Mr. P. E. COTE (Verdun):
Mr. Speaker, in the time at my disposal to-night I assume the very serious responsibility of expressing myself in a language which is not my mother tongue, one which I must confess I am far from mastering. I wish to pay tribute in their own
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language to the spirit of good-will and understanding of the English-speaking citizens in the constituency which I have the honour to represent. I shall also speak in this language with a certain amount of pride and pleasure, because it will enable me to address myself in a direct, if not a perfect way to my colleagues of British descent in the house, and to tell them most sincerely how much I have appreciated the friendships with which they have honoured me during the two years I have sat in this chamber.
In passing, I wish to point, with great pride as a Canadian and with no less hope for the future of Canada, to their sincere attempts to approach and to discuss in a comprehensive and courteous manner the internal difficulties our country has not been spared in this critical day. The better I have come to know my colleagues, the more I have appreciated them. I realize that there is one main condition which must be met before complete and lasting unity is achieved in this country. There must be a better knowledge of each other's history, traditions and ideals in order to justify our claim to true citizenship in this country. True Canadians must love not only the soil of their country but also the inhabitants of that soil, irrespective of their racial beliefs; they must respect the institutions which regulate each other's social, religious and political life.
Such a result cannot be achieved in a short period of time. Canada has a population of only 11,500,000 people, but its area is equal to the whole of Europe or to the United States with its territorial possessions. As with a human being, the impulse of life of a nation must come from the heart. Ottawa, the capital city, where meet the representatives from all the provinces, is the heart of Canada. Therefore we as members have a definite responsibility to discharge in furthering national unity. We must take back to our constituents a better picture of the other parts of Canada which most of them have never visited, and of the people living in those different districts. In my province there are villages and even municipalities peopled with those of French descent which seldom see visitors of any other extraction. Is it any wonder that my compatriots have such a vague knowledge of their fellow citizens in other parts of Canada and that campaigns of prejudice led by extremists of all sorts result in discontent and mistrust.
I am told by my colleagues from other provinces that the same situation exists in their constituencies. A great number of citizens there have never met a French Canadian, and the only knowledge they have of French Canadians is from the newspapers. If the
one they happen to read is of the type whose supreme ambition is to disunite the country, one should not be astonished at the bad feeling that arises from time to time between the different races whose destiny it is to build a strong and prosperous nation. The main and vital link between the two racial groups in our dominion must be forged here in Ottawa by the members of this house. If they discharge that duty as they should, the cornerstone of national unity will be laid and will last forever.
On April 27 the dominion government asked the population of this country to release it from past pledges. The question was in the following form:
Are you in favour of releasing the government from any obligation arising out of any past commitments restricting the methods of raising men for military service?
This was a special occasion indeed. The public was invited to take a direct share of the responsibility of administering the affairs of this country. It was with that thought in mind that I approved the principle of the plebiscite, as will be seen from my remarks made in the house on February 12. Nevertheless, the question was ambiguous, and the members of this government have been the first to admit that. Perhaps that fact has accounted for the great number of those who developed that particular theme during the debate on the address in reply to the speech from the throne, as well as those who repeatedly addressed the public over the radio and through the newspapers during the few weeks which preceded the vote when an effort was made to explain the true meaning of the question and predict the results of an affirmative or a negative vote.
On February 12, when I addressed the house for the first time, I supported the policy of the government in connection with this plebiscite. I considered that policy to be a most democratic procedure and I did not hesitate to endorse its principles. Following the magnificent speech delivered by the Right Hon. Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) over the radio on April 7, I went to my constituency and opened a campaign in favour of an affirmative vote. I appealed to my fellow citizens to release me from the pledge which I had given during the last election campaign and which I had repeated on several occasions afterwards. Following the worthy speeches which had been made across the country by outstanding members of this house, I promised my constituents that conscription was not directly related to the issue of the plebiscite. I asserted that an affirmative vote would not be a vote in
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favour of conscription. I gave them to understand that the circumstances of this war were such that it had become necessary and imperative in order to maintain the unity of the country that members of parliament be released from any past commitments made with regard to the method of raising men for overseas service.
I told my constituents that parliament should be allowed to consider any appropriate measure without any restriction, should be completely free to act if circumstances developed which made it necessary to bring in such a measure for the furtherance of our war effort. I was greatly honoured on the evening of April 27 to learn that my constituents had listened to my plea and had responded to the call of the Prime Minister. They had given a majority of over 8,600 affirmative votes. That meant that two-thirds of the total vote of my constituency was affirmative. During my first speech in this house I said that the constituency of Verdun seemed to me to be a miniature Canada because of the various racial and religious groups to be found there. The result of the plebiscite would seem to confirm that statement because the final returns for the whole country showed the same two-thirds majority in the affirmative.
The plebiscite was held with a view to learning the will of the people concerning the pledges which had been made and which prevented the government and the members of this house from having a free hand in carrying out our war effort. It is most important that a correct interpretation should be given to the results of the plebiscite. As far as I am concerned as the representative of Verdun, I consider myself released from the obligations I had assumed in the past when I promised my constituents that I would never favour conscription, that I would oppose any bill which would bring in conscription for overseas service. Moreover, in view of the appeal I made for an affirmative vote in the plebiscite campaign and the interpretation which was generally given to the statements made over the radio and through the press by outstanding members of this house who took a very active part in the campaign, I am bound to consider that the will of the majority in Verdun has given me a special mandate to withhold from debating conscription until such circumstances have arisen as would render it necessary for the furtherance of our total war effort. If such events should present themselves, I would feel authorized to endorse such legislation after having carefully studied
the alleged necessity for it and on the condition that I as a member of this house be permitted to debate the principle as well as the regulations for the enforcement of this new form of compulsory service.
However, contrary to what happened in the other provinces, in the constituency of Verdun as in most of the other Quebec constituencies the campaign for an affirmative vote had a counterpart in the strong opposition which was organized and led ever since the plebiscite was announced in the speech from the throne. Radio broadcasts and mass meetings, supported by several of the daily newspapers and by most of the weeklies, appealed for a negative vote on the ground that the question put to the people of Canada, meant conscription, that this was the one and only opportunity the electors had to express an opinion on this veiy important question, and finally, that the Prime Minister left the people entirely free to express their personal and sincere view about it, because he had declared that no vote of confidence was involved in voting on the plebiscite, and he particularly insisted on that in his reply to the telegram which had been sent to him by the leader of the opposition (Mr. Hanson) two days before the voting on the plebiscite.
The plebiscite has made known the will of the people of the province of Quebec, but not that of the people in the other provinces, on the very question of conscription for overseas service. It is most unjust and unfair to compare the results of the plebiscite in the province of Quebec with those in the other provinces, because in Quebec there was an organized opposition to the "yes" vote, while in the other eight provinces there was not the slightest organized attempt to show that the vote on the plebiscite was or might be construed as a vote for or against conscription. All the members for the other provinces spoke in the same way to their constituents; and all the newspapers, political clubs, veterans' organizations, trade unions and various social bodies were unanimous in appealing for an affirmative vote on the ground that it did not mean a vote in favour of or against conscription.
The 27th of April was a voting day throughout Canada. It was a real election day. In the eight English-speaking provinces the official candidate of that election was a "yes" vote. Its candidature before the electors was unanimously supported by all organized and public bodies. The candidate did not have any opponent, and so got elected by acclamation.
The victory of April 27th in the other provinces was a victory for the demand of members of parliament and the government for a free
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hand to deal with conscription should the necessity arise, while in Quebec it was a free expression of opinion on the very question of conscription.
If the plebiscite issue had been contested with as much vehemence in the other provinces as in Quebec-and it could have been to judge by the number of negative votes which were cast-the question submitted to the people might have had a different meaning for those electors, and they might have had in mind to vote for or against conscription, as the great majority of the people did in the province of Quebec. In that event the results then might have been very different.
I therefore conclude that if the campaign led in the province of Quebec by the supporters of the negative vote brought the result that we know in most of our constituencies, and if this result is construed as strong opposition in that province to any measure of conscription for overseas service at this time, it does not follow that the results in the other provinces are to be interpreted as a vote on behalf of conscription. I still believe that at this very moment the proportion of our population that would favour this measure even in principle would represent but a minority in the country. I am sure that that is the opinion in my own constituency.
The bill now submitted to the house for second reading is brought down for the purpose of amending the National Resources Mobilization Act, 1940. Section 2 of that act is suggested to be amended to read as follows:
The governor in council may do and authorize such acts and things, and make from time to time such orders and regulations, requiring persons to place themselves, their services and their property at the disposal of his majesty in the right of Canada, as may be deemed necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of Canada, the maintenance of public order, or the efficient prosecution of the war, or for maintaining supplies or services essential to the life of the community.
I now quote the last few lines of section 5 of the act, because they relate to the publication of orders in council:
. . . provided that any of the steps specified in this section may be omitted or deferred if the governor in council considers such omission or deferment necessary in the national interest having regard to the special circumstances.
We all admit, Mr. Speaker, that this is enabling legislation. It empowers the governor in, council to deal from now on, and without any consultation of parliament, with this very question of conscription for overseas service. It will enable the governor in council to decide whether coming events in this war are such that the people of this country will subscribe to a measure of conscription for
overseas service. This amendment gives the governor in council full power to make such decision. The governor in council will also be the only authority to enact compulsory service and to determine the principles and regulations under which this compulsion shall be enforced. Above all, he will not even be bound to make these orders and regulations known to parliament and to the people of the country if he considers that such an attitude on his part is necessary in the national interest under the circumstances.
All hon. members will agree that this bill has been intended by the government and is an attempt to put into effect the affirmative result of the plebiscite. The will of the majority must prevail in this country. I myself will admit that. Knowing the will of the majority of this country, I would be the first to make mine the words of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1917 and abide by such will. But is it certain that this piece of legislation does not go beyond the will which was expressed by the people on April 27?
Of course the repeal of section 3 of the National Resources Mobilization Act does free the hands of the government. But if this amendment is approved, the mobilization act will have a new bearing which, I submit, will exceed the powers granted by the electors of this country.
Who in this house can say, from the affirmative vote given in the country, it is the will of the people to insert in our statutes at this very moment the principle of conscription without waiting to see whether new circumstances will arise to render it necessary?
Who can say that the affirmative vote was a demand upon members of parliament to yield to the governor in council their privileges as regards the most vital problem that has ever existed in the country in relation to our national unity, and this, before any new circumstances in the nature of those mentioned to the people of Canada during the campaign preceding the plebiscite, have arisen to justify any such surrender to the governor in council?
If the question asked on the plebiscite had been in the following terms, for example, "Do you favour the repeal by parliament of section 3 of the National Resources Mobilization Act, 1940?" and if it had been explained to the electors that an affirmative vote would grant to the governor in council full power to put conscription for overseas service into force without any consultation with parliament, at any time that he found the measure to be absolutely necessary, and to enact any regulations to govern the enforcement of that measure of conscription without resort to the advice of or any consultation with members of
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parliament, I wonder what the result would have been in the country. I am sure, knowing my constituency as I do know it, that the affirmative vote on the evening of April 27 would not have given a majority of over 8,600.
In order to get from the country a full expression of its will on this bill, supposed to be the necessary conclusion of the plebiscite, I submit that we should have used the question I have just quoted instead of the one which was indicated on the ballots on April 27. This bill would not then have exceeded the meaning of the plebiscite. As I have just suggested, it would have been a direct sequence of an affirmative vote on the plebiscite.
As a result of the plebiscite we have witnessed a campaign of prejudice and race cries against the province of Quebec, coming from groups of citizens of this country who know the least about Canadians of French descent. They may have come into the province on business purposes, but never have they gone through the experience of a close contact with our French population. Yet these extremists of all sorts have not ceased since April 27 to accuse Quebec of all possible evils in connection with our war effort. I will not insist on the records which Quebec has already set of her will to cooperate in this total war of oura and to contribute to the final victory.
I wish to state that in my opinion this bill before the house has another major aspect. It will help to satisfy and might eventually encourage the feelings which have been developed since April 27 against Quebec by a group of unpatriotic Canadians. This bill in view of its particular implications appears to me to be supported by sentiment rather than by the result and meaning of the plebiscite. Our war effort up to this time, on, both the industrial and military fronts, has been a total and well-balanced war effort, since it would not have been possible to do any better had conscription for overseas service been put into effect a year or two years ago. What is the reason for this change of policy? Our voluntary system is meeting the requirements of the active army in a satisfactory way. Logically, there is no need and no reason for the adoption of this principle at this time. Yet it is proposed to this house to answer the threats of those who want conscription because it is conscription and for no other reason-because in their eyes conscription is the symbol of a total war effort. If we let sentiment overcome common sense and reason in the settlement of such an important problem as that of conscription, we shall render unity impossible in this country. As long as there is not a sincere and deep Canadianism in this dominion, it is not the particular feeling of
a minority part of a racial group that will serve to unite the country in such a tremendous effort as she is making in this war.
Since the outbreak of war about 25,000 orders in council have been passed by this government to regulate our economic life, war production and military services.
The representatives of the people in parliament have not been consulted about these orders in council, although about three hundred of them were in conflict with some existing statutes. No serious reaction was caused in the country by their enactment, because these regulations were based on logic and not on emotions, and thus the Canadian people have welcomed them in their strong desire to contribute in a total war effort.
I believe, on the other hand, that in my constituency, if not in the whole dominion, my fellow citizens expect that conscription, which has been the vulnerable point of Canadian unity for the past twenty-five years, will remain the exclusive privilege of this parliament to debate and to decide upon whenever circumstances shall arise to render necessary its introduction in this house.
Being a citizen of a free country, I have spoken my mind very freely on this matter of Bill No. 80. In spite of the attitude which I sincerely feel I shall have to take when the bill is put to the vote, let me assure the house that our country is actually making a total war effort and if possible, as circumstances develop, it will be increasing that effort without any objection in my province and in the constituency of Verdun. Moreover, our people in Quebec realize that this is now a Canadian war; that we are fighting for Canada; that we are fighting for our own traditions and creed; that we are fighting for our own salvation. We believe, I for one certainly believe, that the future of Canada being at stake in this war, we cannot ask anything better than that the true Canadian at the head of this country should continue to lead our war effort, with the same success that we have achieved in the past. In spite of the attitude that I shall take on this bill,
I wish to convey to our Prime Minister my sincere admiration and to assure him of my everlasting support notwithstanding that, being a free citizen, I shall again speak my free mind in order to express the opinion of the majority of our population in the constituency of Verdun.
Topic: MOBILIZATION ACT
Subtopic: AMENDMENT TO REPEAL SECTION 3 PROVIDING LIMITATION IN RESPECT OP SERVICE OVERSEAS