Right Hon. ARTHUR MEIGHEN (Leader of the Opposition):
This report, which was read yesterday or the day before, calls for the appointment by the government of a royal commission to inquire into the grain trade, and adds a recommendation that this com-
mission be given powers by the federal authorities and also by the provincial legislatures. I have grave doubts as to the wisdom of the latter proviso. Some of the legislatures concerned, perhaps all three of them, are sitting. But, in the light of the decision of the Court of Appeal of Manitoba regarding the powers of the commission which was appointed by the late government and which was arrested in its work, I am not clear as to what powers which this government is not amply authorized to confer the committee desires to place in this commission. I do not know what the provincial powers are that the committee has in mind. It seems to me that the proviso is going to delay the work of the commission, a commission which, it will be recalled, I urged to be appointed in my . speech on the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne. What is the need of that proviso? Would it not be better to eliminate it and appoint a strong commission amply armed with federal powers-for our powers of investigation are very wide indeed-rather than put in the way of the commission impediments that may result not only in delay but possibly in disaster?
There is no trade in Canada that has been so often investigated as the grain trade. I have before me a record showing that between 1897 and 1921, a period of twenty-four years, there were fourteen royal commissions, federal and provincial. In 1921, a royal commission was appointed to investigate the trade, and it is within the memory,
I imagine, of almost every member of the House that the work of that commission was blocked through an injunction obtained in the courts. I have no legal knowledge nor any legal pretensions, but my recollection is that the action to obtain that injunction upon the commission was taken under provincial statute. With the wish therefore to avoid the possibility of a recurrence of such an injunction, I take it, the committee on Agricultural Conditions unanimously put in this proviso. The government have no pronouncement to make on the issue raised by my right hon. friend the leader of the Opposition (Mr. Meighen). If it is the desire of parliament that there should be another investigation into the grain trade the government are quite willing to carry out that desire, and it will necessi-fMr. Meighen.]
tate the placing of an amount in the Supplementary Estimates. If, however, in the judgment of legal men the proviso will delay the proceedings, then, of course, it might be a matter for conference, and I am not sure whether my hon. friend who is chairman of the special committee (Mr. McMaster) would not desire to look n ore carefully into that aspect of the subject. But I would appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, that the chairman of the committee, who has no doubt given the matter legal consideration, and possibly has already consulted with the Justice department, might be unanimously given the right to explain the legal features of the matter.
With the unanimous consent of the House the hon. chairman of the committee may, of course, speak again. I may say to other hon. members, however, that when the member for Brome (Mr. McMaster) speaks he will close the debate, and if any hon. member desires to speak on the subject he should do so now.
I think I have already placed myself on record during this session in regard to this matter. Speaking, as I have previously said, in behalf of the producers, I believe that they should have the privileges which a commission of this kind would afford. While it is true, as the minister states, that fourteen commissions have been appointed within a certain number of years to investigate the grain trade, it does seem to me that events have shown in the past that the producers, the men who have the real grievances, have not had an opportunity of placing their views before any commission. At all events, the results have never been to their satisfaction. I have many letters in my office to-day from individuals throughout the country who endorse the attitude I have taken in the past on this subject, when I have urged the appointment of a commission specifically for the purpose of hearing what the producers have to say. And I have tried to point out that in all parliamentary committees appointed by the government such expert evidence as has been given has resulted, I honestly believe, detrimentally to the interests of the producers. My only plea for a commission is based on the desire to facilitate the producers in laying their case before such a body.
Let me say in the first instance that if we can do anything to facilitate a proper inquiry into
the grain trade we want to do it; and I may add that our attitude is exactly the same as it was in 1921. The only thing we are afraid of, however, is that, very likely unwittingly, nay, I will go further and say, absolutely unwittingly, because I know the hon. chairman of the committee-there is a grave danger of our going through the same sort of farce that we went through last year in connection with the wheat board. It is a great deal better to do something we know we can do ourselves than to undertake anything in regard to which our powers are open to dispute. We know at the present time that we can make a certain investigation, and possibly having regard to all the different matters which will be found to be a proper subject of inquiry we might be able to legislate as broadly and as fully as we should like to. I admit that what the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Robb) says is technically correct, there have been many different investigations; but I think he will look in vain for any general investigation into this business in the last ten years. He will not find one. I should like to have the minister converted to the idea of the great necessity of a proper investigation.
We tried to convert him last session, and I thought we had succeeded. Indeed, I thought we had a pledge from him that there was going to be an investigation during the recess. We gave him a vote of $50,000, I think, for that purpose, and apparently all parties wanted the investigation.
Now, in so far as the strict legal position is concerned, it is perfectly true, as the hon. minister has pointed out, that interests which did not want the investigation that was being conducted by the Grain Inquiry Commission applied for an injunction and stopped the investigation temporarily. That injunction ought never to have been issued according to the unanimous opinion of the Court of Appeal of the province of Manitoba, which, reversing the decision of the trial judge, held that this parliament had absolute power to order the investigation. We thought the investigation should have been resumed, but we did not have control of the matter and nothing further was done.
Our only desire, Mr. Speaker, is to have a real investigation as quickly and fully as such an investigation can properly be held, so that we may know eixactly what the troubles are, if troubles there be. And certainly we have heard of many; why, every
day we are receiving complaints. Cannot we find out what the truth is and remove grievances which, I have no doubt, exist? We want to help our hon. friends, and we know we are helping them for we told them to go ahead and not get themselves in a position where possibly they would be held up through misunderstandings or by obstacles raised here and there. Surely, for the present at any rate, the unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeal of Manitoba, unappealed as it has been, ought to be enough for us.
Mr. Speaker, I think the confusion that has arisen in regard to this report is possibly the result of its wording. If I understand the purpose the committee has in mind, it is that this government should appoint a royal commission, and that if any of the provincial governments desire to cooperate they themselves should give powers to that particular commission. In other words, it is to permit the same gentlemen to exercise all the authority that can come to them from both the federal and provincial governments. If that is correct, I would say that so far as our government is concerned we will endeavour promptly to appoint a commission and to have in mind, in the selection of its personnel,, the choice of gentlemen who would inspire the confidence of the governments that are likely to unite to cooperate in this matter. If that is the view of the committee it ought to settle the matter.
Mr. Speaker, I am not a member of the committee on Agricultural Conditions, but I have some knowledge of the legal position, and particularly of the injunction which the right hon. leader of the Opposition (Mr. Meighen) has referred to. An injunction was taken out and supported by the trial judge, who held that the commission was improperly issued and was beyond the powers of the Dominion authorities. As my right hon. friend has said, there was an appeal from that decision, and the Court of Appeal reversed the trial judge's finding, holding that the Dominion authorities had power to create that commission. The point in argument in support of the injunction was that the commission covered matters which were not within the purview of the Dominion parliament, but were solely within the jurisdiction of the provincial legislatures. That argument was not supported by the Court of Appeal. But since this decision of the Court of Appeal the Privy Council has decided that the act which
created the Board of Commerce was ultra vires. That had a direct bearing on the extent of the Dominion's powers in regard to matters such as this, and following that decision the Manitoba Court of Appeal held that some portions at least af the Canada Grain Act were ultra vires of the Dominion. For that reason if a commission is now issued solely under Dominion authority questions may be raised which were raised in the preceding case, and may create obstacles.
I thank you Mr. Speaker, and the House for giving me an opportunity to briefly address hon. members in connection with the report which was brought in unanimously by the committee of which I have the honour to be chairman. When we had the matter of investigating the grain trade brought before us we first of all discussed whether or not we should make the investigation ourselves. We came to the conclusion that if we attempted such an investigation we should have to set aside for the time being all our other work; it would give us more than really we could accomplish ourselves. Then I was asked to confer with the law officers of the Crown to see whether there was some way of obviating the situation which arose in connection with the last royal commission which was stopped in the course of its investigation by a judgment of the court of first instance in Manitoba. True, that judgment was set aside by the higher court of that province, but in rendering judgment the Court of Appeal indicated that, although a royal commission appointed by the federal power had the right to make a general investigation, still in the course of that investigation questions might come up touching contract, property and civil rights which would fall under provincial jurisdiction, and which might lay the investigation proposed to be carried on by the commission open to attack by any one who came before the provincial courts. So we proposed that the government should appoint a commission and should invite the provinces to name the same gentlemen as commissioners for the same purpose, and that these gentlemen should start their work clothed with every power that the sovereign authority of the provinces interested or the sovereign authority of the Dominion might bestow upon them. It seemed to me that that was a wise proceeding to take. It may consume a little more time at the beginning but certainly it opens a way for a full and complete investigation without possibility of let or hindrance.
I should like to ask the Minister of Marine and Fisheries (Mr. Lapointe), only he is not present, if he would give orders to expedite bringing down the report of the commissioners who investigated the wreck of the Alaskan off the coast of British Columbia. This wreck investigation took place on the second of February; the investigation commission sat then, and on one or two subsequent days. This is the sixteenth of March, and I think the report might be forthcoming by this time.