Arthur Meighen (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs)
Right Hon. ARTHUR MEIGHEN (Prime Minister) :
I desire that the first reading of this Bill be taken up, and in doing so I wish to make a statement to the House as to the purport of the Bill and .the necessity therefor. Under the amendment to the Canada Temperance Act, passed at the session before last, various provinces of the Dominion were enabled by the process of taking a plebiscite to decide whether or not certain provisions of that Act would become applicable to the province so deciding. If it became applicable, then the prevention of the importation of, and some other transactions in, liquor, making in effect total prohibition, became the law of that province. Under the Dominion Elections Act which passed last session there was a provision that in the event of any vote in any province taking place before the end of the year 1920, that vote should be held upon the then existing lists, which were compiled a year or so before, but that should the vote take place subsequent to the 31st December, then there should be a total revision of the lists for the purpose of the vote. It was the intention that polling for this purpose in the province of Ontario should take place on the 25th October, which was the day fixed for the vote in the three western Prairie Provinces and in Nova Scotia. Representations, however, were made to the Government from various organizations, including particularly' the Great War Veterans,
which established that should the vote be taken on the 25th October, or any date last year, it would result in the disfranchisement of very many thousands of men, principally returned soldiers. These men would be disfranchised because of the fact that when the list was compiled they had not returned. In other words some thirty thousand had returned after the compilation of the lists and before this vote could take place. Of this number, it was represented, a very large proportion would be in the province of Ontario, possibly one-half. Many thousands of others, at the time of the compilation of the lists, were in hospitals in Toronto, or elsewhere, and these, it was stated, would have dispersed to their homes in distant parts of the province and consequently could not be on the lists and so would be disfranchised. These considerations seemed to make it imperative indeed that the vote be postponed. We could not see how we could justify allowing a vote to take place which would be so unsatisfactory as one taken on lists disfranchising so many of those who should really be entitled to have a voice. The difficulty that then confronted us was this: Should the vote be postponed to a date immediately succeeding the New Year, or any date in the New Year, it would necessitate a revision of the entire Ontario lists merely for the purposes of this vote, whereas, as a matter of fact, in the rural districts of Ontario, under the statute, a voter is enabled to swear his name on the voters' lists, and consequently the necessity for revision in those districts was very slight, if indeed it existed at all. The practical difficulty, then, in the way of the Government was that it would cost the Treasury of the country, for a complete revision of the Ontario lists, according to the figures submitted to us by the Chief Electoral Officer, Colonel Biggar, approximately $330,000 to $350,000. On being asked for an alternative plan Colonel Biggar suggested that if the vote were postponed to a date which would enable a Bill to pass this parliament designed to meet his viewpoint, there could be a revision in the cities and towns, and inasmuch as a voter could be sworn on in the rural districts, in his opinion, that would meet all the practical necessities of the case, and result in an expenditure only approximating $30,000, thereby saving the country an outlay of $300,000. That is the suggestion the Government accepted, and accordingly the vote
was fixed for the 18th of April of this year. This Bill has been prepared by Colonel Biggar for the purpose of enabling that revision to take place in cities and towns in Ontario at the cost that he estimates, and of saving the country the sum of approximately $300,000 that would otherwise be entailed. I have very briefly, and I hope clearly, stated to the House the objects of the measure. In a word they are these: To enable such revision to be made as meets the situation, gets rid of the injustice of a disfranchisement, and at the same time saves that wider general revision throughout all the rural districts which, under the present state of the law is not really necessary, but which the law actually calls for; and thereby to save the Treasury a sum of approximately $300,000. '