This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.
Speech before the House of Commons, February 15, 1921
Right Hon. ARTHUR MEIGHEN (continuing): Mr. Speaker, my desire is to extract as fairly as I can what there is of substance in the speech delivered by the Leader of the Opposition (Hon. Mr. Mackenzie King) in the way of an attack on the position assumed by the present Government -- to extract it and place it before the House in such forum that at least the House can understand what the attack means and what was the argument by which it was sought to support that attack. I will have to drag the substance from under a mass of hyperbole, but the effort must be made.
I may have the aspiration -- but if have I certainly have not the talent -- to rival my hon. friend in the power of declamation, a power that he has exercised throughout most of his life and which he has brought to some degree of perfection. All I aim to do in my humble way is to place before this House, in understandable terms, and through this House, before the country, the position this Government honestly takes; and the position which it believes it is in duty bound to take in the interests of the people.
My hon. friend (Mr. Mackenzie King) places before the House an amendment to the Address, in which he declares that this Government, has not the confidence of this House. Well, if that is the whole purpose of the amendment, it has no purpose at all. If the motion for the Address is defeated, that means that the House has no confidence in the Government. So the first question that arises in one's mind is: Why is this motion before the House at all? Why is this amendment here? It serves no purpose in the world -- that is to say, so far as getting an expression of opinion on the part of this House is concerned as to confidence in the Government. I do not think I will proceed very far before the House will understand just what my hon. friend had in mind in bringing up this naked amendment for discussion. It was not so much to throw an issue into Parliament as to see that Parliament did not get an issue at all.
Last session we had this same amendment -- or, rather, we had an amendment calling for a dissolution, which my hon. friend says is still his persistent object and purpose. But he had the grace last session to embody in the amendment some reasons why in his judgment dissolution should take place. Last session he read the following as the reasons why the House should dissolve and an appeal to the people should be made:
"The regrettable protracted absence of the Prime Minister, the widely accepted belief that it is not his intention to return to the duties of his office, the makeshift arrangements for the direction of important departments to which no minister has been regularly appointed, the attempt to carry on the public business when the three eastern Maritime Provinces are entirely unrepresented in the Cabinet -- these and other things -- "
The other things being all unspecified:
"operate to produce a condition of uncertainty and instability from which a vigorous and efficient administration of the Dominion's affairs cannot be expected."
And those reasons are absent from this amendment. Why? Because they all ceased to be true. The very opposite is the fact in every instance, and my hon. friend, in search for some reasons that he could append to and embody in his amendment, finds none at all; so he simply comes forward with no reasons and states that the House should express its lack of confidence in the Government.
He wants to know by what right this Government is in office. By the sane right that every government is in office in Canada to-day or has ever been in office in this country -- by the right of the confidence of a majority of the Parliament elected by a majority of the people. My hon. friend thought we had no right to be in office last session, but on every vote the government was sustained by a large majority, particularly on the vote in which he wished to declare that a dissolution should take place, "Oh", he says, "you may have a majority in Parliament, but you should not be there because you have a new Prime Minister and a new Government". Did not all the members of the old Government, he says, go out of office with the Prime Minister? Why certainly they did. Did they not all declare allegiance to the new Prime Minister and the new Government and take the oath of office again? Certainly they did; that is the case with the advent of every new Prime Minister in the history of every country. That was the case in the instance recited by my hon. friend of Sir John Abbott and Sir John Thompson. It was also the case when the present member for Shelburne and Queen's (Mr. Fielding) resigned the post of Premier of Nova Scotia and was succeeded by Mr. Murray. It was the case when Mr. Hardy became Premier of Ontario. It was the case when Mr. Martin, the present Premier of Saskatchewan took office there. It was the case when Mr. Stewart, the present Premier of Alberta, took office in that Province. It was the case when Mr. Oliver, the present Premier of British Columbia, took office in his Province. In every case all the members of the old government went out when a new government came in.
But, my hon. friend says, I would concede you the right if only in point of character, in point of purpose and in point of aim you agreed with the government whose place you took. Well, I tell my hon. friend that in point of character, in point of purpose, and in point of aim, we are in full accord and harmony with the government we succeeded, in every respect and to the last jot and tittle. In purpose and in policy we are the same. In every respect we are a continuation of that government -- in every respect in which Mr. Hardy's government was a continuation of that of Sir Oliver Mowat; in every respect in which Mr. Murray's government was a continuation of that of the hon. Mr. Fielding at that time; in every respect in which Mr. Martin's government is a continuation of the government of Mr. Walter Scott. In all these respects we follow in the direct line of the government whose place we take in office. Did my hon. friend refer to the policy of this government in seeking to show that there was a divergence and departure from the course pursued by the late administration? He never refered to policy at all. The policy is published and is well known; in no particular does it diverge; in no particular is there a departure; this Government is a legitimate successor and continuation of the government which it succeeded.
What, then, does my hon. friend resort to in order to show that we have no right to be in office notwithstanding the fact that we enjoy the confidence of a majority of Parliament and notwithstanding that our term of office is still some two years from its expiration? "Oh," he said, "you came into office in 1917 on the basis of a union, and you are a union no more." I try to put it in some understandable form. He argued, in substance: You are not, in point of the constitution of your government, in line with, in accord with, or the same as, the Government you succeeded. Well, how do we differ? He reads the names of members of the Government who have gone -- members of the Government led by the hon. member for King's N.S. (Sir Robert Borden) and shows that some of them have retired from office; and he wants to know how it is that we assume the virtues of those who have retired. Well, really, I am not able to put that in understandable form at all. It is true that some have retired from office; I suppose six or seven or eight have done so. But of all those who have retired, only one, retired because of any difference in principle or policy from the Government from which he departed -- only one who after his retirement failed to support the Government of which he had been a member, and did not continue the support of that Government in this House. Because men retire from office feeling that for reasons of their own they cannot longer give the kind of public service and the great labor required of public office, does that mean that the character of the Government is altered? Does that mean that the Government lacks public confidence? Why, one might just as well argue that if a member of the Government dies it is evidence that public confidence is gone. Never in the history of this country has a government sat in office with so many ex-ministers of the Crown sitting behind it in full accord with its policies and principles. And, forsooth, that is the government my hon. friend refers to in language of unparalleled exaggeration as composed of merely office-seekers and office-holders, eager to draw the salaries of ministers of the Crown, filled with all manner of scriptural vices and extortion and excess. Rather than draw the fruits of office and engage in the responsibility and continued labours that the enjoyment of office entails, there have gone from this Government, one after another, men who are not only in full accord with the policy of the Administration, and with all members of the Administration, but, whose belief and expressed belief it was that the duty of the Government was to carry on as before.
My hon. friend tells us that in 1917 when this Government was elected, the issue was the carrying on of the war, and he is right. That was the great issue of the 1917 contest, not only great but overwhelmingly great: that was the issue that overshadowed all others, and in the main was the reason for the vast popular majority which this Government succeeded in obtaining. But does that mean that this Government has no duty save to carry on the war? But if it had no duty save what my hon. friend himself is willing to accord it, namely the duty of dealing with the problems of war and the problems that succeed and grow out of the war, this Government's duty is not yet done. Is there an hon. member who will argue that we in Canada are even substantially past the problems of the war? There is not a problem that confronts us now, not a difficulty that we have to surmount, not a mountain that we have to scale, that is not placed where it is and is not of the magnitude that it is by reason of the war, and is not directly, in point of character and origin, related to the problems of the war and growing out of the war itself. Is re-establishment complete? I agree, very much has been done; I believe more has been achieved in this country than in any other. But to say that all the problems of re-establishment are solved is to utter language that undoubtedly argues a lack of acquaintance with conditions in Canada at this hour. But, though the war and the problems of the war were the first duty of the Government, though the carrying on of the war was the great overwhelming issue in the contest that elected this Government, the duties of this Government were just as wide and sweeping in their scope, just as inclusive of everything that pertains to Government in Canada as were the duties of any Government ever entrusted with power. In the platform on which we appealed to the electors in 1917, though it was set out in the plainest terms that the carrying on of the war was the great purpose of that campaign, there are no less than thirteen or more other distinct duties which the Government set itself to perform; some of them related to the war, many of them only remotely related to the war, many of them not so much connected with the war as are the problems that now confront us. This Government set itself the task of carrying those duties out.
Was this Government absolved from the duty, yea, the necessity, of dealing with every question that ordinarily comes within the scope of the functions of a Government? If we were so circumscribed, if we were so restrained, who was to carry on this work who was to be responsible? Was nobody to attend to it? Did we not have to attend to it? "Ah," my hon. friend says; "you have no business to touch the tariff at all; you should not touch anything except something connected with the war." Does he know that during the very first year after the Government was elected and while the hon. member for Marquette (Mr. Crerar) was a member of the Government and all the elected members of the Government were there, the tariff was affected, the tariff was, indeed, reduced? And the following year the same? In every year of our existence the necessities of the tariff situation were attended to. No general revision was brought on, but that was because the time had not come when a general revision could be made with advantage to this country, when the necessary information could be obtained and when we would be in a position to lay before Parliament the terms of a revision that would be sufficiently studied and thought out. But in relation not only to the tariff, but to every other subject, the Government had dealt with these problems in the same way as it would deal with the war or any problem arising out of the war. It is true that in the concert of principles upon which the members of the Government came to common ground in the fall of 1917 we did not then agree on any matters of permanent tariff policy for Canada, and the words of the Minister of Immigration and Colonization (Mr. Calder) quoted by my hon. friend this afternoon were true and apt words: they spoke no more than what was the fact. But because it was not necessary to agree upon that issue for the purpose of union at that time, did that preclude us from agreement at any time on what should be the lines of tariff policy in this country during the constitutional term of office of this Government? The Minister of Immigration and Colonization did not say so. My hon. friend himself never thought so until very lately. Why, when, did it occur to him that this Parliament had no right to deal with the tariff? That is a new thought that was born in his mind in the course of the Peterborough election. Will the House believe that it is not yet twelve months since the Leader of the Opposition seconded a motion in this House demanding that the Government deal with the tariff at once? But let me come back to the argument that I did not fully complete, namely, that the composition of the Government is different in that those who came from the Liberal party are not so numerous as they were before. My hon. friend quotes some six or seven; he claims, I think, that there were eight who were there. Well there are five to-day, and there is one who has been deceased for only a very few days, so that it seems to me it is straining a little too much to say that a reduction from eight to six is such a breach of the whole constitution of this country that we are landed now in chaos.
When my hon. friend was being carried away with the magnificence of his own declamation, particularly in those last fifty awful sentences, surely the thought came to his mind -- and if it did not, it must have come to the minds of many of those who sit around him -- that he was overdrawing the picture; that even if everything he had argued for was right, even if the little points he made had driven him to the conclusion that he sought, he had wholly overstated the consequence and so grossly exaggerated it that it was becoming pretty close to the absurd. Is the whole moral structure of this country going to go to pieces, because a Government retains office when Parliament has by no means run its full term but when in the main the great issue upon which it was elected has been decided? Even if he is right in his contention, does it necessarily follow that there has been some terrible, vicious, vile and permanently destructive act perpetrated against the people of the country?
But in the first place, when did the doctrine first arise that after the great, say even the only, issue upon which an election is fought is decided, the government ceases to function? When was that subscribed to by any writer on constitutional law or history? When was it subscribed to even by hon. gentlemen opposite? In the history of this country there have been many elections in which there was virtually one issue, and one issue alone, upon which the verdict of the people was obtained. That was the case in 1891. That was the case in 1878. That was the case in 1904, when the late leader of the Liberal party in this country, assisted without a doubt by my hon. friend, went to the electors of Canada on the issue of building the ill-fated Transcontinental railway. When he was returned, with the help of my hon. friend upon that issue, and when, in pursuance of the mandate which they said they had obtained, they went on with the construction of that railway, did the fact that they did so mean that their functions were ended? Were they then believers in the theory that they had no mandate from the people of this country to do anything else except to build the Transcontinental railway? And in 1911, when honorable gentlemen opposite were defeated on the issue of reciprocity, when there was indeed a new and big departure in public policy proposed in this House by hon. gentlemen opposite, and when the country was appealed to on that issue, and as a consequence reciprocity was defeated, did it follow that the Government should not continue -- that they had no power for example, to deal with other grave issues that confronted the country? And even if the Prime Minister through stress of circumstances should be compelled to resign and a new Prime Minister should come, does it mean that the new Prime Minister is a usurper, and guilty of all the crimes ascribed to me by the hon. member for Prince (Mr. Mackenzie King)?
Then he told us we were the only Government in the civilized world that had denied the people the right to elect a new parliament after the Armistice. Well, I do not know that we need be very much disturbed as to the precedent that may be set in China, or even in Germany, or Austria, or Russia, but if there is anything in my hon. friend's contention that can be argued from precedent set in any of the Dominions or the Motherland, then possibly he would, have said something that would have given colour to his contention. But is that the case? One would have thought by his reference to Australia that their position was quite analogous to ours, and by his reference to New Zealand that the case was the same there. Is he aware that in New Zealand the Government there was elected in 1914, and that although by the constitution of that Dominion they had only a three-year term for their Assembly, actually, by extending the life of Parliament, they went until December 1919, over six years, and then appealed to the country? And because, after more than six years -- when their term was three -- they went to the country, my hon. friend argues that in this country, after three years -- yea, a year ago, he said, after two years -- when our term is five and when our election was held in December 1917, we must by virtue of the example of New Zealand, go to the country too. In the case of Australia, the facts are very similar, although there was no extension there. In the case of Great Britain, the Lloyd George government, which, was the successor of the Asquith administration, but which did not feel that because Mr. Asquith retired it must appeal to the country at once, carried on for some years. It did appeal to the country late in the winter of 1918, I think, but only after that Parliament speaking from memory, for seven or eight years, whereas its term by constitutional practice is about five years. There is therefore no argument to be drawn from any British case.
Here in this country we were elected on a war issue, we actually went to the country in war time. The British Government did nothing of the sort. They did not go to the country at all until after the war was over. The war being over they appealed to the country, whereas we went to the country just shortly before the war was over; that is the difference between us and the British Government.
My hon. friend says: You went into power as a war Government, and now that it is peace time it is your business to step out. If that is the case, a peace Government that is elected in peace time should step out when war comes. Does my hon. friend remember the hue and cry he himself raised and that his leader and the members of his party raised, when, in 1914 after the outbreak of war, the Government then in office, a peace Government, elected in peace time, was complained of for even contemplating an election at that time. Why, they fairly tore the purple off the clouds for fear we would go to the people, although we, a peace Government, were then confronted with the difficulties of war. My hon. friend's argument, if there was anything in it, would work both ways.
The fact is both the spirit and the letter of the constitution of this country may be defined thus: The term is five years; the usual practice is four years; the Government is entitled to hold office during that term, provided it maintains the confidence of the representatives of the people as reflected in the parliament elected. In the history of this country or any other that I have any knowledge of the only departure from such a practice has been on occasions where some overwhelmingly important issue has arisen, where a departure of policy of major consequence is proposed by the Administration, and when, as a result, it is desirable that the will of the people as to that departure be known. Those occasions have arisen in Great Britain; they have arisen in Australia. Will my hon. friend say that they now have arisen here? Is there a great, sharp issue of public policy dividing this House? Is there, Mr. Speaker? Did you hear anything of it in the speech of my hon. friend? I would like if such an issue could be raised, but we do not propose any radical departure of public policy in the first place. We do not propose to give the people of this country anything save what they have voted for almost times without number in this country.
Where, I ask again, is the great issue that has arisen? Oh, my hon. friend says, the only issue is that you should not be there -- that I should be there instead of you. Well, what would be the issue in the country if we dissolved Parliament? The issue my hon. friend raises would be settled once dissolution took place. He says we should appeal just for the sake of an appeal, that we should have an election just for the sake of an election. Well, you have an election once you dissolve Parliament, but on what are you going to fight the election in this case?
If a big issue does arise, if it is clearcut and unmistakable, if it goes to the very fundamentals of public policy, then there is justification for a government laying down the reins of office which the people have entrusted to them, even before the full maturity of its term. But until that does arise, and in that form, while a government maintains the confidence of Parliament, it is recreant to its duty to depart from ofhce and abandon the trust reposed in it and be stampeded by the voice of a party press or a party leader, whoever he may be. The hon. member quotes words used by myself in Winnipeg in 1917. By every word of that speech, by every word of that appeal, I stand. I invite the honourable gentleman to quote more from that speech; I do not think it will detract at all from the quality of his own. He quotes as well from speeches of the hon. Minister of Immigration and Colonization (Hon. Mr. Calder), by whose remarks also I stand. Undoubtedly, if three, four, or five members of a government retired at the same time and for the cause assigned by the honourable member for Marquette (Hon. Mr. Crerar), that is a blow from which perhaps no administration could recover. That is one thing. For one minister to retire merely because he disagrees on a point of public policy -- not, mark you, because he does not think we should touch the tariff, but because he thinks we did not touch it enough, for that is why he retired -- that is a very different thing from many men retiring at the same time because of a divergence of views on a great issue of public policy. It is one thing for one to retire at one time and another at another time merely because they cannot give more of their time to public service; but it is a wholly different thing for all to retire in a section from the Administration on a point of principle and policy. Now, I hope my honourable friend apprehends that difference; if he does not I should be glad to try at least to emphasize it more.
I was endeavouring a moment ago to indicate to this House that my honourable friend had a reason for placing this amendment in the naked shape in which it appears before Parliament. I intimated that in my judgment it was anything at all but because he was anxious to throw before the electorate of Canada a clear issue for discussion and decision. It was rather because he was intensely anxious to see that no clear issue got before the electors at all. He says that all that it is appropriate to discuss now is whether the Government should be in office or not. Last year he told us that the House should dissolve as well. This year he tells us that we should not discuss the tariff at all, but last year he complained because we had nothing about the tariff in the address. Last year he bewailed the fact that there was no declaration of principle in that address as to the policy of the Government. Let me read what the hon. gentleman said. Reciting one complaint after another in regard to the address that had just been delivered from the Throne, he used these words:
"But, Sir, there is a further limitation in the speech from the Throne which serves to reflect the mind of the Government in another particular. The speech discloses an entire absence of any policy on the part of the administration in regard to the economic, social, and political questions which are uppermost in this country at the present time."
Complaining that the Government had not declared in the announcement from the Throne at that time its position in regard to the great economic questions which he declared then divided the country, he proceeded in the next paragraph to complain because, instead of proposing a reduction of duties on foods, we had dared to insert in the address a reference to a solution of the opium problem. He said:
"I submit that the people of this country are much more concerned at this time with the question of foods than the question of drugs, and that it would have been much better if the Ministry in advising His Excellency what should be brought before this Parliament for discussion, had propounded some policy which would help to relieve the high cost of living instead of skirting about that great isle and dragging in small affairs such as legislation for regulating the sale of drugs."
It did not seem to be in the mind of the hon. gentleman then that the Government elected in 1917 had no authority to deal with the tariff. If did not seem to be in his mind that the Government so elected had nothing to do with questions extraneous entirely from the war. Indeed, he complained because no explicit declaration of policy and principle was included in the speech from the Throne; and later in the session, in the debate on the budget, instead of contending then that Parliament had no right at that time to revise the tariff, he complained in his speech that the revision that had been promised had not been brought down before, and urged this House that, pending the completion of the work of the committee which was to investigate tariff matters, pending the completion of that work and the revision that would ensue, the House should then, at the last session, revise the tariff in the manner described in his resolution, that resolution was rather vague, it is true, but which was intended to give the people of the country the impression that there should be a revision right there and then with a view to reducing the cost of foodstuffs and the costs of implements of production and some other things that were vaguely embraced in the resolution he proposed.
Now, will the hon. gentleman tell me how it is that if last session was too late to revise the tariff, this session is too soon? Will he tell me how a Parliament elected in 1917 had power last session to revise the tariff and has not that power now? Will be explain the constitutional principle upon which he distinguishes the one from the other? Will be tell me how it is that, if Parliament last session had revised the tariff, that if the same parliament that sits here now had done what he decided it ought to do and had the right to do, the constitution would have remained inviolate and chaste, whereas, should we dare to touch the tariff now, in so far as even a single article is concerned, the whole thing would go to smash?
I think I can explain the change that has come over the dream of the hon. gentleman. In the last few paragraphs of his speech, he referred to certain by-elections. He referred to some that took place a year ago, some that took place a year and a half ago, and others that took place more recently. He had been contending for a long while that we could not lay any claim to the virtues of the administration of the hon. member for Kings, Nova Scotia (Right Hon. Sir Robert Borden); and having laid down that proposition and established it, as he thought, to perfection, he then proceeded to ascribe to us all the misfortunes that had befallen that administration. It would be interesting indeed if the hon. gentleman would tell us by what process of reasoning he strips us of any credit for what that administration did and then attributes to us all the misfortunes which he says befell it? The fact is that very little attention was given by that Government to by-elections or any other elections once it was made certain that there was a majority behind it in this House determined to carry through to a successful conclusion the vital programme laid before the people in 1917. This Government came to power with the support of almost seventy of a majority in this Parliament and its first, almost its exclusive, function was to carry on the duties of office, and it was negligible, even indeed it it were a duty at all, to seek Government support in by-elections. As time went on the condition modified gradually, as would naturally be the case, and we have been able of recent months to give more time to those contests. Since this Government came into office there have been five by-elections, in every one of which this Government was represented by a candidate standing for what the Government stood for. In the by-elections in St. John and Colchester we had such candidates. We thought it was at least of importance that the people of those counties should know well what we were standing for, and should have some one to vote for who represented those principles. I see a smile on the face of the hon. member for East Quebec (Mr. Lapointe), and I am reminded of a similar smile that swept over his countenance just about a year ago, when he pointed to the fact that, except for the Prime Minister, there was no representative in the Cabinet of the bereft Maritime Provinces and when he told the House that the reason there was none was because we dared not open a constituency there. That is the last occasion that I remember seeing the same vivid smile on the face of the hon. gentleman.
Mr. BUREAU: Then the Prime Minister must have been blind for a long time.
Mr. MEIGHEN: Well, we had a contest in those two constituencies, and the leader of the Opposition proclaims in this House the total lack of confidence in the present administration in the city of St. John because the Minister of Customs was elected only by a majority of a little over four thousand. Why, he said, we (the Opposition) only put in a candidate at the last moment. Why at the last moment? What was the matter with the first moment? I can remember well when that seat was opened. I can remember well when the challenge of the member for East Quebec was accepted. I remember well when the leader of the Opposition announced through the press of this country that there would be no election by acclamation there; that he would see to it that the Government was confronted with a real candidate in the constituency. But, somehow or other, he was not able to carry out his threat until very close to the contest. It was not possible even then for him to get a candidate to stand in the county of St. John for what he stood for. At last when one did appear he tried to at least bring some show of success by proclaiming that rather than be a Liberal he would be an "independent Liberal," and in that capacity he ran.
In the county of Colchester my hon. friend (Mr. King) and his party had no representative at all. Not a man in the county of Colchester represented his party. Perhaps there was not a man in the county who knew what his policy was. There was a candidate of the hon. gentleman (Mr. Crerar) who is represented to-day by the distinguished member for Red Deer. There was a candidate of that party in the county of Colchester and they had some rather questionable support -- support from men who advocated very strange doctrines, very strange doctrines, indeed, doctrines put into practice in only one country in the world that I know of. But that party had a candidate and its candidate was buried under a majority of some fifteen hundred voters.
Then there came an election in the County of Yale and in the County of Elgin on the same day. Did my hon. friend have a candidate in the County of Yale? I do not hear him say either yes or no. But he supported a candidate in the County of Yale. Now I am going to state the reason why it is that this amendment -- in its naked form, stripped of all substance -- is put before the House. My hon. friend supported a candidate in the County of Yale all right, but a candidate whose views had just as much relation to his own as the blood of a South African negro has to mine. Were the tariff views of that candidate in the County of Yale in accord with those of my hon. friend? Had they the faintest resemblance to them? The only tariff view he had, or ever espoused, was the determination to see to it that there was sufficient protection on fruit. He did not care much about anything else so far as I heard, and I heard him make several speeches and I read his platform. He was determined that there should be sufficient protection on fruit anyway, and I suppose because of that he was supported by the Leader of the Opposition. Did my hon. friend from Red Deer (Mr. Clark) or the party that he represents have a candidate in the County of Yale?
Mr. CLARK (Red Deer): I was not there.
Mr. MEIGHEN: Well the only affiliation of the candidate with the hon. gentleman's (Mr. Clark's) party that I could discover was that he called himself a farmer. In point of platform, in point of argument, and in point of principle he was just as remote from the party led by my hon. friend from Red Deer as the South Pole is from the North.
Mr. CLARK (Red Deer): I believe in cheap fruit.
Mr. MEIGHEN: Yes, but that was not the chief desideratum of the candidate of the Farmer party in the County of Yale. Well, the result -- very fortunately for this country, and fortunately for Yale and to the credit of the electorate -- was the return of my hon. friend (Mr. McKelvie) who so happily seconded the Address this afternoon.
In the County of Elgin there was a candidate that stood, I think -- although he was very chary about pronouncing his views -- on something akin to the Liberal platform of 1919; but he too sought to evade the odium, or whatever it might be that attached to that platform, by declaring himself an independent Liberal. At all events, so near was he to my hon. friend in name at least, that he succeeded in being buried at the foot of the poll by some thousand or more votes below the second candidate; and the vote that in that county individually stands behind a policy that this Government frankly supports was divided in the Town of Aylmer and divided throughout the county between the so-called independent Liberal candidate, and the candidate that supported the Government so the candidate following my hon. friend from Red Deer managed to be elected by a narrow majority. If there is consolation in that for the Leader of the Opposition, it is at least a striking demonstration of the contention that in certain circumstances consolation is not very hard to discover.
Now we will come to the election in Peterborough. I have been anxious to say a word about that election, mainly for the lesson that may be drawn from it by my hon. friends angularly across the way -- they who have been courted by the hon. member for Shelburne and Queen's (Mr. Fielding), they whose affections have been sought to be engaged by the Leader of the Opposition, and a marriage with whom was the purpose of his extended trip through the prairies and on through the Rockies. I would like to draw the attention of my hon. friends to what took place in the County of Peterborough; to where my hon. friend stood -- in the County of Peterborough and to where his candidate stood; to the tactics pursued by the gentleman supported by my hon. friends in a contest in that county. Does anybody in this House know to-day on which side of this great issue, an issue which, a year ago, my hon. friend declared to be vital to the electorate of Canada, the successful candidate stood? One would think to hear the address of the leader of the Opposition that the people of Canada were not the least concerned about anything in the way of policy, that it really did not matter what the Government stood for, that it really did not matter what the Government had achieved in a great and prolonged crisis -- that matters industrial, social and economic were not of the slightest concern to them, but that all they were concerned about was whether or not we or he should sit in the seats of power. That is what he endeavoured to contest West Peterborough on, and he then and there put himself in a position that he will find the utmost difficulty in extricating himself from just so long as he is a public man in Canada.
He supported, I said, a candidate in Yale who stood for protection on fruit -- on foodstuffs; he supported a candidate in West Peterborough who stood for free trade on foodstuffs and protection on everything else; and my hon. friend expressed delight -- a really most inscrutable delight -- in the election of a candidate in the county of Elgin who stood for protection on nothing at all. My hon. friend also seeks a working alliance with the hon. member for Red Deer (Mr. M. Clark), and is very hopeful he is going to get it; he wants from hon. gentlemen angularly opposite nothing on earth but their votes to place him in power; he is ready to accept any candidate -- even one of them -- as long as such candidate will support him, it does not matter what his principles or policy are, all those things count for nothing; the only thing that counts is whether the candidate will vote for the hon. member for Prince, the leader of the Opposition. Here is the candidate supported in West Peterborough, and this is the platform that he ran on, supported by the leader who declared throughout his whole speaking campaign in Western Canada that his policy was practically identical with that of the farmer's party -- practically identical -- that they were both great Liberal movements, both in full accord with these historic principles of Liberalism. I will read some of the "historic principles of Liberalism:"
"I am not and never have been a free trader and do not support free trade."
"But," says my hon. friend, "may be he just wants a tariff for revenue." That is the camouflage that is often thrown over it. Well, see how he expresses it, if all he wants is a tariff for revenue. He declares that "I will stand by Canada's industry and Canada's labour until the last," in contra-distinction to being a free trader. That is one of the "historic principles of Liberalism," fought for in the county of Peterborough, and supported by the hon. member for Queen's and Shelburne (Mr. Fielding) and by the leader of the Opposition. Then he goes on:
"You know my record for the last fifteen years,and my policy has been Peterborough First."
That is not all; perhaps there is something more direct than that. All this is from his own published advertisement, signed by thy Liberal committee of the county of Peterborough, and consequently must be in full harmony with the "principles of Liberalism." Here are a few more specimens of Liberalism:
"I believe in the protection of industries"
That is pretty straight.
"and the protection of labour. I believe in a greater and more prosperous Peterborough. Can anyone dispute that belief when it is expressed by a man whose very existence depends on the progress of industry and its consequent results? Mr. Gordon will be one of the first to suffer from the effects of industrial deppression brought about by a lower tariff."
I know that is not all, and am sure my hon. friends opposite will have no difficulty at all in seeing how striking is the "issue that divides the electorate of Canada" on this tariff matter. Here is another specimen:
"I stand for the protection of industry, and by that I mean the protection of labour. The standard of living and character of the working home are grand tests of civilization."
Such are the "historic principles of Liberalism" fought for in that county. I ask attention to those matters on the part of my hon. friend from Red Deer and all those who sit around him, whose affections are sought to be entwined by the hon. gentlemen opposite, and who know right well that they exist in his mind as public men for one purpose, and one only -- to catch the low tariff vote in certain parts of Canada while he catches the high tariff vote in other parts of Canada, and by the numerical addition of the two tries to exalt himself to power.
This candidate in the Peterborough election declared that I was guilty of conduct unworthy a public man, that the tariff was not an issue, that he stood for protection, and that I would deserve all I might get for being so "shameless" as to obtrude the tariff issue there at all.
Now, I ask this House: Are we to be invited by the leader of the Opposition to dissolve Parliament and go to the country on this issue -- because he told us last session it was the great issue, and I do not know what has arisen since -- when no human being in this Dominion knows where the leader of the other party is on the issue, and when he is determined that no human being shall ever know? In the Speech from the Throne which we are discussing now there is a paragraph that defines clearly and definitely where the Government stands, a paragraph that states the principle in words that no man can fail to comprehend, a paragraph that in so stating our policy places it exactly where it stands in the published platform of the party. I should like to know how we are to get that issue to the people until my hon. friend does the same. And he has a chance now. May I ask you Mr. Speaker: Has he accepted the chance? Is there a single hon. gentleman in this House, on that side or on this or anywhere else -- particularly among those whom I am addressing now, behind the hon. member for Red Deer (Mr. Michael Clark) -- is there one single hon. gentleman here who does not believe that the Leader of the Opposition, instead of accepting the issue laid down in the Speech from the Throne, will now commence a process of evasion and dodging, a process that he has been carrying on for months in this country? Is there an hon. gentleman in this House who even has a suspicion that the Liberal platform of 1919 will ever be put into effect if the Liberals are returned to power? Did the hon. member for Shelburne and Queen's (Mr. Fielding) give any reason for that hope in the speech he made to elect Mr. Gordon in Peterborough? The burden of his speech was just this: I am not quoting the Liberal platform, he told them; I have not a word to say about it; but you remember what was done in 1896 -- and we will just do the same old thing again. They would do the same thing again as was done in 1896 by the party whose leader declared in Western Canada that his principles were identical with those of hon. gentlemen behind the hon. member for Red Deer.
Now, will my hon. friends angularly opposite but draw the lesson from that? I have never disputed the honesty of the mind of my hon. friend from Red Deer -- never disputed it for a moment. On this tariff issue would he prefer to support a party whose position he knows and knows to be consistently maintained, or would he rather support another party whose position he does not know from one week to another, and who, he in his heart believes would put into effect the principles and policies of this Government on the tariff if he were returned to power? I ask him to say, in allegiance to his conscience, which of the two he would rather support. Does he think that in the state of confusion that now prevails throughout this country, where the issue is evaded and avoided and dodged at every opportunity -- as it is going to be dodged, if I mistake not, even in this debate -- does he think that in these circumstances there is any possibility of a declaration on this issue on the part of the people of Canada?
We are not proposing any departure from the historic policy of this country pursued under this Government, under the late Government, under the Government of which the leader of the Opposition was himself a member. We are not proposing any departure. If we were we would not have the support of the Minister of Immigration and Colonization (Hon. Mr. Calder) -- the one man who, as between himself and the Leader of the Opposition and the members who sit around him, has been consistent on this tariff issue. He is standing where he stood when the Liberal Party were in power on the tariff issue; he is standing just where the member for Shelburne and Queen's (M. Fielding) intends to stand and said in Peterborough he would stand if the Liberal party got into power. The difference between him and them is this, that in the meantime he is not pretending to stand somewhere else whenever it suits a constituency so to pretend; that in the meantime he is not seeking an alliance with men whose principles are diametrically opposite, by camouflaging his own. That is the difference between the Minister of Immigration and hon. gentlemen opposite.
Right now, they have an opportunity to show the people just where they stand on this issue. Are they ready to abide by the platform of 1919? If they are, let this session not go by, let this debate not go by, until hon. gentlemen stand up squarely to the Speech from the Throne and tell the people of Canada that that is so. For such can be the only issue if a dissolution of this Parliament takes place.
My hon. friend tells us that we are usurpers, and all the rest of it, because we are holding power. Do you know what he has started already in Western Canada? Do you know the tactics pursued by his press -- and a most subservient press it is? Why, they are declaring in those provinces to-day that if Parliament is dissolved at this time it is a "sharp trick" on the part of the Prime Minister. Does my hon. friend know that? If this House is dissolved, they say, at this time, before the western people are placed in a position by a redistribution bill to have their voice in the policies of this country; if we take the step of dissolving Parliament, it will be a sharp trick on the part of the Prime Minister. This is what the press of the West says, a press supporting my hon. friend. Well if they say that before we dissolve, what do you think they are going to say after we do? Do you think "sharp trick" would at all compare with the language they would use then? Why, from one end of the country to the other there would be a roar of protest from the Liberal press -- in which the Leader of the Opposition would join, I have no doubt -- on the ground that we had robbed the electorate of that country of their due voice in Parliament; that we had stifled it for five years merely to catch a chance verdict of the people. Let the leader of the Opposition look at the columns of the Calgary Albertan, a paper that supports him to the hilt -- and let him see there a challenge to me to dissolve Parliament and deny the West their rights. I invite the attention of hon. gentlemen angularly opposite to these facts. Do they want the West represented by a fraction of its proper and due representation in a Parliament that may last for five years? Do they think it is better to do that in order to get a verdict on the tariff issue in the state the tariff issue is in to-day by virtue of the manipulations of hon. gentlemen opposite? Does my hon. friend from Red Deer think it is worthwhile? Now, I would like him to say.
The West will be undoubtedly entitled under the census to from ten to twenty-five -- no one knows how many more seats in this Parliament. If this House is dissolved before redistribution that representation is denied. If this House is dissolved nothing can be gained except a confused and utterly uninterpretable verdict on the tariff issue that can get no government anywhere and can be a mandate to no Government at all. Indeed, there can be no result whatever except the return of at least one consistent body to this House, large or small, and the deception of both wings of the other body. That is the only verdict that could be given under the conditions that obtain to-day. Consequently, I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that under the circumstances that obtain now; under the conditions of public policy and the discussion of public principle that to-day obtain by reason of the statements and speeches of public men, the clear duty of this Government, for the present at all events, is to carry on and to carry out its policy so long as a majority of the members of this House repose confidence in the Administration.
That duty we intend to perform. That duty through three and a half years we have sought to discharge. I do not think that in the history of Canada any other government has more zealously held to its programme, more clearly, definitely and determinedly sought to carry out the mandate upon which it was elected, to discharge all the duties of government. In doing so, it neglected its party affairs and, indeed, by some of its policies, though they were in the public interest, shattered its party organization from coast to coast. That has been the record of this Government. From now on until the dissolution of this House we intend to pursue the duty that we have pursued until now. The course that we pursue will be submitted to this Parliament elected by the people of this country, and while we enjoy the confidence of the representatives of people of this country we do not intend to shrink from our course or to be stampeded from it by the declamation of the leader of the Opposition.
My last word is this. In the past few months since I have had the honour to discharge to the best of my ability the responsibility that now is mine, I have missed no opportunity to obtain from the leaders of hon. gentlemen opposite specific and clear statements of their position on the issue which they say should be submitted to this country for decision. I regret to say that I have failed. In the speech from the Throne that great paramount issue and others as well are placed before this House for discussion. The position of the Government on that great issue is unmistakably clear and the opportunity is given to hon. gentlemen opposite, of all shades of opinion and from all parts of the country, to be equally frank in their statement of their position. Let them first discharge that duty and, until they do so, let them not say that there is sufficient issue for the country to decide.
Return to top of page
Source: Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada. 13th Parliament, 5th Session (February 14, 1921: March 16, 1921). Ottawa: F.A. Acland, 1921. Pages 29-39.