Miss Sybil Bennett (Halton):
Mr. Speaker, after listening to the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles) I think I should tell you of a suggestion which was
Defence Production Act made to me by one of the members from across the floor of the house when I was walking up to the house this morning. He said to me, "When you stand up to speak, you suggest to Mr. Speaker that this house take 40 minutes of very profound silence." I do not know whether or not the hon. member was discriminating against me and meant that he did not want to hear me speak. But we should be quite willing to take into consideration 40 minutes-and I must say that I should be extremely glad if that 40 minutes came at this moment-of profound silence if at the end of that 40 minutes we felt that there would be any change, that any good might come of it, that there might be any developments, or that the members across the way and those to my left might really see the light in this matter in the way in which we have seen it.
Mr. Speaker, this has been a protracted and long-drawn-out debate. But this debate has produced some fine and good things in this country. One thing it has produced is proof that democracy in Canada is very much alive. While we have hon. members in this house standing up to defend our constitution and our parliamentary rights, there is no question that we in this country and in this house are cognizant of the rights, privileges and freedoms that we enjoy under our constitution and under our institutions.
I think it is a most unfortunate thing, Mr. Speaker, that all the members of this house on this occasion have not risen to express their opinion. If their opinions are opposed to ours with regard to what is the proper thing to do and if they are favouring this bill, by all means hon. members on the opposite side of the house should rise in their places and express their opinions, as should hon. members on all sides. The people of this country should know why they think this bill should be enacted. The people of this country should know why they think these powers should be extended indefinitely. The people of this country expect that kind of thing. They expect it of their various members coming, as they do, from the various constituencies all across this country. I want to say this. I think every hon. member across the floor of the house, as well as those to my left, will thoroughly agree that this debate that is taking place in this distinguished house has had a great impact on the people of this nation.
Now, this fact is evidenced in the editorials that we see in the newspapers across this country. It is to be noted that these editorials are coming, in many instances, from newspapers that are and have always been entirely friendly to, and have always supported, the
Defence Production Act party-in power in this house. The press has always held a very honourable and a very rightful position in this nation. They are the ones who give guidance. They are the ones who, to a great extent, interpret what is being said in this house; what is being felt across this country. Therefore, when we see these editorials appearing, we cannot help but feel that the people of this country are listening to this debate. They are interested in this debate. They realize the grave issues, and they are grave issues. Let us make no mistake about it. They realize that issues are at hand, issues are being discussed and principles are at stake.
These principles have arisen out of our attitude of mind over a period of years. We cannot help but assimilate some of the attitudes of mind that are prevalent in the world today. This very discussion that we are having in this house actually has arisen out of an assimilation by the people of Canada and their representatives of these new feelings and these new philosophies that are abroad, and which have come to us from other parts of the world. Not only do we see these editorials, not only do we know that the press is voicing its opinion and saying what it thinks is right, but many members who go to their constituencies over the week end are hearing expressions of opinion. Some of us who have these smaller constituencies and have the privilege of walking down village streets, town streets and even cities, of visiting on the back concession lines, find the people are asking questions.
They say, what are you doing down there in Ottawa? What is taking place? What is this debate about, and what is this question of extending this Defence Production Act? What is this question about giving these great undefined powers, for actually they are undefined. We do not know how far they may impinge upon the economic life of this nation. They are asking why, what is this all about? They say, we think the minister has gone too far this time. We do not believe these things should be. This thing is not right. We are living in a free country. A government should not have these powers now that we have moved over into something approaching peacetime. I do not say for one moment that we do not live in dangerous times, because we do. As I said before, dangerous times have become normal. Really, we have to consider the whole thing from that standpoint. They say we do not want anything that has the appearance of compulsion. We do not want anything that leads us to ultimately arrive at any form of dictatorship in any phase of our lives.
So the people in the cities, in the towns, in the villages and along the concession lines have come to know the problem. There is no need to go into all these points that have been argued. They have been argued with great brilliance. Yesterday they were argued by my leader in a most able, magnificent and monumental manner. The whole principle relating to this act was explicitly set out and dealt with. The people of this country know full well what the issues are. Let us make no mistake about that. I venture to say that those members sitting opposite, who have not risen to say anything about this principle but only interject at various times, are deeply concerned about this thing. I have no doubt they are deeply concerned because they go home to their constituencies. They are cognizant of what is being said, and the thoughts that are being expressed. I am sure that if we could get an expression of opinion such as we should have-because if they think this thing is right they should explain to the people of this country why this thing is right-then we would be able to make our decisions and the people of this country would be able to make their decisions. The very fact that they remain silent about the whole thing is almost certain evidence that they cannot go along and do not approve of the extreme powers that are being asked in this act by the minister.
If we are to honestly decide about this act, if we are to honestly review it from every standpoint, if we are to consider and know whether it is a good act or a bad act, a proper act or one that should be on the statute books of this country, we have to look back to the source from which this act comes. We have to look back to the type of thinking that has been forthcoming during the years, and the type of thinking that would propound and introduce such an act at this particular time. It is easy to understand that when we are in an actual war or an emergency, an act of this kind should be passed. We have no quarrel with that. We still believe in that. We are still willing to give these great powers if they are needed, and if they are necessary.
But what is the background? What is the type of thinking on the part of the government that they would introduce this bill and ask that these powers be extended indefinitely? Over the years a great change has been taking place in this country, and it has been evidenced by the party in power. They have been in power a great many years. Right here in this house we have seen the rise of the power of the ministry; we have seen the rise in the power of the cabinet, and analogous to it we have seen a recession in the
power of the members and the members of the government party. They have become docile with the urge to follow. They are under the dictation of the ministers, and those who sit in seats of authority. It has not been difficult for supporters of the government party to assume that parliament feels the same way, or for them to reach the assumption that parliament is something that is very unreal, that parliament cannot act quickly, or that in parliament there is too much discussion and too much debate. We have seen this taking place in the House of Commons on those many occasions when the government party has been unwilling to give us the information we want.
They go ahead with the management of the country and, of course, they have been given the authority to do so. But in what they have done there has been a growing tendency to disregard the functions of parliament, to disregard the rights and precepts and the institution of parliament. And with this going on it has required only a step farther to disregard the rights of the people. In bringing in this measure one cannot help feeling that there has been this lack of regard. It has been brought in at a time when, it is agreed, there is no great or immediate emergency or one likely to arise. It is agreed, of course, that we are living in dangerous times, in times when we must take measures to protect ourselves, build our defences to the level they should be, and keep them there.
But this whole idea of bringing in a bill so vast, so sweeping, so undetermined in its terms and meaning, a bill that reaches far down into the economic life of the people, is something to which parliament must give serious thought. It is something we must discuss. And, in addition to all these sweeping powers, it is indicated that the minister wants to make the legislation permanent, so that these things can be done at all times and under all circumstances.
That we are reaching a normal state of life is borne out by the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent). It is clear that we are moving into better times; and the fact that we are in a more conciliatory mood toward other parts of the world, and that they regard us in a similar fashion, is borne out by the Secretary of State for External Affairs (Mr. Pearson).
But despite all this, despite the economic set-up in the country and in industry, the government insists upon retaining these powers, and that it retain compulsion and dictatorship, if I may use that expression, over industry itself. That is the issue we are debating and that we must consider.
Defence Production Act
I shall not discuss the bill in detail, because there has been considerable discussion as to its provisions, involving the right of law and the extent to which it goes. But I would like to speak briefly and to take the long view as to the far-reaching effects of the bill on the economic life of the people in this country. I would like to point out how the bill affects industry and its rights, and how it affects its future development.
The more I read the speech of the Minister of Defence Production (Mr. Howe) on June 28, the more I read into the meaning of this bill, and how ominous might be its effects. If one looks into the minister's explanation on June 28, when he discussed the bill in an explanatory fashion, and pointed out what he wanted and what he considered was necessary, that portion of his remarks which impressed me-and I am sure every other hon. member-was his statement that when he listened to the debate, and to what opposition members have to say about the bill, he felt himself in another world.
It is clear from what the minister has said that when we have been debating the freedom of parliament, the rights of parliament, the question of whether or not the representatives of the people should have the right to say what is taking place in the country, and when we have been debating the very principles of our constitution, involving our rights and privileges in parliament, and the rights of members sent here by their constituents to take part in debate, the right hon. minister says that he thinks we are in another world. It sounds to him as though we are debating the problems of another world, problems that, to his mind, are entirely irrelevant. He suggests that we are talking about subjects beyond the provisions in the bill and that do not affect the issue before the house.
If the minister feels that in this debate we have been in another world, then I must say we feel he has been in another world, particularly when he brings in a bill of this kind asking for powers so extensive, so far-reaching and so deeply affecting the economic life of the country. Not only does it affect the economic life but it also affects the social and every other phase of our life, because these cannot be divided.
Mr. Speaker, may I call it one o'clock?
At one o'clock the house took recess.
The house resumed at 2.30 p.m.
Topic: DEFENCE PRODUCTION ACT
Subtopic: AMENDMENTS RESPECTING SALARY OF MINISTER AND EXPIRY OF ACT