June 6, 1922 (14th Parliament, 1st Session)


Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Right Hon. ARTHUR MEIGHEN(Leader of the Opposition) :

Mr. Speaker, it has become the custom in this debate to make reference to a circumstances rare in our history, that of the same minister presenting to Parliament a sixteenth budget. I have not the least hesitation, indeed I join gladly in the tributes paid to the personal worth of the Finance Minister (Mr. Fielding). His standing as a citizen and as a public man is well recognized throughout our country. He has earned that place by an unusually long public service-by nearly fifty years of unwearied and assiduous toil.
I differ from him in the articles of his financial policy; the differences I have found in the past exist to-day. I cannot
The Budget

Mr. Meighen

congratulate him on his budget; I do not think that situated as he was he made the best of his circumstances. His budget speech was an eloquent contribution to debate, it was an interesting and mostly appropriate though superficial commentary on our trade and fiscal position; but it will be searched in vain for any full or useful analysis of our finances as a nation, for any examination of value into our trade history and our trade prospects. It is mostly in the nature of a newspaper commentary on the politics of the day.
There are features of our financial position that are not wholly encouraging. In the main, though, having regard to the accomplishments of this country in recent years, there is little of which to complain. It is true, as the Finance Minister stated, we have a debt of about $2,427,000,000. Our debt increased last year by, I think, $86,000,000, and the year before by $92,000,000. But not one other country has been cited that has succeeded after the ordeal of war in really reducing its obligations. If it is true that Great Britain has in a sense reduced, Great Britain's reduction is due merely to another method of
4 p.m. bookkeeping than that adopted here. Great Britain made her investments in war munitions and war materials; all were added to the debt, and what afterwards came to her credit by sale or otherwise appears as a reduction. In Canada, for the most part what would have appeared as a reduction never in the first place was incurred as a debt; consequently what appears there to be a reduction of debt has no such appearance here.
Last year the debt of Canada was increased by $86,000,000, but last year we paid out of our $381,000,000 of revenue all our ordinary expenditure, composed precisely as it has always been, and paid as well all the regular capital expenditure of this country, and paid as well some $9,000,000 under demobilization. We did this, and had a small surplus besides. The $86,000,000 is made up mainly of advances to the railway systems of this country and constitutes an obligation by them to the country-advances that took care of anterior obligations of those systems, mainly the Grand Trunk-and that found their way into capital investment in those systems, bringing them to that standard of efficiency where they are to-day. By virtue of such efficiency they render service to this country comparable with that rendered by any other system in the world. The re-

suits of those investments we are reaping in dividends of service every hour, and none are reaping them more rapidly or more clearly than those portions of our country in the far west into which those improvements and extensions have to a great extent gone. Those investments were essential; they comprised some $115,000,000 inclusive of equipment. Even some of those have been taken care of out of the year's expenditure, with the result that only $86,000,000 of an addition to the debt has been entailed. These facts are not wholly discouraging-by no means are they discouraging. We are past the stage where large investment for that purpose is necessary. We shall have some deficits to take care of, but as the years advance and as the abnormal expenditures that attach to the war and its aftermath cease, we shall be able to address ourselves to achieve reductions provided right policies are pursued.
The main feature of the budget presentation was that which had to do with fiscal policy. This debate falls into two divisions. There is, first, the question as to what is the sound fiscal policy for Canada; and, second, the question, in what character does the Government appear in presenting to the House such policy. These are distinct and separate subjects.
As to what is the true taxation and fiscal policy for this country, I do not think I need inform Parliament what my own opinions are. On at least two former occasions in budget debates I took occasion to make them as clear as I could in English words-in the session of 1921 and in the session of 1920. It became my duty as I saw it then to declare fidelity, continued fidelity, to a system of protection in this country, protection applied in moderate degree, within limits clearly defined in those addresses. I do not need on this occasion to go elaborately into that argument. I can rely pretty confidently, I think, throughout this Parliament oi my hon. friends opposite me supplying the arguments that it was necessary for me to supply in previous years. I can well recall how cold a reception my words received at their hands in the debate of a year ago and of two years ago, and I can remember how vociferously and how vigorously they applauded the speeches and the theories of the then small party of fourteen that sat in the seats now to my left. I could not help but contrast how feeble was the applause that similar language drew forth this year from hon. gentlemen opposite.

The Budget-Mr. Meighen
Indeed, I felt rather sorry for some members of the Progressive party and particularly, may I say, for the hon. lady member for Southeast Grey (Miss Mac-phail), when I recall utterances, similar to those they made this year, sounded in those two previous contests, and thought how if they had only been so fortunate as to have made on those occasions, the speeches that they made in this debate, they would have received as a meed of praise from the Liberal party those thunders of applause with which we were so familiar then.
Yes, I can leave for the present the defence of the cause of protection to hon. gentlemen opposite. Their policy is quite clear. It is embodied in the tariff they have presented to this House. It is the policy described in an election address by the hon. member for St. Antoine (Mr. Mitchell) as the very " same that we have pursued for forty-three years in Canada." It is the policy described by the present Minister of Justice (Sir Lomer Gouin) in many of his speeches as the policy pursued by the Laurier government and by all governments since 1878. That is the policy that they have advanced, and that is the policy for them to defend. There has not, indeed, in my judgment-and I say it with all deference to hon. gentlemen to my left-been any serious attack upon its soundness in this debate. There have been the usual charges advanced, there have been the usual appeals against monopoly, the usual sectional appeals, the usual assumption that this system is designed to oppress the many and to enrich the few; but there has not been much delving to the heart of the question in an endeavour to show that any other policy would give this Dominion a better or any chance in the commercial race of this world.
The hon. member for Brome (Mr. Mc-Master) endeavoured to argue by comparison. So far as I know, he was the lone sparrow across the floor who dared to say a word for the free trade principles of yore. He endeavoured to argue by comparison, and he described the results of the tariff impositions of certain countries of Europe. I do not think he got to anything larger than the Netherlands. He confined himself to very small countries, countries that by virtue of their geographical position, by virtue of their compactness, by virtue of their comparative absence of basic natural resources, are wholly different
from ours. But he did not give the whole facts regarding them. I mention only one, and the corresponding argument would apply to all. He gave us the revenue from customs of the Kingdom of Belgium, and its total importations, and he said: There is virtually a free trade country.

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