Herbert Macdonald Mowat
Subtopic: DOMINION FRANCHISE ACT.
The Acting Prime Minister himself said the same thing in this House. The hon. member for Parkdale (Mr. Mowat) says "Hear, hear" in answer to my statement that I am not saying anything that has not been said before. Evidently his heart is overjoyed because he sees one member doing what he always does. You have in this list, Mr. Chairman, such an enumeration as will enable the Federal Government to appoint in each constituency their own officials, who, not being ordinary partisans and not being any longer in active politics, will, I am sure, by reason of their standing in their respective communities and their long experience, give ample justice and fair play to both parties. I know what it is to have a partisan as a returning officer in a constituency. I know what the returning officer can do, and it is precisely because of that knowledge that I am anxious to have the system changed. This is the first Parliament in which I have had the honour to have a seat. I have not been connected with any legislation prior to 1917; and I do not care a rap what was done by the
Liberal Government from the year 1896 to the year 1911, nor do I care a row of pins for what Sir John Macdonald was wont to do. What I do care about is what this Government intends to do right now; and if the minister is sincere when he says that he wants to enact a piece of legislation that will command universal admiration as a model of justice and fair play, I think he will hasten to accept the amendment. That would be the surest proof he could give that his words were not a mere empty bid for popularity.
There has been a great deal of discussion oveT this matter, but there does not seem to have been much enlightenment as to the real object of those who oppose the section. Apparently there is a difference of opinion on the other side in connection with the amendment. The hon. member for Shelburne and Queen's (Mr. Fielding), when he spoke the other evening on the subject, said, if I do not misquote him, that wre all should be partisans. If I am wrong, I trust the hon. gentleman will correct me, but I understood him to say that every man of sense should be a partisan. Well, I would refer the hon. member for Dorchester (Mr. Cannon) to that remark of his hon. friend and would suggest that he square himself with the hon. member for Shelburne and Queen's. One hon. gentleman on the other side says that every man should be a partisan, while the other rails vehemently and with much eloquence against partisanship. Section 22 is an ordinary section that should not engender any animosity, unless hon. gentlemen opposite can show that in the past there have been such gross irregularities as to warrant a radical departure in the conduct of elections. The elections in the past have been carried on in such a manner as to reflect credit on Canada, and it has been shown in this debate that only one real crime has been brought home to any particular returning officer, and that was in West Elgin, where the official was appointed by the Provincial Government. This seems to be a mere tempest in a tea pot. The hon. member for Dorchester who rails against partisanship is pleading for an amendment that is purely partisan in its nature. Let me ask the hon. member to review the amendment of the hon. member for Shelburne and Queen's. In that amendment what do we find? It pleads for the appointment of customs collectors and postmasters. If there is such a thing as partisanship, I presume it would be found in the ranks of those who have accepted offices of emolument from this Gov- J ernment in the shape of postmasterships and customs collectorships. How vain is is for the hon. gentleman to rail against an Act that tries to get clear of the very thing that he declaims against-partisanship. Does he want to select a customs officer or a postmaster who was appointed by the old Conservative Administration? Nothing of the kind. It is a tempest in a tea pot raised for the purpose of pretending that there is a desire on the part of this Government to be unfair. The hon. member for Dorchester puts up the 12,000 returning officers,
12,000 election clerks and 12,000 constables throughout Canada. These are all administrative officers and they have always been so in connection with the election machinery of this country. 'There is nothing new about it. He thought they ought to be appointed from amongst customs collectors and postmasters who are specially designated in the amendment as persons proper to be selected by this Government.
There seems to be nothing more puerile than such an argument. If on the other hand this Government were to bring in a regulation or a law saying that customs officers and postmasters must be selected to fill the position of registrar and to operate and administer the Election Act, I can imagine hon. gentlemen opposite (rising en masse and protesting that the Government wanted to appoint creatures of its own to be returning officers-postmasters and customs collectors lately appointed by itself. What a. furore would be raised, what a mass of indignation, and yet perchance because the spirit of opposition prevails without a good basis, without showing any wrong-doing in the past but for the sake of talk, the hon. member for Dorchester gets up and fulminates against the practice of the past which has not been shown to be anything that could have been used as partisan propaganda. To the eternal credit1 of Canada the elections to the Federal Parliament in the past have been conducted by men of high standing, probity and honour acting on behalf of both parties. There is nothing partisan in my argument. We are entitled to take credit for the high standing of those who have conducted our elections in the past. Nothing has been shown to justify any particular change in so far as the principle is concerned.
I did not like the reference of the hon. gentlemen in which he sought to defame the Prime Minister. With reference to the
introduction of this subject by the hon. gentleman, I am sure that if the Prime Minister were present he would have treated the hon. gentleman's remarks as mere persiflage and with that contempt which they deserve.
Mr. (CANNON: He would have been
The attitude of the
Prime Minister to which the hon. gentleman made reference in putting himself under the folds of the Union Jack was one that should commend itself to the hon. member for Dorchester. I am not ^o sure but that he put himself equally under the folds of the Union Jack in the greatest crisis in the history of this country.
I like the Union Jack
too but not when it covers garbage like that.
I do not know that it is any worse to use the Union Jack to cover garbage than it is to have the hon. gentleman use it foT every foul purpose of propagating smut. When we consider the fact that at the present time, having regard to the history of those who have conducted elections and the unimpeached integrity, honour and good administration of the officers of the past, I would like the hon. gentleman to show something to warrant the discarding of the principle involved in the system that has worked so well in days gone by. There has not been a vestige of argument that has shown anything that would warrant this Government in changing the principles as they have been in the past except as it may be necessary to change them in accordance with the institution of a new measure of federal franchise for which, as has been argued, the Government is responsible, and must accept responsibility. The amendment of the hon. member for Shelburne and Queen's not only takes away from the Government its responsibility but compels it to delegate it to others. The amendment would compel the Government to make appointments from classes that are said to be partisan and can fairly be said to be partisan and would take away from the Government the responsibility which is theirs as an administrative body.
There is one further matter to which I wish to refer and that is that there is nothing in section 22 that would prevent the appointment of any one of the classes mentioned in the amendment. If no other suitable man can be found, a customs offi-
[Mr. Morphy. 1
cer or a postmaster may be selected. I think it would be a most unhappy selection. If for no other Teason than that it compels the Government to appoint from these classes, I think the amendment should be defeated.
Mr. M. CLARK:
I sympathize very
largely with the thought which seemed to underlie the speech of my hon. friend (Mr. Morphy) who has just resumed his seat in so far as that thought embodied the idea that we were wasting far more time over this amendment than it is worth or than the country will think it is worth. On personal grounds I would have a strong disposition to support any amendment coming from the pen of my hon. friend (Mr. Fielding), and I say that very sincerely, but I have read his amendment with the greatest care and I do think that the time we are spending on it is time that is very badly needed for work that we would get to sooner if we let the clause pass as it stands. The avowed object of getting rid of partisanship in elections commends itself most heartily to myself. If the thing could be done, if you could have automatic machinery whereby people who have no party leanings, conducted the elections I would support at once any amendment that showed that it could carry out that principle. It would be most desirable. I want to say, however, that in this little corner of the House we do not have the fear of partisanship that seems to animate the other two section in this Chamber.
In the first place I am one of those who believe that if a candidate has any bigness to him, and if his programme has any bigness to it and is a sincere programme, he will win in nineteen cases out of twenty against a considerable handicap, and there never was a period in the history of this country when that was so true as at the present moment, because there never was a period in the history of this country when the people from Halifax to Vancouver were giving such serious attention to -big political questions. I repeat, that the fear of partisanship is not so great here as it seems to be in other quarters. Partisans in the old sense are not so numerous as they used to be in Canada. I was very proud and pleased to see the stalwart representative of Labour (Mr. Angus McDonald) take his seat in this Chamber today. Whether I could have supported all his programme in the election I do not know; I was not there; I got my information about what was happening and what was going to happen second-hand. But I do
know this, that he stood for something, that the people knew what he stood lor, and they supported him in such a way as to make partisans in the sense in which the word is being used in this' House look pretty small at the finish. From the correlation of information I made, perhaps 1 won't be considered egotistical if I tell the committee that I was able to place the candidates on the poll some days before polling day just as they came out. Now for the consolation of my hon. friends of the official Opposition I want to tell them that even they could stand a slight handicap in the shape of a little partisanship against the candidates of the present Government, unless public opinion changes be-for the next election, because in that recent by-election in Temiskaming the Unionist or Conservative candidate, or whatever he was, was at the bottom of the poll,-94 votes behind the candidate of the official Opposition, according to the last figures. The Labour winner , was 2,100 in front of the very poor second, so I repeat, that where men have a cause in which they believe, they need not be so afraid of partisanship.
But that does not prevent or excuse one from discussing the question on its merits.
I do not know how you are going to get rid of partisans by this amendment. I do not know how you are going to get rid of partisans at all unless you choose all your returning officers from the ranks of the Progressives, who are absolutely independent of politics. That is the only way you could get rid of partisans. This amendment does not get rid of partisans; it only varies the partisanship. But the strictest terms of definition, as my hon. friend (Mr. Fielding) in the speech in which he supported his amendment, with candour and fairness pointed out, you are compelled to choose partisans, only you would choose them in some cases from partisans of the Dominion Government, and in other eases from partisans of local governments. You would put a leverage into the hands of local governments in a Dominion fight. It would not be quite a square game for the 'man who likes to stand up and fight out a fight fairly. You would put a leverage in some cases into the hands of provincial officials, and in others, into the hands of Dominion officials of one of the old stripes. For the life of me I cannot see that this amendment is worth the time that is being expended on it, and I apologize to the committee for the time I, myself, have taken. I have made the remarks I have, however, in the hope that no further time will be spent in trying to define
the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I assure you, Mr. Chairman, that the great mass of the citizens of this country are thinking about something far more serious than that.
I want to say one word more. I endorse from my own observation and experience in Western Canada what has been put so moderately and fairly, nevertheless so emphatically, by my hon. friend (Mr. Edwards) and my hon._ friend (Mr. Morphy), that on the whole elections, so far as returning officers are concerned, have been pretty square. I have fought several of them in Western Canada, and I have never had anything to complain of. So far as I have ever had a word to say in the appointment oif a returning officer, I am perfectly sure that I have pursued a course which would commend itself, and which has been participated in by most of the members of this House on whatsoever side or in whatsoever corner they sit. I have tried to get a decent kind of fellow with good capacity, and I am bound to say that one has generally succeeded. I have never seen any crookedness, and I am glad to confirm what my hon. friends opposite have said in that respect. I am bound to add, that if I wanted to say anything offensive-but it will bnly prolong the debate, so perhaps I should not-still I do feel bound to add that the talk of crookedness, when it is pushed too far, almost makes one fear that it prevails mainly in the quarters where the fear seems to prevail the most. I hope that is not so. I have told the committee the reasons why I do not see anything in the amendment. I think we are wasting time in discussing it, and if it is going to a vote I shall vote against it.
I do not think that we are losing time in discussing this very important section, Mr. Chairman. My hon friend from Red Deer (Mr. Michael Clark) is a profound student of history and a strong admirer of the system of government which prevails in the Old Country. So am I, Mr. Chairman. If there is one thing I admire in these days it is the perfection of responsible government as it is exemplified in the government of the Mother Country. How has that perfection been brought about? It was revealed in two words by my hon. friend from Quebec East (Mr. Lapointe) a moment ago. Let me recall to my hon. friend from Red Deer that if in Great Britain to-day nobody questions the results of elections, if not one protest is lodged in ten years, it is because the machinery by which responsible
government is carried on there is absolutely pure and above suspicion.
May I interrupt my hon. friend? I know exactly how elections are conducted in Great Britain. I had it in mind, but I wanted to make a brief speech, to refer to that matter. If my hon. friend can show me where I am wrong in what I am about to say he may change my intentions, because I am not a Mede or a Persian. There is a great difference between an old country where you have settled machinery coming down through the centuries and this country where, especially in Western Canada, you have not this settled machinery; and that there are so many different choices of appointees mentioned in the amendment proves the difference.
That is not the point at all. I was attempting to show to the committee that we should try to have in this new country the system which has been brought to perfection through the ages in Great Britain. In these matters- and my hon. friend will not disclaim this- we should look to Great Britain as the Mother of Parliaments and the Leader of Nations. Well, Sir, although I am not British-born, I consider that the best electoral system in the world holds sway in Great Britain to-day. What are we attempting to do at the present time? We are trying to revert to the conditions which prevailed in the days of the Westminster election, when Charles James Fox was passing through the constituency of Westminster-and his opponent was doing likewise-buying votes right and left; when there were rotten boroughs in England, and Government creatures running elections and electing members to Parliament much to the disgrace of the British elector. But Great Britain has passed beyond that stage, and slowly but surely under statesmen like Grey, Gladstone and Beaconsfield the country has perfected electoral machinery which is above suspicion.
It seems to me that the officers who hold in their power the electoral machinery of this country should be like the Goddess Justice of olden times-blindfolded. We
are not progressing; we are reverting to the old conditions. My hon. friend says: "But we will always elect a candidate if he has a good cause, if the flag he carries is a clean flag." Let me recall to my hon. friend that one of my earliest recollections in this House
not as a member but as
an onlooker in the old Chamber when I was a student at the Ottawa University- was a case which struck my imagination: during a whole week a returning officer from King's county, New Brunswick, was before tire Bar of the House. Why, Sir? Because he as a partisan returning officer had elected the man-who represented the good cause? Oh, no. He had elected the man who polled the minority of the votes. I refer to the Baird case. I also remember another case, and I think it arose out of the election of 1891. The member for the county of Chicoutimi-the respected brother of my hon. friend who now represents that constituency-had been elected by the majority of the electors, but the returning officer took upon himself to- declare elected the gentleman who had the votes of the minority. Here are two cases in my recollection where a returning officer, because he was a partisan, did not declare elected the man "who represented the cause, who carried the flag;" he declared elected the man who suited the purposes of the Government of the day. We wish to avoid that wrongdoing. I do not say that the Liberals are purer than the Conservatives, or that the Conservatives are purer than the Liberals. If it were feasible I would suggest that our returning officers should be our judiciary, but they are too busy to undertake the work. Therefore I say: Let us take the sheriffs as they do in Great Britain, let us take the registrars of deeds, let us take the customs officers appointed by both parties, for every one knows that once a man is appointed to a position of trust he does not care much for the "party." That has been my experience, and I have been in this House for nearly twenty-five years. When a man is appointed to a position of trust it leaves on him some impress of responsibility, and thenceforward he becomes fair to both parties; he realizes his trusteeship and is faithful in discharging his duties. Now, would it not be better in order to give the public not only the impression but the conviction that our election officers are above board and will act as judges between the two political parties, to take men who by virtue of their trusteeship would see to it that the public get fair play. On this score I say to my hon. friend from Bed Deer that I think I am more of a Britisher than he is himself. I wish to imitate the methods followed in Great Britain methods which have made the elections there an exemplar to all other countries enjoying responsible government.
There is another clause dealing with the preparation of the voters' lists, and in that connection the- powers of the returning officers are, as .my horn, friend from Dorchester (Mr. Cannon) said -a moment ago, very wide. I do not complain personally of the appointment of enumerators at the last election, but, Sir, I .say that the appointment of enumerators will become a source of scandal at the next election. Human nature is human nature, and if the returning officer appoints thousands of partisan enumerators to have charge of the placing of the names on the lists, why, Sir, your next election will 'become a by-word among the lovers of free and responsible institutions. Let us select proper instruments for the carrying out of our electoral laws. Let us not leave in the hands of the Government, whatever government it may be, the selection of returning officers. Let ' that be done automatically, as it is done in England. I am surprised indeed to find my hoar, friend from Red Deer (Mr. M. Clark) discarding the British system and standing by the Western American system, under which for years and years elections were only an expression, not a reality. Let us have in Canada not only the name, but the spirit of British institutions.
Mr. M. CLARK:
My hon. friend (Mr. Lemieux) has just been in Europe, and we watched his journey there with the utmo"t sympathy and personal regard. I have learned indirectly since he came home that when he visited the British House of Commons he (was very much impressed with the extreme brevity of the speeches of Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Asquith. I venture to express the hope that the example of 'these gentlemen will not be lost on him and that his imitation of that example will affect this whole 'Chamber. I have nothing to complain of along that line on the present occasion, and I myself shall try to emulate the example
Now, I want to ask my hon. friend how he is going to help his cause toy using language which I venture to call that of the very grossest exaggeration? What is the use of saying that we are reverting to the condition of the rotten borough? What was a rotten borough? The term ''rotten borough" had nothing to do with the way elections were conducted; my hon. friend knows that .quite well. The best type of rotten borough toefore the first Reform Bill, was that of Old Sarum, which returned two members with five voters, under the dictation of .a duke. Does my hon. friend pretend that in this harmless clause 22 we
are creating doub 1 e-membered constituencies in Canada-rotten boroughs, he calls them-where five electors are to .return two members under the dictation of a duke? There are no dukes in Canada; my hon. friend has abolished all titles. I would respectfully point out to my hon. friend that in Great Britain not only are the statesmen brief in their speeches, but 'they do not exaggerate. We cannot have the election machinery of Great Britain. In a county in Great Britain, as in .a borough, the sheriff in every case conducts the election.
Mr. M. CLARK:
"Hear, hear" my hon. friend says. Who appoints the sheriffs? Are they appointed by a Federal Government? My hon. friend does not know, perhaps. Are they appointed by a Provincial Government? No, they are appointed by the Lord Lieutenants of the counties, who in nine cases out of ten .are men away .above suspicion; are literally sub-governors under the Crown, and as free from suspicion as members of the Royal Family would be.
They are appointed by the local authority, are they not?
Mr. M. CLARK:
They are appointed as I have stated.
By the local authority.
Mr. M. CLARK:
In the case of the provinces, I repeat what I said when I was on my feet before-and my hon. friend cannot circumvent or controvert what I say, if he takes until midnight; in nominating as returning officers sheriffs appointed by the Provincial Governments, you would .in nine cases out of ten be .appointing local partisans instead of federal partisans. That is the answer to my hon. friend, and he cannot controvert it. He says that he would appoint judges as returning officers if he had the power, but they are too busy. Are we to infer that the postmasters of Canada have no work to do? I should say that on the whole the postmasters are vastly more constantly busy than the judges are. If they are not, they should be by having their staffs cut down and some necessary economies effected in the .conduct of the business of the country. But I assume that our postmasters for the most part are busy men. Yet my hon. friend says .that he would take postmasters where he could not get sheriffs; he would take registrars where he could not get postmasters or Sheriffs; he would take customs officers, I suppose, where he oould
not get any of those-the Lord knows what he would not take, except some one appointed in a reasonable, decent way by the Government in power at the time, That is a sufficient answer, so far as I can see, to .all that my hon. friend advances. If we could have the machinery of Great Britain, I would be entirely with smy hon. friend, but owing to our federal system of government and to the comparatively unsettled and primitive condition of our outlying districts, it is impossible to have it. I know that my hon. friend's experience in elections is greater than mine; of course, he has been longer in Canada. But I want to repeat, for the sake of the good repute of all classes of politicians in Western Canada, that we do not have that sort of thing out there. I am sorry that it prevails where my hon. friend is,
My hon. friend (Mr. M. Clark) has just pointed out the necessity of making progress, and has attributed to this side of the House the responsibility for dragging .the discussion. But those who are responsible for dragging the discussion on this clause .are not those who ask for fair play and for justice, but those who refuse fair play and refuse justice. Hon. members on the other side have tried to show that no fraud or misdemeanour would result through the nomination by the Government of returning officers. I submit that the principal question does not lie there. In certain instances returning officers might do gross injustice or might commit crimes; hut such .are not the cases which should be had in mind in an examination of the merits of this clause. The nomination of the returning officer brings with it, as a consequence, the nomination of about 400 persons in each constituency, and I am now going to give the figures. According to this electoral law which gives the franchise to both men and women, the polling divisions in each constituency will, as a rule, be at least 75 in number. Consequently, we have 75 deputy returning officers nominated by the returning officer; we have 75 registrars, nominated by the returning officer; and in each poll, we have a clerk who is nominated by the returning officer or the deputy returning officer, under the control of the returning officer. These three classes of officers make a total of 225 for each constituency. But this is not all. Each returning officer may, at his discretion, appoint two constables for each poll, if he wants to do so; and if he appoints two constables for each poll, that
will mean the appointment of 150 more officials for each constituency. Adding the 150 constables to the 225 other officials whom I have already mentioned, we have a total of 375. Yet, this is not all. Each returning officer will have the right to choose 75 houses in which the polls will be held. This is patronage again. If we count the proprietors of these houses, together with the other officials whom I have mentioned, the total number in each constituency will be 450. These are only approximate figures, but they cannot be seriously contradicted. The patronage in each constituency will, therefore, represent about 450 nominations, and as there are 235 constituencies in Canada, if you multiply 450 by 235, you get a total of 105,750. Thus clause 22 provides for the nomination of returning officers who control the nomination of over 100,000 employees during an election. What does this mean? The appointment of so large a number of officials by the returning officer means an unavoidable temptation to use this force as a political machine. It is impossible in practice to escape, and we cannot imagine that any party will escape, the temptation of endeavouring to use this political machine more or less directly.
In order to make our case good, it is not necessary for us to prove that political buccaneering will result from the nomination of returning officers by the Government. To make our case good, it is sufficient to prove that the general control of an election will be in the hands of officials of the Government, and that I have done. Consequently, I support the amendment moved by my hon. friend (Mr. Fielding), and if any hon. member opposite wants to make progress, which I am anxious to see made, I would ask him if it is not true that, through the instrumentality of the nomination of these returning officers, the Government in power will be enabled to choose from three to five hundred officials for each constituency during an election. If this statement is not true, I should like to be told so; if it is accurate, then we must come to the conclusion that clause 22 places in the hands of the Government a very dangerous piece of machinery in election times,
I want to make this suggestion to the Minister of Militia (Mr. Guthrie). In view of the fact that there is such a divergence of opinion in the House relative to this clause, and that we have several other clauses yet to deal with, would it not be a proper thing to put off this clause until the leader of the Government (Sir Robert Borden) returns? I, for
one, would like to hear the opinion of the Prime Minister upon this clause, as it is one that will have to do with the machinery of politics for many years to come. Some hon. gentlemen assume that it is going to help the Unionist Government 5 p.m. during the coming election. My personal view of the matter is that there will be very few left of the Unionist Government when the nest election comes on, and what is left of it will not be worth saving even through any electoral machinery. There is a great deal to be said in favour of this clause, but there is -also a great deal to be said against it. My hon. friend has said that for years it was in operation in Canada. For years it gave satisfaction and yet there were abuses, and the only idea which hon. members, on this side of the House have is that they want to get as good a law as it is possible to have to insure a free expression of public opinion in this country. The hon. member for Maisonneuve and Gaspe (Mr. Lemieux) has said that he would like to see the judges act as returning officers in this country. I do not want to speak depreciatively of any political party or of any class of men in Canada, but if the thing were possible, I certainly would like to see judges appointed as returning officers. I assume, however, that judges could not be called off 'the bench and sent roaming around as returning officers. The idea that we have of the returning officer is that he must be a man who knows something about the electoral law, and that requires study, careful examination and ready decision. With all due respect to men taken here and there and appointed to act as returning officers, I feel sure they cannot be in the same position to grasp the question as men who are accustomed to that class of work, and they cannot be expected to give the same ready decision as men who have had something in the nature of legal training, even though that legal training he not one that leads them on to the practice of the profession. I am not in favour of class legislation; but in this instance I am in favour of getting the best possible men in the community, and I have no hesitation in saying that the men who are living in the community, who are dependent upon the good-will of the community, who are dependent upon their respectability for reappointment and continuation in office, should be the men chosen in this instance. Therefore, I have much pleasure in supporting the amendment of my hon. friend (Mr. Fielding).
Amendment (Mr. Fielding) negatived. Yeas, 49; nays, 81.
I declare the amendment lost. The question is on the main motion.