The member for West Prince (Mr. Hackett) is making a very reasonable proposition in asking that the custodian of the ballot boxes should be made responsible for their safe-keeping. Here is a case in which an officer when asked to produce the ballot boxes before the county court judge could not produce the Greenmount box where the hon. gentleman [DOT] Mr. Hackett) had thirty-three of a majority. The man who has the highly responsible duty of caring for these ballot boxes should be liable to a very severe punishment if he fails in his duty. If we do not legislate against that we may expect a repetition of what has occurred here and elsewhere to my knowledge, when ballot boxes have been stolen or tampered with by interested parties. Whether tampered with or stolen, the returning officer should be held directly responsible under the severest penalties. The Minister of Public Works (Hon. Mr. Tarte) and the Minister of Marine (Hon. Sir Louis Davies) are very jubilant this afternoon because they think they can prove an alibi in this matter.
This is a matter which should be treated very differently by the government. I do not know that a graver scandal has ever been disclosed in this parliament. The argument of the Minister of Marine: that it seemed to make some difference as to who would profit by this step, is not creditable to the hon. gentleman, and this is not an occasion for him to indulge in light chaff. A grave crime occurred, and is this parliament to declare that they are powerless to prevent a recurrence of it. If by any misconduct on the part of the returning officer or a deputy returning officer a constituency is disfranchised or the person returned has not received a majority of the votes, it is certainly a very grave thing. The Minister of Marine says that if we could find the thief we have a law to prosecute him. The hon. gentleman is a lawyer and he knows perfectly well that there is no law to reach the returning officer in this case. How convenient it would be for any man charged with this responsibility to be ignorant in order to allow the ballot box to fall into the hands of a thief by a preconcerted plan. The government can not afford to laugh out of court a matter so serious as this. The Solicitor General and the government are bound to take action towards at least attempting a remedy. The amendment proposed by my hon. friend (Mr. Hackett) may not entirely meet the case, but it certainly invites the government to take action. The House is entitled to some opinion from the Solicitor General as to what ought to be done in this matter.
No. The government cannot afford to treat this serious matter in this way. The right bon. the First Minister is now in his place, and in face of the statement made by the hon. member (Mr. Hackett), I appeal to him, if his government can ignore an offence of this kind and treat it lightly. If the law is defective, why should it not be remedied. I venture to say that there is not a legal gentleman in the House who will say that the law is sufficient to cover this case. The question is simply this, whether the person who has the great responsibility of having ballot boxes in bis charge shall be held to account for the faithful discharge of his duties. The right hon. gentleman knows that to take no notice of the matter is to offer an incentive to men on both sides of politics to do the same thing in the future. It may occur just as readily on one side as on the other, and neither party wants to derive any advantage from transactions of that kind.
Hon. gentlemen opposite are now in possession, and they ought to be all the more jealous of the rights of the people. I think that before this Bill goes through some effort ought to be made to protect the public interest for the future.
Such offences as the one which has been brought to the attention of the House by my hon. friend from West Prince (Mr. Hackett) are, unfortunately, not isolated. It is not the first case of this kind that has occurred, though not under identically the same circumstances. I have a distinct recollection that the party to which I belong suffered, especially in the county of Montmagny, where the office of the registrar, who was the custodian of the ballot boxes, was broken into by a burglar, and some boxes containing ballots were stolen. Unfortunately, burglars will always exist: but there are laws against burglary and theft. The man who took the ballot box in question committed larceny. Whether or not the returning officer took all the precautions which he should have taken is perhaps a fair question for discussion. In my opinion, the returning officer was not in any way to blame. I say that very deliberately, after having heard the statement made by the hon. member for West Prince. The statement was that the returning officer was called upon to take the boxes before the judge. He had to travel, I am informed, sixty or seventy miles, and take the boxes with him. How could he have done It ? I do not know that he could have done it in any other way than by railway. He took the boxes to the railway station, had them carried as freight, took a receipt for them, and took the precaution of having the car containing the boxes locked. Could more precautions have been taken ? I would like my hon. friend to inform the House. In my judgment, I say it very frankly, the returning officer was not guilty of any negligence whatever. I do not know what more he could have done, unless my hon. friend from West Prince expected that he would travel in the baggage car with the boxes. I do not treat lightly such offences as this, but I think the law is quite ample to deal with the offender if the offender can be found.
I am told that these boxes were sent as ordinary freight. It may have been for a time in the year when it would be unreasonable to expect the returning officer to ride in the baggage car for any great distance ; but surely he could have taken some means to have had these boxes kept under the eye of some person. If he failed to do that, he was guilty of great negligence. I have no hesitation in saying that to put them in a freight car and leave them there was not a proper thing to do. If he had put them in an express car, the theft would not have occurred, because there would have been a person there at all times to prevent
it. I do not say that thefts do not occur in other matters ; but they are so rare, and the inducements to commit them are of such a personal kind, that they cannot be compared with this. It is not proposed to impose additional duties on returning officers which cannot be carried out; but if some means can be provided for narrowing down the difficulties, I am sure the right hon. gentleman will not say that that should not be done. My complaint is that there is no effort to do anything : it is assumed that the returning officer took reasonable care, and that it is utterly impossible to put any legislation on the statute-book which would prevent a recurrence of this kind of thing. I think the matter is of sufficient gravity to call for some such effort. I am not going to ask for an inquiry into the matter, as it is past ; but the important thing now is to protect the public interest against a recurrence of such things, and in that I am sure I have the sympathy of the right hon. gentleman.
In a case of this kind, it seems to me there are two things in-j cumbent on the government ; the first is to institute an inquiry In order to ascertain who was the perpetrator of the deed and have him punished, and the second is to amend the law so as to provide that no such thing shall occur in the future.
I cannot agree with what the right hon. gentleman has said as to the degree of care which the returning officer exercised in this case. I think it is undesirable that the returning officers throughout the country should arrive at the conclusion that ballot boxes may. under such circumstances, be sent forward exactly as might a barrel of apples. That was precisely what this man did, according to the right hon. gentleman's statement; he sent the ballot boxes forward as freight, and took a receipt for them. It is true, the car was locked, as freight cars often are. For my part, I am of opinion that when a returning officer forwards ballot boxes in this way. he should keep them under his personal supervision. If that necessitates his riding in a baggage car, he should do so; or, if his constitution is too delicate to permit him to do that, he should employ some one to do so. I am not sure that it would not be a proper thing to have this particular returning officer brought to the bar of the House to explain his conduct. The Minister of Marine and Fisheries (Sir Louisj Davies) referred to the fact that the hon. member for West Prince had a majority of 33, and he suggested that the ballot box was stolen for the purpose of preventing a recount. We are not misled by a suggestion of that kind. Every one knows that the object of stealing the ballot box, which gave a majority of 33 to the hon. member for West Prince, was to have a recount of the Mr. CLANCY.
remaining ballots, so as to put the hon. member for West Prince in a minority.
If a lawyer stole the ballot box I could understand that; but if an ordinary unpracticed layman was the thief I think the view he would take would be this : I am stealing a ballot box which gives a majority of 33 to the Conservative candidate. The judge who has to make this recount, will count the remainder of the ballots, and that will give a majority to the Liberal candidate.
Euless he were a very astute layman or a very astute lawyer, he could not possibly know who had the majority of ballots in the ballot box. The ballot box does not show on the outside where it belongs to at all. You could not tell from the outside of the box what the contents were.
I am not so familiar with the facts of the case as my hon friend the Minister of Marine; and when he says there was nothing on the box to indicate where it belonged, 1 am not in a position to contradict him. I understand' that these boxes have marks or labels on the outside to indicate where they belong, and no doubt the stealing of the box in this case was intended to defeat the Conservative candidate
This is not the first instance, since our hon. friends opposite have come into power, of malpractices in elections. In 1898, when I came out in a federal by-election, the number of cases of illegal practices at the different polls was enough to shock the whole community of East Prince. In one poll alone, the poll of Emeyvale, which up to 1898 had given a substantial Conservative majority, that majority was reversed, and we found that the deputy returning officer, instead of counting the ballots before the agents at the poll, had taken them home to his own house and counted
them there. But in the general elections, when we had good, trusty men, to look after our interests, we found things the other way, and had a substantial majority in Emeyvale. So flagrant are these malpractices in Prince Edward Island that they have become a by word and been woven into poetry, in which the name of our premier of Prince Edward Island, who had gone out to Emeyvale for the purpose pf corrupting the electorate, is given prominence.
The MINISTER OF MARINE ANDFISHERIES. The hon. gentlemen should