February 19, 1923 (14th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

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

We have had a debate
lasting almost an entire afternoon on a question that affects the whole Dominion, that affects vitally the principle of representation in this federal parliament, a question that has been the subject of discussion within and without parliament for years. The decision of the House on this resolution constitutes thereon the mandate of the House of Commons of this country. We have had various speeches in support of it from the party in parliament which openly and frankly favours the principle of proportional representation. We have had four or five speakers against it from the Liberal-Conservative party, and we have no expression of opinion from the government as to whether they favour or whether they oppose it, as to whether they have in mind an amendment; not one of them has told us what their policy is, or whether they have a policy at all. I venture to say that never before in the history of our parliament-at least never before this government came into office,-has a parallel to such a thing been found. The government is silent, impotent, bloodless, without information, without judgment on the question. It is apparently allowing the matter to run at large, not only giving no heed to it in parliament, but giving no intimation as to where it stands.
I am prepared to admit that there may be questions propounded by a private member in respect of which it is not the duty of government to lead parliament, not the duty of government first to state its position. Government in respect of all questions has ample opportunity in advance to review these questions and to prepare to assume the function that belongs to an administration. There may be some questions in respect to which it does not need to take any special view, a question for example that is local in its application, a question that does not go to the

Proportional Representation
root of any dominion method of electing parliament, a question that is not Dominionwide. In respect to such a matter as that it may be quite competent for the administration-and I suggest that the fewer of those the government admits the better-to leave as one at large, and to say, as the hon. leader of the House to-day said in respect to the last resolution: "Some members of the government may vote one way and some another, and some supporters of the government may vote one way and some another." But I do think that when a subject of the magnitude of proportional representation comes up, going to the very root of the whole electoral system of this country, it is the duty of the government to take a stand and say what attitude it takes with regard to a resolution which decides that question. If this were merely a resolution to appoint a committee to review the subject, that would be entirely different. Then the time for the government to take its stand would be when the issue may come before parliament after the report of that committee. But when this resolution is decided, there is the mandate of this parliament; there is decision, the stand this parliament takes, and we are asked now to go to a vote upon this question without any word from the government at all. Such a course does not indicate very much strength or self-reliance on the part of the administration.
It is true that in the Liberal platform which was passed in August, 1919, a platform they do not like to be reminded of any oftener than cannot be avoided, the Liberal party committed itself to the principle of proportional representation. If we are to assume that such action constitutes the government's position, please let us be told so, and then the government can thereafter take refuge in silence. But because a pledge on this subject appears in the record of that convention, I always take such fact as a presumption that now the government is on the other side. The presumption is that way. Of course such presumption is capable of rebuttal; the government has it within its power to say: "On this, for an exception, we are in the position we were in at the 1919 convention." But until it does that, the presumption is that the government is to-day precisely the other way. At all events, the resolution passed in 1919 said only that the Liberal party favoured the "principle" of proportional representation. Another presumption therefore which we would be quite justified in drawing from the experience of the last two years would be that while they, the government, favoured the principle, it was utterly opposed to the practice. That is precisely where they stand on the question of free trade. They favour the principle of it; they love it as an ideal; but as a matter of practice they are in direct antagonism to it. Consequently, there is no reason for drawing a conclusion that because there is a statement of principle here, the government either favours that principle to-day, or if it favours it, favours its being put into actual effect.
On motions of this kind, motions of a nation-wide character and effect such as this, it is the duty of the government to state its position, and really it is not incumbent upon the opposition in parliament to take a stand as an opposition until the government has first taken its stand as a government. Such has invariably been the attitude-nor did I ever criticise it-of hon. gentlemen opposite when they sat in the opposition in this House, and as a member and as a leader of a government, I took no exception at any time to that attitude. Nor did we ever shrink from stating our position when the time came, when there was before parliament something, the decision on which was to constitute the mandate of this House. Such a course, however, is in keeping with the quality of spirit and courage shown by the administration since it came into power.
But without waiting for the government's view, I do not refuse to state my own. I am opposed to the resolution. I find myself in substantial accord with the hon. member for North Winnipeg (Mr. McMurray). Whether he takes this as a compliment or not, I find myself pretty much in accord with the arguments he advances in defence of his position.
Hon. gentlemen to my left seem to feel that it is a matter of revelry, if anything in the way way of a contention is advanced against proportional representation. The hon. member for Brome (Mr. McMaster) stood in his majesty in this House and declared that he always knew the pathway of progress as soon as he knew which way the opposition in this House was tending; he knew that the opposite would be the road of progress, and I am sorry to have to say, because I do not think this was worthy of hon. gentlemen to my left, they received that absurd statement with considerable applause. Let me trace back for a few years the legislative record of this parliament, and I venture to think that hon. gentlemen who applauded the statement of the member for Brome will attribute their momentary applause to the influence of hereditary Liberal associations rather than to the sway of reason. What have been the main questions before

Proportional Representation
this parliament in recent yearn? What have been the big new problems with which this parliament has been confronted? What have been the attitudes, the positions of the parties in relation thereto? One of the big problems was the question of the nationalization of our railways. That was forced upon this House by anterior policies that, I venture to suggest, even the hon. member for Brome will not stand and say were distinguished by sane much less by progressive attributes.

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