January 28, 1916 (12th Parliament, 6th Session)


John Hampden Burnham

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. J. H. BURNHAM (East Peterborough) :

Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to detain the House farther than to make a protest in the name of the young men of the country, and, if I may so presume, of the people generally, against the conduct of the members of this House who are endeavouring to stir up party acerbity, party hatred, and all the contemptible politics which attach themselves to the prejudices of party politicians, especially at this time.
I am shocked, Mr. Speaker, indeed, I am terrified, to find this Hou-se being turned into a political shambles. I do not purpose to excite further controversy by saying which side is to blame; I leave it to an impartial public to judge when they have understood thoroughly how this debate was begun, -and how it has been carried on. Some time ago I noticed that there was gradually arising in the party press a feeling of disturbance which boded no good to this young country at this crisis in this historic struggle. For a time such papers as the Hlobe maintained their mental equilibrium. They protested against the idea of an election, and everybody that I know joined them in the hue and cry to stop those people who would sacrifice the

well-being of the country for the spoils of office, or even the remote prospect of them.
Now, however, I find the scer^e is transformed. I came to this House filled with the ardour of the men from the country who have been working with their political foes, shoulder to shoulder, in a united spirit, harmonious, strong. We had forgotten the question of politics; we were not thinking of politics; we were thinking of conquering the Germans, of standing true to Canada and to Canadian manhood now sacrificing itself so nobly in the trenches. We find the women of Canada working might and main. They have dropped their tea-tattle gossip for a time; . they have ceased to transport even with the charm of dress; they have got down, if I may use the phrase, to their knitting, and are working hard, night and day, for the purpose of providing comforts for the men at the front. Speaking more particularaly for my own constituents and the district I represent, I was amazed, charmed, delighted and elevated in spirit by the unanimity of feeling and of thought prevalent in that district-. 1 was more than charmed to find, not that it was rent in twain, not that it was being disturbed, not that it was being poisoned, but that it was [DOT] growing in strength and beauty from- day to day. I had to come to Ottawa to le.arn that the whole business was a fraud. I had to come to .this House to find that the poison which would destroy the life of this country was being distilled in this very Chamber. I turned in amazement to look at the record, and I found the noble words of the right hon .the leader of the Opposition (Sir Wilfrid Laurier), which should have given the keynote to the whole discussion and the future conduct of the members of .this House. In that short war session which followed the declaration of hostilities he said:
This session has been called for the purpose of giving the authority of Parliament and the sanction of law to such measures as have already been taken by the Government, and any further measures that may be needed, to insure the defence of Canada and to give what aid may be in our power to the Mother Country in the stupendous struggle which now confronts her. Speaking for those who sit around me, speaking for the wide constituencies which we represent in this House, I hasten to say that to all these measures we are prepared to give immediate assent. If in what has been done or in what remains to be done there may be anything which in our judgment should not be done, or should ba differently done, we raise no question, we take no exception, we offer no criticism, and we

shall offer no criticism so long as there is danger at the front.
That statement thrilled Canada. It also assured to the Government the steady and honest support, as one might reasonably suppose, of the Opposition. But whatever has got into them I am sure I do not know. It seems all to have turned .to poison, and now even the journals at large are attacking the individual members of this House. Even the hon. member for South Renfrew (Mr. Graham), a man who, I believe, devotes himself heart and soul with a single mind to the advancement of this country, is treated dike a common felon. On February 8, 1915, we find in Hansard these remarakable words of the right hon. the leader of the Opposition:
Let. me say at once that we who sit on this side of the House, and who represent His Majesty's loyal Opposition, took our course at the outset of hostilities when we declared that we would support the Government in their war policy.
Then, a little farther on:
But whilst we are prepared to believe, as indeed we do believe, that mistakes have been made in the manner in which the money has been expended, that errors of judgment have been committed, of those mistake's and of those errors of judgment we are not disposed to be critical. .
It would be hardly possible to expect that in the case- of the expenditures of some fifty million dollars no mistakes would arise; n is perhaps more than we can expect from human nature; but we cannot close our eyes to the fact that not only have mistakes been made, but frauds have been committed which have resulted in injury to the health of our troops, and impairment of _ their efficiency. These frauds have been regarded as so gross and so criminal that the Minister of Militia himself, not more than two or three weeks ago, stated, not once but three or four times at different places in the country, that if he knew the nian who supplied the boots, which have been the cause of so much disease, and sickness, and suffering to our soldiers on the Plains of Salisbury, that man would deserve to be shot. The honour of the minister is at stake, and so is the credit of the country. It; is not impossible to discover the responsible parties. Up to the present the minister [DOT] is responsible, and it is for him to take the necessary measures to vindicate himself. We have been told that a commission of three members has Iron appointed by the Government to investigate this particular matter, and not later than ten or twelve days ago it was stated that the minister himself, not satisfied with this inquiry, had instituted a departmental investigation to ascertain the true facts. I do not know if this is all that is intended to be done by the Government; but let me say that the fullest light should be thrown upon' th's matter, so that the people of Canada, may know where the responsibility lies. No member on this side of the House intends to be critical, and for my part I certainly have no
such intention; but assuredly we are all gravely concerned that the health and comfort of those brave men who are risking their lives in the cause of the Empire shall have every protection that we can afford.
We have there the very .best keynote to the proper conduct of an Opposition, or, indeed, to the conduct of the people of this country in general. But we have witnessed, during this past week, an extraordinary transformation. The hon. member for St. John (Mr. Pugsley), skilful and serene as he is, has not hesitated to lay a train that would destroy the Government by a terrible explosion if he could so arrange it. He has been followed by the hon. member for Carleton, N.B. (Mr. Carvell), who in turn has mlatrshalled all the vitriolic sarcasm amd invective he could possibly think of, and has blown it, like the German gas, at the Government side, in order, if possible, to asphyxiate them before they could arise in in their own defence. Then, we, have a Daniel come to judgment in the person of the hon. member for North Cape Breton (Mr. McKenzie), who, with all due respect,
Sir, did himself little credit in an hour's speech that really would not have done credit to a child in the nursery. I listened patiently for one solitary noble thought, knd really it was an extraordinary performance when you think of it. He said:
I realize that in rising in my turn to address the House I am taking a great responsibility, although that respons bility may not be of my seeking.
Who, then, is responsible? Certainly he did not sound as if he were at all responsible. But when I quote his words I ask; Who, then, is to Re considered responsible? The leader of the Opposition had turned in his seat and was listening to him and looking at him with amazement. Nevertheless, the hon. gentleman contrived to say things ' that in no way could be considered as decent, let alone conciliatory.
But I do charge,- he says,

in the presence of the Prime Minister, who !is a Nova Scotian of whom we are proud, that in the county of Halifax, where I hold him responsible for the patronage, the vilest sort of Ipartisans are put at the head of battalions,
*in the highest positions that they can be given.
No proof is offered, and what time, pray, is this for proof? Is this not a debate on the Address in reply to the gracious speech from the Throne? Every suggestion is connected with an investigation.. Who has denied that there may be an investigation? Who has pretended that he will set aside the rules of the House and that whatever

may be done, or may have been done, shall not be referred to the committees that are constituted for the purpose of investigating? Nobody. Not a single soul has said: H there are frauds or shortcomings, if there 'has been misspent money, the thing shall not be investigated- That is not denied at all. No one pretends for a moment that "these things will ndt be investigated. The *cold fact is that for some reason, that used ito be occult but that is no longer so, the 'Opposition are bound to get this stuff before the country. What their purpose is the country is beginning to divine; and the Lord help them when the country gets hold of them! Then this Daniel come to judgment says further on:
But the government of which he is a member,-
He refers to my hpn. friend the Minister of Militia and Defence (Sir Sam Hughes), a man who surely has borne the burden and heat of the day, a man who has been able to gather together nearly 250,000 Canadians who hardly knew the meaning of war before, who has despatched them to the front, who lias provided them with such materials of war that, coine what may, bad as some of it may have been, they nevertheless have been able with it to do themselves and the Empire the greatest possible credit. Is there, in these speeches, one word of commendation from beginning to end? None. These gentlemen are not large-hearted enough to give a member of the Government credit for one single good act. Are we to understand that all that has been done is as nothing, and that some little trifling charge, which may or may not be true, and wlhich yet, in the words of the leader of the Opposition, may, in the weakness of human nature, be to some extent true, is to be a ground for condemnation? Is it possible that the Minister of Militia and Defence, that the Minister of Finance <Sir Thomas White), that the balance-wheel of this Dominion, the riglht hon. Prime Minister himself (Sir Robert Borden) are not to be given any credit whatever? It seems almost as if jealousy, envy, hatred, and all uncharitableness have taken possession of the back benches of the Opposition to the exclusion of the last ray of common sense or pity. You will not find throughout the country any such spirit. Why, the", pray, should it be found here? I am terrified that the people in the constituencies, thinking that some colossal crime has been committed by the Government, may turn their attention, not to the
tMr. Burnham.]
things of war, to which they are devoting their thoughts at the present time, but (gainst each other, and that Canada will be irretrievably ruined. If this ruin should befall iher, who is there who will deny that the cause will lie at the door of a recreant Opposition?
But the Government of which he is a mcm-iber,-
says the hon. member for North Cape Breton, referring to the Minister of Militiahimself and the whole outfit,-*
That is a patriotic reference, surely !
-if I may use the expression, will learn, not 'many days hence, that there is a people in this country and that it is the people that speak.
Why these- promiscuous and repeated threats of an appeal to the people? For what purpose are we to be threatened with an election in the very midst of a war which, gives no sign of a settlement, and which will strain our resources and energies to their utmost? This conduct is without parallel on this earth. In no other country will you meet people so utterly devoid of patriotism as to seek to make .political party capital at the expense of the good name of their country. A little further on this gentleman says:
I said, Mr. Speaker, that I was going to put to you, in the form of a few questions, certain propositions that came before the Minister of Militia and DefenCe in regard to the running of his department. After he had received the warning which I read a moment ago he was asked by his party heelers: " Can we send the soldiers to the trenches with improperly made shoes, practically with paper shoes, and with bare feet?" The answer was: " So far as the department is concerned, yes if you can make money out of it, and can conceal it, I have no objection."
What could have induced any respectable man to utter such a sentiment as that in this House of Commons of Canada, where he is supposed to represent a portion of the people? Throughout what may, perhaps, in a spirit of extravagance, be dignified as that speech, we . find the same thing from beginning to end. Not a word of commendation or a word of credit, but everything that is calculated to infuriate the Government side of the House ahd have the effect, if possible, of turning this House into a seething cauldron of riot and discontent, to be paralleled possibly only by the naval debate of a few years ago, when the people at large got the idea that we had suddenly turned this House into a raving lunatio asylum.

I wish to warn these gentlemen. The Grain Growers' Guide says:
There are too many men in the front rank of the Liberal party of Canada to-day who have absolutely no conception of the true principles of liberalism and democracy.
For once I agree with a western man. Again, I find in glaring type on the front page of the Citizen this morning, " Election talk being revived." My heart sinks within me.

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