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Banner: First Among EqualsJohn Joseph Caldwell Abbott

Speech before the Senate, March 1, 1892


Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: It has been the custom in the debate on the Address for hon. gentlemen to make their remarks upon it, and it has usually been wound up by the leader of the House. If no hon. Member desires to say anything more on the subject of the Address, I would make a few remarks in a very cursory way to close the debate. I think I should join with my hon. friends opposite, and have good reason for doing so, in the compliments which they paid to the new members for the ability they displayed in moving and seconding the Address. I think apart from what we knew of them before, we have good reason, to judge from their efforts on that occasion, which is a very trying one, and not a very interesting one to them, I am sure, that they will be valuable members of the House; and I desire to add my compliments to those of my hon. friend opposite to them on the manner in which they addressed themselves to their task. I think I owe a few words of recognition also to the leader of the Opposition for the courtesy and good nature with which he performed his usual functions of criticizing the Address. I found what he said entirely destitute of any asperity or bad feeling, but in point of fact the very reverse of that, and I am gratified to recognize the fact that we can conduct our discussions without loss of temper, and without wounding each other's sensibilities in any way. The criticism which my hon. friend devoted to the Address was, at the same time trenchant, to some extent, on several points; and it is on these points that I propose to say a word or two. I must admit, as I have already said, that that criticism was of a friendly and frank character, and barring some portion of its substance, I have not a word to find fault with in it. My hon. friend commenced that criticism by a reference to the speech of the hon. gentleman who seconded the Address, on the subject of the duties on pork and beef and on other natural products of the country, and my hon. friend appeared to find fault with those duties. I would only say that it seems to me a little inconsistent with the assertions which hon. gentlemen opposite have been urging upon us: that the farmers were neglected: that the farmers were not protected: that they have no advantages: that all the protection was for the manufacturers. Now, it would appear from what my hon. friend said in his criticism on the speech of the seconder that he desires still further to oppress the farmers: to remove the protection which the Government has been carefully providing from time to time for several years past, wherever it appeared appropriate, and in such a degree as would not materially enhance the cost of living. I would venture to hint to my hon. friend that that opposition is a little inconsistent with the care for the farmers which the hon. gentleman and his friends have been so voluble in expressing on every possible and impossible occasion: in fact, I think using efforts based on such assertions as those to set the farmer against the manufacturer: to set one class of our people against another class of our people. From time to time, when we have had the opportunity, we have protected our farmers in respects in which they value protection. I venture to say that the policy of the Government in giving a moderate protection to the products of the farm, where it can be done with advantage, is one which the people of the country will generally approve of. My hon. friend, then, while he admits that in one sense the country is prosperous, says that it is not our doing that the country is prosperous: that we are not entitled to any credit for its being prosperous. This is the old theory of the fly upon the wheel: that we cannot do anything good to make the country prosperous, or do any harm to prevent it being prosperous. I venture to say that the Government have something to do with the prosperity of the country. I venture to say that the Government have something to do with the enormous production of the North-West, to which my hon. friend refers. But for which he says we are not entitled to any credit. Where would be the production of the North-West if we had not the Pacific Railway? How many millions of bushels, how many thousands of bushels, or how many bushels would have been grown in the North-West or exported from the North-West this season if it had not been for the persistence of this Government in the construction of the Pacific Railway ?

Hon. Mr. PERLEY: About 2 1-2 bushels.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: I fear that my hon. friend exaggerates in saying that. I doubt if there would have been a bushel exported.

Hon. Mr. POWER: Both parties were committed to building the railway.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: My hon. friend says that both parties were committed to building the railway. I think they were, but at the same time I must say that my hon. friend's party evaded that obligation, and talked to us about water stretches and the like, and from all the efforts they made during the four or five years they were in power, very little, I think, resulted towards the construction of any railway in the North-West; and whatever may have been the good intentions of these hon. gentlemen: and I have no doubt they desired to see railway communication with the North-West, though they had not the pluck or backbone to take the means to get it: still they desired to have it; but as far as intentions are concerned, we know to what use intentions are said to be placed, and they would not have done much good for the North-West. I insist, therefore, and I take issue with my hon. friend as to that, that this Government had something to do with the enormous productions of the North-West, and the great prosperity of the country, insofar as that prosperity has been promoted by the improvement of our means of transportation. My hon. friend remarks on our position with regard to the Behring Sea in a somewhat jesting manner, but I think there was something substantial intended in what he said on that subject. He said he was pleased to see the change of tone in this Government with regard to the Behring Sea, and was inclined to twit the Government with having taken a more dictatorial tone with regard to the Behring Sea question than at present. I would like my hon. friend to believe, and I would try to convince him, that this Government has not changed its ideas in the slightest degree with regard to the Behring Sea. It was probably a slip of the tongue when he said that we claimed jurisdiction over the Behring Sea. My hon. friend did not mean to convey the idea, I am sure; we never claimed jurisdiction over the Behring Sea.

Hon. Mr. SCOTT: What I said was, that the Government disputed the sovereignty of the United States over Behring Sea.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: We did dispute the sovereignty of the United States over the Behring Sea, and we dispute it now, and the question of the sovereignty of the Behring Sea; will not go before the arbitration. Mr. Blaine has formally, of late, abandoned any pretension to the exclusive jurisdiction over the Behring Sea. What is claimed, and what has been claimed, by the United Stated Government is that the seals which frequent the islands in the Behring Sea possessed by the Americans, frequent that sea for the purpose of breeding, and that some kind of right over these animals is acquired by the United States Government, in consequence of their resort to those islands for breeding purposes, and there are other pretensions in the reference which I think I might venture to characterize without desiring to be offensive in any way, as of a somewhat shadowy character. But the real pretension: the substantial contention of the United States has subsided to this point, that it is the protection of the seals against extinction that they seek. It is possible that some kind of measure for the purpose of preventing the total extinction of the race, is proper and should be adopted. And that is one of the subjects which the commissioners appointed by both Governments are now considering at Washington, and with which the arbitrators will eventually have to deal. So that in point of fact we stand now as we stood then. The controversy commenced by the seizure of our ships on the high seas by the American cruisers. That was remonstrated against, and finally in such an unmistakable tone that it was abandoned, and then the negotiations for this arbitration commenced. They have been very tedious: I do not know that they could have been shortened. I may say that throughout the whole of these negotiations we have been treated with the utmost consideration and courtesy by the home Government. We have been made acquainted with every step that has been taken: our opinions and advice have been asked upon most, if not all, the points that have arisen, and although they may not always, perhaps, have been taken, still, I think, as I said just now, that we have been treated with very complete consideration and courtesy by the home Government, and that in the natural course of events, in the whole line of which neither we nor the British Government have changed our positions in the slightest iota, there will be a solution which, I trust, will be satisfactory, and I hope may not be long delayed. I am just following my hon. friend through the points that he made, and I am endeavouring to deal with them in the same spirit in which he discussed them. The mission to Washington, of which my hon. friend spoke, he claimed had not been very prolific in results. Well, the results of those negotiations will be laid before the House soon, and hon. gentlemen will see exactly what took place there. We had an amicable discussion with the United States' Government respecting quite a number of matters in which we were often at issue with them, or not exactly agreed with them, and we did succeed in bringing several of those to a conclusion. My hon. friend says that we need not have gone there for the purpose of settling the boundary of Alaska: that the boundary is laid down clearly in the treaty and that the only difficulty is the expense of the survey. If my hon. friend had to conduct the arrangements for the delimitation of the boundary, he would form a different opinion on the subject. The parties who made that treaty knew, I fancy, very little about Alaska. They describe the line which is to be drawn from the point of an island to Portland channel and up Portland channel to its extreme point in the mountains, and, I think, from that to a parallel of latitude; then the line is to follow a range of mountains, at a distance not to exceed 10 marine leagues from the sea, until it reaches another parallel of latitude, which forms the northern boundary. Now, Portland channel, instead of running north, as the people who made the treaty supposed, runs practically east north-east. It has two passages, with a large and important island between them, and the very first question is, by which of these two passages does the line ascend Portland inlet: by the southerly or the northerly passage? There is difficulty number one, for which the treaty affords no certain solution.

Hon. Mr. SCOTT: It says "ascends along Portland channel."

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: The people who made that treaty did not know that there were two channels, having an island between them, and which of these two is to be adopted as the line is the first difficulty in settling that boundary. When the line comes to the top of that inlet, then it has to follow a range of mountains not more than 10 marine leagues from the sea. In order to reach such a range the line has to go back west again a considerable distance. It would appear, when that line is traced on the map, that it could scarcely meet the intentions of those who made the treaty. It is comprehensible that they thought Portland inlet ran northerly to a point at a distance 10 leagues from the sea, and that they desired to keep about the same distance from the sea all the way to the northern boundary, but literal conformity to that idea seems impracticable. That is difficulty number two. Then there is no perfectly continuous chain of mountains running absolutely parallel to the sea. That is difficulty number three. Then the question arises where is the sea? which is the greatest difficulty of all. What is to be considered the shore of the sea from which the 10 leagues are to be counted? The shore of that portion of Alaska is of the most extraordinary character possible. It is full of inlets running along the shore with islands interspersed amongst them, and this kind of coast extends out a considerable distance towards the sea. Our friends on the other side, who do not usually neglect demanding anything they can get, pretend that the extreme inmost line of these indentations of the coast, constitutes the sea, and that the line must run at 10 leagues distance all round the ends of each inlet, running up into the mountains sometimes 30 or 40 leagues from the sea. To survey a line like that, and lay it out, would probably cost the enormous sum that my hon. friend mentions, and which is said to have been the estimated expense of delimitation. I do not know a subject between the United States and ourselves that possesses one-tenth part of the difficulty that will be found in delimiting the boundary of Alaska. I think our rights are plain, and when we come to assert them we shall no doubt endeavour to make them prevail, but that we shall do so without difficulty, as my hon. friend says, is just as absolutely impossible as we have found it hitherto to settle other questions of a similar character with the United States not one-tenth part so difficult. These were the principal criticisms, I think, which my hon. friend addressed to the Speech in respect of the subjects I have just spoken of. My hon. friend diverged a little towards the subject of politics, and spoke of the promise in the Speech that there shall be a Bill for the redistribution of seats. And he expressed the hope that it will be fairer than the last. I do not know which was the last: Mr. Mowat's or this Government's. I know I had a letter from a distinguished politician in Ontario which I received yesterday, in which he stated that he thought the intention of both those Acts was the same, but that Mr. Mowat's was scientifically perfect in carrying out that intention; so I do not know whether my hon. friend meant or hoped it would be fairer than Mr. Mowat's or fairer than Sir John Macdonald's.

Hon Mr. SCOTT: Our politics here are not local.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: Well, the politics unfortunately, or fortunately, perhaps, are more or less local as well as general, and we know that the two parties hold identically the same principles in the two legislatures. When we refer to Liberals and Conservatives we refer probably to those holding Liberal or Conservative views, not only in this Parliament, but in the Local Legislature, and assuming that my friend meant Mr. Mowatt's Bill, I venture to say that the Redistribution Bill will be fairer than the last, and will not need to be scientifically constructed, because I think I may say it will be of an extremely simple character. My hon. friend also, before he finished, administered to himself some little consolation for the trifling misfortunes which have befallen upon himself and his friends during the last month or two. He found a great many reasons why the elections should go against the Liberal party. He thought that the lists were tampered with at Ottawa, and he thought that the judges manipulated the lists.

Hon. Mr. SCOTT: No; I did not say that.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: I think that the hon. gentleman stated that the revising officers were all officials of the Dominion Government, and that it might fairly be presumed that these gentlemen did not neglect the interests of the Government in framing the lists. And as the printing was in the hands of the Dominion it might also be presumed that the printers would insert names which they thought were needed to make up a sufficient volume of votes for the Conservative party. I do not think I shall dwell on those two objections, because I do not think my hon. friend would seriously make them. The revising officers are largely county judges, and in almost every case, I daresay I might say in every case, but I do not know that positively, men of good position, men belonging to our own profession, who have a singular faculty for throwing off prejudices when they assume a judicial position. That has been the universal opinion expressed, not only by lawyers, but by the public as well, and I do not think my hon. friend will controvert it; and I think he was not serious in these insinuations. His whole criticism was good natured, and I think he was jesting when he made those remarks, and that he did not seriously accuse the revising officers of the Dominion of tampering with the lists for the purpose of favouring the Government. I do not believe myself that they did and I do not believe that the country think they did, and in that position I feel myself perfectly strong. But he says we fixed the elections when we pleased; we named the returning officers, and he complains that we did not fix all these bye-elections on one day. I think that my hon. friend will find that the returning officers are generally the same men who performed the same duties in former general elections. If they had been guilty of any wrong-doing there are a great many watchful eyes fixed upon them, and we should be sure to hear of it. I think the returning officers have been singularly free from our charge bearing any impress of truth, or supported by any kind of evidence, of having in any way abused their position. I do not refer to the editorials which come out in party papers on the occasion of a defeat, whether by one side or the other. That is like the 24 hours that we give in Lower Canada to the clients who lose to curse their judges. I do not consider them of any more weight than the objurgations of the unfortunate clients. Beyond that I may say, and I say it without fear of contradiction, that the returning officers, as a class, have been remarkably free from any imputation of impropriety in their conduct, and certainly from any formal charges of such impropriety, and I do not at this moment call to mind anyone for years past who has been found guilty of any serious impropriety in the discharge of his functions. As to fixing elections on the same day, I do not know myself why that rule was adopted. I do not see any good reason for it, unless it be the fear of discussion. If there is a party in the country which is afraid of having public questions discussed, I can understand that they would like to fix the same day for all the elections, in order that the men who can explain the position of matters, in public affairs, would have their attention so much divided that there would be little or no opportunity for explaining or instructing the people as to that position. But apart from that, the idea of having the elections all on one day has found favour in the country, and has been adopted in the case of our general elections. But in this instance it was impossible to fix all the elections on the one day, unless we had put them all off until after the middle of February: until pretty near the time when the House met: because hon. gentlemen will remember that the 31st December is the day on which the revising officers were required to send in their lists; and although such is the rule, a great many of them did not send in their lists until after the date. After those lists are sent in they have to be put in type, and it has been the practice to send back the proofs to the revising officers, in order that they may themselves correct the printed list by the duplicates or memoranda in their possession.

Hon. Mr. MILLER: It is the law.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: I do not know that they are obliged by law to send the lists to the revising officers to correct the proofs, but they do so.

Hon. Mr. MILLER: Yes; and to sign them.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: In the first place, the lists did not come in until after they should have been here, and in the next place when the proofs were sent to the revising officers they were not returned as promptly as might have been desired. In some cases the revising officers made a reference to both parties in the constituency to assist in the correction of the proofs. In others they took great pains themselves to compare the lists with memoranda they had, all these being precautions taken to prevent what my hon. friend from Ottawa jestingly said might have occurred with regard to the lists when in the hands of the revising officers. But the consequence of all this was that these lists came dropping in at intervals of a day or two until about the 15th of February, when, I think, the last came down. So it would have been impossible, had we made up our minds to fix all the elections on one day, to have had that day fixed before the time I have mentioned, because the law requires a certain notice to be given before the nominations, and then an interval must elapse before the polling. On one occasion we did fix seven of the elections for one day, because we had seven lists ready. The lists were ready and the elections were held accordingly. Then my hon. friend will perceive that in some cases there were appeals. In some cases the judgments were not rendered till late in the vacation, and warrants could not issue thereafter till notice of judgment was given. All these circumstances combined rendered it absolutely impossible to carry out the idea of having all the elections on one day.

Hon. Mr. POWER: I have no doubt the Government were very much disturbed and distressed because they could not manage it.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: I must say that personally I was not very much disturbed, because personally I hold the opinion that the more discussion there is on a subject on which I am right the more likely I am to be sustained by the people.

Hon. Mr. POWER: Then the hon. gentleman should have waited and allowed full discussion until the last of those lists were ready. Then he would have got the full discussion, and had a fair election afterwards.

Hon. Mr. ABBOTT: We had the full discussion as it was. We had the fullest possible discussion in every county in which an election took place, and there was an ample number of gentlemen thoroughly acquainted with public affairs, on both sides, who visited these counties when the elections were pending for the purpose of discussing these questions and I think that a full discussion carried on while a certain amount of interest prevailed in the county, in consequence of the election pending, tended more than the ordinary half-hearted discussion spread over a length of time, to inform the electors of the actual issues before the country and to bring about the beneficial result which we have to congratulate ourselves upon, than the system which my hon. friend would propose to adopt. I regret very much to have to remark upon the loss which this House has sustained since we last met, in the persons of two of our most valued, and oldest Senators. I am sure this House will join with me in the expression of the greatest possible sympathy with their fiends and relations in their loss, especially in the case of one of those hon. Senators, who certainly I may say was prematurely cut off. We saw him last in the enjoyment of apparently the greatest possible health and strength, and we lost him after a comparatively short illness. I am sure I need to say no more on that subject than just to express the great regret we all feel at the loss we have sustained in the death of these two gentlemen.

The motion was agreed to.

The Senate adjourned at 6 o'clock.


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Source : Canada. Parliament. Senate. Debates of the Senate of the Dominion of Canada. 7th Parliament, 2nd Session (February 25, 1892: July 9, 1892). Ottawa: Holland Bros., 1892. Pages 42-47.


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