June 29, 1956

HOUSE OF COMMONS DEBATES

OFFICIAL REPORT


Friday, June 29, 1956


ALLEGED IMPROPER ACTION OP MR. SPEAKER

PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Hon. George A. Drew (Leader of the Opposition):

Mr. Speaker, I rise both on a question of privilege and of major public importance. In view of the intolerable situation created in this house by the utterly unprecedented actions of the Speaker in improperly impugning the motives of many of the hon. members in a letter, I ask the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Howe) to assure us that the government will deal with this situation in the only way in which it can be dealt with effectively, by taking the necessary steps to dissolve the house and give the people of Canada the earliest possible opportunity to elect a new parliament.

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

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

Mr. M. J. Coldwell (Roseiown-Biggar):

must say that I rise to support the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Drew) in this matter. I feel very sick at heart over this whole matter, and having had respect for the house and the Chair, I feel that the situation has become quite intolerable and that there is no way out but the election of a new parliament and the assembling of a new group in this House of Commons.

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LIB

Louis-René Beaudoin (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

May I be allowed to say a

word of personal explanation? It seems to me the point at issue at the moment is whether or not a person who occupies the office that I have the honour to occupy at the moment is or is not deprived of being able to write personal correspondence. It has been established, I think-if it has not been established, I am prepared to establish it to the satisfaction of all hon. members, I am sure-that I made the comment in a personal letter which was not directed to a newspaper, which was never intended to be published and which I never thought would ever be published-I can assure you of that-and which unfortunately has been published.

Now, because one or two paragraphs of a private letter that I addressed to a man who is a free lance writer appears in a newspaper-a letter addressed to his residence-of course it becomes known that with respect to a certain matter I have an opinion which 67509-350

is at divergence with the opinion held by other hon. members. Now, I submit this to hon. members for their consideration. We had a debate concerning a certain measure over which I had to preside. I think hon. members, if they want to be fair, will agree that the chair during those days was not a bed of roses. Members who are not satisfied with rulings, or with the conduct of the Chair, because the Speaker is the servant of the house, have two recourses provided by our traditional forms of procedure: one, appeals from the Speaker's rulings; two, motions of censure. Both of these two recourses have been taken advantage of.

Now, I cannot participate in debate. I must, however, put questions affecting myself. See Beauchesne's third edition, citation 86 and Bourinot's fourth edition, page 179. I presided over the debate which took place on the motion of censure against myself, and I put the question affecting myself. During that debate I did not speak. Some hon. members here know that before the debate on the motion of censure started I wanted to speak. As a matter of fact I thought I had the right to be heard.

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CCF

Harold Edward Winch

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

Mr. Winch:

You did have the right to be heard.

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LIB

Louis-René Beaudoin (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

Well, at that time there was a question as to whether or not I had that right. My program on Sunday before the Monday on which this debate was initiated, as I suggested, was that the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the C.C.F. party speak on the motion of censure and I wanted to take the floor immediately after that; but there was hesitancy as to whether I should do that, or whether I had the right to do it.

I want to tell hon. members this. I have received several letters, some very critical, others commending my attitude during the pipe-line debate. In replying to those letters which I have received, whether of criticism or of commendation, I said several things, and I am sure that if they were all to be published, as this personal letter was, it would indicate one thing, that a man who is accused and has not been able to say his piece is in a very deplorable situation indeed.

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?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

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LIB

Louis-René Beaudoin (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

The worst criminal in this country, the man accused of spying, is asked before sentence is passed, "Do you have anything to say?" Now, I am not blaming the

House of Commons

house; I am not blaming any hon. members; I do not say that you did not provide me with a chance to be heard. But I just say that, in order to ask you to understand what may be my personal position, I am somewhat tense about this. I am not going to say anything further with respect to the event nor as to whether the opinions that have been expressed have been right or wrong, but I want to say this. The fact that I have not been heard-well, as I say, I have been tense about this ever since and I have been looking up authorities.

The hon. member for Vancouver East (Mr. Winch) just interjected a moment ago, "You had the right to be heard". I am inclined to go along with his view because I have looked at a debate which took place in 1931 when the deputy speaker, Mr. LaVergne, had been attacked by the then member for Labelle, Mr. Bourassa and later rose to speak. Mr. King on a question of privilege indicated that the deputy speaker should not take part in any debate. The debate took place on March 20, 1931, and it will be found in volume I of the debates for 1931, pages 173 to 180. In defence of Mr. LaVergne, in

justifying his contention that he had the right to speak if he was attacked, Mr. Bennett said that in exceptional cases he thought the Speaker was warranted in taking the action he did. He was referring to the case of

1927 when Mr. Speaker Lemieux had spoken in the debate in this house and then later he said:

Obviously the Speaker cannot take part in the debate and preside at the same time.

Then later he said:

... if the deputy speaker is not to participate in debate obviously he should not be attacked. That is fair. How but by participation in debate would he be able to answer attacks made upon him? That, Mr. Speaker, seems to be the crux of the whole matter and it will be found that Sir Robert Borden in discussing the matter of a resolution of the then leader of the opposition, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, directed the attention of the house to that particular point. Is it right merely because one of our hon. members has been elected chairman of committees and chairman of the committee of the whole house that he should be deprived of the right to speak to the house?

And then later he said:

Let us, however, consider what happened the other day when he was attacked in this house.

He is referring to Mr. LaVergne.

As a member he takes his seat and as one of the deputies of this chamber is he to be silent? May he make reply? Is it right that he should be silent?

Later on he said again:

Has his acceptance of the position of deputy speaker placed him in a position where he can no longer reply to the attacks which are made upon him?

And he concluded that part of his remarks by saying this:

I still claim for the deputy speaker, as I would claim for any other member of the house, the right to make any response he thinks adequate to any attack that may be made upon him. In other words, you should not make him a judge unless you treat him as such; and if you enter into controversy with him you must afford him an opportunity to answer the observations directed to him.

At that point Mr. King interjected:

No one denies that.

Looking further back into the record I find that in 1814, when Mr. Speaker Abbott had a motion of censure moved against him in the United Kingdom, he did take part in the debate soon after Lord Morpeth had moved the motion against him. His speech will be found in Hansard of 1813-14, volume 27, extending from column 475 to column 485, which I would think would be the equivalent of a 40-minute speech.

I am very sorry that part of that letter has been quoted. I may say that, as if I did not have enough trouble so far, I was certainly hoping that no other trouble would arise and I was greatly shocked when I saw that those paragraphs had been taken out of that private letter and put in a newspaper article.

Having said that, that view having been made public, I understand that it might arouse the indignation of some hon. members in this house when someone says that someone distorts the facts for his political ends.

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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Falsifies.

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LIB

Louis-René Beaudoin (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

Or falsifies. Of course if you want to use the most prejudicial translation you will use the word "falsifies" but for my purpose the translation would be "distorts".

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PC

John George Diefenbaker

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Diefenbaker:

Would Your Honour table the letter?

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LIB

Louis-René Beaudoin (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

I will table that letter if the hon. member wishes me to do so. I do not know to what extent I can as this is private correspondence. Would the hon. member for Prince Albert (Mr. Diefenbaker) be good enough to take a look at all the correspondence and then if he wants it-I do not table documents-to be circularized I could have mimeographed copies made of the translation of every letter. I might explain what the correspondence is about. The first letter I received from the hon. gentleman was dated May 14, 1956, in which he asked for an interview. Perhaps I should give my own translation and the hon. member can check when I send him the documents. He asked:

Would you be kind enough to give me an interview of a few minutes at your office in the near

future. It has to do with a communication that I want to make to you and which is absolutely foreign to my occupation as a newspaperman. Would it be possible to receive me on Saturday next or on any other Saturday? Please let me know as soon as possible.

I replied to that letter on May 15 in which I said-

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LIB

James Garfield Gardiner (Minister of Agriculture)

Liberal

Mr. Gardiner:

Before you continue, may I be permitted; is it proper for personal correspondence either to be placed on the table or read to this house? Are we going to be put in the position where if we have any personal correspondence at all as members somebody can suggest that it ought to be put on the table or read to this house?

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LIB
PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Before the Acting Prime Minister replies, may I make some comments in regard to what has been said by the Speaker.

I direct my remarks to the Acting Prime Minister as the acting head of the government. I do so in the utmost solemnity.

Already, at the suggestion of Mr. Speaker himself, a motion of censure was presented in view of certain discussions that had taken place. When the Speaker said that there was any hesitancy about hearing him, I would point out that no one indicated any unwillingness to hear the Speaker and, in fact, there was every indication that the Speaker felt perfectly free to present to the house any facts he deemed advisable, as evidenced by the proposition he put before the house on one occasion in regard to certain decisions he himself has made.

However, these are irrelevant, so far as the central issue is now concerned. In fact, the question as to whether it was or was not intended that this letter be published is in itself irrelevant, when we recognize the rule of the Speaker in relation to this house. Whether the Speaker is a permanent Speaker, as at Westminster, or a Speaker chosen by a motion of all the members, as is done here, the Speaker, if there is to be any dignity in the proceedings of the house, must command the confidence of the members that the decisions he makes will be impartial decisions within the reasonable bounds of human frailty. Whether it was intended that this letter be published or not is in itself unimportant. We now know that the Speaker, whose impartiality we are expected to respect, holds the opinion that arguments that were made here falsified the facts or, to use the alternative expression the Speaker has used, distorted the facts for political ends.

I would point out that if these words were spoken of any member in this house it would be the duty of the Speaker to call for a retraction immediately. They would not be permitted. Whether or not it was intended that they be published, these were the thoughts of the Speaker, and we know they were the thoughts of the Speaker because,

House of Commons

whatever the circumstances were, they have now been given widespread publication in the press.

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LIB

Louis-René Beaudoin (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Speaker:

Would the Leader of the Opposition allow me to indicate that there is a distinction with respect to the word "deliberately"?

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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

I did not use the word "deliberately".

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June 29, 1956