Mr. L. E. Cardiff (Huron):
Mr. Speaker, I, too, did not intend to take part in this debate. I took 20 minutes of the time of this house during the last debate, and I do not regret it. I tried my best not to say anything that would provoke anyone else. I have sat in as many parliaments as any man in this house except one. In the 25 years I have been here, I have never sat in a worse conducted parliament; I can say that truthfully. I am not referring to the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker. They have had an impossible job, and for the life of me I do not know how they control themselves. It is ridiculous, the things they have had to put up with, and mostly from members on the government side. We on this side know enough to keep our mouths shut and remain quiet when there is someone speaking from the other side. Apparently all hon. members opposite want to do is make interjections to try to confuse the person who has the floor.
I have a few things I want to say and because I have only a few things I wrote them out during the supper hour. I am one of those who has to either speak without notes or follow my notes closely. I do not want anybody razzing me about reading my speech. I am not going to read it all, but if I have to throw it away it will be all the worse for you. As I see it, there is only one excuse for bringing the flag resolution before the house and that is the lack of preparedness on the part of the government to introduce other important legislation. I could add that the legislation which has been introduced was withdrawn and redrafted before it even had a change of being passed by parliament. The Prime Minister (Mr. Pearson) used the flag issue to stifle parliament for his own selfish, personal advantage. He used the flag issue also to kill time in order to get more important legislation ready to bring before the house. What an excuse that is. It has cost the Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars. If I were the Prime Minister of Canada and responsible for introducing a controversial subject such as the flag, I would at least be in my place in the house to hear what members had to say about it.
I have a clipping here from a newspaper that is very favourable to the government. I would not quote from any other newspaper because I want to be very fair to them. This comes from the Winnipeg Tribune.
There was nothing wrong with Prime Minister Pearson's speech to the Royal Canadian Legion except its object.
He chose this occasion to haul down the red ensign.
The speech was in reality a declaration of Liberal government intent. At the same time it was an attempt to justify a new emblem on the grounds of national unity. The case was unconvincing.
Prior to his visit to Winnipeg, Mr. Pearson had let it be known that his government would stand or fall on the flag issue. It is the government which has selected this particular time to force a showdown.
It is this newspaper's opinion that the timing of this flag proposal is bad. If the main purpose is to consolidate unity it is a peculiar approach for, as witnessed at the Legion meeting, the dominant reaction is disunity. Unfortunately, too, the Prime Minister's approach leaves little ground for thoughtful consideration. He asks, in effect, for a surrender of what is known for something unknown. He entertains a mystique about the price of unity which he is unable to articulate.
In addition to poor timing, the method of introducing the design was odd. In Ottawa last week a high level press conference made it clear that the Pearson government would stand or fall on the new flag. The following day in the Commons Mr. Pearson said that a new design had not been decided upon. At the Legion meeting on Sunday, he left the impression that only the maple leaf motif was firm. Yet the next day Mr. Pearson unveiled his choice at a press conference.
Just how much the cabinet was apprised in advance of all this is unknown. But certainly parliament has been kept completely in the dark.
I might mention at this point that the hon. member for York-Humber (Mr. Cowan) made a statement in the house to the effect that this subject was never brought up in the Liberal caucus, and nobody knew anything about it except a few at the top levels of government.
In attempting to force an absolute decision in this ill-defined region, the Prime Minister has created a maelstrom. It is true that he has attempted to reduce the problem to straight political terms but unfortunately this does not provide the flexible basis required.
He has placed himself and his government on the record to introduce a new flag. He has rejected the proposal for a national plebiscite and insists that the issue must be decided on a free vote in the Commons. But then he has also added that the result would be interpreted by his government as a vote of confidence.
In other words he is prepared to fight an election on the issue. He is willing to jeopardize national unity in the hope of political advantage but he is unwilling to seek an expression of opinion in a plebiscite in which the issue would be the flag, not seats in parliament.
This places the M.P.'s in a position where they no longer will be truly free to exercise their
judgment on the merits of a flag. Instead they will have to weigh the significance of the consequences, a government defeat and, even worse, an election to be fought on the design of a flag.
Such an unpleasant encounter could scarcely be an ingredient of unity. It would also be mischievous and perhaps seriously harmful, for surely the problems of this country cannot be resolved in the flag alone.
Topic: CANADIAN FLAG
Subtopic: MOTION FOR CONCURRENCE IN SIXTH REPORT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE