February 6, 1942 (19th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Ian Alistair Mackenzie (Minister of Pensions and National Health)


Mr. MACKENZIE (Vancouver Centre):

Mr. Speaker, through you may I express my profound thanks to the house for its courtesy.
The challenge has been thrown across the floor of this house, the challenge has been reechoed in the editorials of leading publications of this country, "Why a plebiscite on this issue?" Let me remind this house that Australia took twice a referendum on conscription in the midst of the last war. Let me remind the house that Canada had a general election on this issue in the midst of the last war. The present proposal, therefore, although it has nothing whatsoever to do with the merits or demerits of compulsory selective service for overseas, is no departure from well-established practice.
The leaders of the Conservative party have no valid reason for professing to be shocked at the present government adopting a proposal which, in some form, they themselves have repeatedly advocated, and which they themselves utilized. Their policy is that whatever the government does is wrong, even when it does a thing which they themselves have previously advocated.
To the question, "Why a plebiscite?" let me give an answer, not in my own language, for the moment, but in the language of an eminent Canadian who is not to-day a member of this house. He said:
Surely it is worth while in any British country to have the people understand once for all that they are in control of the great policies of that country and that their control is real and not merely a sham. .
And then again this same gentleman, a former Prime Minister of Canada, went on to say in the same context:
Now the next objection urged is this: that the very fact of submitting such questions to the electors contemplates the idea, possibly, that the electorate might decide adversely, and then the consequences would be terrible. . . . You can trust the people in this matter as in
everything else, if you give the people the truth. . . . Bring that right down in the hearts of the people and you can trust the people of this country.
Those are not my words, or the words of the Prime Minister, or the words of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. They are the words of Arthur Meighen uttered in Winnipeg on October 11, 1927. They are the words of the man who is to-day the leader of the Conservative party. And his followers ask us across the floor of this house, "Why a plebiscite?"-the question which was answered by Mr. Meighen in that speech at Winnipeg: "Trust the people, because the people rule."
The present campaign, which is inspired by that group on the roof-top in Toronto is not so much a war against Germany and Italy, it is a war against this cabinet and against our revered leader, the Prime Minister of Canada. If these loose-talking, gold-digging Tories believe for one second that any member of this administration is not one hundred per cent behind our leader the Prime Minister, it is the greatest mistake they ever made in their lives. Our war against Germany, Italy and Japan is a war for freedom and democracy, the establishment of decency and honour, and the observance of pledges; and every Liberal or Conservative member in this house was elected on a platform that expressly stated that conscription for overseas service would not be adopted in Canada.
I go so far as to agree that circumstances have so changed in the progress of the war that the government and parliament itself, including hon. members opposite, should ask the country to be freed from this pledge. I do not, however, see in the immediate developments at this time-but this is a purely personal opinion-any reason for increasing our overseas commitments beyond those already made and those announced in the speech from the throne. On the contrary, there are arguments such as those used by the hon. member for Vancouver South (Mr. Green) which, in my opinion, strongly suggest the desirability of strengthening our Canadian defences within our own domain, the Dominion of Canada.
The time has now come, and definitely come, when the government should be free, without breaking faith with the people, from whom all our authority comes, to adopt any course which will most effectively contribute to the successful outcome of the war and the effective defence of our Canadian soil.
If taking the plebiscite involved delay in some vital phase of our war effort, I could sympathize with those who argue against taking it. But since, in my judgment, it does
The Address-Mr. Mackenzie (Vancouver)
not and cannot involve any delay which hinders or hampers or retards our war effort, I now appeal to those who feel that the government's hands should be freed, to stop this noisy panie-mongering appeal and get out into the country and convince those who need convincing to vote affirmatively on this great plebiscite to ascertain the will of the Canadian people. In that way we have some prospect of maintaining national unity.
The method suggested by a small element, that the government should disregard its pledges, could lead to nothing but strife, dissension, antagonism and charges of betrayal. What would be the attitude of the opposition if this government, without consulting the people, had broken its solemn pledges and proceeded with measures that were definitely in defiance of those pledges? No one likes a plebiscite for its own sake, but I submit it is the only honourable way to deal with a situation which is as much the result of actions of hon. members opposite and of their leader who is not in this house, as it is of actions of this government.
I have heard during the progress of this debate questions hurled across the floor of the house: What will the government do after this vote has been taken? Well, if one were to accept the argument of the hon. member for Vancouver South about the situation existing on the Pacific coast, it would almost lead some people to the conclusion that we should not send another soldier out of the country.

Full View