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You talk of elevating the race—the race of women and of men.
You say that it is for the good of the race that women should become political electora.
I grant your concession for argument's sake. But there is a law higher than your laws, that is the law under which we live and in which the appointed state of the great bulk of us is the marriage state; and that is not for the good of the race which tells us you are to elevate those who do not happen to be in the married state, and you are to disable them from the exercise of the elevating principle as soon as they assume that which is the ordinary condition of the race, both as regards men and women.
Will you be allowed, do you think, to say that the daughters may vote and the mothers shall not vote.
Our laws are every day, and justly so, more fully recognizing the right of women to own property—the right of a woman to have her own property independent of her husband. These conditions of amelioration are being generally accepted, and they are becoming exceedingly wide—I do not know exactly how wide in the different Provinces. They exist in Ontario, under the old codes, to a very large extent; they exist in Quebec, which for very many years has had more reasonable laws on this subject than formerly prevailed in others of the Provinces. We do not recognize the old doctrine that the husband may say to the wife that all she has is his.
This is no longer the doctrine. A woman's property may be her own. If a woman's property may be her own, why should we say that it is for the elevation of the woman that she should have a vote, and yet deny it to eight tenths of the women, the mothers and the wives, though they are property-owners, and give it to those who are spinsters or widows, and to those only. How can the question stop even the right to vote? On what principle will you grant the right to elect and deny the right to be elected? On what logical and political principle will you do that? I can apprehend inconveniences, of course, but, as to them, surely the people are to be the judges. If the people choose to elect a woman, and a woman is eligible to vote, why should she not be eligible to take her seat in Parliament? On what ground can we say that people shall not have the right to choose a woman as their representative if women have the franchise ?
I did not see but that all these things are to be opened by this bill, and that we may some day or other, under the government's proposition when fully developed, have a Speaker in a gown, it is true, but of a different kind and framed on different plans from that which you, Mr. Speaker, wear. These questions are all opened by this bill; it is certain they are not closed. They are opened by this bill; and even the proposition brought forward is brought forward without popular approbation? Have we been told by the honorable gentleman at any election that this was his policy? The honorable gentleman says that he has always favored it. But he kept it, like many others of his favorites, in his bosom. He did not tell anybody of his secret affection for the female franchise; he did not disclose his hidden love:
" Concealment, like a worm i' the bud, preyed on his damask cheek.”
He alone knew how devoted he was to the sex.
Why did he not let us know; why did he not let them know? Why did he woo them so much in secret that they did not know he was wooing them at all? How did it happen that this unrequited attachment of the First Minister did not become known!
I maintain that if the honorable gentleman nourished those views, and nourished them not merely as theoretical views and ideas which he would like to see put in force, but did not intend to take the responsibility of bringing forward, but as practical ideas, in which he was going to legislate, he was bound to have told the people at large, and to have said, “I am in favor of woman suffrage, and I am not merely in favor of it, but I propose, if you elect me and my supporters, to use my influence and position to accomplish that which I conceive to be a great reform."
We did not know anything about this until the honorable gentleman was in office. Has there been any agitation on this question; has there been any discussion of it among the people? Yes, I think I hear the honorable gentleman say, “A petition or two was presented.” But the greatest marks of surprise upon the subject were exhibited by the few agitators for the women's suffrage themselves, who met and passed a resolution of thanks to the honorable gentleman for having spontaneously and without request done so much more for them than they expected. Now, I maintain that that is not the way in which a great idea of this kind should germinate and ripen until it becomes an act of Parliament. I maintain that there ought to be suggestions by responsible statesmen, agitation and discussion, and fair opportunity for the people at large to decide what they will have upon such a subject, before you propose to legislate at all. ...
I, myself, have not infrequently stated my earnest desire that my fellow country-women should take a more active interest them they do in public affairs; that they should acquaint themselves more thoroughly than they do with public questions, and I rejoice when I see them attending our political discussions and informing their minds on public questions. But while that is so, and while I believe there is a very satisfactory and progressive improvement in that department of this question, I ask the candid consideration of the House, and of the men and women of the country, to the question whether the women have as yet, as a class (if we are to call them so), as a sex, as a whole, taken up politics in the
way we do.
I do not think the men pay sufficient attention to public affairs. I do not think that the electors give that attention which they ought to give to the current of public events. I do not think they do their full duty, or that they are fully alive to their responsibility as electors of this country. I think much has to be done in the way of informing them what that duty is, and enlisting from them a more active discharge of it. But, whatever the shortcomings of the men may be, it is clear, up to this time, that women have taken less steady and active interest in public affairs than those who are the electors. Now, do you wish to see them take that measure of interest that we do in politics? Unquestionably, yes, if you wish them to be voters. There is no more dangerous element in the voting community of the country than the mass which does not take a keen and active interest in public affairs, on one side or the other. I say the mass who do not inform themselves and keep their interest alive and there are too many of them among the men of the country to-day-the mass who do not keep alive their interest in public affairs is a mass which is dangerous, and which impairs and sometimes imperils the stability of our institutions. Therefore, unquestionably, you do wish them to take an interest. Then, do you wish them to become delegates to your conventions; to become committee-women; to become canvassers? I say yes, if they are going to be voters. I say you cannot double the voting population of the country without danger if you do not hope that the added population will take the same degree of interest and activity in the formation of public opinion, the organization of public opinion, as the rest; and therefore you must wish these things.
Therefore it is, sir, that the question before you is a momentous question. The question whether you are to make electors of the women is a question not to be dealt with in a speech of one and a half minutes, even by a gentleman of the authority of the First Minister. It should not be settled without full and ample thought and deliberation; without full consideration of the people at large; without full consideration by the women of the country themselves; without an appreciation of what their wishes are,—which are important to the consideration of this question, because I think it would be a mistake to force the franchise on a reluctant portion of the population, — if they be reluctant to accept the franchise, as to which, again, one has no opportunity of forming an opinion except from the absence of application for the purpose.
I say we have got to consider, then, the whole bearings of this proposition in the extent to which, in my opinion it will inevitably lead. I do not believe the wives and mothers of Canada will be content to see the daughters and widows voting, and will support the proposition that they should vote,--the view that it elevates the sex that they should vote, and yet should find themselves relegated to the lower sphere of those who are debarred from voting because they are wives. I do not believe in that view at all. I do not think that we should in one breath say it is good for women; it is good for spinsters; it is good for widows; it is good for the race; it is for the elevation of women that they shall vote, but it is bad for the married woman. I do not think so at all;