February 14, 1929 (16th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Charles Hazlitt Cahan

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. C. H. CAHAN (St. Lawrence-St. George):

As to my motives in drawing this
resolution, may I say. that I drew it in the broadest possible terms and in such a form that every phase of the matter might be discussed. But there is not one line in the resolution by which the house, in voting the resolution, would favour the conferring in the future, by His Majesty, of any titular distinction upon his Canadian subjects.
This matter was brought to my attention about two years ago when there were some instances in Canada of signal social service in connection with the St. John's Ambulance. I still have the correspondence in my room, and it shows that some simple decoration or distinction or medal which formerly had been granted in Canada for life-saving or for nurs-

Titles of Honour-Mr. Cahan
ing service could not be awarded at present by the granting of any distinction or decoration or medal, even in Canada, by reason of the interpretation put upon the very broad resolution which was passed by this house and which included, in part, the address bo His Majesty.
Personally I am not advocating that titular distinctions ibe revived in Canada; I am advocating that the humiliation and embarrassment whioh this house placed upon His Majesty in passing that address should be removed, especially as we know now, under the constitution as at present recognized, that His Majesty would confer no distinction, decoration or even medal upon his Canadian subjects except upon the recommendation and advice of the government of Canada which is responsible to this parliament and to the people of the country.
We are singular in Canada in this respect, that this is the only country in the civilized world-I believe it is the only country which for a century or more has pretended to civilization-which has no way at present by which the sovereign head of the state, on the advice of the government, can confer any distinction or recognition for public services of any character whatsoever.
I am not going to enter into a discussion of personalities which have been bandied across the floor of the house. The hon. member for Toronto Northwest (Mr. Church) suggested that I had better be devoting myself to the service of the working people of my constituency. Well, I have no desire to enter into a personal controversy, but I will take the hon. gentleman or any other hon. member of this house into my constituency and show him that I have been as assiduous in my duties, to serve that constituency in a social way, without reward or favour, as any member of this house. I have no desire to reply in kind to the hon. member for Southeast Grey (Miss Macphail). I have never in my life spoken one disrespectful word of any woman; therefore I cannot give a reply such as I would give to a male member of the house. Let me say, however, that Lord Beaverbrook, with all his great qualities and all his great frailties, has no more to do, and has had no more to do, with the price of cement in the northwest than the lady member for Southeast Grey has to do with the sale of women in the slave markets of Abyssinia. I dislike having these personal questions brought into these discussions.
In August last this same question was before the House of Representatives of Australia, and by a vote of 84 to 24 that house upheld the prerogative right of His Majesty to grant
[Mr. Cahan. 1
distinctions, titular or otherwise, upon his Australian subjects under the advice of the government of. the day. Personally I have such confidence in any government of this country as to believe that no grave abuses would prevail if some recognition or decoration were awarded for public service in Canada, especially as that prerogative right of His Majesty will be exercised in respect of his Canadian subjects on the advice of his Canadian ministers, and not upon the advice of the cabinet at Westminster. There was a time when I heard abjections to the granting of such distinctions in this country on the ground that it was a means by which the imperial government of that day sought to secure political support in the colonies, but that day has gone by long since, and the government of this country, in all matters pertaining to the legislative jurisdiction and the administration of public affairs in this Dominion, hereafter will have the duty and responsibility of advising the king in the exercise of his prerogative right in respect of his subjects in Canada.
I sincerely deprecate, from the bottom of my heart, the manifest tendency we sometimes see on public platforms and which has made its appearance in this house in the last two days, to debase and degrade the public life of this country by making covert insinuations against men long since dead, insinuations which would not be made were these men living and able to defend their reputations and their characters against all assailants. I have had a fairly wide acquaintance with members of this house on both sides, for a member who lives rather to himself and is of a more or less retiring disposition outside this chamber; I sat in the press gallery over forty years ago and listened to the leaders of that day, and I am making no attempt to throw bouquets to the members of this parliament on either side when I say it is my firm conviction that the men and the lady sitting in this house, the members of this house, are as sincere in their devotion to their public duties and as honest and conscientious in the performance of those duties, as the members of any preceding parliament that ever sat in Canada. While we may differ profoundly upon questions of public policy, I firmly believe that we are as sincere and devoted to the best interests of our country as may have been the case with any of our predecessors.
I never had the advantage of an intimate personal acqaintance with Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
I have known the distinguished men on the
Conservative side since confederation, but

Titles oj Honour-Mr. Cahan
I simply knew Sir Wilfrid Laurier by his charming courtesy, his artistic temperament and his intellectual vigour. I heard him in this house and on the public platform, and I knew of his sincere devotion to the performance of his public duty, of his simple life as a citizen of Canada and his great political and party achievements. Above all,
I knew him as a Canadian statesman whose life now is and ever may be an inspiration to the youth of his province and of the whole Dominion to do their best to participate to the fullest extent in the public life of this country. Therefore I am not prepared to believe that this great man, whom I saw in the public eye, whom I heard on the public platform and with whom I had the pleasure of coming into contact a few times, although not intimately, prostituted and debauched the political life of this country in order to obtain a few dollars through subscriptions from possible appointees to senate seats. " After life's fitful fever he sleeps well," secure, I think, in the affection and esteem of the whole people of Canada. And as I am standing here I am sure that one of these days, when the present leader of this house will have passed away and when perhaps his successor, whom I am glad to see sitting in this house as the present leader of the opposition, will have passed away, the public recognition of their statesman-like qualities will be as profound as that recognition which has dotted the market places of our country as well as the grounds upon which this building is located with the statues of those who have devoted all that they had of time, of effort and of attainment for what they believed to be to the greatest advantage of Canada.
Therefore I say to the Minister of Railways (Mr. Dunning) that I cannot think he has deliberately reviewed and considered this question in all its aspects. Why should he be affronted simply because the hon. member for North Huron (Mr. Spotton) has made a strong speech against the revival of titular distinctions in Canada? I would go on the platform of the hon. member for North Huron and would point out to his constituents, who no doubt have a high intellectual capacity, that the nurse who attends her diphtheria patients, the policeman who risks his life to protect the lives of others, and the boy who jumps from the wharf to save the child who has fallen into the water and is drowning, cannot in Canada receive the recognition and approval of His Majesty for the valiant deed done for the good of humanity.

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