March 31, 1905 (10th Parliament, 1st Session)

CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. R. L. BORDEN (Carleton, Ont.).

Before the Orders of the Day are called, I wish once more to call to the attention of the House the quite unprecedented condition of affairs which exists at the present time. During many months we have not had in this House the presence of the Minister of Public Works (Mr. Sutherland). That gentleman is one of my personal friends, although we are opposed in politics, and no one regrets more than I do the unfortunate circumstance that illness prevents him from taking his place among us, and any remarks which I have to make with regard to violation of constitutional usage by the government are, of course, not connected in any way with that gentleman, because I would be very glad indeed to have him restored to us, to once more have his assistance in the House and to have him back at work in his department again.
But my right hon. friend seems to take for granted that he is at liberty, so long as he may see tit, to deprive parliament and the country of the services of a Minister of Public Works possessing the authority and invested with the responsibility which that position gives to him. I have looked a little into this question, which has arisen more than once in Great Britain, and I find that the rule there acted upon is not at all in accordance with that Mr. LAKE.
suggested by the right hon. gentleman. To cite just one instance, in 1871, action was taken in both Houses of parliament in regard to the absence of Mr. Childers, the First Lord of the Admiralty, during the early part of the session, on account of the state of his health, and within a month after his resignation took place. It has been asserted in this House, I do not know with what truth, that the Minister of Public Works some time ago placed his resignation in the hands of the right lion, gentleman, or at all events told him that his portfolio was at his service whenever the interests of the country required it. However that may be, I wish courteously to place on record a remonstrance against the continuance of this condition of affairs. I do not think there is any warrant for it under the constitution. Indeed, I do not think there is any warrant for it under the terms of the Order in Council which was discussed somewhat last session, and under which one minister of the Crown may under certain circumstances act for another minister of the Crown.
On another occasion, which is referred to by Mr. Todd in his work on constitutional government, Lord John Russell had accepted the seals of the Colonial Office, at a time when he was absent on a diplomatic mission in Vienna. Within two weeks after he had accepted the seals of office, the matter was brought to the attention of parliament, and again on two or three occasions subsequently, and was made the occasion of a grave criticism of the administration, which only ceased when he took his place in parliament on the 28th of April. Now, so far as my hon. friend the Minister of Public Works is concerned, he has been absent from his duties in parliament and from his duties in the department for a very long time ; and if there be any foundation for the rumour that he is ready to surrender the seals of office at a moment's notice, I do not know for what reason the right hon. gentleman proposes to carry on the business of the country in -the way in which it is carried on at the present time.
We have not only the case of the Minister of Public Works, but we have what seems to me a much more serious violation of constitutional usage in the conduct of the government with respect to the vacant portfolio of the Interior. I do not want to repeat to-day what has already been said in this House. I have asked the Prime Minister more than once for an explanation oi his extraordinary conduct in passing over that gentleman in introducing a very important measure, a most momentous measure, into this parliament without even having submitted the terms of perhaps its most important clause to that gentleman, although his return was daily expected. My right hon. friend has treated that very

lightly. He has treated also very lightly the circumstance that he also withheld the terms of that clause from the knowledge of his Minister of Finance, who certainly of all ministers of the Crown, should have been acquainted with the provisions of the measure. I might almost venture to say that the conduct of the Prime Minister, in bringing that Bill down while withholding from parliament the knowledge that those gentlemen had not approved of it, amounted to an insult to this parliament ; I think I might even go further, and_say that the right hon. gentleman, in taking that course, demeaned himself ; and not one word of explanation with regard to that very peculiar circumstance has fallen from the right hon. gentleman's lips from that day to this. Instead of that, we have had mere flippant replies or absolute silence when any explanation has been courteously demanded across the floor of this House. Moreover, we have had rumours, I do not know with what truth, but it is right that they should be stated and some answer made-we have had rumours from the press of the province of Quebec in close touch with this administration, and even direct statements, that the cause assigned to this parliament for the resignation of the Minister of the Interior was not the true cause. Further than that, a certain journal published in the province of Quebec with which a very devoted champion and warm and intimate personal friend of the Prime Minister is connected, has seen fit to make that statement in the form of a cartoon, which most of us have seen, but to which I will not make any further reference by way of description.

Topic:   ORDERS OF THE DAY.
Subtopic:   ABSENCE OF MINISTERS AND CABINET VACANCY.
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