May 23, 1950

CCF

Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Knowles:

I wonder who is trying to do the gilding now. After all, the situations are exactly analogous in this respect, that in both cases we have matters of joint concern to the dominion and the provinces. In the one case the Minister of National Health and Welfare says, "Before we meet the provinces it would be a good idea to have a committee so that the government will know the views of parliament." Meantime provincial governments are no doubt getting the views of their legislatures on the question.

Similarly, in respect of ways of amending the constitution, I can imagine that many provincial governments are getting the views of their provincial legislatures on these constitutional matters before they meet the dominion government in a further session of the dominion-provincial conference.

I think that after all the government has some responsibility to parliament. It should know what parliament thinks about issues of this kind before it meets the provinces, just as the Minister of National Health and Welfare put it in connection with old age security. And even if the minister had not laid down the principle as well as he did, I suggest the idea would commend itself to hon. members that there is merit in the federal government getting the views of parliament before it meets the provinces, rather than waiting until after the die has been cast.

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LIB

Paul Joseph James Martin (Minister of National Health and Welfare)

Liberal

Mr. Martin:

I would remind the hon.

member of the inconsistency of the position he now takes. On that occasion he opposed the setting up of a committee, but now he is in favour of setting one up.

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CCF

Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Knowles:

I opposed the setting up of a committee, but I did not oppose parliament's discussing and taking action on the question of old age security; in fact I urged that that be done without the delay involved in holding sessions of a committee. On the other hand, what the Prime Minister is trying to do now is to prevent parliament's discussing, in whatever way it may choose, this question of

Senate reform, on the ground that that would be breaking faith with the provinces. I suggest the Minister of National Health and Welfare should have made his interjections when the Prime Minister was speaking, and should have set him on the right track.

To get around to the substance of the amendment by the leader of the opposition, I said at the outset that I believe the reform of the Senate most needed is its abolition altogether. I feel that the idea of a second chamber came out of a period in the forward development of the democratic idea, when people believed in democracy and believed in their elected representatives speaking for them, but were not quite sure and were not quite prepared to go all the way.

So, carrying over the idea that was in existence in the United Kingdom with respect to a House of Lords, which was made up of persons not elected by the people, the fathers of confederation agreed to have its counterpart here in Canada, namely, the Senate, which would be appointed rather than elected by the people.

In my view our thinking as to the validity of the democratic way has moved on considerably since 1867, and it is time now that the whole of our parliamentary set-up was on an elected basis, so that everyone in parliament would be directly responsible to the people.

That may suggest to some that the thing to do with the Senate is simply to put it on an elected rather than an appointed basis. If you do that, what you have done is to provide, shall I say, two Houses of Commons to discuss the same legislation. It seems to me that you would have a duplication of effort that would be completely unnecessary. I want to say again that so far as I am concerned anything that I say casts no reflection on the persons in the Senate. I do not even deny the fact that many of them deserve something from this country for the services they have rendered in public life. I would say that many of them probably deserve a pension of some kind for the services they have rendered in various ways, but that has nothing to do with the institution in which they are now functioning.

It is sometimes argued that it is desirable to have a second house to provide a check on hasty legislation passed in the one house. Experience has shown clearly that not since the early twenties has there been any tendency at all on the part of the other place to impose any check on the House of Commons. They are not performing that function at all. As a matter of fact things in this parliament have got to the place where what we are concerned about is not this House of Commons

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Senate Reform

being checked by the Senate but the government being responsible to this House of Commons. That is the checking job that is on our hands in this generation, maintaining the concept of responsible government.

We are getting to the place where the government thinks that once it is elected at the polls it has a free hand to carry on as it wishes until the next election. It has been said a number of times on the floor of this house that the government is responsible directly to the people. Actually the government is responsible to parliament, and primarily responsible to that section of parliament elected by the people. That is the job we should be applying ourselves to. Any notion that the Senate provides any check has been ruled out, and our job is to make sure that we in this House of Commons provide the necessary check on the government, and that is a task for members of all parties in this house.

Any suggestion that the Senate provides protection for minorities, racial, religious, provincial or regional, is gone completely when the Senate is made up of an overwhelming majority on one political side as is the case at the present time. The best way to get a voice to speak for any particular group that feels it is a minority, that feels that its voice should be heard, is to have that voice raised in this House of Commons where members know they have the authority of being elected and can therefore speak more freely and more forcibly than is the case in the other place. I know that some of those hon. gentlemen over there whom we know and to whom we sometimes talk feel that way about it; they know that they have no authority to speak on behalf of the people such as we have simply because they have not been elected.

It seems to me that these things should be very thoroughly considered. I have made my position clear, that I think that times have changed and the point has been reached where we no longer need a second chamber. That is one of the things that a committee of this kind could discuss, namely the abolition of the Senate altogether. If that committee did not agree with me and did not go all the way I would go, a discussion of these mat-' ters would produce at least some measure of reform. It is clear from the experience that all of us have had in this House of Commons that it is difficult for any member of the opposition, indeed for any private member on either side of the house, to introduce any proposition substantive in character and get it put through this House of Commons. The best he can do is to get it considered by a committee.

If anyone moved a motion for a specific brand of Senate reform, if anyone moved a

Senate Reform

motion for the abolition of the Senate, it would stand no chance of being passed. Government members would get up and say that we could not discuss such a proposition on the spur of the moment because it was the sort of thing that should be considered in committee. Here is a chance to refer this whole question, and an important one it is, to a committee to have it gone into thoroughly.

I was interested in some of the quotations that were read during the debate this afternoon by those who spoke and again this evening by the hon. member for Greenwood (Mr. Macdonnell), indicating the way in which this whole question has been tossed about across the years. One of the reasons why the Senate is the butt of so much critical comment is that Senate reform has been toyed with the way it is. It is now nearly thirty years since Mr. King was a young crusader for Senate reform, both in this house and out on the hustings. I have in my hand Hansard of July 19, 1924, where Mr. King is reported on page 4872 as having said:

Mr. Speaker, having in mind the action of the second chamber with respect to the measure which has just been amended and also the fate of a number of bills adopted by the Commons and defeated in the Senate. I think hon. members will agree with me that the time has come when the Commons in Canada should seek to gain rights and privileges with respect to legislation originating in this chamber similar to those which have been obtained by the House of Commons in the parliament at Westminster. I may say that the government had under consideration, prior to the opening of this session, legislation with this end in view, but we were anxious the public should feel fully convinced of the necessity before pressing it on the attention of parliament. Hon. members will recall that at the close of the last session, and at the close of the preceding session, bills which were passed by this house and which touched matters that are very vital to the electorate failed of enactment owing to the action of the Senate. This year we have instances of bills that have passed this house in three separate sessions of parliament, and which have been rejected each time by the second chamber. I think we owe it to the people of our country with respect to laws demanded by the electorate to see to the supremacy in parliament of the elective chamber. I desire to assure the house that when parliament re-assembles steps will be taken by the government to obtain, if possible, means whereby bills may be enacted by and with the advice and consent of the House of Commons under conditions similar in principle to those which have been sanctioned for the parliament of the United Kingdom.

No one would seek to suggest what was in Mr. King's mind, but I imagine that he had in mind that at least we could get away from the situation where the Senate has a permanent veto which it can exercise year in and year out, ad infinitum, over legislation of the House of Commons, and get to the position they had at Westminster where the House of Lords could do it only so many times-the number having been reduced from time to time since then. But even that measure

of reform, if that is what Mr. King had in mind away back in the early twenties, is still not implemented in this country.

The hon. member for Greenwood had something to say about the pledges that were taken by Mr. King from those that he put into the Senate back in those years. I should like to quote what I think is an interesting excerpt from Hansard of January 12, 1926, page 105. The speaker on that occasion was Mr. C. W. Bell, who was listed as the member for West Hamilton. He said:

Not only the members of this house but the country will remember that the Prime Minister-

The reference there was to Mr. King.

-in the last three and a half years has always declared his intention of effecting great reforms for the purpose of remedying the various ills from which this dominion has been suffering. But he has consistently given, as two great obstacles to this objective, the obstruction of the Senate and the influence of the Progressive party.

The party which he later absorbed.

He made the statement from many a platform that upon his return to parliament one of the first things he would undertake would be Senate reform of such character that the upper house would be no longer in a position to render legislation futile. And speaking in London-

That was at London, Ontario, on October 16, 1925.

-on October 16 last he made a statement which, if it is not known to every member of the house and to every man and woman in the country, ought certainly to be very well known. In the hockey arena in that city on the date I mentioned he said:

''Only a few days ago a number of Senators were appointed. Every one has given me his pledged word he will be prepared, once a measure passes the Commons, to give it his support. Subsequent Senators will be appointed with that understanding, and as Providence takes away a few of the older members, you will have a Senate pledged to bring about the reforms for which the administration stands."

Well, Providence has done its part since that date but the Liberal party has not kept pace. A little later the questions, to which the hon. member for Greenwood (Mr. Macdonnell) referred, were asked. I would ask the indulgence of the house to refer to them again. These were questions by Mr. Evans and they appear in Hansard for February 16, 1927, at page 355. Let me read them:

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Charles Robert Evans

Mr. Evans:

1. What is the form or wording of

the pledge, if any, taken from those who have been appointed senators during the last two years with a view to Senate reform?

2. How many have been thus pledged?

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Right Hon. Mr. Mackenzie King@

1. An assurance of support of such measure of Senate reform, in conformity with the requirements of the constitution, as may be introduced by the Liberal administration.

2. This assurance has been given by all who have accepted appointment to the Senate within the time mentioned.

As the hon. member for Greenwood indicated, in 1948, I placed on the order paper questions similar to those asked by Mr. Evans away back in 1927, but I was unable to get as specific an answer as the then prime minister, Mr. King, had given on that occasion. He did indicate that he recalled having obtained pledges of Senate reform in those years from every member he appointed but he could not quite remember just when he discontinued the practice.

So far as Mr. King is concerned, it is pretty clear that his crusading spirit for Senate reform vanished as the number of Liberals in the Senate increased. I hope that the overpowering number of Liberals that the present government has in the other place will not prevent the present Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) from taking up the crusade for at least a measure of Senate reform if he cannot go all the way with me for its abolition. Here is another example of how this matter has been toyed with from time to time. On June 4, 1926, as found in Hansard of that year at page 4030, there appears this excerpt:

On the orders of the day:

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Arthur Meighen

Right Hon. Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Opposition):

May I ask the Prime Minister if there is to be any action taken this session with respect to Senate reform? If not, when is the next move to be made in this direction and of what character?

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Samuel William Jacobs

Mr. Jacobs:

At the next sitting of the house.

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LIB

James Horace King

Liberal

Right Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King (Prime Minister) :

I might say to my right hon. friend that the government would not like to prolong the session unduly in introducing the subject of Senate reform at this stage. My right hon. friend may be sure it will come up in due course.

In June, 1926, Mr. King did not want to prolong the session unduly to deal with Senate reform. It was to be dealt with in due course. Mr. King's period as prime minister has gone and Senate reform still remains to be carried through. The rest of the quotation is as follows:

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Arthur Meighen

Mr. Meighen:

I should like to know further, if

it is the intention of the government to call a provincial conference on the subject this summer.

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LIB
?

Arthur Meighen

Mr. Meighen:

Before another session?

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LIB

James Horace King

Liberal

Mr. Mackenzie King:

I would not say as to that.

Any who were here in the days of Mr. King will recognize the authenticity of the remarks that I have quoted. My whole point in reading these few excerpts is to indicate the way in which the question of Senate reform has been toyed with down through the years. I think as a matter of fact that members of the Senate could get up from time to time-in that other place- on a question of privilege and complain about the way in which this whole question has been played with. They have it coming

Senate Reform

to them that the matter be taken seriously, and even though I may go further than the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew) has indicated in his amendment, I certainly think that the house should go at least that far, should appoint this committee and have the matter investigated. I think we owe it to ourselves, to the Canadian people, and as I have already said, to the senators themselves.

Let me conclude by reading one other quotation. When I have read it I think there will be really nothing more to say. It is taken from Hansard of January 22, 1935, at page 102. I will indicate later who the speaker was. I would rather read the quotation first. It reads:

I believe it was the leader of the opposition who raised the discussion concerning the Senate. I am making reference to all these points because I believe one would do better to put his finger on the spot where the sand may be put into the machinery.

I hear someone saying that he already knows who it is.

The right hon. gentleman has said that we have a Tory Senate. If I gather anything from the temper of the Canadian people, and if it is the policy of the Senate to put sand into the machinery, then we will have to reform the Senate. The time has long since passed when the Senate should be used as unemployment insurance for many of those in political life.

The speaker on that occasion has had something to do with unemployment insurance since then, for he was none other than the present Minister of Labour (Mr. Mitchell). I suggest that we may not always agree with him now in some of the things he says, but certainly the statement that he made over in this corner of the house some fifteen years ago is very much to the point. If I may say so again, Mr. Speaker, I think it is unfair to the ladies and gentlemen in that other place as persons, that cracks like these can be made about them, that the Senate can be referred to as a scheme of unemployment insurance for some of those in political life. People who have served this country in public life for many years have some consideration coming to them, and I would say not just in the form of material assistance or pensions. They have coming to them the right to continue to serve the country in useful positions but let us not do the derogatory thing we are doing to them at the present time by simply putting them into an institution for which the country has, as the hon. member for Greenwood said, perhaps less respect now than has ever been the case.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I say again that for my part I think the time has come in the development of our democratic institutions when there should be no portion of parliament that is not responsible to the electorate directly. Therefore I think we do not need

Senate Reform

the Senate at all. It should be abolished. But surely we cannot do less than to take the course that has been suggested by the leader of the opposition in his amendment, pass it, have this committee set up and get to work discussing this important question, and not leave it for another twenty-five or thirty years as has been the case already. As I sit down I remind the government that to pass the amendment does not defeat the government; that will come in due course. It would mean the setting up of the proposed committee but it would also mean, on the basis of citation 489, that the government could immediately move that we go again into committee of supply.

(Translation):

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LIB

Pierre Gauthier

Liberal

Mr. Pierre Gauthier (Portneuf):

Mr. Speaker, an institution should continue to exist as long as it serves a useful purpose. It may be that some hon. members, like the One who has just resumed his seat, would be in favour of abolishing the Senate sooner or later, but they have not dared to say so openly. Ever since I became a member I have noticed that the matter of Senate reform has been mentioned quite often in debates in this chamber as well as outside the house. Some of those debates have shed some degree of light on this question which always attracts considerable attention.

In rising to take part in this debate, I have no intention of striking a fatal blow to the motion moved by the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew). However, as regards the upper house, where French-speaking members have so often distinguished themselves, I feel duty bound if not to rise to its defence at least to bring forth some arguments in favour of its existence, of its survival.

Since I both think and act democratically, I believe that the Senate, though its members, unlike those of the House of Commons, do not have to stand for election, nevertheless keeps an open, attentive and practised eye on the various problems considered in this house. Even though some senators are no longer young, we must recognize that they have indeed acquired some experience. That, in my opinion, counts for a great deal in a man's life. May I refer to a few words spoken by a great American industrialist, Henry Ford, who said something to this effect:

The best salary I have ever received is experience and I believe it is the most commendable thing in the world. It is something no one can take away from me.

I believe, Mr. Speaker, that when a mem-Der has spent fifteen or twenty years in this house as democratic representative of a constituency of his province, of his country, he

has acquired some experience, a way of seeing things. He can also much better understand the economic, political, social and even religious problems which are fairly often brought to our attention. Too often, we hear the time-worn argument that the Senate is a body made up of people with one foot in the grave. Even if some senators are elderly, they nevertheless retain that alertness of mind that is found in younger persons. Besides, we must remember that certain members of the upper house, such as Senators Dandurand, Meighen and Beland, who had reached an advanced age, have made a very useful and commendable contribution not only to the Canadian nation but to the House of Commons.

If hon. members made it a point of finding out what goes on in the other place, they would see that during every session a great many issues are discussed in the various Senate committees, which proves the great usefulness of that hon. chamber and serves to justify its existence. The discussions that take place in those committees are important and useful enough to establish the necessity of the Senate's existence, even if its members are not elected.

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying a moment ago, a member of parliament who, for fifteen or twenty years has been a representative of the people, acquires a certain experience. I do not intend to pose as the Senate's defender, but if I put forward my views concerning it, it is not because I feel myself growing old, since after twenty-three years I am still full of the will and desire to fight. I believe that very often derogatory remarks are made concerning the other place. This subject should be approached, however, by really facing up to the problem.

There is no doubt that the point at issue is whether the Senate is useful and whether there is any justification for its existence. To prove it, we have but to listen to the proceedings of a committee of the other place on the rights and privileges of the human being. We would then see how exhaustively a matter which will eventually be submitted to this house is being discussed.

As far as that question of human rights is concerned-and it has been discussed even in the United Nations-I have followed with much interest and attention the work of the Senate committee. We can, I believe, hope that these deliberations will be of some use to us and that we will eventually benefit from them.

Besides, in every human being there is a phenomenon of a psychological nature that

makes him perfectible. As the Senate is itself made up of human beings, it is also perfectible, and even though some of its members are old, they are not less intelligent for it. If the situation need be improved in so far as the Senate is concerned, I believe that this house should undertake a more thorough discussion of this question.

The motion of the hon. leader of the opposition, in the terms in which it has been actually moved, might have the merit of initiating such discussion, but it should not be carried by this house. I go on record as opposing the resolution, not only to answer the bid of the right hon. the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent), who has urged us to oppose it, but also as a member of the Liberal party, which leaves us with our freedom of action and allows us to express our mind openly. I am of opinion that the motion is a little too premature and should be given the six months' hoist. We must all be confident that the Senate will continue to fulfil its basic function and prove its usefulness.

I have here a letter signed by Mr. Paul de Martigny, published in La Patrie. It concerns the Senate indirectly. It is about people who are pensioned off. Many members and many Canadian taxpayers want an age limit for senators. Let them listen carefully to what I am about to read and they will see that such a request is interesting for those who are not so old, but not such a good thing for those who have reached a certain age. I quote:

A man who is being retired is not very cheerful the day he bids his fellow workers farewell. Why? If you want to know, read what someone wrote to me.

Retirement means the end of the struggle for a living and brings the assurance that one will not be left in need. That is much better than being let out on the street. It also means, however, that one is retired from active life and put with the has-beens. After having counted as something for a long time, one becomes nothing. For forty years, half a century, if you like, someone has been a cog in the big machinery of society. Then, on the grounds that this cog is old, it is put aside. Not very pleasant for the party concerned.

I know, of course, that there is the other side of the picture: freedom after the long enslavement of work under conditions that sometimes proved very difficult. It is the end of each day's stupendous effort. But once the task is done, does the memory of it rankle the next day? Of course not, because people realize that life itself is made up of such little hardships which are as old as time. As we advance in years our eyes are opened, our illusions vanish, and we finally understand that life, seen at close hand, is not always beautiful.

At any rate, it is not as beautiful as the long-anticipated retirement which gradually comes closer and closer until one day it is at hand and it does not look so promising as before. Above all there is the

Senate Reform

realization that tomorrow we may no longer be of any use. Retirement is like the beginning of a long unending regret.

The more fortunate is not the retired man, it is the one who is not yet retired. It is the fellow worker struck by death at his work, like a soldier in the thick of the battle, weapons in hand.

What good is it to drag out the monotonous and useless life of the retired man?

What good is it to hark back to the same old stores of a past for which nobody cares? That is. why the wise thinks twice before he asks for his retirement. To quit the daily task, however great the effort required, is like getting away from reality, so meagre, so hard though it may be. It is acting like the dog of the good man Lafontaine, who left its prey for a shadow.

Mr. Speaker, it is another psychological phenomenon when a man has worked hard all his life for society he finds one day that he has no longer any soul, that his services are no longer required, that he is considered 'too old to take .part in public affairs.

We only need to look around us, not only in Canada but throughout the world, to see men over seventy who are still very active and who can bring into the discussion of public affairs the contribution of a valuable experience.

I need only mention the former prime minister of Great Britain, the Right. Hon. Winston Churchill, who, despite his seventy-five years, displays an extraordinarily keen mind during the Commons debates and the British elections. Thus the argument that the Senate is made up of men who are too old is worthless.

Besides, I believe the amendment was moved for the sole purpose of launching some sort of a debate and finding out the members' views on the matter.

I do not make these remarks because I have an eye on the other place, or because I want to defend the members of the Senate. I just want to say that the Senate is still a democratic institution, although its members are not elected.

Moreover, I think that the Senate should be protected against the idea, which is becoming generalized, that senators should be elected. To my mind, the Senate is endowed with a certain freedom of action which the elected representatives of the people do not enjoy.

As members of parliament we retain our liberty, but we know that we must sometimes follow public opinion instead of leading it. I remember that when I was still a student at the seminary, a former Quebec premier

Dominion-Provincial Conference told me that men in public life should lead public opinion and not follow it.

I believe that the members of the Senate are in a better position to lead public opinion under the present system than they would be if they were elected.

To those who look to the Senate with some emotion, I shall quote a proverb which I found somewhere and which speaks volumes in this respect:

The hardest thing to do is not to reach the top of the ladder, but to make one's way through the crowd at the bottom.

(Text):

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DOMINION-PROVINCIAL CONFERENCE TABLING OF FURTHER CORRESPONDENCE WITH PROVINCIAL PREMIERS

LIB

Louis Stephen St-Laurent (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Right Hon. L. S. St. Laurent (Prime Minister):

May I have the consent of the house, Mr. Speaker, to revert to motions for the purpose of tabling correspondence with the premiers concerning the autumn conference, and which was asked for the other day. I promised to see if there had been any further correspondence, and I find that there were three letters from Premier Douglas, with answers, and one from Premier Jones, with the answer. I should like to table that correspondence.

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LIB

Louis-René Beaudoin (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Liberal

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Beaudoin):

Has

the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) the consent of the house to table the documents to which he has referred?

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?

Some hon. Members:

Agreed.

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PC

Donald Methuen Fleming

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fleming:

May I ask the Prime Minister a question concerning the correspondence with the provincial premiers that he has just submitted? Is any provision made on the agenda for discussion of old age pensions or federal aid to education?

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LIB

Louis Stephen St-Laurent (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. St. Laurent:

The agenda has not yet been determined. We are receiving suggestions from the premiers and those suggestions are being circulated to the premiers of the other provinces for their views as to what should be the form of the agenda.

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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Then I take it, from what the Prime Minister has said, that there is nothing to prevent the agenda including what was suggested by the premier of Nova Scotia that there should be a full discussion of appropriate changes in the Senate.

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May 23, 1950