March 31, 1927 (16th Parliament, 1st Session)


Charles Hazlitt Cahan

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. C. H. CAHAN (St. Lawrence-St. George):

Mr. Speaker, lin reviewing the
report of the Imperial conference committee and the special report on inter-imperial relations, I felt that the committee itself in the first section of that report rather deprecated the idea that at was then and there laying down a new constitution for the British commonwealth or empire. Their statement in section 2 of the report 'that the dominions-
-are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs-
-they themselves describe as a "formula" or a mere political "theory" of which they restrict the application by declaring:
But the principles of equality and similarity, appropriate to status, do not universally extend to function. Here we require something more than immutable dogmas.
I could well fancy that Lord Balfour drew up that part of the report. Similar language may be found on many pages of his works on philosophy. Having described their "formula" and propounded what they call their "dogma" and again as their political "theory," they declared:
We have endeavoured not only to state political theory, but to apply it to our common needs.
And they add:
Existing administrative, legislative and judicial forms are admittedly not wholly in accord with the position as described in section II of this report.
Which deals with equality of status of Great Britain and the dominions. That means, as I understand it, that the existing forms are not in accord with this formula, or dogma, or political theory of equality of status which they have laid down. Then they proceed to examine existing forms, as they say:
-with special reference to any cases where the want of adaptation of practice to principle caused, or might be thought to cause, inconvenience in the conduct of inter-imperial relations.
That is, they declare, in effect, from their point of view, that in the matter of such adaptions, as are proposed, of practice to principle, convenience is to be made the paramount issue. Therefore they deem that a slight change should be made in the title of the king and they proceed to declare:
That the Governor General of a dominion is the representative of the crown, holding in all essential respects the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the dominion-

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I call particular attention to that.
-as is held by His Majesty the King in Great Britain, and that he is not the representative or agent of His Majesty's government in Great Britain or of any department of that government.
The Prime Minister, in referring to some statement that - I have made in times past, suggested that I contended that the status of the Governor General had not changed, and that prior to the time of the preparation of this report, the status of the Governor General in the Dominion of Canada was that of a representative of the sovereign. Section 9 of the British North America Act of 1867 has already declared:
The executive government and authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the queen.
At this point the Prime Minister, for the purpose, I think, of vindicating his ipast record, introduced into the discussion certain matters relating to the episode of June and the first days of July last which led to his resignation and to the formation for the time being of another government. In dealing with that I wish to point out that section 50 of the British North America Act provides:
Every House of Commons shall continue for five years from the day of the return of the writs for choosing the House (subject to be sooner dissolved by the Governor General), and no longer.
The act itself further provides that the Governor General in Council shall exercise his powers-
With the advice or with the advice and consent of or in conjunction with the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.
He must act on the advice of the government of Canada; but section 50, dealing with dissolution, says that the Governor General and not the governor in council shall have the right of dissolution. That brings us back to the episode to which the Prime Minister referred and in connection with which he attempted a vindication of his advice to His Excellency the former Governor General of Canada. That episode extends back to September 6, 1925, when, speaking at Richmond Hill in Ontario, the Prime Minister of that day, who is the Prime Minister of this day, declared:
Immediately upon the return of the Governor ' General to the capital yesterday I waited upon His Excellency at Government House and presented to him the many considerations for an appeal to the electorate before another session of parliament, which I have presented to you this afternoon.
I do not intend to enter into the details, of those considerations. They were set forth
in a very lengthy speech last session, and in another discussion in the previous session I placed the most important paragraphs upon the records of Hansard. But the chief reason, as he then stated was-and this was a representation which he had then made to His Excellency:
Is it sufficient that as a government we should continue in office, drawing our indemnities and salaries as members and ministers, and enjoying the other fruits of office, when great national questions press for solution, with which for want of an adequate majority in parliament we are unable satisfactorily to cope?
As the result of those representations made by the Prime Minister to His Excellency, the late Governor-General of Canada, Lord Byng, undoubtedly an understanding was reached between the Prime Minister and the Governor General, limited in effect, it is true, limited in effect no doubt, but an understanding that under the conditions which then existed he should be granted a dissolution of parliament and an appeal to the people. The election wa3 held on the 29th October, 1925, and a few days after, on the 4th November, the Prime Minister of that day, who is the Prime Minister of this day, gave to the press a lengthy communication which he himself has placed upon the records of Hansard during the last few days. Thait statement shows that again the Prime Minister approached the Governor General to endeavour to induce him to permit of the calling of parliament under the circumstances which then existed, which were that the Prime Minister had not returned from the electorate with a majority of the House to support him, and that in fact he was not then the leader of the largest political body in this House. Again there was an understanding reached between the Prime Minister and His Excellency to the effect that parliament would be called, and if we are to read between the lines, subsequently there were consultations between the Prime Minister and His Excellency, which resulted in His Excellency agreeing that his address should be brought down to parliament, that new issues should therein 'be introduced to parliament, and that the Prime Minister should have another opportunity of securing in this House a majority which he had failed to secure on his appeal to the people.
The Governor General of Canada of that day was conversant, I have no doubt, with the instructions which he had received by the letters patent and instructions issued to him by the king. Those letters patent aTe the same word for word as they have been for over twenty years at least, and in the letters patent which the Prime Minister laid before
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the House the other day these and these only are the instructions from His Majesty to the Governor General with regard to dissolution:
And we do further authorize and empower our said Governor General, to exercise all powers lawfully belonging to 11s in respect of the summoning, proroguing or dissolving the parliament of our said Dominion.
So that His Excellency, Lord Byng, from the express instructions which he had received, knew that in respect to the dissolution of parliament he represented the king in the exercise of the king's prerogative, and that he represented no other person or official in the British government. The position of the present Prime Minister with regard to that dissolution has changed on several occasions. In the revised Hansard of last session, at page 5222, he says:
In being declined the right of dissolution I believe I was declined that right because His Excellency had the honest belief that some other member of this House could be found who as prime minister could carry on the business of government in this country in the way it should be carried on, befitting the dignity and honour of parliament, and which would therefore avoid the necessity of a general election.
And again on June 30. in the evening, I think it was, after the Bight Hon. Arthur Meighen had accepted office, the present Prime Minister, then leader of the opposition, said:
I for one do not intend to offer any criticism whatever of the constitutionality of the course taken up to the present time.
So that at that time the Prime Minister admitted that in respect of the refusal to take his advice for the dissolution of the House, and in respect of the acceptance of his resignation, Lord Byng had acted in an entirely constitutional manner. I do not know whom Lord Byng consulted, but if he had looked at Keith, the edition of April, 1924, to which the Prime Minister has given his approval, he would have found the following:
It is, for instance, obvious that the* crown cannot constitutionally grant a prime minister who has obtained one dissolution and had been defeated, a second dissolution of parliament, if any other means of carrying on the government could be found.
I infer that, as the Prime Minister himself, in the words I have just quoted, used almost exactly the same terms, he was fully aware of the view of Keith with regard to that matter.
I come now to another matter. Day before yesterday in the course of the debate the Prime Minister eulogized his own conduct by saying that he had acted towards His

Excellency in a most chivalrous manner. I wish to call his attention to the debate in those hectic days and nights of the latter part of June, and particularly to a debate which occurred on the night of the 30th June, and certain altercations between the right hon. member and myself. In discussing the question that night I referred to the present Prime Minister, then leading the opposition, as resigning without considering the interests of the country, which demanded that he should have offered to see that the departments of government should be temporarily administered pending the selection of his successor.
I refer to revised edition of Hansard at page 5217. I submit, Mr. Speaker, that if ever there was a time in the political history of the Prime Minister, if ever there was a time in the political history of this parliament, when the leader of the opposition, having then resigned the high office of prime minister of this country, should have been perfectly frank and clear in his statements to the House, should have given to the House, if he gave anything at all, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in respect of his recent communication with His Excellency, that time was the night of 30th June last, when the House was deciding that important question then before it. Let me quote from Hansard, and I will leave out the echoes that came from various parts of the House, because there was a great deal of confusion:
Mr. Mackenzie King: I did not refuse to carry on. May I say further that after tendering my resignation I distinctly stated to His Excellency, and stated it in writing, that I was prepared, if His Excellency so desired and should ask me, to keep my resignation in abeyance until he had had the opportunity to take such further steps as he might wish to take.
That was clearly understood by this House, whatever may have been the intention of the leader of the opposition of the day, as meaning that in the ordinary course and following the usual precedents, precedents which are without exception I think in the political history of Canada, the Prime Minister had offered to continue in the administration until a new prime minister might be selected and would have had the opportunity to select his associates so as to form an administration for the government of Canada. When that statement was made, I replied as _ follows:
Mr. Cahan: I do not wish to raise the question, but unfortunately His Excellency cannot be present to give his testimony as to what took place.
Then there was a storm, and the Chairman of the committee compelled me to withdraw

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that statement as being a reflection upon the veracity of the leader of the opposition of the day. Hansard goes on:
Mr. Mackenzie King: Fortunately I have a copy of the letter in which I tendered my resignation. May I say to my hon. friend that when I spoke first to His Excellency on the matter of resignation, it was on Saturday. I had several interviews with him before the final resignation was accepted.
Bearing that statement in mind, I felt it my duty on the opening of parliament to place upon the order paper a motion asking for the production of the correspondence between the present Prime Minister, who was also then Prime Minister, and His Excellency Lord Byng. That correspondence has been produced, rather reluctantly, by the Prime Minister; in fact, if I understood his suggestion to the House it was that whoever moved for the production of that correspondence would have to assume a very great and a very grave responsibility. Nevertheless, we persisted in the motion, with the result that there has been produced certain correspondence and certain letters, which have been placed upon the record of Hansard. One of them, however, has not yet been read to this House, although it has been referred to, and I am going to read it and put it upon Hansard, and make certain comments upon it:
Ottawa, June 28, 1926.
His Excellecy
The Right Honourable the
Baron Byng of Vimy, G.C.B., K.C.M.G., Governor General of the
Dominion of Canada, Ottawa.
My dear Governor General,
Your Excellency having declined to accept my advice to place your signature to the order in council with reference to a dissolution of parliament, which I have placed before you today, I hereby tender to Your Excellency my resignation as Prime Minister of Canada.
Your Excellency will recall that in our recent conversations relative to dissolution I have on each occasion suggested to Your Excellency, as I have again urged this morning, that having regard to the possible very serious consequences of a refusal of the advice of your first minister to dissolve parliament, you should, before definitely deciding on this step, cable the Secretary of State for the Dominions asking the British government, from whom you have come to Canada under instructions, what, in the [DOT]opinion of the Secretary of State for the Dominions. your course should be in the event of the Prime Minister presenting you with an order in council having reference to a dissolution.
Note that. Note that the Prime Minister of that day, in an official statement, expressed in writing to the Governor General of the day, insists that he came to Canada under instructions from the Secretary of State for the
Dominions. I would like to know where in the record are those instructions. The only instructions that can be found in the official documents are instructions from His Majesty himself, and there is not a suggestion either in the appointment of Lord Byng as Governor General, or in the letters patent and instructions issued to him, that he was to act otherwise than as a Governor General or Viceroy exercising the prerogatives of the king. The letter proceeds:
As a refusal by the Governor General to accept the advice of a prime minister is a serious step at any time, and most serious under existing conditions in all parts of the British Empire to-day, there will be raised, I fear, by the refusal on Your Excellency's part to accept the advice tendered a grave constitutional question without precedent in the history of Great Britain for a century and in the history of Canada since confederation.
If there is anything which, having regard to my responsibilities as Prime Minister, I can even yet do to avert such a deplorable and, possibly, far-reaching crisis, I shall be glad so to do, and shall be pleased to have my resignation withheld at Your Excellency's request pending the time it may be necessary for Your Excellency to communicate with the Secretary of State for the Dominions.
I am, Your Excellency,
Yours very sincerely, .
(Sgd) W. L. Mackenzie King.
Therefore the Prime Minister of that day, in tendering his resignation, sought to lead- shall I say mislead?-the Governor General of Canada into believing that he was a mere agent for the Secretary of State for the Dominions, and that it was his duty, in relation to a crisis which had occurred in the domestic affairs of Canada, to seek the advice of the Secretary of State for the Dominions as to his conduct on that occasion. Further, in the debate yesterday, the Prime Minister said that lie had also urged upon the Governor General to take the advice of Sir Robert Borden. AVell, if it had become known to this country that His Excellency had taken the advice of a retired prime minister, who had owed his support to the Conservative majority in this House, what an uproar would have been created throughout the length and breadth of this country? I admit that in times of grave crisis there are precedents for His Excellency convening his Privy Councillors, but always men of both or of all political affiliations, in order that they, as the experienced and wise statesmen of the country, may give him advice, but never yet have we heard of a prime minister when seeking a dissolution of the House urging the Governor General or a viceroy or even the king himself to take the advice of a retired politician of the opposing political school as
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to what His Excellency should do in the premises. Now, what was the effect upon the country? The Prime Minister said that the result of the general election was a vindication of the course that he had pursued in establishing a new and important political principle. But I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that if there was any such decision by the electorate- which I do not admit-it was obtained entirely on misrepresentation as to the actual issue before the country. Not only did the Prime Minister convince me personally that night, but he convinced the members of this House and the people generally that, following the usual precedent, he had, in tendering his resignation, oifered to carry on the administration until his successor would have ample opportunity to select his cabinet and to present to the country an administration duly formed and sworn into office. That was the impression given throughout the entire Dominion. In fact, in the province of Quebec I remember well-and I have taken just a few quotations-the Governor General was criticized repeatedly in view of the attitude which he had taken-it was assumed that he had consulted the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs-and his conduct was characterized as that of a "subaltern" of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. Let me refer to a speech made by the hon. member for Labelle (Mr. Bourassa)-made in the utmost good faith, I believe, because he was thoroughly persuaded that the Prime Minister had fulfilled his whole duty to the House in making a statement that was full and frank and true in every particular. Misled by that statement, the hon. member for Labelle, speaking at Papineauville about July 15, 1926, or a few days later, said:
But not only the Governor General let Mr. King go without taking that preliminary precaution-
That is, the precaution to secure from the Prime Minister his assent to carry on the administration until his successor could be appointed.
-which no king of England since George III and no government head in Canada before has ever failed to take (namely, to retain Mr. King in the premiership until his successor might be selected), but Mr. King having offered in writing to retain power until another government could be formed, he refused to take notice of that offer.
That is, that the Governor General had refused to take notice of the offer of the then prime minister to carry on, when now we know the whole truth that His Excellency as the representative exercising the prerogative of the king in this country, had refused at the behest of a discredited prime minister

to seek his instructions from the Colonial Office. The hon. member for Labelle then proceeded:
But our Governor General is not only the representative of the king. He is appointed by the British government. The question which would be of interest to have answered is: Did he act as king or as an employee of the British government?
Then in view of the statements which had been made by the Prime Minister upon his retirement and of the subsequent statements which had been given by him to the press, the hon. member for Labelle continued:
No one will make me believe that he-
The Governor General.
-did not wire to London. It is true that Mr. Amery, the minister of the colonies, said he had nothing to do with it, but I know Mr. Amery, and when these ministers of the crown find it necessary to prevaricate a little they do not stick at telling a big one.
And on that issue the Prime Minister went to the country! That is the grave constitutional issue which he, by failing to present the full facts to parliament and the people, led the electorate to believe that they were required to give a decision upon. Therefore I say that when he now flatters himself that he secured the approbation of the people of Canada for what he himself calls his " chivalrous conduct " towards the late Govemoi General, he is resting under an entire misapprehension. Now, I do not intend to go further into that question. I am not here to enter into any discussion with the Prime Minister as to the attitude of the right hon. the late leader of the opposition, Arthui Meighen. It is not my office to do so. Whenever the Prime Minister wishes to provoke a discussion of that kind he will find that the Right Hon. Arthur Meighen is fully equipped, intellectually and otherwise, to give him the answer which his conduct deserves But in the debate yesterday the Prime Minister referred to a certain article in the Dal-housie Review.

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