June 7, 1956 (22nd Parliament, 3rd Session)


Alistair McLeod Stewart

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

Mr. Alistair Stewart (Winnipeg North):

Mr. Speaker, there have been many members who, in the course of this debate, have said this is a tragedy. That is so, and in a personal way. Some French writer, whose name escapes me, said that tragedy lies not in the conflict of right with wrong but in the conflict of right with right. You, sir, believed that you were right; we believed that we were right, and that difference which divides us is not something superficial. It is a difference which digs deep into the vitals of this House of Commons.
We here are parliamentarians. That means we have concern, respect, and even veneration for this house. We have these things not only in our bones but in the marrow of our bones. I doubt whether there is any member in this house who cannot number amongst his ancestors some who died that free institutions such as this should prevail. Therefore anything which hurts them hurts these things we cherish most.
This is the focal point of our freedom. This house is the focal point of our democracy, that form of government about which it has been so often said, it is the most difficult that the wit of man has yet devised. We have been told that democracy is slow, cumbersome, lethargic, even venal and corrupt; yet what we ought never to forget is that these charges fade into nothingness beside this one fact.
Any member of this House of Commons has the right to bring to the floor of the house the plea of the humblest person in Canada for justice. There is the greatness of parliament. Anything which tarnishes that greatness hurts not only us but every individual in this country.
I say, this house is the focal point of our democracy. The Speaker, then, is the focal point of the House of Commons, and we have given him the authority, we have placed in his hands the dignity and the integrity of the House of Commons. In the past, sir, in this parliament we have been served well. I am not going to refer to the remarks which the hon. member for Vancouver-Kingsway (Mr. Maclnnis) made about Your Honour because largely I concur in them. You had raised the prestige of the Speakership; you were our Speaker. Some of us had known you for many years and through that time we had a great liking for you, in the chair and out of it. I had hoped that perhaps even

House of Commons
on the very periphery I might have been numbered amongst your friends. I had for you, as had others, a genuine respect even when I thought you were at times wrong. And now, what has happened to make us rise in our places and disown you?
Some little time ago the Prime Minister said that what had happened had been frustrating. He used that word on several occasions in the course of his remarks, and I well believe him; but, as the hon. member for Vaneouver-Kingsway pointed out this afternoon, it is our bounden duty, when we think the government is wrong, to frustrate it in every way possible within the rules of parliament, and we did so. But the remark of the Prime Minister was revealing in another way. He said he was frustrated. He showed by that remark, I suggest, that there was a gap in his political education; for I think [DOT]one of the best pieces of apprenticeship any man can serve before he takes his place in government is to be in the ranks of the [DOT]opposition.
I have been here for some 12 or 13 years. I have had my own ideas of the sort of legislation which ought to be on our statute books to improve the conditions of the people of this country, and for month after month and year after year I have been frustrated but always, sir, within the rules of parliament, always so that I could not say I was unjustly done by. Frustration is no excuse for what happened last week. The tragedy of it is, sir, that you are perhaps the unconscious victim of that frustration.
Some days ago, also during the course of this debate, I rose in my place because I was disturbed at what was happening. I believed there was a corrosion taking place in the foundations of the Speakership. Members of parliament on this side of the house were rising on points of order which may or may not have been legitimate. We thought they were, and I maintained then and I maintain now it was the duty of the Prime Minister or the leader of the house to combat those points of order if they thought they were wrong. Instead, we were met with silence; and you, sir, were placed in the almost intolerable position where, in our eyes, you were acting not only as counsel for the defence, but you were acting as the judge. Time and time again this happened while the government sat silent, and you were becoming more and more embroiled in what appeared almost like partisan politics. You were being used by the silence of the government, and now you are being sacrificed through the silence of the Prime Minister.
I believe, sir, that last week you made a serious mistake. You made a mistake which

is almost unforgivable because you impaired the rights of the opposition as we saw them. At best you were guilty of a lapse of judgment, and perhaps we can make the excuse for you, sir, who cannot speak, that you were under strain, under tension which at times must have been great; but a mistake was made. There was a motion in the possession of the house, and then it was removed by what I have already referred to as brute majority. The rules were changed in the middle, sir.
I believe you to have been wrong in doing that, but I believe the government were even more wrong, if they had any respect for parliament, in allowing your error to prevail. Certain members of the government must have discussed the situation on Thursday night or Friday morning. There was a way open to them-a legitimate, proper and honest way open to them-but silence was maintained and that silence was nothing but cold cruelty on the part of the Prime Minister, who in my judgment, lost in his own sense of frustration, sacrificed our Speaker in this House of Commons. Perhaps that may now be his manner of doing things, but I hope that is not so ever again in the future.
There were other things which happened, however, which make me believe this might be so. We had the situation of which you, Mr. Speaker, can know nothing because this happened in committee, where a minister of the crown moved that clause 1 be postponed-

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