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


Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)


Mr. Speaker, when six o'clock arrived I was in the middle of a review of some of the policies of this country that have so stood the test of time, indeed, that have so enamoured their original enemies as to be finally accepted by them. Even then I had not mentioned some of the most outstanding. There are hon. members of this House of all parties who can remember the historic struggle over the building of the Canadian Pacific railway-a policy that put the life blood of trade into confederation and made a political union an organic union; a policy that had to be pressed against the bitterest opposition, certainly the ablest opposition that this or any parliament in Canada has ever known. But it exemplified surely progressive government. There was an instance of courage and of aggressiveness and it does not stand to the credit of the Liberal party. The hon. member for Brome would not likely give the respective attitudes of the two parties on that subject as an illustration of his theory that the Conservative party of Canada has been reactionary and his own progressive. There is nothing so delusive 13 names; nomenclature deceives unguarded minds, and I put the hon. member for Brome on warning in that regard.
But we do not need to stop there. The very shortest memory carries to the controversy over civil service reform in this country. I know that a measure of reform was achieved under the Laurier government, but I know that in its working out it proved a most contracted and ineffective piece of legislation. To suggest that it abolished patronage or removed it from the control of political parties is merely to suggest something that sounds monstrous to memory and reason. The big step, the abolition of patronage, was taken in opposition to hon. gentlemen opposite-at least, when they were in opposition; for to be absolutely fair it could not be said that they resisted it as a party in opposition. They were most critical. But it is easy to be
brave in that regard in opposition. Hon. gentlemen opposite have been quite ready to agree that, subject to their terms, political patronage shall be removed from the other political party when in power but they have shown distinct evidence of late that they are not at all prepared to have it removed from themselves.
And indeed, one does not need to stop there. The exigencies of the last ten years demanded more in the way of progressive policies than did all the previous history of confederation. There came an exigency in the marketing conditions of the world that demanded action in 1919. The government of the day took action. The government of the day took its life in its hands so far as western Canada was concerned and established a wheat board-a wheat board that operated, a wheat board that in the course of its existence, by its mere success, converted or destroyed its enemies. And who were its enemies? Its enemies were all in the party that sits opposite now. Oh, I well remember-and this will be illuminating, I know it will be interesting, to some hon. gentlemen of this House-I well remember how, when that course was taken, hon. gentlemen opposite, some of them not in the House today,-translated to the Senate-stood on this side and denounced us as having established that board to help our rich friends the millers. I was portrayed, because of the wheat board legislation, as an ally of the big interests; and the eloquence of the former member for Kent will ring through this hall for many a day in which he depicted me as the tool and minion of the rich, establishing a wheat board to crush the farmer in order to benefit the milling interests. Such was the character of. opposition we met with to progressive legislation, and the same opposition continued throughout the life of the wheat board. It ceased only when the wheat board ceased. And we had the progressive style of hon. gentlemen opposite well illustrated in the wheat board legislation of last session, wheat board legislation that has stood a dead letter ever since, that never " progressed " so far as to get into operation. The progressiveness of the respective wheat board bills well illustrates the progressiveness of the two sides of this House.
So much for that; it is a digression forced upon me by the hon. member for Brome, but I apprehend I have given him illustrations enough-and I witness now at last the smile of approval on his face.
Coming to this resolution, I stated that my opposition was founded in part on reasons expressed by the hon. member for North

Proportional Representation
Winnipeg (Mr. McMurray). I cannot say that I have given the closest attention to the discussions in other countries as well as in our own on this principle, but I have given them some attention and I have given pretty close attention to the working out of the principle of proportional representation in Canada, in our municipal and provincial fields.
One of the reasons advanced by the hon. member for Winnipeg, and strongly urged on this side of the House before he spoke, strongly urged in a very logical address from the hon. member for Vancouver South (Mr. Ladner), was this: that proportional representation is a method of election that tends to the fostering, at all events to the continuance and multiplication of groups in parliament. These hon. gentlemen argued that such consequence is not consonant and does not harmonize with the British system of party government. I know there is such a thing as parliamentary government without party government, but I for one-and if it is reactionary, all right, call it reactionary-I for one believe you get the best results of parliamentary government when you have party government. I believe that you get better results than you do when you have group government.
The hon. member for Brant (Mr. Good), in his very moderate speech, has said that we will have groups whether we have proportional representation or not. Certainly I admit there have been groups in other countries, and groups that arose without any proportional representation as a cause. That is quite true, it has been inevitable. Not only is it inevitable, but within the limits fixed by a system of direct majority vote I am not sure that it does not work for good. But the multiplication of groups in my judgment is not consonant with the British parliamentary system and does not conduce to the good of the country. It tends to interruption of continuity of policj'; it tends to uncertainty throughout the country as to what policy is going to be; and stronger still, it tends to rob the electorate of power of real and final decision in matters of policy, and to transfer that power in more uncontrollable form to their representatives in parliament. The elector is not in a position to decide policy as fully as he is in a position to do under the present system of election. He is in a position to decide on his preference for men perhaps better, but as betwen the merits of a policy which a government has followed, the naked question of the merits of that policy, he has not so effective a decision in his hands under proportional representation as he has

under the present practice. There is more likelihood, more necessity indeed, of personality being the dominating influence in the election. The elector is bound to give thought to that after his first vote anyway for he is bound to be voting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, and consequently the force of his electoral action does not go as effectively to a definite "yea" or "nay" on big fundamental questions of policy. It is dissipated over other considerations and does not have its full and final effect on policy. It is anti-democratic in that regard rather than democratic.
Now it seems to me the British system of government has stood the test of many centuries. That does not say it is perfect and cannot be improved; but I do not think you improve it when you establish a method of election that tends undoubtedly to the multiplication of groups, and consequently tends to a carnival of favour-bargaining in parliament which destroys responsibility, which destroys continuity of policy, which destroys strength and efficiency of administration.
I may be answered that even under the alternative vote system,-and I admit that that system is open to some of the objections I have advanced,-there is easily a possibility of log-rolling, too; but there it would be beween the electors. The electors might easily engage in a log-rolling practice. The followers of one party or candidate might come to a bargain with the followers of another that each would be the second choice of the other in the contest; and such a practice is not good. It would not tend to the purest form of election. But far better have logrolling there than have it in parliament. The worst thing that can happen parliament is to have it so constituted that policy is determined by a system of exchange of favours, of sectional favours, of favours of any other kind-policy determined thereby rather than determined initially by government on its responsibility to parliament and ultimately to the electors. For that reason I do not think proportional representation is consonant with the British form of government. Let me put it this way also before I leave this phase of the subject. The elector may vote for 1, 2, 3,
4 and 5. He may conceivably decide on a choice of six different lines of policy as he votes, and the representatives of six different policies may therefore be elected but when the elected comes to parliament he has only two ways of voting on any subject; he may vote yea or he may vote nay, and you have either to abandon your system of responsible government or you are going to put some of those elected men in a position where they are

Proportional Representation
voting against their principles time and time again. That is bound to result under proportional representation. The fact that there are only two ways of voting in parliament, following the fact that there are six or seven different things to vote for in the election, results in anomalies and departure from principle in parliament, and is out of harmony with the British system of parliamentary government.
Now I come to a reason that weighs with me heavier than the one I have expounded. The first reason has been faithfully advanced by hon. members who have spoken. The second has been referred to as well, but I regard this reason as a dominating one. I regard it as imperative to my mind. Proportional representation may be right or may be wrong. I cannot deny for a minute that there is much to be said in its favour, and I do not believe I could say that it does not tend, that it would not likely tend, at least, to a more accurate reflection of all the phases of public opinion in the country in this mirror of parliament. If that itself is a distinct, final advantage, I do not think it can be at least conclusively disputed. What I argue is that though you may get some good result, you get it at a price that is too great for all the advantage received.
But whether proportional representation is right or wrong, the isolated application of proportional representation is wrong, and wrong in my mind without any room for debate at all. I am against the isolated application of the principle, and would be against it even though the principle itself appealed to me as sound. Now why do I say that? You cannot have the isolated local application of proportional representation while all the rest of the country is under the old system, and either do justice as between party and party or do justice to the constituency to which proportional representation is applied. It is unfair as between party and party, and it is unfair as respects the constituency itself. Now as between party and party you may apply proportional representation to constituencies, or to classes of constituencies, where one party is the stronger, and thereby deplete its strength in those constituencies but leave unmolested whole areas of the country where another party is the stronger, and thereby give it the whole advantage of its majority over that area. That such a result would be grossly unfair-indeed, that it would be an outrage on the public of this country, there can be no dispute at all, and I do not believe you can choose any area and say that you have chosen this fairly as between the parties represented in parliament. For example, if cities of this country are taken, so far as the last election reflected-I do say it would be the same again; it might be quite different; it should not have been the case at the last election; it would not have been the case but that large sections of this country were led astray-if cities of this country were selected, particularly certain cities, and they made to illustrate the system of proportional representation, that would merely be a matter of having the minority in those cities represented. Consequently the party that is strongest in those cities would be bereft of much of its electoral result, while the party that was strongest in the rest of the country is left in the full enjoyment of all the advantages of that strength.
Not only is this true, but it is grossly unjust to the constituency itself. I could not illustrate this better than to take the working out of this system in the province of Manitoba as we have witnessed it up to date.
Now I want here to interpolate this. The basic objection to proportional representation is that it does not fit in harmoniously with the British system of parliamentary government, does not make for continuity of policy and for strength, and consequently for efficiency of administration. That does not apply with equal force to municipal government, for definiteness and continuity of policy are by no means so important there as even in a provincial arena, and by no means so important as they are in the federal arena. The objections that apply, apply with greater and greater force as the arena to which the application comes is extended in its horizon and elevated in degree.
We have had it illustrated in provincial legislatures. The province of Manitoba is about half urban and half rural. Almost half of the population of the province of Manitoba reside in the city of Winnipeg. That city has a representation, I think, of ten. The balance of the province has much more than that, because they have followed, rightly or wrongly, the principle of giving to rural parts a larger proportion of representation than to the city of Winnipeg. The province has been under the regular system of distribution; Winnipeg has been under proportional representation. Winnipeg as a consequence, as one would naturally expect, has elected three or four different groups. It has elected Conservatives, it has elected Liberals, it has elected Labour representatives; and I think it has elected some who call themselves independent even of labour, and of liberalism, and

Proportional Representation
of conservatism. It has elected a Progressive, It has elected three or four different groups. None has any marked advantage over the other. The Conservatives have no advantage, I think, over the Liberal nor the Liberals over the Conservative; and it would be difficult to conceive, in the years to come, any election in the city of Winnipeg, in which under the new system, any party will have very much advantage over the other. It might have an advantage of one member, it might have an advantage possibly of two or three, but the latter would be -rather difficult to conceive. What, on the contrary, is the condition through the country? There they have, say, forty seats. The party whose policy plays to that vote wins not an advantage of one seat or two seats but an advantage say of forty seats. In a word, the party that directs its policy to winning that vote plays for a stake of forty seats; the party that directs its policy to winning the city vote plays for a stake of one vote or two. As a consequence there is every motive, there is every political motive-and let us not be so hypocritical as to deny that political motives exercise an influence in parliament-there is every political motive to neglect the constituencies to which proportional representation is applied in the public policy of the country, and to place the whole trend of that public policy in favour of those constituencies to which that system is not applied at all. There would be very little to be gained by any government in office in Manitoba to-day in so turning public policy as to be even fair to the city of Winnipeg. And as I make these remarks I do not want to be understood as saying that there has been unfairness to the city; that has nothing to do with the question at all. The question is, what are the forces at work? what will be the tendency? Under the existing system there is very little reward fof any party, in following a course fair to the city of Winnipeg. The best that could be expected there would be an advantage of one seat or two. But the party that ignores the city of Winnipeg to the advantage of the rest of the province-that party has much to gain and its appeal is liable to be much more effective, than the appeal of the party that pursued a policy equally fair to both. This reasoning will apply in the federal arena where, necessarily, there are antagonisms of local interests far greater than there could be in a compact province like Manitoba. Sectional interests here unquestionably have great influence. There is more diversity of sectional interest, and consequently more diver-(Mr. Meighen.]
sity of sectional activity; this is inevitable and we are never going to get away from it. For that reason the party in this parliament that applies proportional representationto certain sections of the country and does not apply it to others, that
party puts those sections under a distinct disadvantage in reference to its influence in the parliament of Canada. Therefore I am opposed to the sectional, the isolated, the local adoption of proportional representation. I am not prepared to support it applied to certain selected places when I know those places will be chosen by a government which has a majority in parliament, or by a committee on which, necessarily, that government will have a majority over all other parties combined. For this reason, which to my mind is final I will not support the resolution that is now before the House.
I think also, if we reflect on the experiences of those parts of our country which, in other fields of politics, have adopted this system I do not think we will gain anything in the way of accession of argument to the affirmative of this resolution. The Liberal-Conservative party has taken very aggressive steps in this country. It claims, and on the record, I think, I can establish its claim, to be the party of progress in this country, but in all the steps of progress it has taken the Conservative party has known every time where it was going; it did not adopt everything just because it was new, and lightly call such action by the name of progress. The best criterion by which to judge whether a policy proves progressive or not is to watch and see what becomes of it when the other side gets into power. If the other side, in defiance of all its proclamations, in defiance of all its sworn principles, facing the responsibility of governing and facing the consequences of a change, comes to the decision to support the policy of its opponents, then we have just about as final a test as can be thought of as to the essential soundness and progressiveness of that policy. And a party which in respect of one thing or the other, facing all along the stoutest resistance finds its policies the law of Canada today, that party is not boasting when it says that those policies have been really progressive for they have stood the sternest test of time.
But there are certain things the Conservative party has opposed; some of them it has opposed unsuccessfully. In the provincial arena it opposed the introduction of the once famous initiative referendum and recall. But the initiative referendum and recall which, when it was under discussion one would really have thought from the enthusiasm the very

Proportional Representation
honest enthusiasm of its supporters was going to regenerate this stricken world, was going to correct all the evils of political life-that initiative referendum and recall hon. gentlemen must admit has simply stood as a dead letter on the statute books of our provinces. Nor do I think that proportional representation where it has had its chance has contributed to the betterment of our legislatures.
I do not think for example members of the Liberal party in Manitoba, and particularly members of the late provincial government, would say that proportional representation tended to give legislative virility to the liberal party of that province and I do not think their hearts would be behind that principle to-day.
I know they would not be enthusiastic for that once so much heralded reform, the initiative, referendum and recall. Adhering, though, to the subject of proportional representation, I do not think it has contributed to the strength, the efficiency and usefulness of either the Liberal or the Conservative party provincially, and J[ do not think it will contribute to the value as a party in office of the Progressive group that now enjoys power in that province. I believe the time will come when they will see that they would do more efficient and effective work for the whole province under the old British system of election. Looking to the Pacific coast, my reading of the results there is wholly adverse to the success of the principle. I understand that in its actual working out there were so many errors and so much misunderstanding, the numbers of those who found it impossible to master the intricacies of the vote were such that when the result was known there was not only a large volume of dissatisfaction, but very general and grave doubts as to whether the result really reflected public opinion. For those reasons and in the light of these experiences I oppose the resolution now before the House.

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