January 20, 1916 (12th Parliament, 6th Session)


Arthur Meighen (Solicitor General of Canada)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Hon. ARTHUR MEIGHEN (Solicitor General):

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Edmonton (Mr. Oliver) has been for most of his parliamentary career one of the most uncompromising fighters on the floor of this House; at all events, from the time he ceased to be a sturdy, independent pioneer from the West and became a member of the late Government, and extending, I think, to a period as far advanced as the time when the clouds of this war appeared in Europe. Uncompromising though he has been as a party warrior, and forceful though he has been as such, I say, and I say cheerfully, that his speech in the House yesterday and to-day did no discredit to his sense of duty now. It is either a fact or it is not a fact, that the character and tone of parliamentary discussion and of public discussion in general should be modified by the dangers and disasters that enthral us, and hang above us from Europe. I am glad that the hon. gentleman from Edmonton has ranged himself among those members of the Liberal party who agree that these considerations should have an effect,
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and he has demonstrated this by the character of the speech he has just delivered.
I noted with interest his closing sentence. He stated that to be unprepared was to invite attack, and that to be prepared was itself one-half the battle. May I be forgiven if I express regret that that sentiment did not seem to animate him more forcibly eighteen months ago.
I remember, however, a speech that the hon. member delivered on the 18th of November, 1912, shortly after his return from Europe. He then stood in his place in parliament and, in words of singular force and significance, warned this country and warned the Empire against the day of German aggression. The language he used on that occasion is language ot which he need not be ashamed. He pictured the peril under which our country lay as comparable only with the old Napoleonic days when Europe trembled under the rod of a colossus and when Bonaparte was encamped at Boulogne. I think he would have been a prouder man now if he had adhered to the convictions that animated him on that day, and if he had guided his conduct in conformity with those convictions, and had stood behind the preparations he urged on the 18th of November, had stood behind the character of preparations endorsed by both the Government of his own country, and the Government of the Empire.
However that may be, those days are' , passed and I am prepared to remember now that, behind the errors and the vagaries that we think have characterized his public life, there has ahvaj's appeared a firm foundation or background of British fidelity, exemplified, confirmed, and emphasized now by the fact, of which we are all proud, that two of his sons stand to-day enrolled as combatants under their country's flag.
I shall not undertake to comment as a member of the Government, on much of what the hon. member has said with regard to the conduct and equipment of the forces of Canada. An answer, in so far as an answer ca'n be given to the specific complaint he makes, having regard to Imperial interests, can be better made by some member of the Administration more closely in touch with our military forces. I am aware that there are regiments in Canada whose men and officers feel that they have been unwarrantably delayed. I have in mind the very regiment mentioned by the hon. member, the 66th of Edmonton, which I had the honour to see myself only a few weeks ago, and which, so far as I could judge, appeared

to be a regiment excellently well prepared. I know that they themselves would like, as many another, to be hurried more rapidly to the scene of conflict. But, we cannot forget tnat though complaint hds been laid against the Canadian authorities in thjs rega'rd, complaint in vastly greater volume has also been laid against the British authorities for the same thing, and we observe across the water men by the thousand, yes by the million, delayed month after month in England for one reason or _ another. I think it can be shown in Canada, as there, that the reasons that are behind.that delay are good and sufficient, -and, under the circumstances, unavoidable.
The hon. gentleman stated that the scale of pensions and the scale of allowances in Canada were inadequate, -and he urged upon the Government, not only the enlargement of that scale, dealing more liberally with the dependents of the soldiers who fight our battles, but also that the funds from which that support is given should be afforded by the Canadian Government, and that we ' should not rely on public subscriptions for that purpose. Now as to the first phase of his complaint, that the scale of pensions and allowances is too small for this country, I, have only to observe, as my information is, that the scale is the largest of all the twelve belligerent nations, that it is the most generous of them all. I observe this also, that the scale as fixed was laid on the table of this House some time before the close of last session, so that it was open to the observation and criticism of hon. gentlemen opposite, and the pages of Hansard will be searched in vain for a single question or a single criticism offered then. If hon. gentlemen thought that the scale whs too small, ' that was the time to say so. Of course, if they now feel that it should be enlarged, it is only their duty to point it out; it is a matter that should engage the attention of the Government, and doubtless will, ait the request of hon. gentlemen.
I was not present when the hon member for Edmonton (Mr. Oliver) referred yesterday to certain matters that particularly concern our part of the Dominion. However, I have had an opportunity of reading his remarks, and it may be worth while that I should make a little comment upon them. The hon. gentleman, in the opening part of his speech yesterday, called attention to the high ocean rates, which seem also to have disturbed the soul of the hon. member for St. John (Mr. Pugs-

ley). The hon. member for Edmonton complained that although provision had been made, through the joint action of this Government and the Imperial Government, for the carriage of munitions of war in commandeered vessels to. the Motherland, we had not pushed through the matter of procuring from the Imperial authorities the commandeering of vessels for the carriage of our wheat. It would doubtless be a considerable advantage-yes, an advantage amounting to millions of dollars

if by any action on our part, or by any action on the part of the Imperial authorities, we could have succeeded in reducing the rates on Canadian grain, and also on Canadian imports over the North Atlantic. But when the hon. gentleman complains that we should have insisted jupon the British Government commandeering vessels under their control for the purpose of carrying grain, so as to be consistent with our design in getting them to commandeer vessels for the carrying of munitions, he fails to observe that there is a very clear distinction betwe.en. the carriage of Canadian grain and the carriage of British Government munitions. It has been the policy of the Imperial Government, as 1 understand it-and I think the records throughout this war and previous to [DOT] this war will confirm what I state-to commandeer British vessels for the carriage of British Government supplies, for the carriage of Government property, and Government property only. They have never commandeered vessels for the carriage of private property. Whether they are right in taking that position, or whether they are wrong, it is, at all events, a matter over which we have no control. But il we are disposed to criticise, I venture to offer these observations to hon. gentlemen opposite, and, indeed, to members on troth sides of the House. I do not offer them as having been advanced directly by the Imperial authorities, for I would not be the one to receive them, but as observations that will appear clear to any one who desires to understand the situation. Were the British Government to commandeer their vessels for the carriage of Canadian grain, to be consistent, they would have to commandeer them also for the carriage of all other Canadian commodities-that would be only just to the Canadian people -and they would also be compelled to commandeer them for the carriage of all the commodities of all the dominions of the Empire. They could not deny to one what

they granted to another, and to undertake that would be a- very vast undertaking indeed. Ad all events, so far, it has not appeared to them to be their duty to do so. Furthermore, were they to undertake on, behalf of the dominions of the Empire to commandeer vessels of British register, would it be any more than consistent to commandeer them for the carriage of private property belonging to or addressed to the-British people. What would apply to one portion of the Empire would apply to all portions. I might go beyond that. Were the British Government constrained to utilize the sea power which has given them control of the waters of the globe and enabled them to protect shipping the world over, and enabled them also to commandeer vesels at their will-were they to utilize that sea power for the benefit of their own commerce, as opposed to the commerce of their Allies, it is not inconceivable that just complaint might arise. I shall proceed no further along that line, but I think I have suggested considerations which every one must think out for himself if he feels in any way constrained1 to complain of the treatment accorded to Canadian commodities in their passage over the Atlantic. It is of course too obvious to require expression that it is beyond the power, of the Government of Canada to exercise a commandeering power over vessels bn the North Atlantic.

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