Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)
Hon. R. B. HANSON (Leader of the Opposition):
Mr. Speaker, the subject matter of unemployment insurance is one which has engaged, more or less spasmodically, the attention of this house since I first entered it. The Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) on more than one occasion since 1921 and 1930 promised this legislation. There was always, of course, the constitutional difficulty. In 1930, when the government of the Right Hon. R. B. Bennett came into power, it was so obsessed with the necessity of keeping this country on an even keel economically that, while we believed in the principle of unemployment insurance, it was not possible to proceed with the legislation at the beginning of that parliament. I have always thought that it was a great pity, from the standpoint of the wage earners of this country, to whom such an act would have been applicable in those bad years of our history, that such a measure was not put on the statute book by the Prime Minister when he first made his pronouncement in the twenties in regard thereto.
However, whatever may have been the reasons which prevented him from acting upon his undertaking to the country, he did not proceed with any such legislation, and this country and the wage earners of the country were without the benefits of unemployment insurance through the most trying period in our economic history. That is why I said not long ago that we were many years too late with respect to this social legislation.
In 1934-35 the government of the day did introduce legislation looking towards national unemployment insurance, and it was enacted into law, but not without the most vociferous opposition from gentlemen opposite, at that time sitting here, that I have ever experienced, on the plea that we had not the authority to do it. That bill was based on the theory of the treaty-making power under the British North America Act, and it was also based on the further powers that are recited in the preamble to the bill. I recall having had something to do with the preparation of that preamble, and I have always thought that if the legislation had been attacked, not by way of a stated case or reference, as was done by the government of my right hon. friend, but in a concrete case raising specifically the question involved in the reference, the result might have been different. I have no doubt in the world that if you want to get a correct solution of the problem of constitutionality the least likely method of obtaining a proper decision is that followed by hon. gentlemen opposite. However, the government of the day was defeated and went out of office, and in accordance with pledges made to the people
the Minister of Justice (Mr. Lapointe) referred the matter to the courts. I refer to it to-day only in order to keep the record straight.
This party is pledged to the principle of unemployment insurance. We endeavoured to implement that pledge to the best of our ability, having regard to all the circumstances of the time; and the act might have been allowed to go into force and effect, as it could have been at least until it was attacked and set aside, because nearly all the machinery had been set up and one of the most capable men in Canada had been installed as the head of the scheme. May I suggest to the Prime Minister that he probably could not do better to-day, when he comes to establish his scheme, if, as and when he does establish it, than by making use of the services of the gentleman to whom I have referred. That however is merely in passing.
The act was attacked by way of reference to the Supreme Court of Canada and subsequently went to the privy council, and, as the Minister of Justice has correctly stated, the decision of that august body was that the pith and substance of the legislation was an invasion of property and civil rights. With that decision we must be content. Perhaps the Minister of Justice at a later stage will inform us whether any representations were made in opposition to the proposal and to the principle involved. Personally I have heard of none, although I do know that recently proposals have been suggested from other quarters looking to another form of insurance. So far as I am aware they are still in the nebulous stage; nothing concrete has reached me at any rate. The legislation passed by the government of Right Hon. R. B. Bennett was declared ultra vires in 1936. The decision was rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada on January 28, 1937, and the decision of the privy council, delivered by Lord Atkin, was to the effect that in reality, in pith and substance, the legislation was an invasion of civil rights. The effect of that has been that we have lost five years at least in which we might have built up the reserve fund which is so essential to the successful operation of this social scheme. However, the Prime Minister and his government must take the responsibility for that.
The scheme is now being put forward one further step. I agree with the method adopted by the government having regard to the legal decisions. I know that the question of concurrent jurisdiction, and the other methods to which the Minister of Justice has referred, have been explored on various occasions, and there is objection, from the point of view of the legal decisions to which he has alluded and to which it is not necessary that I should refer
further. The method adopted is that of amendment to our constitution, and I know of no surer means of giving powers to this federal parliament than by that method. I am not in favour of the attempt to delegate powers or to hoist ourselves by our bootstraps by assuming powers delegated from another jurisdiction'-I will not say an inferior jurisdiction, because that might give offence in certain quarters. I have been attacked already on more than one occasion for having asserted the principle that we should have a strong central government. This motion, this address, is just another argument sustaining my position, that we ought to have a strong central government, because I cannot conceive of nine different systems of unemployment insurance in Canada. There must be a national system if we are to go that far, and I am further of the opinion that the passing of concurrent legislation would not be satisfactory. The passing of delegated authority would not be satisfactory, nor would the other methods to which the Minister of Justice has referred.
I am just wondering whether the Prime Minister will be able to give us any assurance that this address will be adopted and the legislation enacted at Westminster in time to make possible the enactment of a measure during the present session. I know this is a war session. I have the feeling that it is the intention of the government to get rid of parliament just as quickly as possible. I may be wrong in that; I may be doing hon. gentlemen opposite an injustice by even suggesting it. But it is understandable. Can the Prime Minister give us any assurance that the British parliament will give precedence to this measure? I am expressing no opinion; I have no opinion on that point.
This party is committed to the principle of unemployment insurance. Indeed if it had not been for hon. gentlemen opposite this country would have had it years ago; let there be no mistake about that.
I believe the Minister of Justice has adopted the proper method of attaining the end which the government now have in view. As far as we are concerned I promise the cooperation of this party in passing this address, and when the legislation itself comes down I promise him that we will examine the bill with the greatest care, will endeavour to strengthen it so far as may be necessary or desirable, and will in no way obstruct the principle of what is in my opinion very necessary social legislation for Canada.