February 27, 1911 (11th Parliament, 3rd Session)

LIB

Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Sir WILFRID LAURIER.

Well, I would not admit that historically. The two men who had more to do than any others with the framing of the constitution were George Brown .and Sir John Macdonald. Sir George Cartier had a great deal to do with it also but it was George Brown and Sir John Macdonald who had most to do with the making of the present constitution. My hon. friend is aware that while George Brown was in favour of the elective system Sir John Macdonald was equally strong in favour of the nominative system. Sir George Cartier was also equally strong in favour of the nominative system, and I believe that the opinion of these two men more than any other factor influenced the decision in favour of the nominative system. I believe that on that occasion George Brown gave in to the views of others at the conference while, if his views had prevailed we might have had an elective instead of a nominative

system. But George Brown, very properly I think, yielded his views on that occasion and allowed the views of Sir John Macdonald and Sir George Cartier to prevail, and they were embodied in confederation.
I can agree with my hon. friend from Simcoe (Mr. Lennox) that the Senate has not been given all the justice to which it is entitled. It is a very eminent and efficient body. If my hon. friend will accept the statement which I make in perfect sincerity, the only objection I have had in the past, and which I would have at 'the present time is to be found in the fact that the Senate is too predominatingly under one party. The Liberal party at the present time is the predominating party in the Senate. But, in the olden time, before the accession to power of the present government, the Conservative party was the predominating one ; in fact, when we came into office in 1896 the Liberal party was represented by a mere corporal's guard in that great body. I am asked : Why should you have only one party represented in the Senate? It is easy to make that reproach, it is easy to point to the fact but any man who has been somewhat familiar with politics knows how7 difficult it is to have any other system than the present one to be acted upon so long as the situation remains as it is. There must be necessarily, in the nature of the case, party appointment. While the appointments that we have made may not all have been perfect I believe that on the whole that they have been as creditable to the government as the appointments of our predecessors. If all of the men who have been appointed by this government have not been perfectly free of fault they have on the whole been as free as those appointed by the previous regime. If you analyze the criticisms or recall the objections which are offered from time to time in connection with motions which have been made for the reform of the Senate, ] think you will find that they largely originate from the fact that one party has predominated there to the prejudice of the other party, and if it were possible to have a proper balance of the different opinions which prevail in this House and in this country perhaps we would find a solution of the question. I will go farther and I will give this as my very deliberate opinion that if there is to be a reform of the Senate it should be in line with the purpose for which the Senate was instituted in this country, that is to say, to protect minorities, and to make it representative of the provinces rather than any other body of men. At one time I was very much in favour of the American system of election. The Senate of the United States is elected by the local legislatures, and for the first sixty or eighty years of the existence of the Republic the Senate of the United States compared favourably with any other assembly that
ever was in existence in the world. It was a body remarkable for its powers, its efficiency and -the great service which it rendered to the nation. It has been alleged of late, and I believe the allegation is substantially correct, that the character, the standard of the American Senate has not been kept up to the high degree of excellence which it reached for the first sixty or eighty years of the existence of the Republic. It is alleged, and I know that the allegation is currently made by the American magazines and press that the present mode of election has become dangerous, and there is serious talk at the present time of reforming it because the Senate has become the prey of plutocrats, and that election by the legislatures is susceptible to the influence of money which has contributed, as it is alleged, to degrade the character of that body. I must say that this has modified my views and that it would not be perhaps acceptable to us to have a Senate appointed by the local legislatures. But, I am prepared to consider whether we should not have some proportion of the appointments made by local authority. That is a suggestion which I made, and it is one which is worthy of consideration. For my part I would like exceedingly that this matter should be approached by both sides absolutely unbiassed and with the view of getting the best system of appointment possible. The present government will not always remain in office. Governments, like men, are born to die, but some men, while they are born to die, will live pretty long, and I do not think this government will die prematurely. But, in the course of time everything must come to an end. My hon. friends on the other side of the House will come into the position which we are in at the present time. I am not prepared to say that it will be as soon as my hon. friend (Mr. Lennox) hopes. But, when: ever there is a change of government my hon. friends sitting on the other side of the House will have precisely the same difficulty to meet that we have at the present time. I am prepared to approach this question without any bias, and I am prepared to have the question examined whether or not, while we should keep the nominative appointment in the government, we should give a share of the responsibility to the different provinces. That is a suggestion which is well worthy of consideration. I agree with my hon. friend that something should be done. This is the last of the reforms which we promised the country, and which we have not yet carried out. It is a reform which we are anxious to carry out, but we wish to carry it out on lines which, I think, would be more in consonance with the spirit of our constitution.
Motion (Mr. McLean, South Huron) withdrawn.

Topic:   QUESTIONS.
Subtopic:   THE DOMINION SENATE.
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