May 11, 1942 (19th Parliament, 3rd Session)


William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)


Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

The results of the plebiscite on April 27 are now all but complete. Although final official returns are not yet available, the most reliable figures indicate that on the question asked there were over 2,926,856 persons who voted in the affirmative, and over 1,618,730 persons who voted in the negative; in other words 64 per cent of the voters answered in the affirmative and 36 per cent in the negative.
The total number of votes cast on the plebiscite is an impressive demonstration of the importance which the electors of Canada attach to giving to the government a free hand at a time of war.
The question on which the people of Canada were asked to express an opinion was:
Are you in favour of releasing the government from any obligation arising out of any past commitments restricting the methods of raising men for military service?
By their vote, the people have decisively expressed the view that the government should be released from any such obligation. In other words, there no longer remains any issue which the government or members of parliament, because of past promises or pledges are restricted from considering, dis-
cussing and deciding on its merits, in the light of what is best for Canada and for Canada's war effort.
The question in the plebiscite was of equal concern to all citizens of Canada. The result is a national expression of view on a national issue. It should be so viewed in all its aspects. In all of the provinces, and for that matter, in every constituency, affirmative and negative votes were cast. The vote was taken in a democratic fashion. It will be recognized throughout the country that, in a democracy, the will of the majority should prevail.
The vote in the plebiscite shows that the people generally recognize that the war has taken a course which was altogether unforeseen; that conditions wholly unexpected may yet arise, and that, in consequence, there should be no restriction upon the freedom of the government apart from its constitutional responsibility to parliament.
In the plebiscite, the electors were not called upon to vote for or against the government. The result, therefore, is not to be construed as a vote for any political party. In fact, the plebiscite was selected by the government precisely because it afforded the best known means of obtaining an expression of the views of the people on a specific question, regardless of political parties, or party considerations.
As, in'some quarters, an effort has been made since the plebiscite to interpret the result as a mandate for conscription for overseas service, it is necessary for me to repeat that, in the plebiscite, conscription was not the issue. The government did not ask the people to say whether or not conscription for overseas service should be adopted. That was not the issue before the people. With respect to the issue of conscription, the result can only rightly be construed as leaving to the government and to parliament entire freedom to deal with that question on its merits.

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