Mr. HARRY LEADER (Portage la Prairie):
Mr. Speaker, rising to speak at this critical time in our national history I do so with a sense of responsibility such as falls upon any member of parliament who speaks in the House of Commons.
We were called to Ottawa to receive information from the government, and I hope to give it some advice in these days of national concern. I am sure all hon. members regret that an incident of this kind, if it may be so described, should occur after these years of war. I speak not only for myself, but for my constituents, and, I believe, for the people of Canada when I declare that in its conduat of the war this government has done a magnificent job. After these years of struggle and anxiety it seems most unfortunate that the condition which confronts us to-night should develop in what we hope may be the dying days of a long war. Certainly victory is assured, although it may not come as soon as we might expect.
The business of the session is to try to find a method for increasing reinforcements for our boys overseas, a continuous stream of fighting men who will enter the ranks of those gallant lads who have put up such a magnificent battle since D-day. We ask for a number of men sufficient to assure that we shall finish the job. With that object in view I do not think we should consider the fate of any government, nor should we fear a general election. I repeat, in achieving the object we have in view, namely the reinforcing of our fighting men overseas, we ought not to fear either the fall of a government or a general election. We were called to Ottawa to examine information which would be submitted to members. After receiving that information, I should like to discuss the subject, with sincerity. I want to be able to vote with conviction.
It seems to me that in the examination I intend to make to-night, slight as it may be, there are three facts we must keep in mind. First, we must remember that the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) is anti-con-scriptionist; second, that the new Minister of National Defence (Mr. McNaughton) is also anti-conscriptionist and, third, that the province of Quebec is anti-conscriptionist. Over the radio and throughout the press we heard rumours to the effect that there was a lack of reinforcements for our fighting men overseas. Some have referred to these rumours as propaganda circulated by the opposition. I am not so sure they had that object in mind; but after being in public life for nearly twenty years and in this parliament for twelve years, I can quite understand that they would seize the opportunity to make political capital. Perhaps that is their right. I do not for a moment believe it ever occurred to any hon. member of this house to do anything that would interfere with our war effort overseas.
The rumours continued and evidence began to accumulate showing that there might be some foundation for them. So that the then Minister of National Defence (Mr. Ralston), who in my opinion knew the facts better than anyone else, who had at heart the interests of the fighting men and the general organization of the army at home and overseas, decided to make a personal inspection and get the information at first hand. Well, the information he brought back was to the effect that our reinforcement pools were at a very low ebb and that the boys, after months of battle without a chance to rest, were still grim and determined but tired. Upon reaching Canada the minister immediately submitted his information to the government, suggesting that the volunteer system had not furnished reinforcements in sufficient numbers to take care of the actual situation and that 15,000 of our N.R.MA. personnel should be dispatched overseas forthwith. I believe that the minister did his best to give the cabinet a true picture of the situation, and then the matter was left with the Prime Minister and the government.
We all know what happened, and it did not take long to happen. The former minister either was asked to resign or resigned because his recommendations were not accepted, and in his place was put the anti-conscriptionist to whom I referred earlier in my remarks, which is a fact that should be kept in mind. We had evidence that General McNaughton considered the voluntary system preferable to the draft system, and accordingly he was given an opportunity to see if he could not make the voluntary system work. I am sure General
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McNaughton had only one thing in mind, namely to find men to support our boys overseas. Believing in the voluntary system as he did, he started out with that thought uppermost; he asked his commanding officers throughout the dominion to come to Ottawa, and here they had a conference. Following that conference we were told that a new attempt would be made to entice, persuade or advise our home defence army to go active. Then we had reports in the newspapers that these officers told General McNaughton that they did not believe this would supply the numbers required, but that they would go back and do their best. The inference was left that the generals were fairly well agreed that something might come out of this new infusion of life into the voluntary system; but we have on record the fact that Brigadier R. A. McFarland of my own district, No. 10, resigned because he did not agree with those statements. Then occurred one of the strangest somersaults that I ever saw take place in the political life of this country, when an order in council was passed practically adopting the scheme that had been recommended by the former minister of national defence. This proved beyond a doubt, Mr. Speaker, that the former minister was right and that the new minister, together with the Prime Minister and the remainder of his government who supported him, were wrong.
Now I think I have the right to give you the position I have held throughout these years of war. I have been in favour of conscription for service in any part of the world where our interests may be threatened. Having held that view, I do not expect to change it now; nor do I expect you to take my word for the declaration I have just made. I am going to take you back to the records of Hansard, to a speech I made in this house on February 18, 1937. The organization known as the United Farmers of Manitoba had their annual convention that year at Neepawa before I came here for the session, and I was a delegate. Remember, this was two and a half years before war actually broke out; but there were rumours of war; the war clouds were gathering and could be seen by any, one who was at all observant. At that meeting this organization passed a resolution which I submitted to this house, declaring that if we must go to- war all the resotirces of this country should be used in the prosecution of that war. In regard to that resolution I said, as reported at page 994 of Hansard for 1937:
The Canadian people expect that if we must go to war all the resources of the country will be employed in the prosecution of that war. I believe that in the nation's interest we should
conscript . . . the resources of the fields, of the forests and of the mines, and all the accumulated wealth.
In 1942 I again found it necessary to place myself on record in this house. That was on the occasion of the referendum in 1942. Hon. members will recall that the speech from the throne in 1942 declared that parliament would be asked to approve the submitting of a plebiscite to the people of Canada to release the ministers of His Majesty's government from the promises which they had made in 1940. I did not think that we needed a referendum at that time. It is a slow process at best and very expensive, and I felt that we had in this house 245 members representing the whole Dominion of Canada from one end to the other and that we were the proper ones to decide whether the ministers of the government should be released from their promises. But the Prime Minister declared that he had no other recourse than to submit the question to the people because it was to the people that he had made the promise, and I am sure now that he was right. But on that occasion I used these words on the floor of the house:
I had hoped that the question of conscription . would escape the turmoil of party politics. I believe that the Prime Minister, with his knowledge of the situation, and the need for vigorous and aggressive action, would have accepted the responsibility or else allowed the house to decide the issue. Now the initiative has been taken by the politicians, with results, I fear, detrimental to Canada.
I think it is only fair to say, after witnessing almost two weeks of debate that the issue has in a measure got into the hands of the politicians. My advice at that time was not taken, and the very fact that the issue has got into the hands of the politicians proves that my fears then were well-founded. I went on to say in the latter part of my speech on that occasion:
As a final rvord I want to add that my action will be justified as a gesture of tolerance, in order to preserve unity in our beloved land.
I have told the house that I supported the Prime Minister's policy of a plebiscite, not that I believed that it was the proper course, but because, after listening to several speeches from members of the house, I believed that there was a lack of tolerance among Canadians and I supported, the government to show that I was doing what I could to promote tolerance. I concluded with these words:
The plebiscite is a delaying action, I admit. Future events will test its wisdom. At any rate I am giving the government the benefit of the doubt. If the government, or the opposition, or any 'individual member of this house has served any interests other than the welfare of his country, may God forgive him; the nation dare not, and in my opinion never will.
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It is well for the house to remember that that was my record prior to the summoning of this special session.
The member who preceded me, the hon. member for Cape Breton South (Mr. Gillis), said something about disunity in this country and said that it was largely a matter of education. Perhaps lack of education would have been a better term. But I think he is right. I ask you sir, can we build up a united nation in this country on a separate school system? I want my friends from Quebec to understand that I am their friend and that they are my friends. We are all Canadians. But I do say that the foundation of disunity in this country is our separate school system. Let us get our Canadian children into national public schools and let them all be taught Cana-dianism. Let them all be taught the same lessons. I have heard men argue in the house that we should have a Canadian flag. I have never had much desire to change the good old union jack. I love it. But I love Canada better, and if we decide to adopt a national flag for Canada I shall be all for it if it will help in making this a more united country.
I wonder when some one will be elected to this house who is big enough and brave enough and bold enough to speak' to the people and say: We are going to build a Canadian country here; we are going to deal out fair play to everyone living in it, and when, you accept responsibilities as a citizen of this country then we shall have unity and fair play. But we must all do our duty.
I noticed in the press the other night that we have 9,329 conscientious objectors in Canada, and to my horror I found that Manitoba has the most of any province-2,820. Those people are bred conscientious objectors and draft evaders by our educational system and by legislation that has been passed by 'this parliament. I. will mention some of the sects that we have admitted to Canada. We admitted the Mennonites in 1873 and granted them exemption from military service. I will say this for the Mennonites. I live among many of them, and not so far from them, and they are some of the best citizens of Canada. Many of them are dying for Canada on the battlefields of Europe in this war. But they would have been still better citizens if they had not been granted this special privilege of military exemption.
Then I am thinking of the Doukhobors, whom, thank God I do not live alongside and never have. They seem to flower particularly in the fair province of British Columbia. They were admitted to this country by special legislation in 1898 which granted them exemption
from military service. They have settled in their own communities and the only weapon they ever use in defiance of the law is to parade in the nude. They will not fight for their country; I do not believe that they will fight even for themselves. Had we seen to it that their children were educated to become Canadian citizens the story might have been quite different.
Then we have in the province of Manitoba the Hutterites, a lot of them. They also claim that they have special privileges. I do not believe that they were granted special privileges, but they claim them. They left the United States because they were told by the authorities there: If you will not fight for this country, get out. So we welcomed them over here; they came to Canada and settled in communities where they gradually shoved Canadians out of the district and founded their own separate schools where their children are not taught to become good Canadians. They are not taught Canadianism at all. That is why I am bold enough to say that our educational system is all wrong; it must be changed if we are to have a real Canadian country.
I noticed that Prime Minister Churchill the other day, in referring to the United States, said that they are the greatest naval, military and air power in the world to-day. The United States went through the throes of settling their country, as Canada is doing now, but they had a national school system. I have no doubt that they have their sectional problems, especially the negro question, but observe their position to-day. Their men are not holding back and saying, "We are exempted from military service because you gave us that right when we came to this country." They are enlisting, and if not as volunteers they go anyway, because the selective draft system is in force, and no one is exempted if he is physically fit. That is the sort of policy which made that nation great. For us, who live alongside, theirs is a great example.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister wrould be annoyed-I think not; I certainly would not read this if I thought he would be-if I mentioned something which happened at the time of the plebiscite. I did not think the plebiscite was the proper course; I thought that it was an evasion of the responsibility of government, and that we, the representatives of the people, were the ones who should decide. Accordingly I wrote the Prime Minister this letter on January 23, 1942:
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Mot being in accord with your stand on the conscription issue I deem it my duty to inform you that I will not support your policy as announced in the speech from the throne.
If you decide that my seat on the government side of the house is no longer tenable I will be pleased to accept a location opposite.
There was no answer to this letter, but I was called into the Prime Minister's office. After presenting my point of view, and he giving his point of view, I still maintained that I could not vote for his policy. This was his reply, "Leader, you vote according to your conscience. That is what I intend to do. As for going on the other side of the house, stay where you are." I thought that was fair, eminently fair; I appreciated it and I thank the Prime Minister to-night.
I am an independent. I will never surrender that independence, political or otherwise, to anybody or any association while I have breath in my body. When I went home and told my executive that I no longer wished to sit with the Liberal party and that I would rather run as an independent and take my place as such in this house, they said practically the same thing as the Prime Minister did: "You stay where you are; you are doing good work for us."
And so, Mr. Speaker, when I stand here to-night and boldly state some of the things which I have done, it is not in anger; it is just from a sense of duty. My people have confidence in me. What a terrible thing it is to abuse that confidence I I hope I am never guilty of it.
Just a few weeks ago I was renominated for-my seat of Portage la Prairie on the old tieket of Liberal Progressive. I said, "I will be your candidate, but you will have to accept me as I am and I will be bound by no party ties." That was published in the western papers. I received the nomination. When I tell you to-night that I am not voting confidence in the present government, I recognize it is going to affect my position at home. It may be that they will not want me to run under the Liberal Progressive banner. That is fine with me. If the people of Portage la Prairie want me to represent them in this house as an independent member they will find some other vehicle upon which to send me here. It may be that they will want me to continue. It may be that the Prime Minister will say, Leader, I do not like your sentiments; I do not like the way you expressed them; nevertheless, vote as your conscience dictates, and remain on this side of the house.
Some confusion has been evident in speeches made by certain hon. members in this chamber, and it is indicated in newspaper articles
that the minds of various hon. members are a bit confused as to how they shall vote. Far be it from me to advise them. Some of them are going to vote for the government because they put in a limited measure of conscription. Others are going to vote for the government if they do not go any further. Other Liberal members intend to vote against the government because they will have nothing to do with conscription whatsoever. But to me there is no confusion. Free from all party ties, and as an independent member of this house, I wish to say that I will vote against the government, and can do so with a clear conscience.
Topic: QUESTIONS PASSED AS ORDERS FOR RETURNS
Subtopic: THE WAR