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


Henry Herbert Stevens

Conservative (1867-1942)

Hon. H. H. STEVENS (Vancouver Centre):

I had not purposed taking part in this debate this evening, but the seriousness of this proposal and the meagreness of the actual information that has been placed before the House regarding the practical working out of the new system impel me to invite the House to give some further consideration to the matter.
I confess very frankly that I am not in a position to-night to enter into a technical discussion of the system. So far as I have been able to gather from the speeches that have been delivered, there has not been a single member promoting this measure who has given a clear, technical exposition of it.
I have studied the system for a great many
years and at first I was attracted by such arguments as we have just heard from the hon. member for Calgary (Mr. Irvine) concerning the rectifying of certain apparent inequities in our present methods.
Now, so that there need be no misunderstanding as to the way in which I approach this question, I am going to admit candidly and at once that there are inequities and that frequently a constituency will be represented in this House by a member whose number of votes does not represent a majority of the votes cast. That is quite true. But I would invite the House to consider, in connection with our historic system, this fact, that in the majority of instances, whether on the part of hon. gentlemen belonging to the Liberal party or of those belonging to the somewhat newer party, the Progressives, or on the part of members of the Conservative party, any man Who extern this House does so with a genuine desire to represent the people of his riding as a whole.
If the rules of parliament would permit, and if the members of this House would extend me the courtesy, I could put the question individually to member after member sitting here, " Are you endeavouring to represent all shades of religious, social and economic opinion in your riding?"-and I think the answer would be invariably in the affirmative. I also know that we are all human and are apt to err, and it may be that some will be a little more prejudiced than others, less balanced in their conception of their duties; so that occasionally, perhaps, you may find a glaring wrong. But in the majority of cases, not only in the present House but in previous parliaments of which it has been my privilege to be a member, the members have all endeavoured to discharge their entire duty by their constituencies.
That, I think, should be borne in mind. To quote the figures of the illustration given by the hon. member who has taken his seat (Mr. Irvine), because a man was elected by forty per cent, while the candidates of two other groups received thirty per cent each, he does not come into the House with the object of disregarding the interests of those two groups. He comes to represent the whole constituency. Under our great parliamentary system, the product of the experience of ages, the member is asked, first, to take a stand upon the great general policies of the party to which he belongs. It might be an economic policy of free trade versus protection, or a policy as between nationally owned railways or privately owned railways; it might be some great policy of that character. He is asked

Proportional Representation
to be true to that general policy, and in all other matters, whether in regard to estimates or private bills, or in regard to the routine of government, he is at liberty to express himself in a manner which he thinks is in the interests of the country at large; while in all local matters he is supposed to represent Iris riding. This is a pretty satisfactory situation; it is about as good as one can get. So far as the proposed system is concerned, I think it ought to be shown to the House that it has such distinct advantages as far outweigh all the advantages of the older system.
There is another point I wish to make. It strikes me that by the introduction of proportional representation you would reduce this parliament to the status of a county council or a municipal body, the members of which are elected annually or biennially. A group of citizens offer themselves for office as aldermen or councillors and meet to transact the business of the city or municipality. There are no great policies, or at least there seldom are. Once in a while in a large city some great problem will come up, such as the question of hydro-electric power, or something of that character. But in ninety per cent of the municipalities it is simply a process of carrying on the ordinary business, and there is no distinct cleavage on questions of policy. Further, parliament cannot go to the country annually; it must sit for a reasonable period of time, or you would have absolute chaos.
The Minister of Finance (Mr. Fielding), advanced, as an argument for the position he was taking in support of the resolution, the situation in Nova Scotia. If I understood him rightly he said that practically fifty-five per cent of the people of Nova Scotia were Liberal while forty-five were Conservative, and that this ten per cent in the difference controlled the representation of that province, of sixteen members. First, I 9 p.m. would remind my hon. friend that he wholly ignored the stalwarts representing the Progressive party and of the supposedly large number of citizens in that province who are in favour of the policy of the Progressives. However, that is a quarrel he must settle with them; I will not interject any opinion here on that point. But let us look at the situation. We are not complaining. We acknowledge that the people of Nova Scotia declared that they wanted a Liberal government in Ottawa. Now, unless we grouped all the constituencies of Nova Scotia into one or two groups and applied this fantastic scheme here proposed, it would
be impossible to do otherwise than follow the existing practice, namely, of majority rule. We do not object to the situation in Nova Scotia at all. *
What we say is that in the working out of our parliamentary system we have the opportunity of saying to the people that their choice was not a wise one, or of showing them that the members they elected have been derelict in their duties. It is our privilege -indeed, our duty,-to do so; then we have an opportunity of winning their support. In other words, if these sixteen members come to Ottawa and discharge their duties in a manner satisfactory to the majority of the people of Nova Scotia they will be reelected and reaffirmed in their position; and we could have no complaint. But on the other hand, if after a period of service they again appeal to the electorate-a period which
varies, under our system, but approximates four years-and are then rejected, that is a test of public opinion and, we believe, a sufficiently frequent and a sufficiently honest test.
I know that the members from Alberta will support this proposal, because practically all of them are avowedly in favour of what is known as group government. Now, I appeal to my right hon. friend the Prime Minister. I read only a few days ago a rather able speech made by him in which he referred to the danger of replacing the present system of government with what is known as the group system of government, and as I recall his words they pointed out very clearly' that under group government we were endangering the stability of parliamentary institutions in this Dominion. Let us follow this group government idea, because you cannot have proportional representation without having group government. My right hon. friend wishes to interject something?

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