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

LIB

William Stevens Fielding (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Hon. W. S. FIELDING (Minister of Finance) :

The greatest part of the speech of
my right hon. friend (Mr. Meighen) has dealt with matters outside the resolution before the House, and into that part of his address I do not wish to enter. I would like to, however, make'a few remarks coming more directly to the resolution itself. We are of course profoundly moved-moved to profound sorrow-by the declaration which my right hon. friend made with* so much emphasis that his conception of the functions of government differs from our own. We must comfort ourselves with the thought that when our conception of government and his conception of
government are submitted to the highest authority in this democratic country, his conception of government is not found to be acceptable. My right hon. friend has a very queer notion of that conception of government when he says that it is the duty of government to take a stand on every question that comes before the House.
If my hon. friend had strange notions as to the functions of government, I must confess he also gave us some strange notions as to the functions of opposition, because he made the statement that according to his conception, and according to that of the hon. gentlemen who had worked with him, they are not called upon to make up their minds on any question until they first learn where the government stand in the matter. That is a new notion and I must admit that he does as well in defining the principles of the opposition as he does in defining the principles of the government. The government are bound to be united on any measure which they bring before the House. I say they are not bound to be united on a measure brought before the House by a private member.
If any private member feels that he wishes to bring any motion before the House and to invite a free discussion of it, that is his privilege, and we all commend him for exercising that right. But to say that when a private member exercises that right instantly the government have to take a position on the matter and declare they are for or against it, I think is a strange notion indeed. At all events it is a notion which we are not prepared to endorse here. For myself-and I am speaking for myself alone-I would have preferred if my hon. friend from Brant (Mr. Good) had rested, as he might well have done, on the passage of his first resolution, in which the sense of the House was taken, on the question of the alternative vote. It having received the unanimous consent of the House -at all events there was no objection-I think my hon. friend might have said that that was progress enough for one day, and perhaps for one session, and might well have waited until we had a trial of it before trying it on a larger scale. .
As now proposed, however, if the matter has to be voted on, I shall vote for the hon. gentleman's motion-though I shall do so with some little hesitation and not without some doubt-for two reasons: first, the idea of proportional representation in a general way has long commended itself to my fancy. I have not studied it as closely as some hon. gentlemen who have spoken, but in a general way

Proportional Representation
the idea has found favour in my mind. But there is another and more specific reason. I do not need to go outside the situation in my own province to-day to see there is something wrong in the present system. We are keen politicians down in Nova Scotia. Sometimes you would think we are all one-sided. But that is hardly correct. I have not made a careful analysis of the figures, but I am not far wrong when I make a rough guess that about 40 or 45 per cent of the electors of Nova Scotia will call themselves Conservative, and about 55 or possibly 60 per cent-I am making a broad statement and not a close analysis-will call themselves Liberals. But the majority, not more than 10 or 15 per cent more than the others absolutely control the situation, and a large number, not far from half the people of the province, are utterly without representation in this House. It is very pleasant to me as a good Grit to find that is the case. When the polls were closed and we found the whole province to our credit we were all very proud, but in calm moments of reflection I can see there is much injustice in that, and inasmuch as the hon. member for Brant is aiming to remedy that injustice, I am inclined to favour his motion, at all events to the extent of giving the scheme a trial.
I do not forget that there are difficulties in the way. I am inclined to think, whether the government or the committee undertake to work out a bill to carry out the resolution, they will probably find it very difficult indeed.
I suspect that if the matter goes before the committee on the readjustment of the representation, they will not find the quietest time of their lives. There is a curious thing about this, when we talk of the principles of Liberalism or Conservatism in relation to this measure. Only two or three years ago the question excited the British parliament. The curious thing was that the Tory House of Lords voted for proportional representation, and the democratic House of Commons refused to do it. The House of Lords took the broad, general sentiment, but when it came down to brass tacks, as the saying goes, to deal with the matter, the democratic House of Commons said they would not have anything to do with it. That suggests that there are difficulties in the way.
Again I want to say I have some doubt and hesitation in the matter. I am speaking for myself, but because I like the principle of it, and because I see an illustration of the injustice in the case of my own province, I am going to support the motion of my hon. friend from Brant.

Topic:   PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION IN MULTIMEMBER CONSTITUENCIES
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