June 23, 1920 (13th Parliament, 4th Session)


John Hampden Burnham


Mr. J. H. BURNHAM (West Peterborough) :

There have been, at various times
a - number of very embarrassing circumstances which have occured with regard to the business of the members themselves. A subject that we have heard! a great deal1 about is the increase in the sessional indemnity. I am told there have been a great many deputations to see the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Borden), the leader of the Opposition (Mr. Mackenzie King) and the leader of the Farmers' Party (Mr. Crerar). I have not had .the honour of being invited to join any of these deputations so I cannot speak directly of what was accomplished, but I know that there have been many such deputations and that their visits have been frequent. I know that there is arising in this House a feeling that an .indemnity which is only worth SI,200 a session, is of no use to the bulk of the members, and is not a fair return for what is expected of them. And! when their life is considered -that is to say when it is borne in mind that they have to live in two places and practically speaking keep up two establishments, and that they are exiles from their own family circle for at least six months of the year, can it be wondered at that they find an indemnity which has the purchasing power of only $1,200 a year so inadequate as to make it quite impossible
for many members to continue? I do not deny that some members have business, or positions, outside the House which would enable them to lave comfortably even if they were in actual retirement, and the sessional indemnity does not offer any great inducement to them either one way or the other. These men are largely-and! I say it of course in no invidious way-connected with the greater commercial life of Canada. They come here because the greater commercial life of Canada is intimately and, seriously affected by the laws which are passed here. They come here to watch those laws, and if possible to create and to mould .legislation-which of course is their right. But the great bulk of the people of Canada must depend upon what is called the average member. The average member is not a man of wealth; he depends perhaps upon some private business. He has to employ, when he is away from his private business, some one to look after that private business in his room and stead. As a consequence the indemnity is worth very little to him, and when its purchasing power is cut down, as it has been cut, it is almost worth nothing at all. As a consequence- the mass of the people of this country cannot expect to be well served with the indemnity at its present figure.
If it be said that in bringing this matter np I should have waited1 until there was a larger attendance I reply that the attendance is very fair. There appear to me to be about eighty or ninety members present; but we have carried through measures today involving vastly greater pecuniary expenses than the one I am discussing, we have carried through other very important measures, with half the attendance there is now. It cannot be disguiser that there is a certain amount of apathy, if not despair, on the part of ,a great many members who do not understand how they are going to make ends meet; and I say again that if the people-the mass of the people- wish their business to .he attended to, they have got to pay their public servants, as they pay their private servants, in a way that will sustain them in common decency. From one end of this country to the other, wages, salaries, every kind of remuneration have been increased. But here there has been no increase. We found in the newspapers a loyal support of the endeavour of the members of this assembly to have their salaries increased. All the leading newspapers endorsed the proposal and spoke most heartily in favour of it until the leaders got mixed up in their views on it.

And when the leaders refused to go on with it, what would the leading newspapers do but get back in their tracks as quickly as possible? So they made apologies for their former views, expressed some doubt, and gave voice to the opinion of many people in this country that this was a common "graft." Now, if my constituents think that my advocacy of an increased indemnity from -$1,200 to $2,500 is "graft," they are welcome to ask for my retirement.'
I do not propose to go with any such niggardly salary.
I found that my private business conflicted with my public business, and I found that I could not give an honourable adherence to my public duties and to all the things that arose in and concerning them, so I gave up my private business. There are many things that I have spoken on in this House somewhat frankly, somewhat boldly, and somewhat fearlessly. Why? Because I have given myself a free hand. I have had no clients who said to me, "Burnham, you talk too much about insurance. We will withdraw the business we gave you as an insurance company." I have had no people possessed of utilities which might *become public utilities, come to me and say, "You have been talking too much about the acquirement of public utilities at a rock-bottom price. You are no good to us. Therefore we will take our business away from you." I have not had people of that description saying those things to me, because if they had I would have had to make my choice between being loyal to the public interest and helpful to my own private clients; and I am very much afraid that the public business of Canada would have suffered. I can only say that if there are many others in the same predicament as myself,
I can well understand that the public business of Canada will suffer and must suffer. Therefore the people must pay their public representatives decently or they cannot expect decent service.
The strangest thing in the world is that it is conceded by the people of Canada that ' a member of Parliament is at liberty to go home as frequently as he likes; he is at liberty to look after his private business in every way-and .give the residue of his time to public business. That, of course, is a perfect fhrce, and until the people of this country learn that the business of this Parliament is of the utmost value to them economically, politically, historically, socially, morally, - and even religiously- until they have grasped that simple pro-

position there will toe unrest in the country, there will be groaning in the country, there will be aspersions cast upon the members of this House, and there will be dissatisfaction all round.
Now, I can say that 95 per cent of the members of this House demand an increase of this indemnity.

Full View