March 1, 1905 (10th Parliament, 1st Session)


George Eulas Foster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Hon. GEO. E. FOSTER (North Toronto).

Mr. Speaker, I quite agree with the hon. gentleman, the retiring minister (Hon. Mr. Sifton) that this is not the time to undertake the discussion of the principles involved in the Bill. But, with the two statements which have been read and with the reading of the statements and the causes which make the reading of the statements necessary this afternoon, we alone have to deal and with these I shall deal for a moment with your kindly permission. It did not come as a matter of surprise to this side of the House that the Minister of the Interior should at some early period read liis letter of resignation, or give his reasons for resigning to this House, nor do I think it came as a matter of surprise to hon. gentlemen who are within the secrets of the party on the other side of the House. We all remember the peculiar circumstances under which this Bill appears to have been
framed and to have been rushed before the House. It did seem an odd and almost unexplainable thing that a Bill of such importance should be framed in the absence of two of the most responsible ministers in the House as regards the country and the scope of territory in which that Bill was to be operative, and having respect to the declaration of policy which I think a year or two ago was made in this House when, with some new idea of a division of ministerial responsibility, it was announced that certain ministers were to be held more or less accountable for the particular provinces or sections from which they came. This was exemplied in the case of the hon. Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Fisher) in his intermeddling with the militia matters of this country. During the last few weeks this important Bill has been framed and has been laid before the House in the absence of the hon. Minister of the Interior, who was especially charged with the supervision of and the responsibility for the Northwest Territories and the west generally. AVe were led to think that possibly the second chapter of what took place' on an almost similar line a year or two ago was being prepared for the House and the country. It is well known that at that time a most important railway Bill was conceived and formed and was almost, if not quite, presented to this House behind the back of the responsible Minister of Railways and Canals, whose office it should have been to have aided in the consideration and preparation of that Bill. We were of late led still more to suppose this from a remark which fell casually, but rather acridly, from the lips of the right hon. Prime Minister (Sir Wilfrid Laurier) himself, who, when, not long ago, asked about the time when we might expect the introduction of the Bill, gave as his answer that it would probably be introduced at a certain time, and when some inquiring mind of the many inquiring minds on this side of the House put the question to the right hon. Prime Minister as to whether the hon. the Minister of the Interior would be back by that time, the right hon. Prime Minister, as I say, rather sharply retorted that he did not know whether lie would or not, but that he, the Prime Minister, would be here. Taking all this with the history of this Bill into consideration it did not come as a surprise to this part of the House, and I doubt very much if it fell as much of a surprise upon hon. gentlemen on the other side of the House. But, it is a still stranger thing that the hon. Minister of the Interior, a most important member of the cabinet at any time and a specially important member of the cabinet as regards the conception and arrangement of this Bill, did not actually know, although it is supposed that telegraph wires stretch from here to almost all parts of the United States of America in some particular portion of which the hon.

Minister of the Interior has been for the past number of weeks, of the educational clauses of this Bill until after he had returned to this city and to this House when he obtained a copy of the clause. One would have thought that on the general theory of responsible government, of a cabinet acting unitedly, of a cabinet acting wisely, consulting with every unit of the cabinet, as, I think it is in duty bound to do, in order to secure the united wisdom of the whole of the cabinet, that the hon. Minister of the Interior would have been consulted with, not even by telegraph or letter does it seem that the hon. Minster of the Interior was apprised of the one prominent clause in the Bill in which it would be supposed naturally that he would be very much interested.
The excuse, the reason, is given to-day- and we are bound to take the reason in a parliamentary sense-that the hon. gentleman is retiring because he could not find it consistent with his principles to accede to that particular clause in the Autonomy Bill, but from what I have stated and from what we have seen, it would be easily inferred, I think, by any member of this House that there is a reasonable doubt as to whether or not that was the cause of the resignation, as to whether the deliberate actions of the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet heretofore have not made it quite abundantly apparent that it was the intention to get rid of the hon. gentleman whether he got out on this particular clause of the Bill or on some other. The Prime Minister has not quite satisfied the curiosity of the House. Outside of the information which was conveyed to us by the bulletin boards there are other rumours which are abroad in the corridors of this House, abroad on the streets of the city and, I dare say, are tingling the wires, which stretch from Ottawa to different parts of this country even now while we are speaking. And why? It is stated that another important minister, another important member of the cabinet of the right hon. gentleman, is deliberating as to whether he shall not follow in the tracks-no, I would not put it that way-but follow, at least, the example of the hon. the Minister of the Interior who has retired, in also expressing his formal and unqualified dissent from this Bill. There might be some reasons which would impose on us the idea that there is truth in that. I could hardly reconcile to my own mind the idea of a Prime Minister and a cabinet undertaking to frame and to put before the country so important a Bill as this, involving no trivial and unimportant financial burdens, but involving very onerous and continuous and growing financial burdens upon this country, I cannot, I say, understand how a Bill of that kind could be conceived, put into form and introduce'd into this House in the absence of the Minister of Finance, who is responsible, if any man in the cabinet is responsible, for the Mr. FOSTER.
financial interests of this country. Was he also altogether and entirely in the dark with reference to this Bill? Did he know the clauses, financial or otherwise, before he came back to Ottawa and ascertained what they were by asking for a copy of the Bill? Was there such an urgent necessity for the introduction of the Bill that a delay of at least two or three days could not have been given until both the-Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Finance should have had opportunity to meet their colleagues in Council and by word of mouth and interchange of ideas, see if an amicable and united conclusion could not be had? Now, we would be very loath to lose the Minister of Finance.

Full View