William Thomas WHITE

WHITE, The Right Hon. Sir William Thomas, P.C., K.C.M.G.

Personal Data

Leeds (Ontario)
Birth Date
November 13, 1866
Deceased Date
February 11, 1955
financier, journalist, lawyer

Parliamentary Career

November 6, 1911 - October 6, 1917
  Leeds (Ontario)
  • Minister of Finance and Receiver General (October 10, 1911 - October 11, 1917)
December 17, 1917 - April 6, 1921
  Leeds (Ontario)
  • Minister of Finance and Receiver General (October 12, 1917 - August 1, 1919)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 1 of 1195)

May 19, 1920


If my hon. friend will pardon an interruption, I should like to

point out that he is entirely wrong on the so-called trading account. In the year 1918 the Government not only did not lose money but made money. The stabilization did not cost the Dominion Government one cent.

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May 19, 1920


Represented in bonds which were taken in-cancelled.

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March 8, 1920


I cannot offhand but the Minister of Finance can give that information without any difficulty. I placed it on Hansard last year in my Budget speech.

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March 8, 1920


weight. Then, remember that supposing that not a single vote of the soldiers overseas had been polled the result would not have been essentially different. The individual majorities were too large to make a difference, they ran into the thousands where in ordinary times they would run into hundreds only. And even if you eliminate every woman's vote the result would have been the same. The fact is that at the last general election public opinion in Canada was overwhelming behind the determination of the Prime Minister, and the members of his Government, and the candidates throughout the country, to command the entire resources of the Dominion and place them behind our military effort overseas.

There never was a more decisive result, and there never was a clearer mandate, and in that connection let me say this: That if any one will take the trouble to read the manifesto of the Prime Minister at the time of that election he will find that the mandate was not only for the war, but it was also to deal with the problems arising out of the war. We have many of those problems with us to-day and we shall have them for years to come. I should consider that the Government had entirely misinterpreted the verdict of the people at the last election if they considered for one moment, and I know they are not, a dissolution and an appeal to the country at this time.

Then the contention is advanced that the Government has been incompetent. Well, if I had not been used to political debates during the past eight years, if I thought that that charge was put forward seriously and not as a mere partisan contention, I would feel like dismissing it with contempt. The old Conservative Government under Sir Robert Borden, the Union Government that succeeded that Government under Sir Robert incompetent! Mr. Speaker, we are too close to this war and its events to realize policies and measures in their true light; , but I say that when the history of the war is written and when the bearing of policies and. actions are seen in truer proportion than they are to-day, it will be the verdict that no Prime Minister ever deserved more of Canada than did Sir Robert Borden, and that no Government has been more efficient or anything like as efficient, as the Government under him. And, Sir, when I say that I do not except even the Fathers of Confederation. [DOT]

Why, Mr. Speaker, looking back over the five years and the tempest through which the world has passed and through which we have passed, and considering the mighty

effort that we in this country put forth under the direction and supervision and on the initiative of the Government, was there ever a more glorious tradition upon which to found the enduring edifice of a political party than the work of the last five years? Take the old Conservatives, and the Liberals who joined them at the crisis of the war- I do not believe there ever was a group of men who could look back to a greater or nobler tradition of patriotic and efficient service.

I do not intend to speak of the achievements of the Government during the war. That has been most admirably done in this debate by a much more competent and eloquent man than I-I allude to the Acting Prime Minister (Sir George Foster) and I congratulate him upon his occupying that elevated position. The Government in-"this House is not lacking in able leadership anyway. Why, gentlemen, the Acting Prime Minister was eloquent before some of us could speak at all.

I purpose, Mr. Speaker, to say a word,, but only in general terms, with regard to what the Government has accomplished since the Armistice, because the criticism is directed against the Government as it is to-day and not so much agaipst the Government as it was during the war. Well, look back to the Armistice of 1918, and consider the measures that have been taken since to promote prosperity and to stabilize industry,-and consider also the successful loans which have been made. Do you know of any country, Mr. Speaker, that is in better case than Canada to-day? Social unrest, industrial unrest-how do we compare with the other countries of the world; how do we compare with Great Britain, with France,-even with the United States, which, having regard to her population and resources put forth only a tithe of the effort of Canada and where to-day the relations between Capital and Labour, between rich and poor, are such as to cause the gravest apprehension among thinking men of the Republic?

What do we find in 'Canada? A certain-amount of unrest undoubtedly-a considerable part of it psychological. Does anybody suppose that a nation can go through the mighty strain of a war, with all its tragic-incidents, bereavements and poignant suffering without a nervous reaction? But take the situation in Canada and contrast it with that which exists in any other bel-ligerant country-I care not which you select-and we have the best position in the world to-day. Mr. Speaker, we all re-

member Bairnsfather's cartoon, and I say that if any one in this House or in this country thinks that he knows of a "a better 'ole " than Canada, why, let him go to it;-he will soon be disillusionized.

Now, is the Government to get no credit for all this? Supposing instead of this situation which I have pictured-and not overstated-supposing that you had commercial depression, unemployment, and civil disorders, what attitude would my good friends opposite be taking with regard to the Government? Why, they would visit all the blame upon the Government, rightly or wrongly; there is no doubt about that. Well, is the Government to get no credit for the opposite condition of things? I say that this Government is " carrying on " most capably at the present time, and I say further that no Government in any selfgoverning country has a more creditable record than the Government of the Right Hon. Sir Robert Borden, not only during the war but since the Armistice, and down to the present moment.

What weighty question is there, Mr. Speaker, that cannot be dealt with by the Government of to-day and by this House? Are there problems more weighty, more intricate, more difficult of solution, than those which arose during the war? There could not be. There are difficult problems, but they are not as difficult and they are not as many as those which were dealt with successfully during the war. It is said that ihe Government is disorganized, that some of its members have retired. Well, that is not an extraordinary thing. Mr. Speaker, in how many countries have ministers holding important portfolios retained, them through the entire war? How many have broken down with the responsibility-continuous, obsessive, the immense responsibility of war which puts a man always to the test for there is no side-stepping; questions must be faced and dealt with, and there is no relief or relaxation. Survey the Governments of the Overseas Dominions and of Great Britain and of France, and how many ministers do you find in office now who ware in office when the war broke out in 1914? I shall not labour the point.; the House knows the situation as well as I.

, But if the Government is " carrying on " capably to-day, and has carried on capably since the Armistice, and has lost so many members, then, Mr. Speaker, what must we say of the excellence of the Government of the Right Hon. Sir Robert Borden when it could lose so many capable members and still be as efficient as it is to day? You all remember the story of'Abraham Lincoln. He had great confidence in General Grant, who was the most successful General of the Northern armies, and who finally brought the Civil War to a conclusion. But General Grant had enemies and they informed the president that General Grant was a heavy drinker. The slow, wise Lincoln said: " What brand of whiskey does he drink; I want it for the rest of my Generals." What brand of men had the Right Hon. Sir Robert Borden during the war if he can afford to lose so many and still put up such a front bench as we see to-day?

Now, Mr. Speaker, in my view the great need in this country to-day, politically speaking, is stability of administration. The people do not want an election. What they want is to be assured that this Administration will carry on the affairs of Government and leave them to give attention to their own private and business affairs. Our people do not want an election that will throw the entire country into turmoil. My hon. friend, the leader of the Opposition, says-and I put forward his contention; it is not mine-" Let us have an election." Now, my hon. friend knows perfectly well that neither he nor those who follow him would have any chance whatever on an appeal to the country. He does not want the Government or those on this side of the House to be returned.' Then what does he want? He must desire to have introduced the " group " system in this House.

There is always a national objection, and a serious one, to an election held after a great war and while the public mind is disturbed, and I will tell you Why. In the first place, a war makes great demands upon classes as such and upon groups as such. You call upon the farmers; you call upon the manufacturers; you call upon labour; you call upon all the classes of the community by name, and it makes them selfconscious. There is a clas(s-consciousness developed in time of war that is not developed in time of peace. More than that, every class and every group has its problems, its difficulties its grievances; and the result is that if you have an election immediately following a war you do not get what you ought to get in a general election-you do not get a verdict upon a question from the national standpoint; you get a verdict from the standpoint of the classes voting in their own interests. Now, that is precisely the thing that is to be avoided. I

time; but the hon, member tor Marquette has touched upon it, and I am somewhat surprised to find that his position has apparently Been considerably modified since he made his political tour through Canada.

I read some of his speeches, and as I under- ' stood him, the tariff was the most iniquitous thing in the world, and he purposed abolishing it root and branch. His policy was thorough. Why, I have read economics, and Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Cobden, were mild in their statements as compared with those which I read in the press as being the opinions of the hon. member for Marquette. Now, he says in this House: No, I do not intend completely to root out the tariff; I do not purpose doing that by " one fell stroke "-that is his expression. He is going to prolong the agony. He, did not say that he believed in any gradual decrease in the tariff, but he said that he did not purpose abolishing it all at once. I am sure the House and the country will be thankful for small mercies; and if my hon. friend becomes Prime Minister of this country,

I hope he will not, as he says, abolish the tariff all at one fell stroke. I am glad, however, that he has somewhat modified his views, although I should like to know which set of views he really holds, because there does appear to me to be something inconsistent between holding one set of views when speaking to the people of Canada outside this House and another set of views when speaking to the members in this House. Let me say this to my hon. fii nd: The people of this country will not tolerate any Government with a fiscal policy that regards the tariff only as a means of raising revenue, and disregards the tariff as an instrument, as it has been and will continue to be, for the development of the resources of this country, and the maintenance and stability of our industries in Canada. Let the matter be debated, as I hope it will be debated, before the farmers of this country. I know the farmers of my own province and of my constituency at all events, and I say that the farmers will be the first to subscribe to the doctrine I have enunciated. They have been misled; they have heard only one side of this question, and I shall be greatly disappointed if they do not hear the other side in the course of "the next few months. If they do not hear it within the near future, they will hear it at all events on the occasion of the next election. Is the farmer of Ontario going to vote for a policy that will depiive him of his markets im-tSir Thomas White. I

mediately at hand in Toronto, and in Hamilton, and in our other great industrial centres which we have built up? Is he by his vote going to deprive himself of those certain markets in favour of the precarious markets of the United States, which can be closed to him at any time by the capricious action of Congress at any of its sessions? Why, Mr. Speaker, it was for the farmer-and I remember it distinctly, although I was but a boy at the time-it was for the farmer as well as for the manufacturer that the National Policy of Canada was established, and the principle was recognized and acted upon by the Liberals when they came into power in 1896. I know it, because I supported the Liberals at that time.

Let me ask my hon. friend from Marquette this question: Does he think that

the workmen of this country by their votes are going to deprive themselves of employment and expatriate themselves and their families? If we come to any such conclusion as that, I think we are putting a low estimate upon the intelligence of the industrial classes of this country. There may be a few exceptions, but I see no reason why the principle I have mentioned cannot be maintained in our tariff, and that tariff be made acceptable to almost all hon. gentlemen on this side of the House.

Now I come to my hon. friend the member for Bed Deer (Mr. Michael Clark) for whom I have always had, as he knows, a warm spot in my Irish heart, although he made a rather violent attack upon me the other day. Well, I have been so long in public life, and have been a member *of the Government here when we had real politics and good old-time partisan fighting that I do not mind that a bit; but I want to set him light, and I hope he will permit me to take up the arguments which he put forward and which are entitled to weight, and to the respect of all in this House, and then to put the other side before the House and the country for their consideration, for there is always the other side. My hon. friend made one sweeping statement. He said to my friend the Minister of Finance (Sir Henry Drayton): " Let me

give you some advice. Do just the opposite to what your predecessor did, and you will come along all right." Whether the Minister of Finance will take that advice or not, I do not know. He is an intelligent man, and no doubt he will think over it and appraise it at its true value. My hon. friend from Bed Deer in that one sentence arraigned my entire financial administra-


tion. Mr. Speaker, I believe the financial administration of the Dominion of Canada during the war and that administration was not singular or unique among the activities of the Government, for all my colleagues did admirable work-was such, and the condition in which Canada found itself at the end of the war has been such as to stir the admiration of Great Britain and the United States and prove acceptable to the great majority of the people of this country. So if the Minister of Finance takes the advice of my hon. friend, he may run the risk of incurring the opposite of the admiration of which I have spoken. The hon. member for Red Deer says: The ex-Minister of Finance did not take my advice. So far as I know, the members of no Government, Liberal or Conservative, have taken his advice. He was giving advice to the Liberal Government prior to 1911, but they never acted upon it. He was putting forward precisely the same arguments then, and he was not voting want of confidence in that Administration as he is to-day in this Government.

My hon. friend's criticism of my Administration runs along three main lines. First, he said, your financial policy was unsound. Well, I believe in a verdict founded on results, and I purpose briefly to take up with the House the question of the aims of Canadian finance during the war, and to consider how successful or unsuccessful we were. I shall deal with the subject only in a general way. We had to find money for the conduct of the war, and our finance was so directed that we also found the money which furnished the necessary credits for the purchase in this country of our agricultural and manufactured products. In other words, the finance of this country was absolutely basic to its prosperity during the war. Without successful finance we could not have maintained our men overseas; we could not have the country in that condition of prosperity which was essential if our war effort was to be adequately supported at home, and which would leave Canada in a position to meet whatever vicissitudes in the way of depression that might come in the aftermath of the war.

One policy which I endeavoured to follow during the war was to maintain confidence. Were there any panics in Canada during the war? As a result of the action which we took from the first day of the war there was supreme confidence as to our financial institutions, and as the war went on and our business increased and prosperity

came to the people, the results of our war finance were apparent, and there never vwas a time during the entire war when there was the .slightest sign of lack of confidence in this country, financially speaking.

We appealed to the people, to the farmers, to produce all they could; we appealed ,to manufacturers to produce all they could and we appealed to those who made munitions to produce all they could. It was all for the purpose of the war. But some one says to me: "Why did you not take away all the money that the farmers made, all the money that the manufacturers made and all the money that the munition manufacturers made?" We had a voluntary system up to 1917. Supposing we had appealed to the farmers to produce all they could for the armies overseas and the civilian population behind them, supposing we had asked the manufacturers to produce all they could and had asked the munition manufacturers to turn out all the munitions they could and, at the same time, suppose we had told them that we were going to take away all their profits? They are a pretty patriotic lot of men, I ask this House-you are all sensible business men-would you have got the same production in the country and in the factory that you did get? You would not.

, Further than that if you took away all ,the money that the producing classes had .made, or the greater part of it, what position would those classes be in should there ,come the depression which always follows war? It was part of my policy as Finance .Minister to so supervise the business of this country and to adopt such measures that the prosperity of the country would be maintained during the war and that pur farmers'and our other producers should be .left in a position in which they could face whatever depression might confront them in the period succeeding the war.

. Does anybody mean to tell me that the soldiers would be any better off, or the industrial population of Canada any better .off, if the employers of labour throughout the country had been stripped of their resources and were unable to take risks at this .time when men have to take risks in view of the keen competition which must be experienced once the war is at an end? We maintained confidence and we pro-,moted the prosperity of the country. We desired, as I said in a dozen speeches, to have the business of the agricultural, industrial and commercial community in such a poisition that they could meet a

period o-f depression if i't should come,- and 'periods of depression always come after war, not immediately, hut some time afteT. Would the situation be any better to-day if tlhe farmers of Canada had not paid off so many mortgages, or if they had all their old mortgages and were putting on more?

There are many questions in war finance that do not appear on the surface. What was Pitt's war finance? Pitt's war finance was to support 'the war and promote prosperity at home. A monument was erected ,to him by the .merchants of London because he did it. I am quite content to be charged with having so promoted the finances of this country as to maintain stability and confidence, to leave our financial institutions sound and our business industries and agricultural interests .in such a condition that they can face whatever the future has to offer.

My hon. friend says: "You made loans in New York." Of course I made loans in New York. What was the effect of making loans in New York? In the first place, my hon. friend is entirely wrong in his statement-at least in the spirit of his statement-that it increased the industrial .activity of the United States, that we imported in goods what we borrowed there. Practically that is the case but all the Joans which we made in New York were .only a fraction of our imports of necessities from the United States. Where does rpy hon. friend think the proceeds of the New (York loans went in so far as we are concerned? I will tell him. The proceeds of ,these New York loans went, among other things, to assist the British Government to buy goods in Canada. If we had not been able to finance in the United States, if ,we had not had this alternative market until the United States entered the war, we should not have been able to have provided credits to the extent which we did for the sale of Canada's produce and manufactured goods.

Not only this, but these New York loans stabilized finance as between the two countries. If it were practicable for the Minister of Finance to-day to make a loan in New York, what would be the effect on the exchange situation? We pegged exchange during the war. The Minister of Finance cannot do that to-day. He is at a disadvantage. But we pegged exchange in New York during the war at a point and a half or two points. Yet my hon. friend blames me for having made loans in New York. What has he to say of

Great Britain whom he admires so greatly and justly? Did they make any loam in New York? They sent $1,300,000,000 of gold through my office, the greatest transaction in gold in the 'history of the world, to New York. They sold $3,000,000,000 worth of securities in New York and they made loan after loan .amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars secured by collateral which they gathered up in London and which was acceptable to American investors. They poured out their treasure in New York, for the supreme purpose of winning the war by levying upon the material resources of the United States. Up to the time the United States entered the war the British Government used'hundreds of millions of dollars of the money I have spoken of, raised by loan or sale in New York, and spent it in this country for our products.

Then, take it from the exchange standpoint. I have said to the House that our financing in New York stabilized our exchange. It was a good thing to do. We did not permit extravagance at that time because we had an embargo against luxuries, because we had a food controller, and because the people of this country were denying themselves in order that more food might go overseas. It was not a period in which we had great importations of luxuries as compared with the present time; the loans were sound if for no other purpose than to stabilize exchange. Does my hon. friend controvert that? Then let m'e tell him what Great Britain did, because I worked in the closest harmony and cooperation with the Mother Country during the war. In one year, 1916, the year before the United States entered the war, Great Britain used one thousand million dollars of American exchange to peg sterling exchange and keep it up. If Great Britain had hot supported sterling exchange where would it have been during the war? It would have been lower than it is to-day My hon. friend is on bad ground when he talks about our borrowing in New York. My hon. friend says: Your currency is inflated. It is less inflated than the currency of any country in the world; less inflated than that of the United States now-which, as I stated, if regard be had to her population and resources, did not put a tenth of Canada's effort into the war-she had not the opportunity, she was not in long enough. Will my hon. friend look at our gold reserves. Let him look at the gold reserve of the Federal Reserve Bank; let him look at the gold reserve of the Bank of England

-there is not much to look at-and then criticize the Government of Canada for inflating the currency. We have got one of the best currency situations in the world to-day, and there is not a financial man in Canada, in the United States, or in England that does not know it.

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March 8, 1920


Worse,-I should say it would be worse. Economic laws show clearly that it would be worse, because on top of our tariff with United States you have another tariff of 17 per cent by the reason of the fall in our exchange. This discussion of the respective merits of tax-free and taxable bonds is not new. In fact, there is hardly anything new in the world. If my hon. friend will look up the Democratic platform laid down in the Civil War he will find a plank against tax free bonds. The Republicans adopted tax-free bonds, because they carried on the war; they were the people who had to face the financial situation and get the money. The Democrats could criticise; they did not have to act; and they put a plank in their platform after the war condemning the Republican party. History simply repeats itself. Why, Mr. Speaker, when war breaks out and nobody knows whether it will last one year, or two years, five years or ten years, or whether the country is going to come through bankrupt, or what the taxation is going to be, is it not advisable that there should be some certainty in the amount which a man may rely upon getting for his money, at a time when he can otherwise obtain the highest possible rates for it? The Republicans were confronted with that condition in the Civil War, and we were confronted with it here.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I do not want to offer the Government any advice. I have worked

with them; T know their zeal; I know their ability. I have entire confidence in them to meet any problem that is likely to arise duting the further term of this Parliament.

1 believe it is the settled opinion of this country that the Government should carry on.

The Prime Minister is ill. I have been pleased with the remarks of hon. gentlemen opposite with regard to the Prime Minister; there is always a chivalry in this House for tnen under disab'lity. Nobody knows fhe extent of the work carried on and the burden of the responsibility borne by Sir Robert Borden during the war and in the period since the war. Nobody knows the weight carried by the ministers. After all, men are only flesh and blood, not steel and iron. Sir Robert Borden is not the first Prime Minister of Canada who has been ill. Sir John A. Macdonald was seriously ill on various occasions. Sir Wilfrid Lau-rier was seriously ill in 1900. He told me about it once; so serious was his illness that it was looked upon as remarkable that he recovered. Prime Ministers are like other men, subject to human infirmity. The Prime Minister should have all the time he desires in which to recover his health. The Government is in good hands; at its head is one of the ablest parliamentarians in this House, if not the ablest. Carry on-that is what the people of Canada desire this Government to do-carry on, always dealing with questions from the standpoint of the national interest as opposed to the sectional interest. Unless I am much mistaken, the public will make short work at the next election of extrem- * ists of this kind. I have every confidence in the ability of the Government to deal with the weighty problems that may come before it,-the problem of promoting immigration; the problem of maintaining our trade and industry; the problem of dealing with soldiers' pensions and the Civil Reestablishment and rehabilitation of the soldier; the railway problem.

An election at this time? The leader of the Opposition surely would not want an election unless he had some hope of coming back as deader of the House and of the Government. We have taken over one of the greatest railway systems in the world, if not the greatest. The Government and those on th's side of the House have committed themselves to the largest project of public ownership that has ever been attempted. What is the problem? The problem is to organize and administer that system and its finances through competent men, who will not be influenced by nor ex-

posed to partisan interference, so as to get the best results for Canada out of that great railway system. Who is most likely to do that well-the Government that risked its political life on the great experiment, or hon. gentlemen opposite? I must say that if Liberalism be a vital principle, as is so often put forward in this House, I am amazed that when it comes to concrete cases, such as taking over those railways, it does not exhibit something of that principle. This Government, the people of Canada will believe, can take ov^r those railways and provide for their operation much more capably than hon. gentlemen opposite who do not believe in nationalization at all. There is no doubt about that. A great deal can be done in developing all our national resources, such as our fuel resources and our power resources, through the development of our canals.. These are great and weighty problems, but not beyond the capabilities of this Government as it exists to-day. I say to the Government: Continue, as I know you have been doing, look at every question from the national standpoint; rely upon the excellence of your administration, and carry on.

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