Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to a question of privilege. This is a question of privilege which goes far beyond any personal consideration and which in my opinion is a matter of the privileges of parliament itself. Speaking in this house on Tuesday night last the hon. member for Lethbridge, the leader of the Social Credit group (Mr. Blackmore), made a statement, the general effect of which was that the government in dealing with the war time supply of sugar had taken a course which was detrimental to the public interest and this because of some "relationship existing, between the government" and an alleged "great sugar combine" and between "the government" and what he termed "the head of this corporation, one John W. McConnell." The statement to which I refer will be found in Hansard of Tuesday, March 7, at page 1278 and is as follows:
I believe that quantity and price have been affected, not so much by the circumstances of war, as by the fact that prior to the war and also during the war the production and sale of sugar have been manipulated by a sugar trust or combine, and that one of the dominating units in this trust has been the St. Lawrence Sugar Refining Company.
I suppose hon. members would be surprised to know that since the war broke out, men came into this city and went to see responsible officials in the dominion government and offered to bring into Canada three sugar factories, and they were refused the concessions which they needed in order to give them a chance to establish sugar factories to produce sugar in this country. The men in charge of the government chose rather to let the Canadian people go short than risk an abundance of sugar-an abundance which they dreaded.
I am going to ask questions which I believe ought to be answered. What is the relationship existing between the government and this great sugar combine, and between the government and the head of this corporation, one John W. McConnell? Why has the government condoned this manipulation in the sugar industry? It would allay considerable suspicion in this house and throughout the country if the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) would rise and categorically state that the Liberal party has never received, directly or indirectly, from the St. Lawrence Sugar Refining Company, from J. W. McConnell, or from anyone representing either or both of these, or any other Canadian sugar interest any contribution of money for the campaign funds of the Liberal party.
I resent very strongly the insinuations and implications which these words carry with them and which, broadly construed, are a reflection upon all political parties, and upon all governments. They are equivalent to saying that because contributions are made to campaign funds of political parties, the government that may be in office or returned to office is, because of contributions made to the campaign fund of the party to which its members belong, to be regarded as unworthy of holding a public trust, and the ministers of the crown as violating the oaths by which they are sworn to office. Such an insinuation is a reflection upon the honour and the integrity of every member of this house, and upon no one does it reflect more immediately than upon the hon. member who has thus disclosed with what judgment he judges the political conduct of others.
Except in the inferences which the hon. member seeks to have drawn from it, this question of campaign funds is not pertinent. What is pertinent, and what, as I have said, I resent very deeply, and so far as the Liberal party is concerned, deny most emphatically is the suggestion that the present government of Canada or any member of it would betray its trust at the instigation of any corporation, any special interest, or any individual. I believe the representatives of all other
Privilege-Mr. Mackenzie King
parties in this house should, and on reflection will, equally resent and repudiate suggestions of this character. It is irresponsible and unwarranted utterances such as these, both inside and outside the house, which tend to destroy the faith of the people alike in government and parliament, and this at a time when faith in democratic institutions was never more needed than to-day.
What are the facts about sugar? They will show that the hon. member for Lethbridge was as wrong in his alleged facts as he was in his innuendoes. As hon. members know, at the very beginning of the war the government acted promptly and drastically to control the distribution and price of sugar, a control which has operated so effectively that available supplies have been fairly distributed and the price kept at a level about one-third of what it was at a comparable period in the last war. If, as alleged, the government had wished to assist the sugar refiners, all it had to do was to stay its hand, and allow those interests to reap the benefits of the enhanced prices which would inevitably have followed.
And what in fact has been the attitude of Mr. John W. McConnell? As long ago as April 10, 1939, I received the following letter from Mr. McConnell:
St. Lawrence Sugar Refineries Limited Dominion Express Building
Montreal, 10th April, 1939.
Rt. Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King,
Prime Minister of Canada,
Dear Mr. King:
In the event of war-which heaven forbid- Canadian industry must cooperate to the limit with the government, particularly where essential food supplies are involved.
Having this in mind, I wish now to assure you that the plant of the St. Lawrence Sugar Refineries will be placed unreservedly at the disposal of the government.
With kindest regards,
J. W. McConnell,
My reply to Mr. McConnell reads as follows:
Office of the Prime Minister Canada
Ottawa, April 14, 1939.
J. W. McConnell, Esq.,
St. Lawrence Sugar Refineries, Ltd.,
Dominion Express Building,
Dear Mr. McConnell:
I wish to acknowledge and thank you for your personal letter to me of April the 10th, in which you state that in the event of war the plant of
the St. Lawrence Sugar Refineries will be placed unreservedly at the disposal of the government.
I also wish to express my appreciation of the spirit which prompted you to give this assurance. While we all trust that such a tragic event may not come to pass, it is encouraging to the government to have, in these uncertain days, such a prompt evidence of willingness to cooperate, should the need arise.
With kind regards,
Yours very sincerely,
W. L. Mackenzie King.
When subsequently war broke out and it became apparent that sugar prices might rise suddenly, Mr. McConnell's patriotic offer to turn over to the government the sugar corporation in wl'.ieh he had an interest was not accepted only because the control arrangements promptly instituted by the government served an equal purpose without disturbing efficient management.
At a very critical stage of the early months of the war, Mr. McConnell's firm, in common with sugar refineries elsewhere in Canada, cooperated fully with the government in supplying an abnormal war demand for sugar. This cooperation placed very heavy extra demands upon both plant and shipping facilities. It was carried out without any financial benefit beyond the payment of pre-war prices for the sugar involved. Since the office of sugar controller was established in October, 1939, the St. Lawrence Sugar Refineries have been subject to the regulations as to prices and materials which apply to all sugar refineries. The industry as a whole has given loyal cooperation to the government throughout the war, and it is to be regretted that any attempt should have been made from this house to create a contrary impression.
In the ways I have mentioned and in numerous other ways, Mr. McConnell, time and again, has demonstrated his whole-hearted devotion to Canada's war effort. In my opinion his readiness to place the interests of Canada ahead of his own business interests has not been surpassed by any citizen.
I notice also on page 1278 of Hansard that after an interjection by the hon. member for Weyburn, the hon. member for Letbridge said that he would be equally relieved to receive an absolute assurance from myself that Canada Packers had made no contribution to the Liberal party's campaign funds. All that I have said as to the insinuations, implications and innuendoes of the hon. member's reference to Mr. McConnell and the sugar refineries applies with equal emphasis to this part of the hon. member's remarks.