- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 21 Apr 1938, p. 357-375
- MacLeod, Norman M., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- 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.
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- 21 Apr 1938
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THE HANDWRITING ON PARLIAMENT'S WALL
AN ADDRESS BY MR. NORMAN M. MACLEOD
Thursday, April 21st, 1938
MR. H. C. BOURLIER presided, and spoke as follows
A week from today, that is April 28th, will be the last regular and the annual meeting of the Empire Club.
(Introducing the speaker) The time: the year 1273 B.C. The place: Banquet Hall of King Belshazzar, the last of the Chaldean dynasty. The Handwriting on the Wall. Those of you who are Bible students will recall "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin." That phenomena has come down to us through the ages, some three thousand years, and has served as a common symbol for mankind. It is even being used today by our speaker as part of his subject--Mr. Norman MacLeod, prominent in the public eye as a journalist and as a writer, having been with the Mail & Empire in Toronto originally and subsequently with the Press Gallery at Ottawa, of which he is a past president. In that capacity he has had first hand opportunity of studying the machinery of government at close range, and I am sure his address to us today on the handwriting on Parliament's wall will be one of great interest.
I now take pleasure in introducing to you Mr. Norman MacLeod. (Applause.)
MR. NORMAN MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman, and Gentlemen: I thank you for the kindliness of your remarks and the warmth of your welcome that suggests perhaps an old saying, that "an individual"--I refrain from calling myself a prophet "is without honor in his own country" is not altogether correct. Although I have been away from Toronto for a number of years, I still think of it instinctively as my home, and I still feel like signing myself from Toronto in hotel registers.
It is unnecessary for me to acknowledge how I value the invitation to address you. The Empire Club of Canada is one of the outstanding institutions which contribute to Toronto's proud reputation as one of the most Imperialistic cities in the entire British Commonwealth. The privilege of speaking to such an organization is indeed very great.
At the same time, I am humbly sensible of the fact that I am only a substitute speaker--and a very poor substitute at that-for the distinguished individual who was scheduled to fill this engagement. But for an unfortunate indisposition, the Honourable Mr. G. Howard Ferguson was to have addressed you today. I sympathize sincerely with your disappointment at his inability to be with you. Mr. Ferguson of Ontario is one of my earliest memories as a political journalist. I came to know him intimately. And to know him was to come under the spell of his personality. Later I visited London during his term as High Commissioner. And it was no surprise to me to learn at first hand the high position which he attained in the regard of the British public. I do not think the name of Canada has ever stood higher in the heart of Empire than it did when he was its custodian. He is a great Imperialist and this club could have no more appropriate guest. I am sure we all hope for his speedy convalescence so that he can be heard at a date not too far in the future. I mention the fact that I am a substitute speaker from an ulterior motive in the hope that it may possibly prepare some sort of an alibi for my performance. The time of preparation was very short, and I have prepared a manuscript that it may be necessary for me to follow rather closely. In Parliament many of the Members find it necessary to read speeches, which is strictly against the rules of the House, and occasionally when some Member wants to be particularly nasty towards an opponent, he gets up and complains that "the Honourable Member is reading his speech." Well if the Honourable Member is sufficiently an old-timer to know the ropes he replies to Mr. Speaker that he is using full notes, and as the word of a Member of Parliament has to be accepted in the Chamber, that explanation is accepted. If I have to use full notes today, I hope I may be pardoned.
The other thought I have is that in establishing a case, you are usually more extravagant and there are always exceptions which prove the rule that you are trying to lay down, and if I am at all dogmatic today I would not want it thought that I was speaking without the knowledge that there are notable exceptions to the general truth of the picture that I wish to give.
And so, Mr. Chairman, with these preliminaries I might simply say that it is rather a typical politician's revenge against a newspaperman to ask him to make a speech at any time. It is rather a turning of the tables with a vengeance, so to speak. For a newspapeman--particularly a political newspaperman--is only too prone to be critical of the utterances of public men. In fancied security himself, he treats their inspired words of wisdom with anything but the reverence they merit. Well, if retribution occasionally overtakes him and he finds himself in the position of requiring from others the charity and tolerance that he himself so rarely shows, surely it is only one of the very small indications which go to show that, after all, an inscrutable justice does operate in this world.
Only, if I did suspect that there was any motive of some politician as at all responsible for my invitation to appear here today, I would be somewhat at a loss to know in which of the major political parties I should look for my persecutor. For to be an effective political journalist and not to have become a thorn in the side of all political parties at some time or other is a contradiction in terms. And occasionally it is necessary to be indifferent to the reactions of both parties at the same time to what one writes.
For instance: a few weeks ago the Parliamentary Press Gallery had the Prime Minister as our guest at luncheon. In making a few introductory remarks in my capacity as then President, I alluded to the present Government's fondness for naming Royal Commissions and also to Mr. King's known zeal for the cause of democratic government. I suggested jocularly that the two things might very well be combined by naming the Press Gallery member's as a Royal Commission to tour the dictatorship countries of Europe and send back articles to their papers which would cause the Canadian people to value the democracy under which they live. In his reply, the Prime Minister said that if I myself would accept such a commission--and a one-way ticket to execute it--the Government would be pleased to entertain the suggestion. (Amusement.) So much for Mr. King's and the Liberals' attitude towards myself And not sufficiently crushed by that, on my way back from the luncheon to the Parliament Buildings, I met Mr. R. B. Bennett, and if I recall his greeting correctly, it was: "Good afternoon. Are you still trying to wreck the Conservative Party?"
Well, Mr. Chairman, I am afraid that I am unlikely to retrieve my position in the good graces of either party by the remarks that I propose to make here today. For I have chosen as my subject "The Handwriting on Parliament's Wall." And that is bound to be an unpopular topic with the politicians. The obvious inference is that all is not well with Parliament. And the prevailing opinion amongst the politicians is that this is a suggestion which should never be raised in public. Their reasoning is that in times of uncertainty such as the present, nothing would be said which might cast the slightest doubt on the supreme perfection of our governmental institutions or on the efficiency with which they are functioning. It is possible that even some of you gentlemen subscribe to that view.
For myself, I must admit that I do not subscribe to such an attitude. It seems to me that if unrest and uncertainty ere abroad in the land, they axe simply the symptoms of some defects in the institutions under which we are operating. The remedy, surely, is not to ignore the symptoms, but to try and diagnose the disease.
Sometimes, however, one cannot help wondering at the sublime faith-or is it snugness-manifested by some of the complacent interests so strongly entrenched in our public life and in our old-line political parties today. The solution of unrest, they are satisfied, is either to ignore it, or to pin some derogatory label branding it as fanaticism upon it! and, above all, to insist that the malcontents are only a noisy minority, that the basic conditions under which the people are living were more sound, and that the leadership which they are (being given towards a nobler' and fuller life was never drawn more directly from the fountain-head of wisdom itself. I could put this idea more tersely perhaps, if not so as inoffensively, if I said that there is a brave or desperate disposition on the part of the politicians now entrenched in the old-line parties to be ostriches and to bury their heads in the sands. Well, we recall the Czarists in Russia once attempted to be ostriches and to ignore conditions instead of remedying them. We all know what happened as a result. And more recently our old-line political parties insisted upon being ostriches out in Alberta. And we know, too, what the consequence has been there.
Therefore I contend that the only way to deal with facts is to face them. As a preliminary to facing them, it is necessary that they should be understood. And as a preliminary to understanding them, it is essential that they should be considered and canvassed from all sides in public discussions.
But what, you ask, are the facts? That brings me at once to my home. For the facts are the Handwriting on the Wall of Parliament today.
What I will suggest during the next few moments and endeavour to support with some argument can be summed up broadly as follows: 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.
Such a thesis may seem a little devastating when stated thus baldly. Therefore I deem it proper to anticipate my conclusions a little by stating .at this point that I see no cause for discouragement. Our difficulties at the present moment are unquestionably great. But they are difficulties of our own making. And what we have made, we can unmake. There is only one real danger I can see that besets us today. That is the danger that we will continue as we have been doing, blinking facts instead of recognizing them, and allowing our politicians to take the line of greatest comfort and least resistance to themselves, instead of insisting that they give the nation the leadership that it needs if it is to breast times like these and achieve the new heights of greatness for itself and the fuller life for its people that we all want to see.
In developing my theme, I propose to discuss first the progressive weakening of the Commons Chamber to which I have already alluded. To establish my point I ask you to think aback over a term of years which are but few as the life of a nation is reckoned. I ask you to think of a House of former days not so long .ago, a House in which the following individuals were not Cabinet Ministers but ordinary private Members. I refer to such figures as W. F. Nickle, K.C. of Kingston; Dr. Michael Clarke of Red Deer; Mr. Andrew McMaster; Mr. R. B. Bennett of Calgary; Mr. Ernest Lapointe of Quebec; Dr. W. J. Edwards of Frontenac; Mr. Arthur Meighen; Mr. Henri Bourassa; Mr. Armand Lavergne. I ask you, where among the private Members of the House of Commons today do you find the equal of these men? The fact that many of them were men with whose views you may have disagreed is beside the question. The point is that they were men of character who stamped their character upon the Chamber. They believed in the two-Party system it is true, but they were not party hacks, and they were not of the stuff out of which rubber-stamp legislators are made. Can you imagine a party whip telling W. F. Nickle that he must vote for the party regardless of a conviction he strongly held? Can you imagine a party whip going to Mr. R. B. Bennett and telling him that it is too bad, but he must make up his mind all over again so as to conform to .the Party view? Conceivably you can imagine these things. And you can also imagine the reception the Party Whip would get. I venture to suggest none of you would envy him his mission.
And so I say that one phase of the Handwriting on the Wall of Parliament is the changed status of the Private Member. His independence is largely vanishing. His calibre is, generally speaking, deteriorating. In the present House of Commons it is a sorry fact that once you leave the Ministry, the party leaders, and their immediate lieutenants, you plunge into a sea of mediocrity, with only a few islands of real ability to dot it. There are no Michael Clarke's; there are no W. F. Nickle's; there are no Dr. Edward's; there are no Armand Lavergne's. And, as I have said, whether you agreed with their views or not, these were men of personality, and their like has not been replaced.
I leave this point to return to it in a moment. Just here I want to deal with another phase of parliament too, to which I referred in my earlier summary. That is the unreality of its debates. I ask you to consider this thought: I speak to you today. If my argument convinces you, you will agree with me, and you will admit your agreement. Consequently it cannot be said that we meet here to no purpose. My time is not wasted in speaking to you; and your time need not be wholly wasted in listening to me. But, consider this other situation: Imagine a chamber in which talk is wholly futile so far as influencing .the decision on the subject that is under discussion is concerned. And imagine debates proceeding in such a chamber day after day, night after night. Now I ask you if that makes sense, or does it serve any national purpose? An Opposition member might utter words of the most profound wisdom. He might be given the tongue of men and of angels with which to speak, but he would have the same chance of influencing that chamber that Mr. Earl Rowe would have of persuading Mr. Mitchell F. Hepburn to resign today in his favour. Where, then, is the reality in all this endless, costly debate? And what is the justification for it?
Just before the House recessed for Easter, it debated unemployment. Now if ever there was a vital subject to the people of the Dominion, and if ever there was a subject in which thousands of Canadians had a direct, bread-and-butter interest, surely that was it. But did that discussion, which lasted for so many sittings, have the effect of creating a single new job for a single Canadian? I challenge anyone to show that it did. Where, then, was its reality? And what was its justification? What other justification could it have had then that out of it emerged some plans which would mean increased employment for the people? No such plans emerged. The Ministry's program was the same at the end of :that debate as it was when it opened.
The fact of the matter is this: 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 best of reasons may be urged against the government's policy. But if the government decides that for the sake of expediency, its program must go through-it may be the building of a Hudson Bay railway-the party whip is simply cracked and the matter is ended. Party discipline does the rest.
Now in the United States Congress and Senate the situation is different. We all remember the mighty Franklin D. Roosevelt--he was then at the height of his prestige--deciding that he was prepared to co-operate with this country in the development of the St Lawrence. We remember him submitting the treaty which had been negotiated to the Senate, and we remember that it was flatly rejected. Then last year the President determined to change the Constitution of the United States Supreme Court. Once again his program was thwarted by the legislature. And more recently still,--indeed only a few days ago--Mr. Roosevelt met an even more crushing defeat when the legislature killed his Re-organization bill, which was to have been one of the major measures of the administration.
These things simply could not happen in our national legislature. As a body it is too subservient to the government. Yet I am convinced by my years of Press Gallery observation of this one fact more than any other, namely, that Canadian democracy faces no greater problem today than the vanishing independence of the private member of Parliament and the accompanying growth of party discipline within the Commons Chamber. If the trend is to continue further, it means at the very best that Canada will soon have but the empty forms of democracy, with all the disadvantages that any system of popular government necessarily entails, and that we will have in fact an actual dictatorship, without any of the advantages--inadequate though they be--that lie in totalitarian government.
For this is the stage which we have already reached we have a House of Commons, the member's of which are elected directly by the people. The members delegate the authority with which the people invest them to a small committee known as the Cabinet. In many oases the Cabinet delegates the authority which originates with the people one step further and vests it in an independent commission. And so the work of government is carried on. And from the moment he enters the Commons your average private member ceases to be the powerful individual that he was when campaigning for' the franchises of the people of his home constituency. He delegates his authority and his personality alike to the glorious end that he may become a faithful party hack-a rubber-stamp legislator.
Now, there must be some reason 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. Personally, I do not think we need look far for the explanation. The mistake we have made in Canada has been to make politics a minor profession with financial possibilities attractive to individuals of mediocre abilities. A man enters the House of Commons. He is paid $4,000 a year. Perhaps that remuneration is not excessive when election expenses are considered. But at least it is a sustaining emolument. And after a man has been in Parliament a few terms he may hope for appointment to the Senate with $4,000 a year for life, with no election expenses. Or he may hope for an appointment to a remunerative civil service post, once again with no election expenses and the prospect of a comfortable pension after a certain period of time. I went through the Parliamentary Guide the other evening, just picking out the Members of Parliament from 1930 to 1935 who had not faced the electors afterwards but had found have neither in the Senate or in the public service. The percentage on the Conservative side was upwards of 25%, that is to say, I have forgotten the exact percent but out of 132 there were I think 38 members who had succeeded in earning their reward. Well those who succeeded were only a fraction of those who tried. (Amusement.)
And I suggest, Mr. Chairman, that it is this practice which has grown up, in recent years particularly, 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. For these appointments go only to members against whose record in support of their party there stands not a single black mark of irregularity. They are the "plums" which are finally handed out to rubber-stamp legislators as their reward. Now I do not advocate the adoption of the American system. In my opinion its disadvantages as a whole more than outweigh its advantages when compared to our system. But 'I do submit that on this point it can teach us a valuable lesson. Under the American system the individual member of Congress has little to hope for by way of reward and less to fear by way of punishment from asserting his independence against the Executive. He has no Senatorial sinecure to work towards. He need expect no remunerative civil service appointment. The greatest reward to which he can aspire is re-election. In other words, to serve himself he must go serve the people that they will be anxious to re-elect him for his worth to them.
Fortunately it is not necessary for us to adopt the United States system in order to possess ourselves of a similar advantage in our own administration. If we were sufficiently convinced of its importance we could achieve the same end by three simple changes in our parliamentary practices. In the first place, I wonder if the time is not opportune for us to seriously consider restoring the parliamentary indemnity to its old level of a reasonable honorarium of $2,500. The theory back of the increase to $4,000 was a worthy one. It was intended that it should make zeal for public service, not private means, the qualification for public life. Unfortunately the change has not worked out that way and we might as well acknowledge it. The $4,000 indemnity has brought no influx of financially poor but able men into public life. It has simply made parliamentary membership one more of the small business careers that a person of mediocre abilities may pursue, in the hope that it will lead ultimately to a life appointment with a reasonably comfortable income.
The second change that I suggest is that the power of Senatorial appointment be taken from the government. And at the same time a Senatorship should be made for a term of years, instead of being a life job. A time inevitably comes to every man when he is no longer physically or mentally competent to carry out the duties of a legislator. It is unfair to the country to have him carrying on after he reaches that condition. We all recall that at various times the Liberal Party has advocated Senate Reform. I believe the country is wondering why it delays action. I am confident Canadians generally, while they believe in the two-chamber system as a check upon hasty and ill-considered legislation, are of the opinion that the present Senate is wholly archaic in its constitution. The cause of Senate reform, I am satisfied, is sound. And the time for action is opportune. For Senate reform, if undertaken in the present unsatisfactory state of affairs, could be made a long step towards reform of the House of Commons at the same time, if appointment to the Upper Chamber were eliminated as the reward for rubber-stamp servitude on the part of members of the Lower House. The problem is not difficult. Many alternative plans of appointment have been suggested at different times. For example: appointment of the Senators by the provinces concerned.
Then there is a final step that I suggest should be taken in the interest of a more vigorous, vital and independent House of Commons; that is a provision 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.
Through the changes I have suggested runs this principle: that a man should only enter public life because he desires to render public service; and that while in public life the incentive before him should not be even partially a senatorial or a civil service appointment, but wholly the incentive of serving the people. Surely, if this motive could be instilled in every member to the exclusion of any other, Parliament would become what it is intended to be, namely, an assemblage of the best political minds of the nation intent on devising by joint deliberations solutions for the various problems that beset the national weal.
So much for the private members of the House of Commons. And now for the Cabinet Ministers who sit on the treasury benches. What do they contribute to the handwriting on Parliament's wall?
I suggested at the outset of my remarks that the criticisms to which successive ministries since the war have been vulnerable has been their failure to give leadership to the country. You may say that this is a sweeping assertion which needs to be proven. I will prove it by giving only one illustration. If the governments of the past had been giving bold courageous leadership, would the railway problem of this country have been allowed to develop? And if the government was giving bold courageous leadership today, would the problem be allowed to exist?
I believe though it is inevitable that our Governments--and I include both political parties impartially--should have failed in the task of leadership. For to give leadership requires convictions and confidence in those convictions. But it is several years now since any ministry has held an unshaken conviction upon any of the major problems of our modern complicated economic world. Our governments have been oscillating between two schools of thought. On the one hand, they have had the uneasy feeling that two and two still make four even in the realm of present-day economics. But against this instinct there have been the showy pretensions of the New Dealers to unsettle them. Our governments have been told by the New Dealers that the old economics are out-moded. They have been told not only that this is the age of abundance, but also that it is the age of credit, the age of the promise to pay. They have been told that there is no longer any virtue or salvation in the economics of Micawber. You will remember what they were: "Income twenty pounds, expenditure nineteen pounds six pence, result: happiness; but income twenty pounds, expenditure twenty pounds six pence, result: misery." Our governments have been told, in short, that this is the age of economic legerdemain, that the promise to pay is the open sesame to the abundant life, if only this generation will recognize it and stop being old fashioned, and stop talking about income meeting outgo, and about balanced budgets.
And so our governments have capitulated against their instinctive better judgment. They have worked the promise to pay day and night. They have made it almost their sole stock in trade. By means of it they have kept a government-owned railway running on a scale that costs the country close to one million dollars per week. By means of it they have built up a vested interest in idleness which last year, despite the fact that almost all the economic indices stood high above the normal level represented by 1926, cost the various governments of the Dominion far in excess of $50,000,000. And by means of it they have been sentimentalizing--for purpose of political expediency only--over a program of so-called social reform.
What has been the result? Governmental deficits mounting at an average over the past seven years more than one hundred million dollars per year. Increasing debt charges. An ever greater proportion of the national income being diverted from productive purposes to the demands of taxation. Consequently, an insoluble problem of unemployment. I ask you to note the viciously mounting spiral: taxes steadily increasing and staggering industry; unemployment refusing to yield to quack political remedies. It is probable that hack in 1933 we were not so far away from a serious break-down in our domestic economy. Then relief came to us in the form of a revival of foreign trade and an influx of purchasing power from other countries. But did we use the respite given us to set our house in order? Did we cease our exploitation of the promise to pay? You all know that we did not. With prosperity coming to us in spite of ourselves, we did not turn aside from our stubborn, headlong course of trying to borrow our way back to greater prosperity.
A few months ago it looked as though we were going to be called upon to pay for our folly. A business recession overtook our most important foreign customer. Our trade suffered. We appeared headed into another depression. Happily, that danger seems past for the present. British armament expenditures and other prospective developments in the international picture seem destined to assure us a period of industrial activity which, while we do not want to be overoptimistic, may even surpass 1929. We are being given a second chance to set our house in order after a bad scare. Gentlemen, we may not be given a third chance!
The cardinal sin of the promise to pay is its hypocricy. It seeks to conceal from the people the fact that they must pay ultimately for the things that are done in its name. Instead, the politicians take the credit smugly to themselves. They talk of relief as something that they have given, of Hudson Bay Railways as something that they have built, of New Welland and Chambley Canals as works that have (been conjured up like the rabbits out of a magician's hat. They do not tell the people who are working that it is they who are keeping the rest of the population that is being maintained in idleness. They do not impress upon the tax-payers that they must accept ultimately the burden of extravagant public works. They do not tell the unemployed that governmental deficits mean heavier taxation on business and less purchasing power for the employment of labour.
The politicians admit none of these things. Instead, upon the foundation of their hypocricy they proceed to erect a wholly infamous superstructure of unrest. They sentimentalize over the so-called forgotten man. They tell him that he is the victim of heartless big business. They tell him that he should have minimum wages, shorter hours of work, unemployment insurance, an earlier old age pension, and the benefit of state medicine. They tell him, its short, that heaven is just ahead of him because the politicians are going to crusade against business, his oppressor.
Could anything be more utter demagoguary than such an appeal? My first rejection of it is on the ground that it is a legislative program designed to meet the needs of a race of economic failures. Gentlemen, are Canadians failures? Do we as individuals have to lean upon some paternalistic government almost from our cradle to our grave? If we do, I submit we are not the men our forefathers were who hewed this great Dominion out of the wilderness, who performed what Mr. Bennett has so eloquently described as "the matchless miracle of a people so few, working against difficulties so great, in a time so brief."
My second reason for rejecting this program is that it is economically unsound. These services that it is proposed to give have to be paid for. So far we have been paying for them simply by borrowing against the future, forging fetters of debt for future generations. Leave that phase of the question aside for the moment and consider simply what governmental paternalism means as an economic principle. It means the halting of the processes of natural compensating adjustments upon which our modern economic system depends if it is to function. For instance, the old virtue of contending against the buffetings of fate, of breasting the waves of adversity to reach the shore of success, is a thing of the past. Why should we strive against fate while relief maintains us? I maintain that the effect of relief has been to remove the mainspring of individual initiative. Thus the farm boy who goes to the city when factories are busy and times are good, does not return to the farm when industry slackens. He stays in the city on relief, or he goes to some works project provided for employment purposes at the public expense. Thus the situation is prevented from adjusting itself. It is aggravated and prolonged. And, as I said a moment ago, it is paid for by forging fetters of debt for future generations.
The vital question in this latter connection is whether future generations will wear those fetters. Will they honour the commitments rolling up into the hundreds of millions that a small group of politicians are making in the name of the nation? Will they consider themselves bound by these obligations? Gentlemen, that is a question that will not be decided in any terms of abstract ethics or legal argument, but in terms of human realism. And there is no matter which those interests who are concerned with stability in this country should view with greater thought than this problem of the ultimate attitude of the people to the debt burden that the politicians are creating.
But, to revert to my main theme once more: it is the unrest stirred up by so-called promises of the New Dealers and their campaign against business that makes their agitation so indefensible.
The politicians take the tar brush to industry and tell the workers that from this operation they may expect Utopia to result. Now, I appeal to the actual experience of the Canadian workers and to you gentlemen of industry who are listening to me today. I ask the workers whether their past experience with the promises of politicians has been such as to persuade them to entrust their private lives into their hands? Have the workers ever known the fulfillment of politicians' promises to even approximate the promises themselves? And I ask you gentlemen in industry to search your conscience and ask yourself if Canadian business is really the callous and selfish institution that the politicians represent it to be?
For my part, I believe the industrial workers and farmers of this country have learned from hard experience to beware of the flimsiness of politicians' promises. We have been playing the game of the "ins" and the "outs" in politics too long for it to be otherwise.
On the other hand, I believe that the outstanding fact of Canadian business over' the past score of years has been the steady development of conscience on the part of those who direct it. As Canadian business has prospered, it has shared its prosperity with its workers. That is proven by our Canadian standard of living. And in its period of depression Canadian business wrote a glorious chapter in its annals by the manner in which it recognized its responsibility to its dependents regardless of current profits and even in many cases at the cost of reserves built up in prosperous years.
Yet the politicians, to serve their own interests, continue to make false promises of Utopia to the country's workers. And their only stock-intrade as a means of fulfillment continues to be the promise to pay.
What is the inevitable goal? It is this: it is a revolt against parliament which has already taken place in three great provinces of the Dominion. I wonder how many of you have considered this fact: that the three men who--whether or not you agree with their views--are most in the eyes of the people of this country, are not in our Federal Parliament at all, but outside it. I refer to Premiers Duplessis, Hepburn and Aberhart.
Gentlemen, it is a serious situation when provincial leaders whose main appeal is their promise to substitute their own actions fox' the Federal Parliament's inaction spring up on every side. It is a more serious situation when they meet such whole-hearted acclaim. It is a warning sign that something is amiss somewhere. The Federal politicians--in their complacency or in their desperation--would have us believe that the fault lies with these insurgent movements. They speak of Messrs. Duplessis, Hepburn and Aberhart, as "challenging Confederation" and they ask us to become alarmed.
What is the truth? The truth is I submit, that the people of these provinces have become disgusted over the failure of the National Parliament to give national leadership. They have seen successive governments bankrupt of every resource except a facility in using the country's credit. They have watched solemn commitments in the name of the nation rolling up by the hundreds of millions. They have seen taxes rising steadily, the burden of debt growing ever heavier. Is it any wonder that revolt has come? I say emphatically that it is the Parliament at Ottawa--drifting steadily towards a goal of ever more burdensome debt--which in the final analysis must accept the responsibility for Social Credit. I say it is the Parliament at Ottawa failing to recognize Communism in the criminal code--which in the final analysis must accept responsibility for the Duplessis padlock law. I say it is the Parliament at Ottawa--with its failure to recognize financial realities--which in the final analysis is responsible for the enthusiasm for Mr. Hepburn and his realistic policy, whatever may be his faults, of balancing the province's budget. I maintain, in short, this proposition: that Messrs. Duplessis, Hepburn and Aberhart are not a challenge to Confederation; but they are a challenge to our national legislature, a legislature that is failing to give national leadership.
My remarks have already been too long. I have made two suggestions. I have proposed that we work to restore the character and independence of our national legislature. And I have proposed that we abandon that school of national economics which is based upon the promise to pay. But, you may object, in these proposals you are failing to promise the people of the country a new heaven and a new earth. I admit that; but instead we are promising them something that it will be actually in our power to deliver. I suggest that it may not be inadvisable to experiment with a few political promises of this novel character.
MR. H. C. BOURLIER: Gentlemen, after listening to Mr. MacLeod, you will perhaps be inclined to agree that my reference to the handwriting on the wall at the feast of Belshazzar was not altogether untimely. There is just one thing, however: I am sure you will endorse my hope that the nemesis which overtook the Babylonian Government after that famous feast may be far removed from the ultimate destiny of our own government here.
Mr. MacLeod, you have given us a tremendous volume of informative matter in a very concise way. We will have plenty of material to think over and we only wish that the limitations of time did not prevent your giving us your solution for these grievances in a more detailed manner.
We thank you sincerely for your address.