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Banner: First Among EqualsSir John Sparrow David Thompson banner

Speech before the House of Commons, June 28, 1892

Sir JOHN THOMPSON: I have had some experience, both in defending criminals and in prosecuting them; I have never shrunk in my calling as a member of the bar, from taking any man's case, no matter how desperate it might be, for the purpose of saying for him what he might, properly say for himself; but I have sometimes spurned the fee of a blatent scoundrel who denounced everybody else in the world, and was himself the truculent savage of them all. I doubt that gratitude with which I listened to the hon. gentleman's address, will be shared by his followers; I doubt that they will consider that the occasion was the most timely the hon. gentleman could have chosen. They will think that the hon. gentleman might have got off his address at one of the earlier stages of the business of the House, when he forebore to intrude himself upon the attention of Parliament. I think they will recall this evening the sad fact for them, that he, by his personal influence, by the power of his language, by the force of this invective, and by his close criticism of public affairs in this country, has reduced their ranks by 50 per cent since we met last; and they will recall the fact that not only did every constituency which he addressed give a verdict against them, but that every city, town and hamlet in his own province which he addressed, gave a rolling majority against his party; and they will recall the fact that he chose for the occasion of his speech to-day, when they were celebrating another constituency, almost within sound of my voice, by the Liberal-Conservative party from the hands into which it fell at the last general election. Now, if I cannot elicit from his own supporters the gratitude which I feel towards him, I can at least do this for the purpose of showing my personal gratitude; although the hon. gentleman supposes, I fancy, that he has reflected upon me, that he has even attacked me, and that, perhaps, he has made me feel badly for a moment, notwithstanding that, I, as a member of the Liberal-Conservative party, owe him such a debt of gratitude that if it shall be necessary to retain the hon. gentleman's services in the party which he does not lead, and which would not have him for a leader, and which barely tolerates him as a supporter  --  if it be necessary to retain him in that capacity I, for one, will propose a subsidy to Parliament to keep him there. I know, Sir, that the hon. gentleman did not do himself half justice when he declared that the task before him was not a pleasant one. Why, Sir, the hon. gentleman would rather abuse his country and defame it, than eat his breakfast any day. I can tell the hon. gentleman that, strong as his language was, doleful as his forecast was, of the future of this country, alarming to some people of delicate nerves, as it might be if they had not heard it before, as we have so often heard it, language about the future of Canada, about the people who are asking how long this country can stand, and about people who are advising resistance to authority in this country, we, for our part, believe that on the part of the great majority of the people of this country, there is no fear and no alarm. Confident of the position which this country has obtained in spite of the efforts of the hon. member for South Oxford, confident in the path that she has chosen for herself, they are not to be alarmed even by the threats of a leading public man who counsels resistance, and declares that the fate of his country is sealed; because they know as well as we know, that when the hon. gentleman talks of resistance, and the death of his country, and all that kind of stuff, his courage is all in his tongue, and that the motto which he carries upon his escutcheon is "Words, not deeds." Sir, the hon. gentleman has made an allusion to me which I may refer to while it is in my memory. Having stigmatized his own party to whom he was pointing and whom he was addressing, with every crime in the political calendar, and many in the moral calendar as will, having reminded them of the sad fact that they had so polluted certain constituencies of this country with stolen money, that this Assembly was hardly to be regarded as a representative body, the hon. gentleman proceeded to attack the judges of this country. I have no doubt that the hon. gentleman as good cause for quarrel with the judges. The hon. gentleman has the same cause for quarrel with the judges of the country that the culprit has for the lash which smacks his back. The judges of the country have found him and his party, while their mouths were full of virtue, guilty of every degrading crime which the electoral law punishes and declares to be a fraud, and have unseated in this Parliament upwards of 30 of his supporters; and the constituencies to the number of 16, taking advantage of that fact, in his own province and in the Province of Quebec, have reversed the votes and repented of the support which they gave the hon. gentleman less than two years ago. But the hon. gentleman having his quarrel with the judges, thought he might drag me into the quarrel, too, and declared that, forsooth, the judges were not fit people to try cases, because they were not impartial. The hon. gentleman is the only kind of man who ought to try a case, and above all is the only kind of judge who should sit on the trial of a political opponent. He is so pure, he is so above reproach, he is so well known outside of his own province, which those unfortunate judges who are appointed are not, that he above all others made in the same mould  --  which thank God Nature broke when she cast him  --  was fit to sit in judgment in cases whether political or civil in this country. Let us imagine what the outcome must be, if having judges to hear evidence this Parliament is to be told that they are the most unfit men in the country to perform this duty, because they are men unworthy of their positions, men who do not know the law and who were appointed because they were party hacks. I do not know, I have not looked at the record of the hon. gentleman's appointments, but it may be so as to some. But for the party which is in power now I stigmatize that as disgraceful a misstatement as can be uttered in Parliament, and I have only to appeal to the recollection of every man who hears me to corroborate me in stating that above all other things the late leader of the Liberal-Conservative party achieved public respect for the course he took in selecting proper men to occupy the judgment seats of this country. But, again I say, the hon. gentleman tried to drag me into his quarrel with the judges, the quarrel of a convicted man against the bench, because we all know that when a man has lost his case and been convicted of a disgraceful crime he has but two options  --  one is to appeal and the other is to abuse the judge, and the hon. gentleman has chosen the latter course. He has dragged me into that controversy for the purpose of making the miserable insinuation that I bought the position I now fill by giving a seat upon the bench to a member of this House. That statement is absolutely untrue; it has not a shadow of foundation. I suppose there are few persons present who know what actually occurred when I was invited to be a member of Sir John Macdonald's Cabinet, and as I am not fond of referring to personal details, I shall not go into this matter at length, but I can say this, as the matter has been brought up for the first time in Parliament in my hearing, that the invitation to come here was not regarded by me as a very tempting one, or one that would induce me to bribe any man to give me a seat. If I had followed my personal choice and inclination of what I preferred  --  while I do not regret the change I have made  --  I would have stayed where I was. But the seat upon the county bench which a supporter of the hon. gentleman for South Oxford (Sir Richard Cartwright) took, and which made a vacancy which I stood for, was vacated by the death of Judge Campbell, and it was intimated to me not only that my presence would be desirable as a member of the Cabinet and in the capacity of Minister of Justice, but that I would have an opportunity, if I desired it, of standing for the old county which I had always represented in the Provincial Legislature, because it was probable that Mr. McIsaac would be offered the vacancy on the county bench. Mr. McIsaac was the leading barrister and leading counsel in that district beyond all comparison. I declined not once but more than once the invitation, and in doing so I stated that from the knowledge I had of that judicial district the appointment ought to be given to Mr. McIsaac, if he were willing to accept it, regardless altogether of any appointment of myself. Those who knew him, those who knew his relations in the county, and know the way in which he has discharged his duties, will say that I was right and gave sound advice, and they will not, stalwart Reformers as they are to this day, my leading opponents as they are to this day, thank the old-time leader behind whom their friend Mr. McIsaac sat, for the unworthy insinuation, even if it were true, that he was bought with a seat on the bench for the purpose of giving me a place in this House. I dare say if the judge were to express his own opinion, it would be this, that he was willing to accept a seat on the bench or any other place because he had sat quite too long behind the member for South Oxford. Now, Mr. Speaker we are told that parliamentary institutions in this country are in danger, that this House can hardly be regarded as a representative body that legislative fraud has been supported by organized corruption, that the Government is silent and its subsidized press and paid supporters are equally silent, and all this because it is said we have refused an investigation and substituted for it a mock trial. I will not make so little of the House as to ask the House whether that statement is true or whether it is false ; but I ask the House whether it thinks a man worthy to sit within its walls who stigmatizes as mock trial an investigation to be held by two of the highest judges of this country, who have not yet taken their seat and opened the investigation. I should like to ask the House if that is not on a par with the vehemence with which the hon. gentleman has criticized these proceedings from the beginning to the end, and not vehemence only but disgraceful unfairness, which has never been paralleled in the history of parliamentary debate. The hon. gentleman denounced the accused person as guilty almost before he had made an answer in his defence, and the judges had no sooner been named by this House and an investigation proposed by which they will take evidence than it is declared that everything is wrong in the country, that the Government is corrupting the country by legislative fraud and authorized corruption, and that the investigation which those judges are going to conduct is a mock trial. Well, Sir, upon that point I have only to add this: I am quite sure that whether those two gentlemen who have been selected are known to the hon. member for South Oxford or not, the people who do know them, and they are widely known in their own province, and well known, too, by members of their profession in other province, and well known, too, by members of their profession in other provinces as well, will know how to characterize as fair or baselessly false and malicious the accusation that any trial they are to conduct is a mock trial. Is it true or false that we have suppressed the charge which has been made? Is that statement not disgraceful to the man who uttered it again? Why, time and time again, I have shown to the House, unnecessarity as regards the great majority, uselessly as regards the hon. member for South Oxford, that we have not suppresses the charge, that we have refused to allow hon. members to try a large member of contested election cases, many of which had been already tried in the courts. But as regards anything to connect a member of this Parliament or a member of this Government with these electoral corruptions, the charges are there and are to be investigated if the hon. member for South Oxford (Sir Richard Cartwright) has the courage to come forward to sustain them, or if he is not simply lying when he tells this House that these charges can be proved. One or the other. The investigation has been refused, Sir, has it? The charges have been suppressed, have they? Why, Sir, there are the charges to day as framed by the hon. member for West Ontario (Mr. Edgar) as emphasized by the hon. member for South Oxford himself (Sir Richard Cartwright) and in so far as we have changed them, we have simply changed them to conform to the violent language with which the hon. member for South Oxford sought to enforce them; and if they are not proved, the result will be to stamp him with the name upon his forehead that he deserves. Now, Mr. Speaker, in place after place in the charges we have not hesitated to put before this commission these statements that the Postmaster General is charges with a conspiracy to obtain public money for companies, to obtain that money for companies for electoral purposes and for the purpose of corrupting constituencies  --  although it makes not a particle of difference as for as he is concerned, for he must fall, if it be true, that he was engaged in such a conspiracy whether he used the money for these hon. gentlemen might prove it if they could, and in every respect the charges are just as full and specific, so far as the Postmaster General is concerned, as they were the day they were brought by the hon. member for Ontario (Mr Edgar). One thing which we have eliminated is the general charge that other persons interested in these subsidies may have given these moneys too, and the general charge that these moneys were used in some 24 or 25 constituencies, and in some three or four elections in each of these constituencies. But, so far as the charges against the Government are concerned, and so far as the charges against the Postmaster General are concerned, they are just as clear and just as precise and just as open for investigation has the day they were made. The hon. member for South Oxford (Sir Richard Cartwright) challenged me to state if they are vague now. They are not vague now, thanks to the hon. member for Bothwell who supported them, and thanks to the bon. Member for South Oxford who sought to drive them home with invective which he is sorry for now because he cannot sustain it. These charges have been made precise and they have been made specific, and if the hon. Postmaster General is not afraid to meet them, there are three men who are afraid; because they have just sought to shelter themselves on the plea of privilege against appearing before the commission at all. They are the member for Ontario (Mr. Edgar), the member for Bothwell (Mr. Mills) and the member for South Oxford (Sir Richard Cartwright). The hon. member for South Oxford has declared that these commissioners are the appointees of the Postmaster General himself. No statement more utterly at variance with the truth can be put upon Hansard, because, as a fact, they have been appointed by this House and by a vote of this House practically unanimous as regards their qualifications. The Opposition abstained from committing themselves to the principle of appointing commissioners at all, but every member of the House knows that it was perfectly consistent for the Opposition to say: that if the House should eventually appoint commissioners these men were unfit by reason of this or that disqualification, or this or that unfitness of temperament. If these commissioners were the villains whom the hon. member for South Oxford (Sir Richard Cartwright) portrays as sitting on the bench of this country from one end to the other, if they were men not likely to be impartial, every member who sits within these walls was challenged to say so. He had an opportunity to say so; he was bound to say so, notwithstanding he thought that no commission should be appointed at all; but hon. Gentlemen opposite did not dare to say so, and in spite of the repudiation of the hon. member for South Oxford, I declare that these commissioners were fully sanctioned by this House without a single dissent as to their fitness or disqualification, and after dissent had been challenged or defied, for I defied it myself standing in my place here. The hon. member for South Oxford (Sir Richard Cartwright) has declared that the details which are published in his reptile story, in his organ in Toronto, to which organ he says we are so deeply indebted for these disclosures  --  as we are, of course, also to him, as I have already explained in the opening remarks I have offered to the House  --  the hon. member has declared that such a set of documents with regard to electoral corruption never in previous times was laid before this country. The hon. gentleman's memory is short. He forgets that about nine times what was alleged to have been expended in any one of these constituencies  --  saving the election of Three Rivers as to which the statement is very vague  --  he forgets that about nine times what was spent in the most expensive of these constituencies was spent, at the election of 1887, to secure him a supporter in a county within 100 miles from where I stand, and the hon. member for South Oxford (Sir Richard Cartwright) was not so virtuous or so regretful then.

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Source: Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada. 7th Parliament, 6th Session (May 10, 1892: July 9, 1892). Ottawa : S.E. Dawson, 1892. Pages 4320-4393.


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