Agnes Macphail Digital Collection
Dear Friends February 24, 1927

Macphail, Agnes, Author
Media Type:
Item Type:
One of Agnes Macphail's letters to her constituents in which she details the recent topics discussed in the House of Parliament, including the Budget and cadet training, and shares her opinions upon those subjects, as well as describing her social experiences as an MP in Ottawa.
This letter was discovered under the floorboards during the renovation of a house in Durham, Ontario that had previously been the home of Samuel Edge. According to the donor who found the item, "Samuel Edge was an adamant supporter [of Agnes Macphail]. He was a very wealthy farmer in his day, [owning] probably 1500 acres. He built the house I found it in around 1886...Some members of the family thought that he was the real founder of Durham. He certainly was a major citizen. The Edge side road is named after him as well as the Edge Hill school."
Ottawa, Feb. 24, 1927
Dear Friends: —
The work of the Session is moving along rapidly, [sic] It begins to look as though we would be out of here at Easter or shortly after. The general tone of the House is much more peaceful than last Session. The Liberals have pretty much stepped back to their "Do as little as possible" policy of 1921-5. It is a very excellent argument in favour of independent groups in the House, large enough to effect Government policy.
The Supplementary Estimates of last year went through in a day. The main estimates for 1927 have been brought down and while substantial reductions have been made in some things, the estimate covering national defence is increased by $3,300,000. [sic] mostly for Air Force, but some increases for cadets. When we remember that none of the war debt is yet paid, and according to the world's best authority, war is a warn out method of settling International disputes, surely our government in this peace-able country should pause before increasing taxation for military purposes. Forty cents out of every dollar of taxes in Canada goes to pay for war, past, present, and future; one cent out of every dollar for social service to relieve suffering and increase health, etc. If the thing were turned around- money spent for human betterment, and the truth told about war, defence by armaments would be unnecessary. The Right Hon. Arthur Ponsonby [Note: Baron Ponsonby (1871-1946)] has written a notable book called “Now is the Time” [Note: Now is the Time; an appeal for peace. (1925). By Arthur Ponsonby, a.k.a. Baron Ponsonby]. I quoted from it in my speech the other day as follows:—

As to the settlement of grave international disputes, war is obviously the very worst method. Agreement, not force, is the [...] possible method of settling any dispute.

And again-

That the causes declared by the government for the declaration of any war are, and must be based on lies, and; Second, that war however fiercely waged and however successfully terminated, can accomplish nothing at all.
I maintain that by far the most tragic thing about war, is not its immorality, nor its cruelty, but its manifest and colossal futility and imbecility. I maintain that war achieves no single object of advantage in the high sense to anyone, nor does it attain any of the supposed aims for which it is waged.
The sight of the Allied Powers first making a supreme physical effort to destroy and annihilate their foe, and then making a far more prolonged, yet still unsuccessful effort to that selfsame foe on his feet, in their own interest, is in itself a striking epitome [...] the inanity [sic] of war.

[Page 2 Missing]
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[Note: continued from last page, possibly a recollected speech given by Agnes Macphail]
I think we must all admit, I think even the most partisan, even the most blind, must admit that a gradual but continuing change is coming over our form of government. Responsible government once meant being responsible to the crown. However, gradually a change has come about until responsible government today does not mean responsibility to the crown; it means responsibility to the people, and so the House of Commons, being the chamber in which the representatives of the people sit, is the most important part of the government of Canada or of Great Britain. If it is not, at least it ought to be, and to my mind it will not be so very long before the cabinet is what I once heard the Minister of Finance [Note: James Alexander Robb, Minister of Finance and Receiver General from 1926-1929] say in a previous parliament that it was a committee of the House of Commons.
I think every one who has sat in this House knows that the very many times government supporters are forced - I think that word is not too strong - into supporting measures for which they have no use at all, simply to avoid having their leader, the Prime Minister [Note: William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950)] of the country, go and ask for a dissolution of parliament, and thereby bring upon our heads that which members of parliament dislike most, a general election. I recall, and when Mr. Andrew McMaster [Note: Andrew Ross McMaster], then member for Brome [Note: Brome, Quebec], introduced a resolution that cabinet ministers should not hold directorships in great companies. I yet recall the sullen faces of the Liberal members when they were forced - I sue (sic)use that word advisedly - to vote against that resolution which they themselves, very few months before had, almost all, if not all, supported.

Mr. Bourassa [Note: Joseph Henri Napoléon Bourassa? Independent MP for Labelle, Quebec]: Their masters had educated them.

Miss Macphail: Yes. I remember some of them were so angry that we did not see them in the chamber for some days afterwards. That sort of thing is bad for the character - yest [sic], it is bad for their disposition, as my seatmate says, but it is bad for the character and if they stay in the House of Commons and are continually put in a position where they must vote against their honest convictions, I am afraid they will cease, well one hates to say it - to have honest convictions. The system of government that brings about a condition like that is a very bad system.

It caused the first division of the year and resulted in the Conservatives and Liberals voting together [...] the United Farmers, Labour and seven Independent Progressives and three or four Liberal Progressives supporting the motion; also one Liberal, a very fine intelligent chap, Hepburn [Note: Mitchell Hepburn (1896-1953), Liberal MP], thirty years of age.
[Page 4]
You will have noticed that this is the 60th Anniversary of Confederation. Canada is going to celebrate her diamond jubilee. The Bill was brought down in the House to provide a National Committee with one quarter of a million dollars to start plans for the celebration. The[re] were 64 names on the Committee. Mr. Woodsworth [Note: James Shaver Woodsworth (1884-1942), Labour MP for Winnipeg North Center] began speak- ing and said there were no representatives of the working people except the member for S.E.South East Grey. That was the first I knew I was on it. I had not been consulted Mr. Woodsworth said that Labour could not get a place on the Committee, because that would be giving class representation, so I rose to say that if there were none on I was not going on. If the labouring class and the farmers, the largest group of citizens in Canada, were not given a place on the Committee, I would not accept one, so after quite a harangue, the Prime Minister [Note: William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950)] agreed to accept names to represent farmers, labourers and the new Canadians - naturalized Canadians. I would be much more comfortable off the Committee. They will likely use it as an occasion to parade militarism. And then too, we could not persuade the House to say that no more money would be spent. I will do my best to hold expenses down and to make the celebration one which appreciates the work of the pioneers who made Canada out of unbroken forests, to acquaint Canadians with the glowing history that is ours, with the really marvellous [sic] accomplishment of in sixty years creating a country. After Mr. King had acceded to our request and added the names we wanted, I spoke a few words of appreciation.
We passed the bill relating to old Grand Trunk Pacific stock, held by people in the old country for the most part. This fine was taken over by the Canadian National. The bonds were at 4% interest. On account of the bankruptcy no interest has been paid, but the improving financial position of our national railway would soon bring these bonds into a paying position. An agreement was reached with the shareholders to give up the old bonds and take new ones bearing interest at 20% which we guaranteed to be always paid. The bonds mature in forty years. I tried to find out whether it was sound proposition or not, and the general opinion in all parts of the House was one of approval.
And now we come to the Budget. It is more than ever proven that the Budget last year was the result of the farm and labour groups being in a position to demand what they wanted,- or at least a part of it. I think the Robb [Note: James Alexander Robb, Minister of Finance and Receiver General from 1926-1929] Budget had much to do with sending the Liberals bakc [sic] to power. Now having got back they make no further reductions. I spoke on this a couple of days ago, and will , a little later on, quote from my speech. The main points in the Budget are a 20% cut in sales tax; 25% cut in the excise tax on matches; the removal of the excise stamps on overdrafts and advances; no stamp on cheques up to $10.00, and 2¢ on all cheques over that amount. Absolutely no reduction on the tariff, and a 10% cut on income tax. It sounds a good deal, but it really is not anything, except a cut in the income tax, which I believe to be a bad thing. Let me quote frommy [sic] speech in preci of this:

Coming again to the budget, I observe that there is a twenty-five per cent reduction [...] the excise tax on matches. If you say it that way it sounds a good deal, but I have in my hand a little bos [sic] of Eddy's matches, sold at two for five cents, I believe, and the tax on that was one cent. If the full benefit of the
[Page 5]
tax is passed on to the consumer, they will have to charge four and three-quarter cents for these two boxes. I have never seen a retail merchant do business in that way, and I do not expect that he will. I do not expec [...] that the cut in the excise tax on matches wi [...] make any difference to the consumer at all. I am not sure whether the manufactuere [sic] or the retailer will get the money. The federal treasury will lose it - of that we may be sure [...] the consumer will lose it; and therefore, I am not enthusiastic in reference to the twenty- five per cent cut in the excise tax. I was reading in the Calgary Albertan to-day that the tax brought in last year produced a revenue of $2,5403,924. and it will bring in one-quarter less next year.
The reduction in sales tax will be welcomed but again there is little likelihood of the consumer getting the full benefit. I think all of us are glad of the removal of the excise tax on overdrafts. I approved of that reduction and do not mind saying so. To me it seems stupid to tax people who are in debt and unable to pay, and since I have been there I understand it very well.
Then we come to the income tax. There I must differ with the Minister of Finance [Note: James Alexander Robb]. I believe that the income tax should be based on the ability to pay. That is a sound principle and I think it should be maintained. I never felt a bit badly about paying an income tax. I was thoroughly glad that I had an income on which to pay the tax, and there are so many people in Canada who have not an income on which they can pay a tax that I believe those who have incomes should pay income tax. I think I am right in saying that a man having a family of four children is entitled to an exemption up to $5000. He would have to be receiving $6,000 before he would have to pay a tax, and if a man is receiving $6,000 I see no excuse for not paying the tax. If the government could have found a way to plug leaks and get the higher up people, those with large incomes, to pay the income tax, it would be a much wiser step than the one they have taken, because inasmuch as we do not raise the revenue from direct taxation we will have to raise it from indirect taxation. In looking for the government when I come to this question of the tariff I find that I cannot see any of them; there are many big men there, but they are all hidden behind the tariff board. I recall that when the Canadian Council of Agriculture was asking for a tariff board the object of it was to have a method of preventing people from obtaining a higher tariff, or establishing tariff for the first time, until they had proved to the tariff board that there was an absolute necessity for the imposition of dut[...] or the raising of a tariff. That, I think everybody in the House will agree, was the object of the tariff board, but it seems to me - I believe that most of the members on the government side will agree - that the tariff board is used as an excuse for the stagnation of the government in regard to this matter.
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Has the government learned nothing from the experience of last year? In the face of a dire necessity for support they brought down a budget that was true to the alleged principles of the Liberal party, a budget tha[...] made at least some very substantial cuts [...] tariff. It was called the Robb budget, but I think the man whose name bears it was the least enthusiastic in regards to it. Great disaster was predicted after this budget came down. The manufacturers were to leave the country, the workshops were to be closed and the people out of work. Everything disasterous [sic] was to follow. This year has proven what the results are, and the manuracturers [sic] have not suffered at all. Their sales have increased. The demand for their products has increased. The motor companies manufacture more cars and sell more cars. The best evidence of the effect of last year's budget is the fact that the price the consumer pays has been substantially lowered yet the government has not the courage this year to take one more step along the path it set for itself last year. The people of Canada approved almost to an astounding degree the Robb budget of 1926. As a matter of fact the Robb budget of 1926 was so powerful [sic] in the country that even the customs scandal did not prevent the people from taking what they considered was the best chance of getting another budget of the same kind. Of course, the constitutional question had something to do with the result, but I do think that more than any other factor the Robb budget was responsible for sending the Liberal party back to power on September 14. You know, you got the low tariff west, you gained in the low tariff sections of Ontario - and now your answer to the low tariff people is that having got bakc [sic] you are not going to do a thing about it. Well, I am not worrying, it is your funeral. But it is poor tactics. The people ask for bread from the government and it gives them a stone.

My letter is getting long, but I want to say just a word about the lighter side of Parliamentary life.
I had the pleasure of going to Mr. King's reception held in hour [sic] of Their Excellencies, The [sic] Governor-General and Vicountess Willingdon. I am not given to liking people because they hold high positions, but I have taken a tremendous fancy to Lady Willingdon. They are both very nice human people, but she is really a wonderful woman. They moved around among the people and chatted with as little formality as we would talk together in S.E. Grey [Note: Grey County, Ontario, Agnes Macphail's riding], - and why shouldn't they?
I attended the drawing-room because Lady Willingdon asked me if I would. She was anxious it would be a great success. The death of her sister-in-law prevented her attending, but I promised I would go and I did. It is the stupidest business I ever had anything to do with. The gowns are very wonderful, a great deal of money spen [...] for them, and the wearers look very beautiful indeed.
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The people form in a long line, they are announc[...] great formality. The men bow and the women curtsy [...] when they come to the Governor-Generall [sic] who stands for two or three hours to receive them. That is all. No music, no lunch, nothing to do - not even sit down.
Last night the Wives of the Cabinet Ministers had a reception for all members of Parliament, their wives, senators and their wives, and the men in the press gallery and their wives, [sic]. It was very enjoyable. There was good music, plenty of comfortable places to sit and good food, and everyone seemed friendly, though not with the wholesomeness of the people of S.E. Grey.
Now I am sure you are tired reading so by-bye,
[signed] Agnes C. Macphai [...] Agnes C. Macphail
Date of Original:
Date Of Event:
February 24, 1927
Local identifier:
Grey Roots Museum & Archives
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 45.4247206853319 Longitude: -75.6999206542969
Grey Roots Museum & Archives
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Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
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Copyright Holder:
Macphail, Agnes Campbell (1890-1954)
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Original item is held at Grey Roots Museum & Archives
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Dear Friends February 24, 1927

One of Agnes Macphail's letters to her constituents in which she details the recent topics discussed in the House of Parliament, including the Budget and cadet training, and shares her opinions upon those subjects, as well as describing her social experiences as an MP in Ottawa.