THIS MONTH'S VITAL QUESTION

Will the New Franchise Bill be Partisan?

A Review of Current Opinion on the Subject

March 15 1920
THIS MONTH'S VITAL QUESTION

Will the New Franchise Bill be Partisan?

A Review of Current Opinion on the Subject

March 15 1920

Will the New Franchise Bill be Partisan?

THIS MONTH'S VITAL QUESTION

A Review of Current Opinion on the Subject

PRETTY well everyone agrees that something in the nature of a Franchise Bill is needed for the Dominion. The old machinery is so outworn that if by any chance it should suddenly he called into service it would probably break under the strain. The matter of fact is that there is practically no Dominion franchise at the present moment, and the notification thatat thepresentsession a new Fran chise Bill drafted by a committee of the Cabinet composed of Hon. Messrs. Doherty, Calder, Meighen and Guthrie would be brought before Parliament is generally considered to be a step in the right direction. The point that does seem to be causing some interest and some variety of opinion hinges upon the question of whether this new Franchise Act in all its clauses and ramifications is going to be fair to all parts of the country, and to all interests, of whatever political stripe.

The Vancouver Daily Sun sees a very definite need for some such measure at the present time, and believes that conditions could not well be more favorable for such an Act, as the Union characteristic of the present Government would free it.from any suggestion of being partisan in its character.

The present conditions are so chaotic that the holding of a general election, should some sudden crisis render one necessary, is a practical impossibility.

“The opportunity is a good one for placing the Dominion franchise upon a permanent basis. It is surely time that any particular party happening to be in power should be deprived of the ability to change the franchise and the machinery of election for its own advantage. However difficult politicians might find it to frame a permanent franchise, statesmen would find it comparatively easy to lay down guiding principles which would gain popular approval by their conformity to British ideas of justice.

“Woman suffrage should not need, for instance, to be argued. Acceptance of sex equality in citizenship should aid in solving the naturalization problem. Personal naturalization of all citizens of alien birth will probably be the logical result of the recognition of the claim of women to vote, not as the wives of their husbands, but as of right.

“The difficulties arising out of variations in the provincial franchises and from the desire to avoid offending the susceptibilities of alien communities are the difficulties of politicians. Statesmanship would look for sound principles and apply them without fear or favor.”

No Chance for Criticism?

'T'HE Toronto Mail and Empire is another paper that -*■ finds the present moment opportune for the introduction of changes in the Franchise law, believing that there could be no question of the disinterestedness of such a measure at the present time.

“A Dominion Franchise Bill, brought forward by a Union Government—that is, a Government in which the two great political parties are represented—is not likely to offer large openings for adverse criticism. Coming from such a Coalition, it is reasonably certain to be just to everybody concerned. If franchise bills, election laws and measures for the re-distribution of seats were always prepared by a strong committee of broad-minded Conservatives and Liberals, legislation of that kind would breed less contention in Parliament and would be received with confidence by the mass of the people, no matter how strongly attacked by politicians and newspapers of the irreconcilable party type.”

The same paper notices the difficulties that might prise from the adoption of Provincial lists owing to the difference in the electoral lists in the various provinces.

"To adopt the Provincial franchise in every case would be to introduce inequality of suffrage, and to put the Dominion Voters’ List on an unstable foundation, for Provincial franchises are subject to amendment by Provincial Legislatures. If the women of Ontario are entitled to vote in Dominion elections, why should the women of Quebec not have the same right? There may be no general election in the Dominion within the next two years, but whenever it is to be held now is the time to settle the franchise.”

How Much Will It Cost?

'T'HE Times, Hamilton, Ont., uses this last quotation -*• from the Mail and Empire as a text for a very different

“This shows,” it says, referring to the above quotation, “that the Dominion Government proposes to follow the example of the Hearst Government, and to have an election law by enumeration, and the enumeration done by its own appointees, instead of taking advantage of the municipal voters’ lists. The last enumeration cost the Ontario people a million and a half of dollars. How much will such an enumeration cost the Dominion? This scheme will mean the deliberate waste of millions of dollars and at the

same time produce an election act doctored by the parties in power.

“The Liberal party is in good shape to meet the Government and the issues of the day. It will make a determined effort to have an honest election law placed upon the statute books. It wants to see every competent man and woman who are British subjects entitled to a vote.”

The Evening Times of Moose Jaw, Sask., is of the same opinion, voiced in somewhat more forceful words. According to its viewpoint there are only two things that the Union Government can do for the country; restore the pre-war franchise to the people, and then to retire so that the people could make use of this franchise. The Times is frankly hopeless in this regard;

“We do not believe that Union Government will do this. It will pass a Franchise Act by the use of the Closure; it will, like a ‘fish,’ wriggle through this session; it will, during recess, reconstruct itself out of existence; and next session a brand new Government, possibly at the head of the Tories’ new ‘National Party,’ will meet Parliament and ‘carry on’ so long as it can command a majority of the members of the House. With a Franchise Act framed for their own purposes, and with the very latest machinery set up for its operation, and with the campaign fund supplied from war profits and high protection, the ‘shepherds’ who feed themselves instead of being mindful of the flock, will venture forth to win a general election and another lease of power some time in the year 1922. This will happen, according to schedule, unless there is a great upheaval at Ottawa this session, which is not likely.”

Both Costly and Unfair

'T'HE Toronto Globe, commenting on the practice of enumeration and the use of Provincial lists where possible as a basis, points out that the one means is costly and the other unfair, because of the difference in attitude toward Woman Suffrage in the different provinces.

“Is it not possible,” it asks, “to get back to sane and logical co-operation on the part of municipalities, Provinces and Dominion, under which, at all times, there will be available lists not over a year old of all householders and their wives? There are some eight million people in

Canada, and approximately three millions of these are householders and their wives. AH householders are recorded for municipal purposes every year by the assessors, who either see them or know that they are there. Under the old system the municipal assessors also entered ‘manhood franchise’ against the names of male tenants entitled to the Provincial vote. And the cost of this entry to the municipalities was practically nothing.” .

Commenting further on cost of the proposed method of enumeration it makes a telling comparison with the same system as applied by the Province of Ontario.

“In the last Provincial election in Ontario the cost of preparing the voters’ lists by enumeration and of polling the vote amounted approximately to one milüon and a half dollars. The expense of preparing Dominion lists under the plan now suggested would be enormous. By cooperation with the municipalities the huge outlay could be immensely curtailed. Municipal assessors—at the same cost to all municipalities, and consequently operating as a Dominion expenditure—easily and effectively could supply the list of all householders and their wives, the chief changes being the addition in the enumeration in dwellings of the names of wives. This list would never be more than a year old, and would be available at any time for general or by-election purposes.”

There seems in all the comment to be a very general belief that a new franchise basis is an absolute necessity if there is to be any machinery available for holding an election at any time. In that much the newspapers of every political stripe appear to be at one. But while some feel that this is the psychological moment to achieve such a change with the minimum of disagreement, owing to the country at the present time being somewhat in the nature of a coalition, there are others who see in the Union Government still the hint of partyism, and who are not inclined to accept the idea of its disinterestedness without a liberal sprinkling of salt. There is moreover some difference of opinion regarding the machinery proposed. What definite action may result from this feeling will probably develop within the next few weeks.