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Evolution of the Dominion of Canada; its government and its politics online

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railways, grain elevators, and coastwise steamship

After the resolutions have been adopted in
committee and embodied in a bill, procedure on
the bill is much the same as on a non-financial
measure. But at no stage of the finance bill is it

1 A tax on excess profits of manufacturing, transport,
insurance, banking, and other business companies was im-
posed as a war-time finance measure in 1916. Except for
this, and some other direct imposts of the war period, no
direct taxation has ever been imposed by the Dominion


in order for a private member to move to increase
any charge imposed by the bill. A motion to
increase a tax can be made only from the treasury
bench. A motion to decrease a tax, made by
any member of the house of commons, is in order;
and it is on such motions that discussions occur
when the house is in committee on the schedules
of a tariff bill.

Debates on the budget extend over an even wide
larger number of sittings than the debate on the ^* s f
address to the governor-general; for almost any sionon
aspect of Dominion politics can be discussed when bud s et
the budget is before the house.

In the period from 1878 to 1896, when the Budget
Liberal opposition was conducting in the constit- ^^Tf
uencies, as well as in the house and the senate, 1896
a vigorous and continuous propaganda for a tariff
for revenue only, debates on the finance bill ran
on for weeks, and the people of the Dominion
looked on with keen interest.

After the Liberals in 1897 became as protection- Less
ist as the Conservatives, and were responsible tater st -

r i i - i -tr tag after

for the highest protective tariffs ever enacted at Liberals
Ottawa from 1867 to the war, there was not a become
member left in the house of commons to advocate tionists
tariffs for revenue only, or even to oppose in-
creases in the tariff made by the Liberal govern-
ment. Debates on the finance bill were greatly
curtailed, because as the Conservatives were all
protectionists there was no longer any opposition
in the house to a high protective tariff; and there



was a corresponding decline in popular interest
in the budget debate.

Finance From the house the finance bill goes to the
senate senate. There the stages of the bill are merely
formal, and the debates of only academic interest.
The senate can reject a finance bill, but only at
the cost of bringing the various governmental
services of the Dominion to a standstill. It is
denied all power of amendment. In this respect
the senate stands in the same subordinate position
towards the house of commons that the house of
lords has held since 1678 towards the house of
commons at Westminster.

Com- In committee of supply the estimates are taken

^ tt< department by department. Each minister is
supply in charge of the estimates for his department.
It is his business, at this time, to answer criti-
cisms, and to defend any items in the estimates
that are challenged by the opposition.
Esti- Carrying the estimates through committee is

a long process. It involves much close work on
state the floor of the house for ministers, especially
for ministers in charge of spending departments,
such as the departments of public works, rail-
ways and canals, the interior, and marine and

Value of A large part of the session is occupied with these
work in vo tes of money. But some of the most effective
mittee work of the house is done at the numerous sit-
tings in committee; for in committee of supply
the house can exercise close supervision of the


expenditures, administration, and general policies
of all the state departments.

No matter how large a majority a government Check
may have, or how mechanically obedient its ^ ghod
majority may be to the summons and instructions methods
of the government whips, the fact that there
will be detailed and searching discussion by the
opposition of the estimates is, in itself, a check
on slipshod methods, and on plans and policies
that will not admit of full discussion in committee
of supply.

The house is not continuously in committee of Appro-
supply. The vote for one department is carried. *^ tio
Then some other business is taken up, and when
this is finished the house again goes into com-
mittee. After all the votes have been passed,
they are embodied in what is known as the
" appropriation bill." The final stages of this
bill are taken in the closing days of the session,
in order to get the supplies of the whole year into
one bill.

The appropriation bill, after it has been passed Appro-
by the senate, is returned to the commons; and *"J^ n
when the royal assent is about to be given to bar of
this and other bills, and the commons are sum- senate
moned to the senate chamber for the purpose,
the bill which grants money for the service of
the crown is carried by the speaker to the bar
of the senate, and handed by him to the clerk
of the parliament to receive the royal assent.

The final stage of the appropriation bill is in



Final an ordinary session the only occasion on which

appn>- f t ^ ie s P ea ker is the representative of the house in

priation communications with the governor-general; for it

will be recalled that when the house has adopted

an address of thanks to the governor-general

for the speech from the throne, at the opening

of the session, it delegates by resolution, to

members of the privy council to members

of the cabinet the duty of presenting the

address to the governor-general.

Govern- Government bills are those which come to the

house from the cabinet. All these bills originate

other in one or other of the state departments; for

financial everv government bill alters or varies the functions

and responsibilities, or throws new functions and

responsibilities on some executive department.

A government bill intended to effect momentous
or far-reaching changes, or embodying an impor-
tant policy of the government, is sometimes intro-
duced by the premier, who nowadays is always
free of the responsibilities of a heavily burdened
state department. Otherwise, it is the rule that
a government bill is introduced by the minister
who is at the head of the department in which the
bill originated.

Caucus Members on the government side of the house
know beforehand the principles and main lines


ment of a government bill. These they learn in caucus
in the early days of the session; and in this way
the caucus serves as a link between the govern-
ment forces in the house and the cabinet.


In the case of a government bill of first-class
importance, there is usually a caucus on the bill
sometime between its introduction and second-
reading stage; and from the rank and file on the
government benches loyal support is expected.

A government suffers a loss of prestige in Loss of
parliament and in the constituencies if it is com- JJ^en?
pelled by division within its ranks, or by the tac- bill is
tics of the opposition, to abandon a bill that has J ^
been announced in the speech from the throne
at the opening of the session.

XII. The Closure

A government must in each regular session Pariia-
carry through parliament the finance bill and the * nt ^
appropriation bill. Each session, also, there are of
two or three important bills, embodying its J^~
policies, that it is essential to its success as a
government should be enacted.

Despite these conditions it was 1913 before Obstruc-
any government had, by the rules, sufficient ^ and
command over the time of the house of commons blistering
to prevent its legislative plans from being thwarted
by obstruction and filibustering by the opposition.
The house of commons at Ottawa was late among
legislative bodies in the English-speaking world
in adopting a closure rule.

By filibustering the Conservative opposition in
1911 made it impossible for the Laurier govern-
ment to carry a reciprocity bill through the house


A fill-

of 1913



of commons. Obstruction to the bill forced the
Liberal government to advise the governor-
general to dissolve a parliament which, in the
normal course, had still nearly two and a half
years to run.

Two sessions later in 1913 the Liberals,
then in opposition, attempted similar tactics on
the bill of the Borden government for a grant
of thirty-five million dollars to be expended in
adding three battleships to the British navy.

Realizing after parliament had been in session
for five months that no progress was being made,
and that the opposition was intent on forcing the
abandonment of the navy bill by obstruction,
the Borden government proposed the adoption
of a new rule. The rule, which is now in force,
prohibits debate at certain technical stages of
a bill preliminary to those that have been here
described, and also empowers a member of the
cabinet to move that there be a time limit to a
debate, either in the house or in committee of
the whole. With the closure rule thus brought
into operation no speaker can hold the floor for
longer than twenty minutes.

In explaining the need and purpose of the new
rule, Borden reminded the house that under the
then existing rules there were nineteen stages, in-
cluding committee, at which it was possible for
members to discuss a measure. He stated also
that it had been affirmed by some members of the
house that it was absolutely impossible for the



majority to pass any measure without the consent
of the minority. 1

Long before 1913 there had been a widespread
conviction in the Dominion that an amendment
of the rules of the house was necessary. " Liberty
of speech in the commons," the Globe, of Toronto,
a Liberal journal, had declared during the parlia-
mentary crisis of 191 1, 2 "has degenerated into
license, and half a dozen inveterate talkers bore
a weary house with talks that were old two
thousand years ago, until the wonder is that
enough members can be induced to remain in the
chamber to make a quorum."

Members of the Liberal administration in the
general election of 1911 had also given pledges
that if the Liberals were again returned to power
the rules of the house should be promptly amended
so as to make impossible filibustering like that
which compelled the Laurier government to
abandon the reciprocity bill.

The new rule was, however, treated by the
Liberal opposition as a party measure. There
were nine days of debate on it, and the rule was
carried only by a parliamentary manoeuver by
which the opposition was foiled in its intention
of obstructing its adoption. 3

The objections made by the Liberals were that
the new rule endangered freedom of speech;
that it would tend to Americanize the Canadian

1 Cf. H. C. Debates, April 9, 1913. 2 April 22, 1911.

8 Cf. "Canadian Annual Review," 1913, 164-167.


A liberty
of speech
that was

to end

the new




a star


rules at


parliament and establish the tyranny of the
political boss.

From Quebec there was a specific and remark-
able objection. "My province at the time of
Confederation," said Lemieux, who had been
postmaster-general in the Laurier administration,
"accepted the compact of Cartier and Mac-
donald that the rules, usages, and customs of the
British house of commons up to 1867 should be
binding on the parliament of Canada in the
future. Therefore, you have no right to impose
on the minority in this house rules which have
been created since 1867 rules which tend to
abridge the rights of the minority."

Lemieux was apprehensive that the new rule
would jeopardize the rights of French-Canadians.
"Has any one the right," he asked, "to alter a
compact to change the constitution; for the
rules adopted in 1867 are embodied in that com-
pact, in that constitution; and you cannot deface
them. Canada, with such drastic rules, is no
longer government by parliament but by the
cabinet. It is a revival of the star chamber." l

The rules as they stood after the amendment
of 1913 an amendment adopted by a vote of
108 to 73 as regards closure of debate and the
shutting off of amendments in committee are
not nearly so comprehensive or so drastic as the
closure rules at Westminster or at Washington.
There is no debate under a five or a ten minute


1 H. C. Debates, April 14-15, 1913.


rule, as there is in the house of representatives;
and no closure by compartments, as there is in
the British house of commons.

All substantial or obviously bona-fide motions
which bring into question the propriety of passing
any bill or vote are as debatable today as they were
before 1913; and at least one day's notice must
be given from the treasury bench of the intention
of the government to move that a continued
debate shall not be further adjourned.

The rules as they stood before 1913 were
adapted to conditions which ceased to exist at the
turn of the twentieth century, when the great
material expansion of Canada began and the
Dominion took rank among nations.


Old rules
relict of
era of

XIII. Private Members' Bills and Private
Bill Legislation

A private or unofficial member of the house of Oppor-
commons has at least four opportunities of ^^
exercising his parliamentary abilities, and con- private
vincing his constituency that he can be of service members
at Ottawa. They are opportunities, moreover,
that are distinct from the service he renders as a
supporter of the government or a member of the
opposition, or as a member of a standing com-
mittee; and distinct also from the local service
which every member is expected to render to his

Under the rules it is possible for a private



tions to

as to

Oral and



Value of


of urgent

member to address to ministers questions of
which written notice has been given, and also
questions of which written notice has not been
given, which are addressed to ministers when the
orders of the day are moved, or at the adjourn-
ment of the house.

Questions may be put to ministers relating to
public affairs; and to other members relating to
any bill, motion, or other public matter con-
nected with the business of the house. In putting
a question no argument or opinion can be offered;
and a minister in replying to a question must not
argue or put forward any opinion.

Answers to some questions are given orally.
To others the answers are in writing. In either
case the answers are embodied in the official
report of the debate.

Much information of Dominion-wide value is
thus at times elicited from ministers; and infor-
mation of value to a province, or to particular
interests in a province, is forthcoming at almost
every sitting of the house through these formal
and informal questions.

A member may at any sitting of the house
initiate a discussion on a definite matter of urgent
public importance, provided twenty members
rise in their places to support his motion for leave
to move the adjournment of the house.

The discussion takes place on the motion so
made for adjournment. The rules carefully
safeguard this valuable privilege. A motion to



discuss a matter of urgent public importance Rules
cannot be made to revive a discussion of a "^
matter previously discussed in the same session of motions
parliament. The motion must not anticipate a ^joum-
matter bill, motion, or vote which has been meat
previously appointed for consideration by the
house, and it must not raise a question of privilege.

In a country of immense area like Canada, and Peculiar
of varying climatic conditions, the privilege of JJ e "*'
every private member of thus calling the atten- motions
tion of the house and the government to a matter
of urgent public importance is of peculiar value.
Members avail themselves of it to call attention
to an unexpected failure of a crop; to a disaster
to a fishing fleet; or to a labor dispute of a far-
reaching character. The privilege may also be
exercised to call attention to international com-
plications, such as may arise in connection with
Asiatics on the Pacific Coast, or some incident on
the American border line.

A statement for the government follows a Times
motion on an urgent matter of public importance; ^ ess
and in times of stress or crisis such statements or
have a quieting influence, particularly in cases crisls
of great disasters; for in such cases the debate
on the motion elicits from the government a
statement of the steps it is taking to afford

A third opportunity afforded to private members Motions
is that of submitting motions to the house in favor |J favor
of reforms or amendments of the law. The reforms



fourth is the opportunity open to members of

submitting bills to the house.

Private Private members' bills are distinguished from

memb< ' ^ j^jjg or jg matm g w j t h tne government and

(2) private-bill legislation a description which
comprises divorce bills and bills for the incor-
poration of transport, industrial, and financial
undertakings and of ecclesiastical, educational,
and philanthropic institutions.

Private- The stages of all bills coming within the term
"private-bill legislation" are the same as those of
lation bills which originate with the government, or with
private members, with one important exception.
The detailed examination and perfecting of bills
incorporating undertakings or institutions, and
the exercise of vigilance in safe-guarding the pub-
lic interests, are largely the work of the standing
committees, to which the bills are referred after
they have been read a second time in the house.
Propa- Much effective propaganda work for amend-

ments or extensions of laws is accomplished by
reform motions by private members and by private
members' bills. The case for amendment or ex-
tension is impressed on the government; and by
discussion of these motions or bills in the house,
newspaper and other popular support is secured.
Govern- It not infrequently happens that as an outcome
accept- ^ tnese discussions, and the sympathetic interest
ance of they arouse in the house of commons and in the
members' const i tuenc i es > tne government undertakes to
tolls introduce a bill for the reform suggested by the



private member or gives its support to the bill
which the private member has introduced.

Apart from the effect on the government of the Amend-
discussion of private members' bills and motions, ^JJ^ cd
at each session of parliament quite a number of by
beneficent amendments to the law are made by private

+ mem-

private members' bills. There is no chance for bers'
a private member's bill if the government is hos- bms
tile to it. In that event supporters of the govern-
ment act on the instructions of the whip, and the
bill fails of second reading.

Questions of privilege cannot be raised as pri^ge
questions of urgent public importance. But they
may be raised at any sitting at the time the
orders of the day are moved. Scores of questions
of privilege are raised at every session.

Occasionally they arise out of revelations in sensi-
special committees or in investigations before ^ veness
royal commissions. Much more frequently privi- news-
lege is invoked in order that members may correct J^Hcum
inaccurate reports in the newspapers of their
speeches in the house, or repudiate interpretations
of their speeches which have been published on
the editorial pages of the newspapers. Among
members of legislative bodies in English-speaking
countries, members of the house of commons of
Canada are most sensitive to newspaper criticism.




Scope of TN the thirty-five years from 1879 to 1914,
Policy 1 * 1 anc ^ * n P art i cu l ar from 1879 to 1897, there

was no phrase in political discussion in Canada
in more frequent use than the one, "the National
Policy of the Dominion." In the earlier part of
the period the term was used to describe (i)
the imposition of duties in the Dominion tariff
to protect home industries against all outside
competition; (2) the paying of bounties from the
Dominion treasury to aid the upbuilding of indus-
try; and (3) the attempt to secure reciprocity
agreements with the United States and other non-
British countries, with a view to extending the
export trade of the Dominion.

Exten- In the decade before the war the phrase had

oftts come to have a meaning much more comprehen-
scope sive. It included, as of old, protectionist duties
in the interest of Canadian industries. It in-
cluded, until 1911, lavish bounties to iron and steel
companies in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario.
But it also included (i) the continuous and wide
immigration propaganda for the peopling of the
provinces west of the Great Lakes, and (2) the
development of the national grain route, by rail,


lake, and canal, from all the grain-growing
provinces to tidewater ports on the Atlantic.

I. The Development of the National Policy

There were protective tariffs in Canada twenty origin of


years before the phrase "National Policy" was Natlonal

brought into general use by the Macdonald
government in 1879. The United Provinces of
Upper and Lower Canada had been under a
protectionist tariff for eight years before Con-
federation. In British Columbia a protective
tariff was in operation from 1867 until the province
came into Confederation in 1871.

The Pacific Coast province, like the United Antici-
Provinces and the Maritime Provinces, had also P* tions
agitated for reciprocity with the United States; National
and while it was still an independent and isolated icy by


colony, British Columbia had offered bounties Columbia
for the encouragement of the iron and woolen
industries, thus anticipating a part of the National
Policy that was not adopted by the Dominion
government until 1883, when bounties to encour-
age the production of pig iron were first paid from
the treasury at Ottawa.

The first attempt to establish a National Policy First
for the Dominion was made in 1870, by the Mac- ^ tempt
donald government of 1867-1871. As it was establish
developed at that time the National Policy ^^
included protective duties on only some Canadian Policy
products; and an offer, embodied in the tariff,





theory of


could be


of 1870

of reciprocity with the United States. In this
tariff of 1870 there were no increases in the duties
on manufactured goods. These duties then stood
at fifteen per cent, as imposed by the tariff of the
United Provinces enacted in 1866.

Confederation was in sight in 1866; and duties
in the tariff enacted in that year were made less
protective than in the tariffs of the United Prov-
inces from 1858 to 1866, in order to ease the way
into Confederation for Nova Scotia, New Bruns-
wick, and Prince Edward Island, provinces in
which there had never been any protective duties.

The protective duties in the first National
Policy tariff were on coal, salt, wheat, flour,
and hops. In the tariff of 1866 all these articles
were on the free list. They were made dutiable
in the tariff of 1870 in accordance with a theory of
Macdonald's that if Canada was ever to succeed
in negotiating a second treaty of reciprocity
if it was ever to have another era of valuable
trade relations with the United States, like that
which was enjoyed under the Elgin-Marcy treaty
of 1854-1866 the government at Washington
must be made to feel that it was in the power of

Online LibraryEdward PorrittEvolution of the Dominion of Canada; its government and its politics → online text (page 27 of 34)