those numerous critics who are always so willing to define other people's responsibilities.
I have heard other criticism of the plebiscite on the basis of the effect it will have outside. I think the hon. member for Duf-ferin-Simcoe (Mr. Rowe) said last night that it did not matter what effect the plebiscite had on our enemies, but that it did matter how it affected our friends, and I presume he had particular reference to our great neighbour nation, the United States. Frankly, Mr. Speaker, that is a form of criticism which does not carry very much weight with me either. Anyone who listened to the speech of the Prime Minister the other day-as a matter of fact he did not need to listen to that speech because he knew it before-must realize that the war effort of this country is a magnificent one. We sometimes worry too much about what other people think about us and not enough about what we are actually doing. It is what we do that counts, and I venture to say that the war effort of this country will stand comparison with that of any other. So far as the United States is concerned, I would be the last to minimize the efforts they are putting forward, but from the outset of the war their interests were just as much at stake as our own. They have come in now. They are in, and I think it will still be some little time before, either on a proportionate basis, or on any other basis you wish to take, their effort will come up to ours. I have no doubt it will, but in the meantime we need not worry particularly about whether our war effort will be misunderstood in the United States.
I should like now to make a brief personal reference on this question of plebiscite. I have had a certain number of communications, by telegram, letter and otherwise, intimating that the stand which it was assumed I was taking on this question was dictated by considerations of political expediency or party loyalty or the like. Well, I am almost forty-three years of age, and except for some two and a half years I served overseas in the last war I have lived all my life in this country. I suppose that on the basis of the mortality tables I may have another twenty or twenty-five years to go. I have three young children
The Address-Mr. Abbott