September 9, 1939 (18th Parliament, 5th Session)


René-Antoine Pelletier

Social Credit

Mr. R. A. PELLETIER (Peace River):

Mr. Speaker, all of us realize at this time that we have indeed entered upon a very grave hour. This afternoon we listened with great attention to the dramatic and convincing appeal of the Minister of Justice (Mr. Lapointe), a member of parliament representing a constituency in the province of Quebec. We have also had the pleasure of listening to two other hon. members from the same province, both of whom held entirely different views to those expressed this afternoon by the Minister of Justice. This afternoon the Minister of Justice stated clearly and definitely the position of Canada with regard to our relationship with Great Britain and the rest of the empire. We know that so far as we are concerned at the present time the attitude taken by the Minister of Justice cannot be questioned.
So far as Canada is concerned the fact is that we are committed to be of help to Great Britain. This is a fact which could not have been ignored by hon. members from the province of Quebec prior to the present situation. During the course of his remarks this afternoon

The Address-Mr. Pelletier
the Minister of Justice said that we in this corner of the house must take upon our shoulders the full responsibility for dividing this country at this particular time. But where does this division come from? I ask hon. members if it comes from our group. So far as we are concerned we feel that we are taking the right attitude. Why? Because we know it always has been the policy of this government to commit us to the defence of Canada, of Great Britain and of the British empire.
When we passed estimates in this house for defence, it was a question of the defence of what? Of Canada only? Of course not. Those estimates were for the defence of the British empire as well as of ourselves. Yet to-day when we are called upon, to use those defences, on behalf not only of Canada but of the British empire, there are those in this country who say that we should have nothing to do with the British empire. I am sorry I cannot take that particular stand. In this grave hour I am in duty bound to follow the Minister of Justice of Canada because I believe that he has set out the position in a manner which cannot possibly be contradicted.
He has called upon Canada to unite. I repeat that we in this comer have sought to bring about unity in Canada by providing the means whereby we can at least have equality of sacrifice. In my opinion certain, hon. members from other parts of the country have failed to see the significance of what we have attempted to do and have seen fit to take a different course. They have been led to believe that the word "conscription" means something horrid. Who is to blame for that? I think my hon. leader pointed out quite clearly last night that the word had been used for political purposes and for political advantages. If to-day we are faced with a grave situation, if to-day there is possibly a lack of unity, who is to blame? It is those in Canada who played politics with the word "conscription" and sought to divide the country for a political expediency.
It is no use making recriminations. It is no use going back over the past. We have at the present time a situation which must be faced. I believe it was said by someone this afternoon that if we do not fight to defend the frontier of the Rhine, the time will come when we shall have to defend the frontier of the St. Lawrence. In my opinion that is quite correct. Those of us who do not want to take full, adequate and efficient measures for the protection of our own country may one day be called upon to face the same situation as other men and women have had to face. Not only have men. in other countries
had to sacrifice their blood and their lives, but their wives and daughters have had to serve behind guns in the trenches and elsewhere.
So far as the remarks this afternoon of the Minister of Justice are concerned, we in this corner take the stand that we quite agree with him in connection with the legal standing that exists between Canada and the rest of the British empire. We belong to the British empire, and we are committed to that action. The only way in which we could do otherwise would be for this parliament to declare its independence of the British empire, and I am sure that none of us is ready to do that at the present time. However, there is another question. The Minister of Justice stated definitely and clearly that he was absolutely opposed to conscription. He stated that if it was a question of coming down to conscription, he and certain of his colleagues whom he named would be prepared to step out and let others take their places.
Where does the division come from? Does it come from this corner of the house or does it come from somewhere else? We have sought to bring about equality of sacrifice in this country. We believe firmly that the only method by which that can be brought about is by universal conscription, what we have termed the conscription of finance, industry and man power. We have called conscription the poor man's friend. If hon. members in some parts of this house will reflect, I know they cannot help but take the same attitude we are taking. Only to-day I stood upon the corner of one of the streets in Ottawa, and what did I see? I saw some of the boys who had been newly conscripted walking up the street. Who were they? They were those whom we saw in the bread lines only a short time ago. They had been driven to conscription because of what? They were compelled to take this course because economic circumstances were such that they were forced to go somewhere in order to get a decent suit of clothes to put upon their backs and some bread to eat.
That is the situation, and there are those who say that conscription is something unfair. Those people fail to take cognizance of the fact that economic circumstances are forcing this conscription. They fail to realize that perhaps there are other men who are in a position different from that of these poor boys who have been unemployed up to the present time. There are men in this country who are not necessarily obliged to join up to get a suit of clothes and $1.30 a day. The only way whereby we can have justice and fair play is to bring about the conscription of man
The Address-Mr. Pelletier

power. We are insisting on that, but we are not insisting upon it any more than we are insisting upon the conscription of financial and industrial power.
We believe that in order to have efficiency, in order to prevent more bungling, in order to have more strength, in order to have some unity, it is necessary to have, not just the one but the three together. I ask hon. members to think about this. When Canadian mothers see their boys go out of the country to fight elsewhere-and that is what is going to happen-what will be the attitude of the other mothers? They will say, "We are going to see that our boys do not go across." In time the government will realize that pressure of public opinion will inevitably bring them to that conclusion. Then where will the Minister of Justice stand? He has declared himself to-day as being absolutely and bitterly opposed to conscription, and yet we know that he will have to face that situation at some time in the future.
There are other reasons why the situation is so grave at the present time; and we have urged the complete conscription of all our resources in Canada because we believe that this is absolutely necessary. We believe further that the time to do it is now, when there is some vitality left in this country, and not to wait until we have a situation where we are unable to do anything because of economic circumstances. The time to take such action is now.
Let me refer for a moment to the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King). First, let me say that we fully realize how grave are the responsibilities resting upon the administration of this country at the present time. We realize full well that it is their duty and responsibility to give guidance, to supply information, and to let the house know what is going on so as to enable the members to reach sound and proper conclusions, and it is because we have placed our trust in the Prime Minister and in his advisers, and because we have listened to his words of warning, that we have come to the conclusion we have reached. Let me read his words once again. Are these not serious words? The Prime Minister at page 22 of Hansard said:
My hon. friend also gave his impression of what would be the prize the Germans would Beek in the event of victory. He said the prize would be Canada. I noticed in the press last evening that one of the German papers which is supposed to be an organ of the administration had quoted Hitler as saying that if England wished to fight she must remember that if she entered this fight the prize of victory would be the British empire.

Yet we are told in this house that if we oppose the government at this time we are not defending Canada; and that statement is made after it has been boldly stated that Germany's prize, if she won victory in this war, would be Canada. What logic or consistency is there in that argument? Are we to wait until the enemy has reached our frontiers before we strike a blow? That is not a question for us to decide; it is for those who are in a position to know best how this country should be defended.
The Prime Minister went on:
And as my hon. friend has said, there is no portion of the globe which some other nations covet so much, that any nation would be likely to covet so much, as this Dominion of Canada. There is no other portion of the earth's surface that contains such wealth as lies buried here. Nowhere are there such stretches of territory capable of feeding-not hundreds of thousands, but millions of people for generations and generations to come. No, Mr. Speaker, the ambition of this dictator is not Poland.
Again I repeat, these words are given us on the authority of the Prime Minister of this country, who is in a position to know, and therefore the only possible attitude we can take is one of complete reliance upon the information that he has given us. He has informed us that, not Great Britain, not France or some other European country, but Canada itself is facing danger, and the danger is not simply that a few of our soldiers might be killed abroad but that Canada may be invaded. So, as was said by another speaker this afternoon, if we lose the battle on the Rhine frontier the frontier of Canada might be the shores of the St. Lawrence.
There is someone else whom I can quote to show the gravity of the present situation. We have the words of Prime Minister Chamberlain in his letter of August 22, 1939, to the German chancellor, in which I find this paragraph :
It would be a dangerous illusion to think that if war once starts it will come to an early end even if success on any one of the several fronts on which it will be engaged should have been secured.
In the face of that statement, given to us upon the authority of the government, what do we find the policy of the Canadian government to be? It has declared for a policy of partial participation in the war. It has declared its desire to send overseas a certain portion of Canada's forces. But when the time comes for replacements to be provided, who is going to take the place of those who have been wiped out? They can be supplied only from our own country, and that is why I think the Minister of Justice placed

The Address-Mr. Heon
himself in an unsound position this afternoon, because none of us knows what is going to happen in the future.
We in this comer have agitated for a concrete, effective policy which would lead to unity and efficient conduct of our part in the war, a policy which would also prevent bungling and profiteering, and yet we have been told that we are trying to split the country in two. If that had been our attitude it would have been easy for us to move an amendment in order to precipitate such a condition, but we have made it quite clear to the Prime Minister that we do not desire to bring about any such condition in this dominion, that our only interest is in securing fair play for all concerned, and we say that the only just policy for Canada is a policy of complete conscription.
Nobody likes to face the thought of conscription. So far as we in this comer are concerned, at all events, so far as I am concerned, whatever the word "conscription" might convey to some people I am not afraid to face it because in my opinion it is the only action to take. It is the only way to ensure that everybody shall share equally in the sacrifices that will have to be made.
There are many things happening in Canada to-day, and one that surprised me was the attitude of the great leader of the Conservative party. I believe that he is not contributing to this country simply by stating that he will cooperate with the government, when the government has not taken the proper steps. Cooperate in what, I should like to know?
Once again I repeat that we in this corner are not afraid to face the word "conscription." We believe it has been used in the past for reasons of political expediency, by people jockeying to secure positions satisfactory to themselves. Motives have been ascribed to us for our attitude to-day. I deny those motives. We have taken this course for the simple reason that we believe it is in the best interests of this country, and because we are firmly convinced that before hostilities come to an end it will be the only means of saving Canada.
Stress has been laid upon the conscription of man power, but I would point out that we place just as much stress upon the conscription of finance. Some people have asked what we mean by the conscription of finance, and in order to be prepared we have set out definitely and concretely what we mean by the conscription of finance. Let me place it on the record.
We advocate the conscription of finance:
(a) By the creation by the government ol the necessary credit and currency combined, with definite price regulation to prevent any serious inflationary rise in prices;
(b) By borrowing abroad only for the purpose of obtaining needed goods and services beyond the capacity of our people to furnish;
(c) By placing an embargo on capital and capital assets as at the date of the declaration of war;
(d) By requiring that financial institutions and corporations reveal all undisclosed reserves as at the date of the declaration of war, and that these be forthwith conscripted by the government.
(e) By introducing more steeply graded income and profits taxes;
(f) By providing that all equivocation and/or evasion in this regard shall be treated as a treasonable offence.
That is what we have set out with regard to the conscription of finance. We would do the same so far as industry is concerned. When we say that we believe in regimentation at this time and in peace time, does that necessarily imply dictatorship? Of course not. It is simply to secure an effective method of control for the distribution of the products which we have at the present time.
We all realize that when any one of us speaks here this evening, we are slowing up the process of the declaration of war by this country because the Prime Minister made that statement quite plainly this afternoon, and he is now awaiting the vote of this parliament to decide what to do. So far as I am concerned, I have not much more to say, though many things could be said. All I wish to do is to make this assertion in conclusion. We have done what we have done because we believe it is in the best interests of the country. Personally I can do no more than offer my own services to the Minister of National Defence, and I do so here and now for any purpose for which he might wish to use them. This is the way we feel in this comer. Even though our hands, as Mr. Churchill said, become engaged in warlike gestures, nevertheless our hearts will remain at peace if we do our duty. We are doing our duty and we intend to see that others shall do theirs.

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