The Handwriting On Parliament's Wall
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 21 Apr 1938, p. 357-375


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The Handwriting On Parliament's Wall


The Handwriting on Parliament's Wall as the topic of address, with the obvious inference that all is not well with Parliament. The speaker's contention that the democratic National legislature of this Dominion, which is the House of Commons, is undergoing and has been undergoing for some time a process of progressive weakening; that it has largely lost touch with realities in the nation; that it is floundering in a morass between New Deal ideas which it does not understand and facts of industry and finance which it refuses to face; that because of its own indecision, it is failing to give authoritative leadership to the people; and, finally, that it is beset by a determination to see no fault in itself, a determination which causes it to attribute the unrest manifest throughout the nation to the fanaticism of the discontented, rather than to its own failure. A detailed discussion of this thesis follows. The speaker's further contention that there is at this point no cause for discouragement; "what we have made, we can unmake." A discussion of the progressive weakening of the Commons Chamber. The changed status of the Private Member as one phase of the Handwriting on the Wall of Parliament. The unreality of the debates of Parliament. The fact that no argument in the House of Commons is competent to modify or thwart a program or a bill upon which the Ministry has made up its mind. The different situation in the United States Congress and Senate. Canada soon to have an empty form of democracy if the trend of the vanishing independence of the private member of Parliament and the accompanying growth of party discipline within the Commons Chamber continues. Reasons for the almost total disappearance of the old-time private member of parliament, whose passing has meant that Parliament itself has lost much of its old reality. The practice which has grown up of filling senatorial and senior civil appointments from the ranks of the House of Commons that has debauched our parliamentary life and sapped the independence of our elected legislators. Learning a lesson from the American system. The speaker's suggestion that the power of Senatorial appointment be taken from the government, and that at the same time a Senatorship should be made for a term of years, instead of being a life job. A further suggestion that in the interest of a more vigorous, vital and independent House of Commons, a provision be made making a Member of it ineligible for appointment to a position in the Federal Civil Service until he has ceased to be a member for a period of at least five years. The principle underlying these suggested changes concerning the motive of an individual for public service. A consideration of Cabinet Ministers. The failure of our leadership. A capitulation on the part of our governments against their instinctive better judgment, and balanced budgets, with examples. The result of ever-mounting governmental deficits. A legislative program designed to meet the needs of a race of economic failures; a program that the speaker considers economically unsound, with an explanation of how and why this is so. Consequences for future generations. The unrest stirred up by so-called promises of the New Dealers and their campaign against business making their agitation so indefensible. The industrial workers and farmers of Canada wary of the flimsiness of politicians' promises. The purported insurgent movements of Messrs. Duplessis, Hepburn and Aberhart. The truth of the unrest of many of the Canadian people in the provinces which these men govern, caused by the disgust over the failure of the National Parliament to give national leadership. The inevitability of revolt given the circumstances. The speaker's contention that Messrs. Duplessis, Hepburn and Aberhart are not "a challenge to Confederation," but a challenge to our national legislature, a legislature that is failing to give national leadership. Two final suggestions by the speaker.