Mr. MAXIME RAYMOND (Beauharnois-Laprairie) (Translation):
Mr. Speaker, when war was declared in September 1939, there were two different schools of thought, one of which favoured participation, while the other opposed it. The province of Quebec, especially, remembered that our participation in the European war of 1914 had led us to conscription, with the unfortunate results that we know.
Taking part in the debate, I had then voiced the fear that our participation, once again, would lead us to conscription. Unfortunately, events have already borne out my
The Right Hon. Mr. Lapointe, wishing, as he said, to prevent disunity, suggested the following compromise on behalf of the province of Quebec: "Participation without conscription".
I wish to quote the statement he made on September 9, 1939:
Sir, I believe that at this time there are two extreme sides of opinions Which we should avoid and which would make for the disunity of Canada at a time when we need the very opposite. First, there are those who . . . say that Canada can and should remain neutral. . . .
The other school consists of those who . . . are promoting courses which would disunite Canada-because such measures will never be accepted or enforced by and in a most important section of the country. The whole province of Quebec-and I speak with all the responsibility and the solemnity I can give to my words- will never agree to accept compulsory service or conscription outside Canada. I will go farther than that: When I say the whole province of Quebec I mean that I personally agree with them. I am authorized by my colleagues in the cabinet from the province of Quebec . . . to say that we will never agree to conscription and will never be members or supporters of a government that will try to enforce it. Is that clear enough?
Then he added:
Provided these points are understood, we are willing to offer our services without limitation and to devote our best efforts for the success of the cause we all have at heart. And those in Quebec who say that we will have conscription in spite of what some of us are saying, are doing the work of disunity, the work of the foe, the work of the enemy. (House of Commons Debates, second session, 1939, page 68.)
I shall now quote what the Prime Minister said, on February 25 last, about the pledge given at that time:
When the war came in Europe and this parliament met to decide whether Canada would enter the war or not, a declaration was made by the government of the day that, if Canada did enter the war, there would not be compulsory service for overseas, but that service for overseas would be by voluntary enlistment. That declaration was made when this house was deciding whether Canada should go into the war or not. And that statement was made not by the government to hon. members of parliament only, but by members of parliament of all parties speaking to the people of the country, and assuring them of the position that would be taken. I submit that no more solemn undertaking could possibly have been given to the people of Canada than that which was given to them by their representatives in the House of Commons at that time. (Hansard, 1942, page 824).
This compromise was then agreed upon by parliament and ratified by the entire Canadian people at the general election of March, 1940. And the present administration gave the most solemn assurances that it would respect it. Therefore was it binding upon the government and parliament, as well as upon the political parties of Canada and the conscriptionists, for the duration of the war, because Mr. Lapointe had taken care to specify that:
The province of Quebec would never accept conscription for service outside Canada.
Later on when the government introduced the National Resources Mobilization Act of 1940, an act which parliament passed on June 20, 1940, the 1939 agreement was explicitly acknowledged. A special provision was inserted with a view to fulfilling the terms of that agreement, that is section 3 which excluded conscription for overseas service.
On this occasion, the Prime Minister and the Right Hon. Mr. Lapointe made the following statements:
The Prime Minister:
Recruitment for service overseas will be maintained on a voluntary basis. . . . The bill to be introduced to-day in no way affects the raising of men to serve in the armed forces overseas. Once again I wish to repeat my undertaking, frequently given, that no measure for the conscription of men for overseas service will be introduced by the present administration.
(Hansard, June 18, 1940, page 854).
... We have in the present bill purposely by a special clause in this measure kept a pledge which we on this side of the house made before and at the beginning of the war, that we would not, while this administration was in office, enact a law for the conscription of men to be sent overseas. We have kept that promise by a clause which is specifically set forth in the bill that is before the house to-day.
(Hansard, June 18, 1940, page 900.)
Mobilization Act-Mr. Raymond
Mr. Lapointe, on the same day:
Somebody speaks of the pledges given. I invite all my friends to read the observations I made in this house when war was declared.-. . I then said to my fellow-countrymen that the province, one of whose representatives I have the honour to be, was opposed to compulsory military service overseas, and that we would fight it . . . that I would fight it; that if it were proposed by my government I would resign from that government.
That is what I said and that is what I repeat to-day. (Hansard, June 18, 1940, page 877.)
If Mr. Lapointe were here to-day, I have no doubt he would fight this bill.
As a further reassurance to the province of Quebec, which had been the object of the anti-conscriptionist agreement, three days after the adoption of this measure, on June 23, 1940, on the occasion of the feast of their patron saint, the Prime Minister sent the French Canadians a special message from which I quote the following paragraphs:
Message from the Prime Minister to the French Canadians on St. Jean Baptiste Day.
On this festival of the patron saint of French Canada, I wish to address a message to my French-Canadian compatriots. . . .
In order to put the government in a position to meet the growing menace, parliament passed last week the National Resources Mobilization Act. . . . The mobilization of our man-power is limited solely and exclusively to the defence of Canada on our own soil and in our own territorial waters. Recruitment for service overseas will be maintained on a voluntary basis. The solemn assurance, which I have frequently given to parliament, that no measure for the conscription of men for overseas service will be introduced by the present administration has once again been placed upon the record of parliament.
I appeal to my compatriots of French Canada ... to give to this measure of national defence their whole-hearted support.
The province of Quebec, ever ready to defend Canada, has, on the faith of these definite pledges, granted its loyal support to this measure. Now, the government propose to amend it by striking out the restrictions concerning conscription for overseas service. Thus, the Mobilization Act of 1940, applying for military service in Canada only, would become a conscription act for overseas service in any part of the world.
Consequently, the proposed amendment to the Mobilization Act, is moved in violation of the agreement of September, 1939, approved by the Canadian electorate in March, 1940, and incorporated in the Mobilization Act.
It is claimed that the result of the plebiscite has been to release the government from past commitments. Who could release the government from this pledge regarding conscription? Not the conscriptionists; they had made the pledge; not the Prime Minister who,
on April 27, registered his vote to release himself from his own commitment; not the other ministers and members of the house, who had made the same pledge; but only those in favour of whom the commitment was made. This commitment was made in favour of the province of Quebec, in whose name Mr. Lapointe was speaking when he proposed a compromise, when he stated the conditions of our participation. These conditions were unreservedly accepted; they have been acknowledged in the Mobilization Act of 1940, which it is now proposed to amend; and the Prime Minister, on behalf of his government, guaranteed its fulfilment three days later, in a special message sent to the French Canadians, on June 23, 1940.
Therefore, only the province of Quebec could release the government from their commitments. Since it has overwhelmingly refused to do so, the government are not released. No one would dare to move an amendment to the confederation act of 1867, which would deprive the province of Quebec of certain rights granted therein, without the consent of the interested province, even though it were the wish of all the other provinces. This would be applying the principle that might is right.
I would go further. Were the government convinced that the majority vote given by the provinces released them from the commitments taken towards Quebec, they still would not be justified in adopting a conscription measure for service overseas.
Has the 1939 agreement been proved faulty? No, the results prove the opposite.
Have the two reasons which brought about the anticonscription agreement of 1939 disappeared? No. They are even more cogent to-day, for past experience has proved, since the very beginning of war, that the voluntary system has amply fulfilled the needs of the army, and nothing show-s that it may be less efficient in the future. The two reasons alluded to were the following: the need of maintaining national unity and the inefficiency of conscription.
What is the position after two years and nine months of war?
Canada is more profoundly divided on the subject of conscription than ever before- the plebiscite proves this-and we know that conscription will mean disunity with its train of consequences. Moreover, neither the efficiency, nor the necessity of conscription have been demonstrated. The Prime Minister has even stated, on moving the second reading of the bill, "that it was not necessary now and that it might never become necessary".