June 22, 1926 (15th Parliament, 1st Session)


Paul Mercier


Mr. PAUL MERCIER (St. Henri) moved:

That the third and final report of the special committee appointed to investigate tihe adminisitration of the Department of Customs and Excise be concurred in.
He said: Mr. Speaker, the special committee investigating the administration of the Department of Customs and Excise laid its report upon the table of the House last Friday. We are convinced that this House will find in that report the material necessary to reorganize certain branches of this department, and particularly the preventive service, in order to assure the collection of the duties imposed upon goods of foreign origin which enter our country. A preventive service, well organized, is the biggest help to the administration charged with the collection of customs duties, not only on account of the very considerable amounts which it brings into the public treasury, but also as a means of contributing to our national wealth by the adequate safeguarding of our trade and commerce.
When we prepared this report we were indeed aware that the Canadian customs must be regarded with reference to two separate aspects: as a means of revenue, and as an instrument of protection. This investigation has shown that many of the large countries of the world draw considerable gain from their customs dues. A large portion of the revenue of the United States, our neighbours, has no other source.
It is admitted that our participation in the last war has given our finances a bad blow. We will find in the scrupulous and strict collection of duties one of the most efficient ways of rebuilding the national wealth, and one which will enable us to pay the enormous debts willed to us by the late war.
I am convinced, Mr. Speaker, and no doubt my colleagues who have read the voluminous evidence which accompanies the report laid upon the table of this House will share this conviction, that the Department of Customs and Excise is a most difficult one to administer; the duties, including the supervision of thousands of employees, are onerous and the responsibility immense.
The minister in charge needs to be continually on the alert. He is bound according to certain critics, not to err in the performance of his duties and the exercise of the discretionary powers which are vested in him by the Customs and Excise acts. Furthermore, according to the evidence and the several public documents produced at the investigation, the minister must take into consideration that the procedure of his department is governed not only by statutes passed by this House and the Senate, but also by decisions of the cabinet, orders in council, rulings and regulations, under the authority and powers vested in the administration, and in accordance with the different laws of Canada. Regard must be paid to all these in order to properly apply the rules and regulations of the department or to extend their principles by way of interpretation.
The evidence and the examination of the different files submitted to us have demonstrated also that the minister is exposed to numerous and varied influences, and is the recipent of requests of all sorts. They come from his colleagues, from members of his own party, even from members of the opposite party, but mostly from the public in general, .^presented in this chamber by their elected members. These hon. members in accordance with the popular belief and1 under our democratic system, have not only to enact legislation, but are sometimes placed under the painful obligation of obtaining, from ministers of the crown, and, in this case, from Ministers of Customs, past and present, on behalf of offending electors, private and lenient settlements, and if possible the minimum fine provided by law. They insist even upon the reconsideration of findings, or the suspension for a certain period of the proceedings and the penalties incurred in cases already referred to the jurisdiction of the courts of this country.
I would ask my colleagues in this House, to whatever .political party they may belong, to remember, before passing final judgment on the facts disclosed by the evidence that, as members of parliament they must be fair to themselves and to their fellow citizens, and I would also counsel them not to lose sight of the fact that a minister, or a member of parliament, is a public man, and as the word clearly implies, a man who belongs to and is representative of the people of Canada.
The public man does not exercise a profession; he fulfils a mission. Is it not true, Mr. Speaker, that the public demands from him what is not expected from others? Moreover, le is continually subjected to strict and severe
Customs Inquiry-Mr. Mercier (St. Henri)
censure. Public opinion, as he perceives it, stands for a multiplicity of opinions, says Louis Barthou of l'Academie Frangaise, and such multiplicity is sufficient to show the variety of judgments always contradictory and often irreconcilable, to which his actions expose him. He is responsible not merely for what he says or does; his abstentions or the services he renders bind him as much as his actions or words. He stands alone in the community. In the situation there is for him danger and contrast. When a physician has given his advice or a lawyer has ended his address, he has no more to do with his client and has no account to render to anybody. The public man always, has accounts to render, and, as a matter of fact, the public is his client. And if a member of the House of Commons becomes a minister of the crown, how, Mr. Speaker, can you expect him to commit no error, even of a temporary nature, if sometimes compassion, or the intention to oblige or to please a representative of the people, takes control for a moment of his heart, or of his mind? .
Before this House insists on blaming a member, a minister, because a demand has been made to him and he has granted it, let it first re-educate the people of this country. Let those amongst us, who may extol such a narrow doctrine, tell the people of Canada that in future they can no longer depend on the devotion and benevolence of their representatives and on the humanity of ministers. Let them also make use of this opportunity to inform these same people, that Canadian members of parliament, followers of a government which they themselves have Chosen, will no longer be allowed to write or telegraph to a minister in charge of a department, in order to redress alleged grievances or to submit varying claims from their electors, without incurring the risk of being called or mentioned before an investigating committee and reported to this House. If there are such hon. gentlemen, and I do not believe there are any who will be parties to the ruin of some of the best talents of this House of Commons, let them remember that those talents are necessary to the community in order efficiently to help Canada to continue its actual course into the path of prosperity.
Impressed with the ideas and sincere convictions we have tried to express, impressed with the facts that the evidence adduced during this investigation has in our judgment confirmed, we beg of you to consider and to adopt in a spirit of fairness and justice, the recommendations contained in the report

submitted to this House, in accordance with the order of reference to our committee, dated February 5, 1925.
The committee, Mr. Speaker, has done everything in its power to discover the existence of smuggling in Canada and its causes. It is hoped that the reorganization of the department in accordance with the recommendation submitted, and the amendments to the Customs and Excise acts suggested, will repress smuggling in a large measure, and will show, little by little, to every vigilant observer the real cause of this evil which we wish to banish from our Dominion.
Our manufacturers and traders will no doubt be thankful to us for the efforts we have all made in the performance of our duties on this parliamentary committee. We have, by all the legal means at our disposal, endeavoured to avoid party politics, aiming, for once at least in the parliamentary annals of this land, at bringing about immediately a new era for the traders and the dealers, who have often suffered unfair competition, an improved condition towards which they may look with confidence and faith. Have we been successful? Mr. Speaker, the debate which is to follow will tell.

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