William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)
Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):
Mr. Speaker, before we begin this afternoon's proceedings of the house. I should like personally, and on behalf of my colleagues in the government and members of all parties in both houses of parliament, to express something of the sorrow that must have been felt throughout Canada when it was learned that, at an early hour this morning, one who over many years had been foremost in the public life of our country had passed away. Had Lord Bennett lived until Thursday of next week he would have attained, on that day, his seventy-seventh birthday anniversary. It has been known for some time past that he was in failing health. This, at his years, naturally occasioned much anxiety to his friends. Notwithstanding, the word of Lord Bennett's death this morning will have come wholly unexpectedly to the people of our country.
It would be difficult for anyone, and most of all for one in my position, to attempt at this time to estimate the place which will be given by posterity to Lord Bennett's services to Canada, to the British commonwealth of nations, and to the world. In the affairs of each of these arenas he took, over many years, an active and conspicuous part. It would be still more difficult, and at this moment wholly inappropriate, for me to attempt to weigh the merits of political controversies in this house and on the public platform in which, as leaders of opposing par-
The Late Lord Bennett
ties, we were engaged, whether in office or in opposition. It is rather of those things which political supporters and opponents alike will wish to remember that I should like to say just a word at this time.
A review of Lord Bennett's life seems to me to fall naturally into three main divisions; the first the years of early manhood during which period his time was given to educational pursuits, to the work of his chosen profession and to the beginnings of his participation in public affairs, in New Brunswick-where he was born and received his early education- and in western Canada where he subsequently went to reside.
The second period was that which has its immediate association with the parliament of Canada, and which began with his election to this House of Commons as member for Calgary in 1911, and which continued until he resigned the leadership of his party in 1938, and subsequently went to reside in the United Kingdom.
The third period is concerned with Lord Bennett's activities in the years of his residence in Britain. It is difficult to believe this period now totals nine years.
As we look, in turn, at each of these periods of Lord Bennett's public life there is one feature common to all three. By it, I am sure, it would have been Lord Bennett's wish to be remembered. That feature was his wholehearted devotion to public service. This is noticeable in his membership in municipal councils in New Brunswick within three years of his admission to the bar of that province; in his membership of the legislative assembly of the northwest territories from 1898 to 1905; in his membership in the legislative assembly of Alberta from 1909 to 1911; in his membership in this House of Commons from 1911 to 1917 and again from 1925 to 1938, and in his membership in the House of Lords in Britain over the past six years.
During his years in our House of Commons, Lord Bennett held at different times the offices of iMinister of Justice and Attorney General, Minister of Finance and Secretary of State for External Affairs. He was chosen leader of the Conservative party at a national convention in October 1927. This position he held for nearly eleven years. For just over five years-from August 1930 to October 1935 -he held the office of Prime Minister.
During the years that his party was in power, and prior to the time he himself became Prime Minister, Lord Bennett shared to the full the confidence of Sir Robert Borden. and of the Right Hon. Arthur Meighen. In his years of office, Lord Bennett took a
foremost part in conferences in Canada and London on imperial and other political and economic questions. In 1934 he represented Canada at the league of nations assembly.
During the early days of the war Lord Bennett gave valuable service at the ministry of aircraft production in London. At a moment of critical fortunes in the war against the enemy in the air, he shouldered voluntarily a considerable responsibility for which he was warmly thanked by the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Throughout his life, and especially during his years in England, Lord Bennett gave much time and effort to the activites of the Red Cross. The hospital erected at Taplow, Buckinghamshire, and subsequently handed over by the government of Canada for use by British agencies, was a project in which he took a special interest. One of his last public duties was the handing over for the flood distress relief fund of a contribution of $1,500,000 from the surplus funds of the Canadian Red Cross Society.
A parliamentary tribute to Lord Bennett would not be complete without a reference to his qualities as a public speaker and a debater. He greatly enjoyed public speaking, and both on the platform and in parliament displayed exceptional oratorical talents.
Whatever the political differences, those who did not espouse Lord Bennett's political faith will readily concede his fidelity to the causes he advocated, and pay tribute to the public services he sought to render Canada and the British commonwealth of nations.
Lord Bennett's life furnishes a striking example of how one of determined purpose can succeed in the enterprises of life. I have already spoken of his years in parliament, his years of great activity as the leader of his party, and in the office of Prime Minister. His position at the bar was of high eminence. In a material sense he was a man of great wealth. He will be remembered in this connection as one who displayed large benevolence towards deserving causes.
Lord Bennett possessed rare capacities in many fields-the law, education, banking and commerce, as well as public affairs. He displayed great industry in every branch of his activities. It was in keeping with the record of his career that his convictions were very strong, and that his position on public questions was generally unyielding.
It would not be true were I to have it appear that my relations with Lord Bennett were at all times the pleasantest. I hope I do his memory no injustice when I say that as a man of strong feelings he found it difficult not to resent as personal much that is inevitable in the vicissitudes of party political for-
The Late Lord Bennett
tunes and strife. It is hard for any of us in public life wholly to escape that feeling. I like, however, to believe that between public men whose views may be strongly opposed, there is often an underlying sympathy more profound than any of which the public can possibly be aware.
With the permission of the house, I should like to conclude what I have to say of Lord Bennett at this time by reading to hon. members two of the last letters exchanged between us. They relate to his relinquishment of the leadership of his party, and of active participation in Canadian politics. I like to recall at this time the sentiments which these communications express. They will, I need scarcely say, ever be deeply cherished.
The first communication is one from myself to Lord Bennett. It is dated Laurier House, Ottawa, March 6, 1938, and is as follows: Laurier House, Ottawa, March 6, 1938.
Dear Mr. Bennett:
Please permit me to say that I was not a little pained when I received the word that because of the impairment of your heart, you have found it necessary to relinquish the leadership of your party, and that you will be doing so before another session of parliament.
Next to yourself, I am in a better position than anyone else to know the tax upon one's health and strength which leadership of a political party occasions. I have often marvelled that you have found it possible to do what you have, and maintain your strength to the degree you have. I know how deeply you will feel giving up parliamentary duties, even for the sake of your health; perhaps I should say, particularly because of your health. In this decision which has become imperative, I should like you to know that you have my sincere and understanding sympathy.
I can only express the hope that release from some of the exacting burdens you have borne may serve to restore your health and to increase and prolong the enjoyment of your days as well as afford opportunities of public service in other ways, which otherwise might be denied.
With kind personal regards,
Yours very sincerely,
(iSgd.) W. L. Mackenzie King.
The Right Honourable R. B. Bennett, P.C., M.P., Leader of the Opposition,
To that letter I received the following reply from Mr. Bennett as he was then addressed:
House of Commons Canada
Leader of the Opposition
Monday, 7 March, 1938. My dear Prime Minister:
It is difficult to express in writing my very sincere appreciation of your courtesy and sympathetic understanding in writing me your note of yesterday.
Of course I dislike giving up. Anyone who has been through the political campaigns 1 have participated in would dislike abandoning the field. But I could not think of going through a general election and our friends must prepare. My general health has been excellent, but the doctors tell me that my heart condition which was apparently only temporary has become permanent. The impairment is not necessarily suddenly fatal but if not carefully looked after may result in permanent invalidism.
Perhaps I may be able to find some useful work to do that will not involve too much strain. At any rate I shall try. But in the remaining years, few or many, I shall not forget your note.
I wish I had been able to so conduct the affairs of the country from 1930 to 1935 as to have escaped some of the violence of the opposition of your party; I might not have found myself so worn at the end of my term of office. But that is past history. I do hope that you have no such experience as I have had and in health and strength you may be able to discharge your duties and responsibilities.
With grateful appreciation of your note and the kind thought that inspired it, I am,
R. B. Bennett.
The iRight Honourable
W. L. Mackenzie King, P.C., M.P., LL.D., &c., Prime Minister.