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Friday, May 6, 2011

Canada's First Woman MP is my Idol

This post originally appeared here:


We now pause our regularly scheduled election coverage for a brief homage to this woman:

So I am a big fan of all the #deadPMs on Twitter. Recently they’ve been joined by some dead premiers, Fathers of Confederation, etc. and it struck me that the whole thing was becoming quite a sausagefest. Where, I asked myself, is Agnes Macphail, the most bad-ass dead woman MP in Canadian history? (It turns out there is an Agnes Macphail twitter but it’s been inactive for over a year.) So I Wikipedia’ed her, found the links to the Agnes Macphail Digital Collection, and discovered this 1928 speech (pages 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Basically Agnes Macphail is many shades of awesome. I think this quote aptly applies to most Conservative press conferences these days: “However, after reading the speech very carefully I think myself it is an exceedingly clever speech—how adroitly it says nothing at all!”

She also catches the economic signals foreshadowing the Great Depression:

I had the privilege, and I consider it a very great privilege, of visiting last summer very many rural homes in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and I certainly did not find in those homes the prosperity that I read about in the speech from the throne. I found people struggling to meet debt, and worrying over taxes and meeting the payment of their mortgages. I thought the conditions were particularly bad in the province of Manitoba. I believe it was said by some member this afternoon that they no longer grew grain in Manitoba. Well, I think that was true this year.
I do not consider that we can boast of our prosperity until that prosperity has reached the homes of the mass of the people. I think it is quite likely that the prosperity that has undoubtedly arrived in certain classes and sections of Canada will continue and will likely increase, until possibly it reaches boom dimensions, and will be followed by a crash or a long depression comparable to the one out of which we are just emerging [the depressed conditions following the First World War and into the 1920s].
One of the things to which I refer is the present Bank act. I notice in the Weekly News of February 3rd, printed in Winnipeg, that the Bank of Nova Scotia made a dividend this year of 16 ½ per cent, which seems a snug little dividend. The Canadian Bank of Commerce made a dividend of 12 per cent, with a bonus of one dollar. It was the same with other banks; evidently they are all making very great profits. Now there is a general feeling in farming districts that our banking system is not all it should be, and that some line of setting up a bank of issue and rediscount should at once be instituted.

Macphail was a pacifist, as you can see in her comments on the munitions industry. She first argues that international trade of arms and munitions should be banned (that would, actually, have saved us from so many problems…) and she’s against the private manufacture of arms:

I see no reason why the manufacture of munitions which are designed to bring about the death of human beings should be in the hands of private individuals who can and who have used this power for private gain. Let us now make a law stating that, if the worst came to the worst at any time in the future and we must face war, all property will be administered by the state; that is, there would be a complete conscription of wealth. I feel this would have a moderating influence upon certain elements in Canada.

Canadian industry had made HUGE money off the First World War (as had America industry) and Macphail may have been correct in fearing that munitions makers were ready to warmonger for their own personal gain. Or maybe she was just pissed at Sam Hughes for giving the munitions contracts to his buddies.

Macphail would have been pro-prison farms if she were alive today. (I also feel like the first prison farms were established around this time with her support, but have found no evidence to prove this.) Her arguments here are very similar to the ones used by protesters of the prison farm closures, except more patronizing:

In our whole system of taking care of prisoners we should look to the good that we can do to the prisoner while he is detained by the state, making him feel that the state is fair to him. That is why I want him to be paid a decent wage for his work, from which wage, of course, his keep must be deducted. We must never forget, too, that the family of the prisoner possibly suffers more than the prisoner himself, and when the prisoner comes out, there should be, shall we say, a fatherly hand of the government to guide that man into civil life, to re-establish him. So many of them when they first get out try for a few days or weeks to go in what we call a straight way, and not being able to do that they very soon revert to crime.

Here’s what she has to say on party politics and majority governments. I have to say I agree with her, more or less, on both fronts:

I am not interested in party politics; I am not interested in parties, although I must say in all fairness that I am very much interested in the people who compose the parties. I am at all times ready, and indeed anxious, to support legislation which to my mind is beneficial to the constituency I have th honour to represent—I believe that is the correct form—and to the country as a whole.
I do not believe that when you have a stable government—one with a very comfortable majority, you get a good government. I may be wrong; I sometimes am, but I think not in this case, and so, having in power a stable government, one with a very comfortable majority, a majority that unfortunately has been added to by men who should have known better [here she is referring to MPs not voters], I do not see how we can expect a legislative program that will be pleasing to our constituencies. But at least we are here to get for the common people of Canada the best that we can, and I am here sitting ready to be pleasantly surprised by the government.

What a superstar.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

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