March 19, 1918 (13th Parliament, 1st Session)


Wilfrid Laurier (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Laurier Liberal


The records do not always show that the operation was successful. Indeed it so happens that in many instances the patient was so far ' gone that he could not be saved except by the sacrifice of another's blood, and sometimes the sacrifice was fatal even to the saviour who offered his blood for transfusion.
Lett me say at once that to these Liberal members who joined the Administration, I do not wish such a fate. With most of them it was my privilege for many years to be closely associated in intimate friendship. I know them too well not to realize that in what they did they were guided by wholly conscientious motives- Indeed wehave the declaration of some of them that it was a .sacrifice; indeed there is the written statement of others that they for a long time hesitated and resisted all advances. Conscience is the supreme arbiter, and into the sanctity of conscience I will not enter. I respect the convictions of everybody, even of those with whom for the time being I may differ; but I may be pardoned if I say that so far a.s I am concerned I never could .appreciate those many subtle disquisitions made in the effort to convince us that war necessitates and creates new standards of duty. There is no such thing as new standards of duty in war. Duty is only the concrete expression of eternal truth which never can vary: which remain the same in war as in peace. But war undoubtedly intensifies all duties and lifts' them up to an

altitude which of course is unknown in peace times.
As I look at the history of this war it seems to me that nothing has occurred to show that the principles of the British [DOT]system of constitutional Government should be discarded in war time, and put in cold storage, to he taken hack after the restoration of peace. None of the many attempts which have been made in England to join discordant elements under the name of Union on the ground that the winning of the war would thus be facilitated, have succeeded in creating a Government which could do better or more than its predecessor. If the principles of the British system of Government are sound land efficient In peace, they are equally .sound and efficient in war. If there is a feature of the British system of Government which makes for superiority, it is that the system is not complete unless there is in the face of the Government a strongly organized Opposition-an Opposition organized not for the purpose, .as is too often supposed, of always opposing, tout to supervise, to criticise, to support, as the public welfare may require criticism or support. Eternal vigilance .is the price of liberty, and the universal testimony of history is that unless there is eternal vigii-anoe on the part of a strong and resolute Opposition, encroachments upon freedom and abuses in office will creep in, just as surely and just as certainly as weeds and tares will invade and choke the crops of the husbandman if he is not constantly on the watch. Nay, .more; I think I can invoke also the testimony of the history of British institutions to show that if at any time there is on the part of some section of the Opposition a relaxation irrvigil-ance, weeds and tares at once appear in luxurious growth. Already we have evidence of this, and the evidence is that today this Parliament of Canada meets in violation of what is left of the electoral law of Canada.
Sir, last session those who sat in the House were divided on the question of conscription. There were members of the Liberal party who favoured conscription; others opposed it. Upon this point I as the recognized leader o.f the Opposition, did -not interfere with the conscience of any man. Strong reasons were brought forward in support of each view, hut there was no divergence of opinion on this side with regard to the outrageous measure; known as the War-time Elections Act, or,
to call it toy (its popular name-or unpopular name, rather-the FranchiseAct. Among members of the Opposition there was no divergence of
opinion; they were unanimously opposed to it. Every' feature of that law was an outrage, an odious violation of the very foundation of our system of democratic government. The creating of a special electorate in view of an impending election; the granting of the franchise to some and the withholding of it from others; the opening wide of the door to fraud which enabled the Government or its officers to ostracize some classes of His Majesty's subjects .and to include others whom they did not dare ignore -all these were features of the Act which could not be accepted by any who desired to uphold the principles of Liberalism. The measure was accepted by Liberal members who entered the Government under the argument of war necessity. Nothing, .Sir, is more certain than that one illegality will *lead to another; that, as .a logical consequence, wrong will be followed by wrong. I repeat that this Parliament is .assembled in direct violation of what is left of the electoral law after the passing of the War-time Elections Act.
Last year we passed legislation to take the votes of the soldiers who were in the trenches. We had .a civilian vote as well as a military vote to record. So far as the civilian vote was concerned, there was not much alteration in the Act. The only alteration of which I was aware was that section 211, which prescribed the duties of .the returning officer under the old Act, was somewhat interfered with. I need not refer Icon, gentlemen to the fact that under our system all elections are carried out under the writ of the King, which is issued to officers specially selected in every riding to take the vote of the people and to report it to an officer known as the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery. Section 211 provides that after the votes have been counted the returning officer will transmit to the Clerk of tiie Crown in Chancery his return that the candidate having the largest number o-f votes has been duly elected. It is the duty, therefore, of the returning officer to count the votes .and then to make his return that the man having the .majority of votes is the elected representative. That portion of the Act was amended to this extent: The return to be .made is not a direct return; a certificate is to be issued by the special returning officer to an officer krown as the general returning officer, stating the number of votes received on each side. The Act

which was passed last session for the taking of the soldiers' vote provided that the vote should be taken in a certain manner-I need not direct attention to the method at the present time-'and, the special officers appointed to count them were required to report their proceedings to the Secretary of the High Commissioner's office in London and to the Comnniiisisiaire General in Prance, who were required to send at once a telegraphic report to the general returning officer, and to forward the poll books and all records connected with the taking of the vote. Two duties, therefore, were imposed upon the Commisisaire in France and the Secretary of the High Commissioner's office in London: to send a communication by telegraph to the general returning officer, and to forward at the same time the poll books and the records.
The duties of the general returning officer in this connection are defined in section 14 of the War-Time Elections Act:
Upon receipt of my telegram from the Secretary of the High Commisioner's Office, or the Commissaire General du Canada in France stating the number of votes given for the several candidates in any electoral district, the General Returning Officer shall cause the information therein contained to he made available to any person applying therefor.
That is all the effect which is given to this communication by telegraph. The information may be given to any person who asks for it- It has no more effect than thait. It is not official. It is simply to Satisfy the curiosity of anybody who may inquire.
Then when he has received the poll books and records and all the documents relating to the counting of the votes taken in Europe these are his duties.
Upon receipt from the Secretary of the High Commissioner's Office the Commissaire Gfe&ral du Canada in France and the special Returning Officers in Canada of the statements referred to in Section 12 subsection four of this part.
That is to say, the poll books and other records.
The General Returning Officer shall add the number of votes given for or applicable to the respective candidates in each electoral district, as disclosed by such statements, to the votes given for the candidates as shown by the certificate of the Returning Officer made pursuant to section 13 of this Part, and shall openly proclaim and shall return pursuant to the provisions of section 211 of Part III, as being duly elected a member or members to represent such electoral district
That is what completes the report upon the King's writ. The General Returning Officer was bound to count the votes in public, and to make his report accordingly.
and then the election was complete. Have these formalities been complied with by the General Returning Officer? They have not been complied with, and the reason why they have not been complied with is simply this-and my asssertion cannot be successfully controverted-that at this moment the General Returning Officer has not received from Europe the records of the votes given by the soldiers in Europe. I will come presently to the reason why these formalities have not been complied with. But I may be told before I go further: This is a simple formiality; it does not matter much whether the candidates for membership in this House- are reported upon by telegraphic communication or whether they are solemnly reported upon when the records are received; the certification is simply a formality. If it is simply a formality, why do we have it in the Statute? Personally, I am not very particular as to non-compliance with the strict letter of the law when such non-compliance does not defeat the purpose of the men who arc- responsible for the law; but it is a good principle of law, common sense, fairness, that no man shall be permitted to disregard the law in orfler to shield or to conceal or to get rid of his own laches. This, however, is exactly what has been done to-day by the Government. Why is it tfaat there 'are laches on the part of the Government? If the writs had been Issued immediately after dissolution, the records would have been received before now; but Parliament prorogued on the 20th of September last and Parliament was not dissolved and the writs of election were not issued until the first days of November. Some five weeks passed before the writs were issued and before the people were summoned to the election. Why was not Parliament immediately dissolved? Could any reason of public welfare he invoked? Could any reason he given for it? I speak with knowledge, and no one will contradict me- the reason why Parliament was not dissolved immediately after prorogation was because the Government were not ready and they had not time to organize the working of the War-time Elections Act. On account of the Government having waited until the month of November to issue the writs, to-day, the 19th of March, the records of the voting that took place in Europe have not been received. How is it, then, that we have in the Votes and Proceedings a list of the members elected? If we have this list of members elected, it is not in accordance with the law. How then is it we have it? How is it that the returning

to win the election? Here is a fact which has not yet been explained, but which will require some explanation. It seems to me it will be exceedingly difficult to . explain how it is possible that the number of soldiers should have increased in less than one month from 35,000 to 54,000. Now, what of the soldiers in Europe. I will refer to these soldiers in Europe, dealing with what has come to our notice in the press. I have in my hand a picture which published in all the ministerial papers in the month of December, 1917. It is a photograph of a polling booth for soldiers in London. The copy which I have was taken from the Toronto Star of the 19th December, and under this cartoon I find the following :
The picture shows Canadians at a London polling station on December 2nd, and is from the first pictures to reach Toronto since the voting began on December 1st.
There is the recording officer. There is the voting soldier. There .are the clerks; there are soldiers coming also to offer their votes, and on the wall is this placard "A vote against the Government is a vote for the Hun."
We have seen that in Canada, Sir but not in the polls. We have.
seen it placarded in the streets of the city of Ottawa, that a vote against the Government is -a vote for the Hun, We have seen more in the city of Ottawa. We have seen the statement made that a vote for Union is a vote for Christ. Tf the law can be thus openly, and even boastfully, violated, in the polls in England1, then we can have an idea of the opportunity which was left to the soldier to cast his vote untrammelled. In the face of all these circumstances, is it not evident to all classes of the community, to all impartial men-* whether they are on the side of the Government or on the side of the Opposition, or whether they form part of that larger body, which associates with no party, and which is, perhaps, in the last resort, the grandeur of the nation -that the verdict .recorded on the 17th December for the Government is not a victory for democracy, but rather that it is a blow to the very foundation of the system of free institutions under which we live. If democracy is to produce all that we hope and expect for it and from it, it must be apparent to everybody, it must 'be in the * breast of every unan that every consultation with the people ought to be carried out in such ian open manner that every man must be satisfied that the vote recorded is >an ex-
pression of the 'majority of .the people. Not, Sir, that the .majority of the people is always right. Majorities are wrong .sometimes, and so are minorities. But, after all, under our constitutional system, whether we sit on one .side of 'the House or on the other, what we want is that the Government of the country .should be carried on by representatives of the majority of the people, .according to the opinion of the people as it exists in this country.
Here are some of m,y friends on the side of the minority. It matters not whether we are on the right side or on the left side of your chair, Sir, what we want is that the voice of the people should be heard, and, even though we are in a minority, at all events that the .people .should rule. But, Sir, in regard to. the verdict which was recorded on the 17th December, .and which I .see represented before me to-day, boweveT respectable the representation may ibe, no amount of sophistry, no loud clanking o.f sonorous numbers can give it the character of certainty and respectability, which ought to 'be the concomitant and the result of right done. It is the misfortune of the Government and the misfortune of the country, but it is still .more the misfortune of the Government that, 'by their own conduct, they have failed to obtain moral support with their majority; .they have failed to win an honest victory, and failed to obtain that ' support which is the one support a government should have, if the battle bad been fought by fair and honest methods.
. As to the members on this side of the House, we Liberals sitting here-what is left of us .after these vicious practices-what is to be our attitude? Sir, so far as I am concerned, and so far -as my friends about me are concerned, the answer is easy. Liberals, -democrats, 1-aw-abi-d-ing citizens, w-e went into this fight. Liberals, democrats and law-abiding citizens we come back from the figh-t. We come back depleted in number. In number we are not -as .strong as we were, but we are stronger before the people, because we fought an honest fight according to our own views.
What shall be our attitude? Sir, I have only this to say, that the laches of the Government will in no way affect our conception of the duty which we owe to our country. We have our views upon the questions which are now before -the Canadian people. We stood behind the Government in all of their war measures except one, -and we will parry on the same policy; we will be behind them- in all their war measures, with the same reservation.

Sif, when the policy of conscription was introduced last session, it seemed to me that, if the object of the Government was Teally to assist in winning the war, they were singularly blind as to the condition of the country whose affairs it was their duty to administer. We divided, as I have said, upon this question. I challenge no man's conscience; I respect everybody's views upon, this question. But now, Sir, that the fight has been fought, now that the smoke of battle has cleared away, now that the 'Government are in the saddle -no matter by what methods-in the face of what has taken place, in the face of what is taking place every day, I ask the Government if they will not question their own methods, and if they still /believe that the 'policy that was adopted by them is the surest way of helping to win the war. I think the views of the 'Government changed on that question when they passed in December last an Order in Council to which it is now the duty to call the attention of the House. On the third of December last the following Order in Council was passed:
His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Laird Borden, the Prime Minister, and under and in virtue of the provisions of The Military Service Act, is pleased to order and it is hereby ordered that in any case where a person engaged in agriculture has applied' for exemption and' such exemption has been refused'-
M'ark those words " and such exemption has been refused "
-the Minister of Militia and Defence, if he is of the opinion that the services of such person are essential for promoting agricultural production .may, by order under his hand, dis-. charge such person from military service.
'In the Act passed last session it was provided that conscription was to he universal, that the Government should not interfere, that judges should be appointed for the purpose of determining who, and who alone, should be exempted. Yet here is an Order in Council, whereby a minister of the Crown is empowered to discharge .any farmer or any one engaged in agriculture if, in the minister's opinion, it is believed that his services would be better upon the farm than in the ranks. Well, Sir, if such be the case, why was this Order made, I want to know? Why was it made during the election?
Some hon.. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.

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