September 11, 1939 (18th Parliament, 5th Session)


Charles Grant MacNeil

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

Mr. MacNEIL:

We have now reached the point where we must discuss the extent of our military action. This, in my opinion, must be a matter of grave, cool and deliberate appraisement. We cannot make the grave decisions involved purely on a basis of sentiment or emotion. It is now a matter of national strategy; and no greater injury could be done to our country at this time than to attempt to dictate its strategy by unreasoning emotion. As a dominion we are now at war. -War is a grim and deadly business. It demands not only cool judgment but a balanced strategy. Personally I refuse to be stampeded
fMr, Green.]
by slogans that are now being coined to whip up a suicidal hysteria. For reasons which were not based on sound strategy, decisions were made in the last war which we all now admit were blunders. By reason of these blunders thousands of young Canadians were sacrificed needlessly. As a small nation facing an unpredictable war, facing an unpredictable alignment of forces, the conservation of our man power is a paramount consideration.
I want to think as soberly of these matters now as when I see long Canadian casualty lists and attempt to weigh the loss of life against the objectives attained. I want to think as soberly of these matters here as though I were actually facing death on the field. I want to think as soberly now of these matters as when I am faced with the problems of peace rehabilitation and national reconstruction at the termination of hostilities.
War talk is a heady brew. May I say, as one who knows something of war, that perhaps the greatest stupidity of war is the impulse to plunge headlong into the conflict with a mistaken heroism and discard the strategy of the ultimate aim for the brave but melodramatic moment. Now that we are at war, nothing is more important than the calculation of a course which will bring us quickly and efficiently to the establishment of enduring peace based on justice.
We have been drawn into war as a part of the British commonwealth. Our war policies, I assume, will therefore be coordinated with those of the commonwealth. To the extent that Canada is left vulnerable the British front will be vulnerable. It is clear that as a first step in a coordinated plan, we shall be expected to place Canada in a reasonable and proper state of defence. At the same time may I point out that any unwise extension of any war effort which would undermine our defence would hamper rather than assist Great Britain. It would be the height of folly to expose the British front to a flanking movement and jeopardize a vital source of essential supplies. We invite defeat if we push forward into a salient which we have not the strength to hold.
This parliament must now decide whether Canadian lives are to be sacrificed on European battlefields. We cannot leave this decision simply to the British high command. We cannot allow this decision to be determined by hysteria or unreasoning emotion; and I submit that, from the standpoint of national or commonwealth strategy, there is no justification for sending any expeditionary force to Europe. It is on considerations of the national interest as I have attempted to

War Appropriation Bill
define it that the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation is opposed to military action overseas.
Canada's war objectives have been stated by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice. The first of these, according to the Prime Minister, are home defence, internal security, defence of British and French possessions in this hemisphere, economic blockade and pressure, and supply of war materials to the allies. In addition he asked blanket approval of an indefinite extension of these war objectives to military participation abroad if and when, after consultation with the British authorities, the government decides such action to be advisable. The Minister of Justice speaks of Canadians in the front line of battle " under the control of Canada, commanded by Canadians and maintained by the Dominion of Canada." We can only interpret this as meaning that the government is paving the way for action on other fronts.
We of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation are not in agreement with such an extension of policy. In our statement we have offered no objections to measures for home defence and economic assistance to the British and French people. We do say that the measure of Canada's direct and vital concern in this straggle does not justify the shedding of Canadian blood on European soil. This is the policy enunciated by the governments of some of our sister dominions. This is the correct policy for Canada. Canadian participation in this war does not compel military participation abroad. On the contrary, we can make our best contribution to the commonwealth and at the same time safeguard the interests and future of the Canadian people by limiting our assistance in the way we have proposed.
It is important that we should clearly define now our position on this aspect of the problem. If we launch any measure of military operations abroad there will ultimately be no limit, regardless of present intentions. We must now face the fact, and face it calmly and frankly, that if we sanction any degree or form of military participation in Europe it will give rise to an increasing demand for more direct military intervention on a much larger scale.
It is possible now to discuss these problems calmly. It may not be possible to discuss them calmly when casualty lists from Europe come home. May I point this out, with no desire to detain the house at undue length? It is idle to brush aside the conscription issue if we plan now for military intervention in Europe. An expeditionary force and the
publication of casualty lists resulting from the operations of such a force mean inevitably that the conscription of man power will come to Canada. I cannot conceive of any wartime administration, having advanced to that stage in the struggle, doing otherwise than was done by Sir Robert Borden in 1917, when he said that, with an expeditionary force of
237,000 men in the field, because of inability to secure the necessary reinforcements, in order to avert national disaster, it was necessary to introduce conscription of man power in Canada.
One or two other important considerations occur to me. Unquestionably, as the straggle advances, the industries of other countries will be devastated. The production of essential materials will be difficult. More and more they will look to Canada and rely on Canada for essential materials. We have after all only eleven million people; and the most careful, deliberate, cool, almost ruthless appraisal must be made of the dangers of diverting any substantial number of men from productive enterprise at this time to combatant service.
I suggest this further, that any attempt under present circumstances to enforce conscription in Canada would virtually immobilize Canada because of the marked degree of disunity which would be created.
I think we should also keep in mind the strength and the geographical position of our country, and now plan for peace rehabilitation and consider the problems with which this small nation will be confronted at the termination of hostilities.
Other speakers have traversed that ground. In order that the point may be clear, that we may have a definite declaration of policy by the government, I move this amendment:
That section 2, subsection 1 (b) be amended to read as follows:
(b) The conduct of naval, military and air operations in or adjacent to Canada.
Some lion. MEMBERS: Question.

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