AN ADDRESS BY
HONOURABLE JAMES ARTHUR MATHEWSON, K. C. PROVINCIAL TREASURER, QUEBEC GOVERNMENT.
Before the Empire Club and The Canadian Club
February 1, 1940
DR. F. A. GARY: Gentlemen: The Canadian and the Empire Clubs jointly take much pleasure in welcoming our distinguished guest from our sister province, the Honourable Mr. Mathewson.
Mr. Mathewson has recently been honoured by his appointment as Provincial Treasurer in the Quebec Government, under the Premiership of the Honourable Mr. Godbout--a position where he will have the opportunity of exercising the scope of his knowledge gained in municipal and government affairs.
Mr. Mathewson is a graduate of McGill University, receiving the degree of B.A. in 1912, and B.C.L. in 1917, and also took a post graduate course in the Sorbonne University, Paris. Mr. Mathewson has lectured in McGill University on Company Law. He served overseas with the 42nd Battalion Royal Highlanders of Canada.
You will appreciate that at this time, during the war and during the election period, the Broadcasting Commission makes special rules and regulations in regard to broad casting and, unfortunately, due to Mr. Mathewson's prominence in political life, the C.B.C. has ruled that on this occasion it is inexpedient to broadcast his address. They have, however, condescended to make a record of his speech at this time and arrange for broadcasting the same, subsequent to the Federal elections in March. This offer was graciously declined. Of course you know the rules and regulations have to be adhered to. We have a great deal of pleasure in introducing the Honourable Mr. Mathewson, whose subject is entitled "Quebec".
HONOURABLE JAMES ARTHUR MATHEWSON, K.C.: Dr. Gaby, Gentlemen: I confess this is the first time I have found myself in harness of this kind (referring to micro phone worn on coat) although I am in harness in Quebec, and you will sympathize with me, perhaps, by the time I am through, and you will understand I am trying to hold quite a load.
May I first of all thank you, Sir, and the President of the Canadian Club, for having afforded me this opportunity. It is a meeting of my friends in Toronto--I feel I am with friends-and it seems peculiarly suitable that the Empire Club and the Canadian Club should unite to hear what, in my humble way, I may have to say about Quebec, because, obviously, I think you will realize that Canada cannot exist without Quebec, and the Empire cannot exist without Canada.
The subject of my remarks to you today is "Quebec". I do not propose to cover all that vast territory. I would exhaust your patience, but I do want to say a few things on two problems. First, I must take advantage of this occasion to say a few words to you on our financial position, and I am going to take advantage of the opportunity further to say a few words to you on our political situation, not in a party sense, but in the true Canadian and Imperial sense.
Perhaps I should first remind you of the highlights in the history of Quebec. It became British permanently under the Treaty of Paris in 1763. That was four years after the battle of the Plains of Abraham, but that was not the first time that Quebec has passed under the British flag. It was, perhaps, not generally remembered, but some years before then, in the ebb and flow of the tide of destiny, Quebec had already been occupied, and then the shuffling of the cards of diplomacy had restored it to France, but in 1763, by the Treaty of Paris, French Canada became British. Those in the French Colony that desired to were accorded facilities to return to France, and those who, of their own free will, decided that they were prepared to become British subjects were given facilities to remain. The French-Canadians who remained then cast their lot with the British Empire, and from that decision they have never departed.
I say that to you because some of you--and I will return to the subject--may have at the back of your minds an unspoken doubt as to the true, the real loyalty of the population of Quebec. I surmise there are only a few who may entertain that doubt, but it is to those few I wish particularly to address myself.
Proceeding with the historical sketch, from 1763 Quebec was merely administered until 1774, when by the Quebec Act, an Act of the Imperial Legislature, it was given something of a Constitution. About that time, or a little later on, Ontario, as we know it, was born. The United Empire Loyalists pushed up from the States, the Scotch and the English citizens of Quebec followed the then unspoken words, "Go west, young man". They went west. They came to Ontario and by the constitutional Act of 1790, the two provinces, Upper and Lower Canada were recognized.
It is hardly necessary for me to more than touch upon the difficult days that followed. Shall I put it bluntly? The misadministration of the Family Compact, the lack of understanding of history, led to the trouble of 1837, when French-Canadians in Quebec and English-Canadians in Ontario joined on the issue of what they considered the abnegation of liberty.
Following those troubles, Lord Durham investigated on behalf of the British Government, and his report is a document that has failed to be measured at its true worth. It laid down the principle that Canada could only be British if self-governed, and having laid down that principle, he returned to England to make his report which was badly received. He was publicly humiliated and died a few years after, of a broken heart. But there is a tomb outside the town of Durham in England, erected posthumously by his friends, that is to him, and that should be to us a shrine where we Canadians should climb upon our bended knees, because it is to that man that we owe Canada. (Applause)
Coming to more recent times, there was the British North America Act of 1867, and finally, the Statute of Westminster. Those are the milestones in the historical course followed by Quebec and, along with Quebec, by Canada.
There have been certain incidents along that journey that I think require special attention. I wonder if it is in your memories that in the time of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, one of the leaders of that war, lived in Montreal? He came to Montreal, he established offices in what is now the Chateau de Ramezay, an historical building that you perhaps have visited. From that building he published a newspaper for the deliberate purpose of influencing Canadian opinion in the War of Independence. That paper, I believe, is the predecessor of the Montreal Gazette. Those who are unappreciative of that paper say that it was conceived in sin and born in iniquity, because it originated from the American shores. (That, I say frivolously. As you know, it is one of the finest papers in Canada.)
The attempt of Benjamin Franklin failed, as all such attempts have failed and, with God's help, will fail. They made no progress in influencing the sentiment of the people of the Province of Quebec to turn against the British connection.
Soon after, in the war of 1812, when American forces penetrated Canada, the French-Canadians resisted with arms. Montgomery fell at Quebec, and his retreat down through what is now the Eastern Townships was harrassed by French-Canadians. At Chateauguay, Colonel de Salaberry scored a brilliant military victory, and with that closing chapter our difficulties with the United States came to an end. Since then we have had no occasion whatever to come to acute disputes with them and probably the reason, or one of the reasons for our permanent peace is that we have applied the well-known doctrine that prevails in the Province of Quebec--"Bons clos font bons voisins"--"Good fences make good neighbours". We have maintained an imaginary boundary line that both value in true perspective. Both respect it-they from their side, and we from our side. They have gone on to cultivate our friendship. We have gone on to cultivate their friendship and we have worked in friendship.
Another incident along the historical road I have attempted to trace for you that may have escaped your attention was in 1849, when the English-speaking Protestant populace of Montreal promoted riots that resulted in the burning of the Parliament Buildings in Montreal, because they resisted the Rebellion Losses Bill, that in proper form was passed by the Legislature. Before then there had been clamour for responsible government, but when that responsible government passed an Act that was unpalatable to the English-Protestant minority, they attempted to resist. In fact, they circularized, they published a colossal petition, asking that Canada be annexed to the United States. It was not the French-Canadians who did that. The French-Canadians resisted that, and in the clash, as I remind you, the Parliament Buildings in Montreal were burned, and by that nefarious act, Montreal was purged of the influence of politics. It never since has been the capital, and I think that is to the benefit of Montreal.
Now, proceeding to our own times, I must mention a passing influence--then I am done with that aspect of what I have to say. Three times within the memory of living men, an attempt has been made within the Province of Quebec, to awaken or stir up an isolationist or a so-called Nationalist sentiment.
In our fathers' time, the generation preceding mine, there was a clamorous, noisy, small group, who called themselves "Les Castors" (the Beavers) who sought to assert a local, narrow outlook.
The reply of the French-Canadian populace was to bring forward as their representative a young man who was a graduate of McGill University, a French-Canadian who, from the beginning of his career until its closing words, was the apostle of Canadian unity. I refer to the late Sir Wilfrid Laurier. (Applause) That movement caused but the slightest ripple on the calm surface of Quebec, but just before the last war recrudescence seemed to make itself evident. An attempt was made, a movement was initiated called the Nationalist Movement and, let me say it to the humiliation of those concerned, while that movement was initiated by an earnest man who believed in his own sincerity in Quebec, it was financed by those from outside Quebec, and it was financed to the extent of $6,000 for the purpose of founding a newspaper for the inexcusable political expediency of attempting to torpedo Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the Province of Quebec.
That movement again failed, as all such movements have failed and shall fail in the Province of Quebec.
At last we thought we had done with such matters, but there was an echo, a faint attempt to stir up some similar sentiment not so long ago. Quebec was asked on the 25th of October, 1939, to declare itself in an election in which there were two issues. The principle issue was Quebec's attitude toward participation in the war. The subsidiary question was one of provincial financing.
The answer was overwhelming to the first question. Party tradition and inclination were thrown to the winds. Some of my friends humbly confessed they had committed two offences which they hoped fate would spare them, on the 25th of October. I remember, particularly, one man who lacked that affection for the Y.M.C.A. that some of us have and he said he had hoped he would never go into the Y.M.C.A. and he had hoped he would never vote Liberal-and he did both on the same day, with the result--well, you know what that was. It is the answer of John Baptiste to those who would seek to mislead him, seek to make him appear to be anti-British, seek to make it seem he failed to appreciate and value his position in the British Empire.
Now, if he values that position, that does not at all mean that his expression of Imperial sentiment is necessarily identical with that from other parts of Canada or other parts of the Empire, but he had the honour and the responsibility to be first to vote in all the British Empire on the question of the war, and the result, again I repeat, you know. The answer was overwhelming.
The financial aspect, John Baptiste knew something of, too. Long before he knew the figures, he sensed that all was not well. Public works were carried on elaborately, not to say extravagantly, but local suppliers and even wages were not paid for long periods of time. John Baptiste is a thrifty man. He knows a dollar is something he must work for and the fact that there were some people apparently engaged on public enterprises who failed to deliver a dollar's worth of work for the dollar they received disturbed him, and that also had an influence in the election.
If any of you have had the good fortune to travel in the more remote parts of the Province of Quebec--and if you haven't had that experience may I hope for your sake and ours you will have it--if you travel through some of the smaller villages, may I urge upon you that you seek an opportunity of making the acquaintance of M. le Cure. You will find him a man of kindliness and charm, a man of simple taste and simple outlook. He will want to show you his garden. He will indicate to you the roses that he has cultivated, the shrubs, the violets, the other successes that he has attained. He may even ask you to smoke some of the tobacco that he has grown in his garden. If he does, let firmness temper your politeness. If, however, you have the good fortune to be able to decline the suggestion in passable French, you will so warm the old gentleman's heart that he will take you into his house and he will give you a cigar from the secret box that he keeps for the Bishop and other distinguished visitors.
Now, Monsieur le Cure was conscious of what was happening, and Monsieur le Cure kept his peace, but he thought much. There is no citizen in Quebec more conscious of the value, of the necessity, of the British connection than the Roman Catholic clergy. It may surprise you but I assure you it is a fact. They have never failed to teach and to preach and to give their moral support to true British citizenship. Not in the Imperialistic sense. That would mean the subservience of Canada, the submersion of Canada, or the relegating of Canada to a secondary place.
Our conception of Imperialism in Quebec is this, that by building Quebec we build Canada and by building Canada we build the Empire. The practical issue is one that you may ask me to explain. Are we bearing our share? Have we done what we should?
The censorship rules have been conveniently suspended, and I am grateful for the fact, because it makes it possible for me to speak to you in this intimate way. Even those censorship rules, although suspended, still prohibit my citing to you figures concerning enrolment and enlistment of troops, but I can assure you, very positively, and definitely, that the French-Canadian regiments in the Province of Quebec were among the first to come up to full strength and their potential reserves are still ready, still willing, still eager to come forward and do their part.
The gallant history of the French-Canadian regiments, particularly of the Royal 22nd, (and practically every other regiment in the last war had in it some French-Canadians) make it unnecessary for me to even outline the accomplishments of their daring.
My friend, Colonel Blackader, on my right, will remember the 22nd was in the Battle of the Somme. No more gallant action was ever fought than that by those men on that particular day. They repeated their gallantry at Vimy. There was no engagement when they did not distinguish themselves, and when some unthinking man from another part of Canada casts a reflection upon the honour and loyalty of French-Canada, he forgets the wound to the hearts of people whose sons sleep their last sleep in France. They died as gallantly as any other member of the British Expeditionary Force, and they are entitled to just a little more credit, because their sacrifice was purely voluntary, it was not prompted by that emotional link that ties us to those of our own language and, perhaps, own blood. In larger things they are British subjects by choice and conviction and you can rely on them to be British subjects to the end of the days of Canada. I said I would speak briefly about finances. While dollars are dead things compared with human history, they play a part in that human activity in which we are all engaged. The present administration found a disconcerting situation when it took charge of the destinies of Quebec. I must consult my notes for fear of allowing my memory to trick me. I won't burden you with minute details. I shall merely tell you, we owe at this minute, the highly respectable sum of $419,000,000. That is the whole sum-direct and indirect commitments. The consolidated debt which in 1936 was $130,000,000, three years later, in 1939, had been augmented by a further $148,000,000.
In other words, at the end of three centuries of progress in the Province of Quebec, from the time of Champlain, down to 1936, the Province was left with a-consolidated debt of $130,000,000, and in three years, as against three centuries, that debt was more than doubled.
These are facts of a situation we must face. The floating debt and other figures were equally disconcerting. The total floating or funded debt amounts to the substantial sum, again, of $102,000,000. That includes future commitments which are not yet due, but they are matters that must be taken into consideration to attain a true picture of our finances.
In addition there are certain guarantees we must consider. There was one item in the Balance Sheet I referred to when I spoke for the first time, I have been trying to work and not talk since at Quebec-I have spoken once and on that occasion I mentioned an item in the Balance Sheet of $15,000,000, and I referred to it in these terms. I said, "A special loan was made to assist the Bank of Hochelaga to help the Quebec Nationale Banque over a difficult time some years ago." I then said, "The loan is still existent, although I am glad to tell you the necessity for it long since disappeared, because the Bank has not only since re-established itself, but has made substantial progress."
What I should have said on that occasion and say now, was that that debt was contracted by a former government for the purpose of saving the depositors and the shareholders of the former Banque Nationale from disaster. Provincial government bonds were given for the purpose of saving a desperate situation and it then was the Bank of Hochelaga which was induced to come to the rescue and assume the liabilities and the assets of the old Banque Nationale, which ceased to exist. The Bank of Hochelaga took the situation into its strong hands and has made good. The name of the Bank of Hochelaga has been changed today to the Banque Canadien de Nationale, and through its effective efforts, I am glad to be able to say the transaction just outlined has not cost the Government of Quebec one dollar.
I take advantage of this opportunity to make that statement because my brief allusion that I intended as a ' descriptive sentence has perhaps made a wrong impression.
It was not to the Bank of Hochelaga they made the advance, it was to assist them in curing a difficult situation. Gentlemen, you are entitled to ask, "Well, if you have all these debts and that situation to face, what are you going to do about it?" I am not a politician. I never was a politician. I hope I never will be. But I have learned already it is impolitic to make rash statements. Still further, it is impolitic to declare in detail in advance what the government proposes to do. It is not that citizens are not willing to be taxed, but if they get a hint of anything of the kind, they seem to think it appropriate, they who can criticize, to try to arrange matters so as to have the burden fall on someone else.
Mr. Winston Churchill referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in words that perhaps would fit the Provincial Treasurer, the other day, when he said "that man upon whom such heavy burdens fall and from whom such heavy burdens fall."
What we propose to do--and I say this for your assurance--the Province of Quebec can and will faithfully and honourably discharge, to the last cent, its every obligation. (Applause) From the time of its earliest existence down to date, Quebec has never defaulted for one cent on principal or interest of any loan and it never will. The policy of the present administration is to cut our coat to suit our cloth. If that coat is not sufficiently large to cover the body politic, we will have to stretch the cloth, but we are more conscious of the necessity of reducing expenditures than we are of reducing the tax burden and in connection with the tax burden, may I take advantage of this occasion to say, while I am here in Toronto, I hope for an opportunity to discuss with your distinguished Premier and your Provincial Treasurer, how to eliminate duplication of taxation, to make clear the basis of corporation taxation where companies overlap the provincial boundary, and if possible, to simplify and again, to be ready to, as far as possible, eliminate duplication of taxation in matters of succession duties. (Applause)
The practical issue of finance, however, is something that is tedious for you to listen to at this time of day. The best assurance you have, of not merely the good intention. but of the ability of Quebec to meet its obligations, I think is answered, if you will allow me to make certain limited personal allusions.
It may be significant that the fact that over the post offices of this country there flies the Union Jack, and not a flag that at one time was popular here-the Merchant Marine insignia, with an emblem in the corner of it. The fact that we use, and for many years have used, the Union Jack is attributable to the decision of one man, the Honourable Rodolphe Lemieux, who, as Postmaster General, put that ruling in effect, and who lost his only son in keeping that flag flying. (Applause)
There is an illustration of the sincerity, of the patriotism of French-Canada. I hesitate--in fact it would be wrong for me if I were now broadcasting--to more than mention that august person at the head of the Civil Service of the Province of Quebec, the Lieutenant-Governor. You are perhaps aware that we have a distinguished soldier; Major-General Sir Eugene Fiset, whose military career started with the Boer War, and whose services to Canada, to Quebec, and the Empire have continued ever since, as our Lieutenant-Governor. He comes from a small town on the shores of the St. Lawrence, and the principal statue in that small town of Rimouski, is one of a figure in bronze, erected to the memory of a French-Canadian by the name of Brillant, who won the Victoria Cross, and who laid down his life in the last war.
That is the atmosphere at Quebec at present. That is the nature of the outlook on the patriotism you will find, not in isolated cases, but throughout the Province. In conclusion I must refer to my own Chief, our Prime Minister. No one can look into the calm gray eyes, the intelligent countenance, with firm lips and square cut chin of the Honourable Adelard Godbout, without realizing he is a' man of honour, a man of capability, a man of integrity, a man of intelligence and a true patriot, and I assure you, Gentlemen, that the destiny of Quebec, the destiny of Canada--yes, of the British Empire--is safe in the hands of such as he.
I must thank you very sincerely for having afforded me the opportunity of coming to speak to you. I came to speak to you as Canadians, resident in Ontario, who are interested in Canadians resident in Quebec. May I ask that many of you will follow my humble example, and cross that imaginary line that can never divide the Province of Quebec and the Province of Ontario.
Thank you. (Applause-prolonged)
PROFESSOR N. A. M. MAcKENZIE: Gentlemen: In a sense I am more fortunate than Dr. Gaby, because of necessity he had to speak in anticipation of events to come, and what he said about our honoured guest was said in that way. I can speak in the light of accomplished fact, and I think that everything that Dr. Gaby said about our guest was not only in order, but didn't begin to say what we would like to say about him, now that he has accomplished his task.
I was particularly interested in the courteous way in which 'he said that he and others in Quebec felt that Quebec could only exist if Canada carried on. Some of the rest of us feel, I think, with some confidence, that without Quebec the rest of Canada would not be the Canada that it is, and it is questionable whether it would be Canada at all or not. (Applause) I think some of us, too, had the idea that the election held there some little time ago was concerned with an issue of Canadian unity, and with the issue of the participation of Quebec with the rest of Canada in the war effort of Canada. What our guest has said to us today is most encouraging and reassuring on that point, and on behalf of the Empire Club and the Canadian Club, I would like to extend to the Honourable Mr. Mathewson our thanks and our gratitude for his coming here and for describing to us in such an encouraging and re-assuring way the attitude of his fellow countrymen and our fellow countrymen in the Province of Quebec. (Applause)