Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)
Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):
Yes. Let me give an illustration. Take an invoice of $100. You add 10 per cent exchange tax and that gives you SI 10; 25 per cent duty, or $25, brings it to $135; add the sales tax of 8 per cent on $125, or $10 more, and you have $145; then take freight, cash discount, and so on, 3 per cent, or $3, and you have a total cost of $148 on an invoice of $100. Up to October 15 a man could buy goods of this kind to the value of $100 in the United States and bring them here and save money. That is a condition I should like the government to look into. It should be referred to the war prices board. I do not want them to be bamboozled by any leather controller who is himself interested in leather production. Let us get away from that sort of thing.
We have been told that prices are being held down. Perhaps they are, but I have
The Address-Mr. Hanson (York-Sunbury)
been informed that the price of sole leather has been raised three times in Canada since the declaration of war. The price index shows that wholesale prices have risen 14-4 per cent since the war began, yet we are told that the cost of living has advanced much less than that. I know it cannot be so; just ask the housewife. We have war inflation. Wages will have to increase, and the vicious spiral is upon us.
I am not going to apologize for dealing with the Rowell-Sirois report. This is one of the most important matters that should engage the attention of parliament. I will try to compress what I have to say with respect to it. I regret exceedingly that the Chief Justice of Ontario, who originally headed the commission, had to resign because of ill health, but I do congratulate the government on having been fortunate enough to obtain the services of Mr. Sirois, whom I have known for quite a number of years and with whom I have collaborated professionally in days gone by. He carried on with great competence and dignity, and I met him in Fredericton when he acted on the commission.
I have always felt that, however eminent was the personnel of the commission, its composition had a decidedly political flavour. It would have been wiser if someone who took a rather different view of our constitutional problems had been a member. That suggestion was made before, I believe, but it was not adopted. However, I do not wish to be taken as in any degree attacking the personnel of the commission. They were all students and exponents of our constitution, although it is fair, I think, to say that they were all of the same school of thought.
The report is voluminous and it is beyond my capacity to analyse it all. At this stage it is not necessary. I have, however, read the summary of its recommendations and portions of the report itself. I have likewise read with great interest a number of articles analysing the recommendations. With some of the recommendations I am in accord; with some I feel sure there will be great difficulty in reaching agreement and action, and as to others I hold the view that they should not be implemented at all. The time has not arrived, however, at which any specific declarations should be made with respect to my particular position. I suggest that it is wholly wrong to say that this report represents "a new charter for Canada," as was suggested on Friday last by the hon. member for St. Lawrence-St. George (Mr. Claxton). It is not a new bill of rights. Rather is it a reorientation of the powers conferred by the British North America Act-a reallocation of powers.
As I understand our constitution, we now have all the powers we need as a member of the British empire, save and except the right to amend our own constitution. The most vital part is a reallocation of the powers of taxation, and it is that part of the report to which attention should be given.
On Thursday last the Prime Minister announced the calling of a dominion-provincial conference to be held some time in January, while parliament is not in session, and he laid on the table-and this has been printed in votes and proceedings-his letter of November 2 to all the nine provincial premiers. As I recollect, it was reported that eight provincial premiers had accepted the invitation to attend, and since the Prime Minister made the announcement the premier of Ontario has announced the intention of his government to attend and participate. But the announcement was coupled with a warning that "Ontario is opposed to any move to raid Ontario taxpayers for the benefit of other provinces." Well, to say the least, that is rather a jarring note and does not suggest unanimity. I do not wish to characterize it as anything worse than that. Apparently the premier of Ontario was opposed to any discussion, according to newspaper report, taking the view that there should be no possibility of any controversial issue arising which might impair national unity and the effective prosecution of the war.
It has been said in the press that the conference will be a re-confederation conference. In my view this is a rather large order and one that is not likely to be achieved. There are in this country some people who are apt to view lightly the achievements of the fathers of confederation. I do not share that view. I hold the view that they did a wonderful work in that they created a nation in the northern half of this hemisphere, and I believe that their work will endure. The hon. member for St. Lawrence-St. George on Friday quoted some unnamed private member with reference to the British North America Act as speaking of "the miasma of the constitution". That, I suggest, is a misnomer. Our constitution is not a miasma, but the interpretation of the constitution by judicial bodies has in a degree led us into a miasma of doubt as to just what at times the constitution really is. It is a repetition of the theory enunciated by a great chief justice of the United States that "the constitution is what the judges say it is"-speaking in reference to the constitution of the United States. That was never the intention of the founding fathers so far as Canada is concerned. Down to 1910 no great difficulty had arisen out of the interpretation, but in that year a noble law lord developed a new theory from which
The Address-Mr. Hanson ( York-Sunbury)
trouble has flowed almost ever since. I could refer to suggestions that have been made by Mr. W. F. O'Connor, K.C., with reference to a declaratory statute. I shall not take the time to do so.
I hold the view that the fathers of confederation intended that Canada should have a strong central government. That view has been weakened by judicial interpretation of the British North America Act. It must not be weakened further. That is my own personal view, and I have not asked any of this galaxy of constitutional lawyers who sit behind me what their views are. I am very strong in the view that the central authority must not be weakened. If anyone doubts the soundness of the view that we must have in Canada strong central governmental powers, let him read the "peace, order and good government" clauses in section 91 and note the use to which these powers have been put in the testing times of war. That is the acid test as to whether we should have a strong central government or not. If we are to consider the Rowell-Sirois report I am in agreement that we should not postpone dealing with it until after the war. But I do suggest to the Prime Minister that because of preoccupation with war measures and war activities it may well be that the government and parliament cannot give to the consideration of the problems arising all the thought and reflection necessaiy. But in my view that is not a valid reason for postponing its consideration. We may not get as good results as we might under less pressing conditions, but we should not postpone its consideration.
It is stated by the commission, and I believe the Prime Minister has more or less adopted this theory that:
The need for some action designed to enable the people of Canada to throw their whole weight into any great national effort, such as the struggle to which they have committed themselves, and at the same time to ensure the smooth working of the social and educational services necessary for the welfare of the mass of the people, is far greater and far more urgent in time of war and of post-war organization than it is in time of peace.
The commission also declared that it is precisely to these two main objectives that its chief recommendations have been directed; that is to say, the throwing of the weight of the country into a great national effort and consequently ensuring the smooth working of the social and educational services on which the welfare of the people depends.
If it is necessary to implement the report in order to enable the people of Canada to throw their whole weight into the great national effort in which we are engaged, why
has the government waited so long? The report was in the hands of the government when parliament met in May. It is now six months since it was tabled, and the whole outline of the recommendations and the suggested new relationship between the dominion and the provinces has been well known and well understood. We had a recess of three months from August. Why was this move to confer not made between August and November, if it was so important and so urgent? I do not know whether the talk of coalition had anything to do with the matter. I ask the Minister of Mines and Resources (Mr. Crerar) who flew out west the other day for some reason or another.
Subtopic: CONTINUATION OF DEBATE ON ADDRESS IN REPLY