That, in the opinion of this House, the government should commemorate Stanley Knowles by declaring June 18 (birthday of Mr. Knowles) of each year to be Stanley Knowles Day throughout Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here this evening to speak to the motion respecting a day to recognize the late Stanley Knowles. Stanley Knowles, the parliamentarian and the man, goes beyond partisan views. His work here in the House over the years received great acclaim from all parties.
I wanted us as Canadians and as parliamentarians to recognize Stanley Knowles. As well I am looking to our recognizing other great Canadians by designating days for them. We fail to do that as Canadians. We recognize Victoria Day. Certainly we have historical connections to England and to the Royal Family. The U.S. recognizes numerous days. It takes pride in its history and in its great leaders that brought that country over the years to a democratic system.
I think as Canadians we fail to do that. We fail to take pride in our country. As a result we see some of the problems we are in today. We do not take the time to be proud of the people who have worked for our democratic country and have led it through the years. I will speak a lot about Stanley Knowles because it was my intent that it would be the opportune time as we go into the new millennium to recognize him as the man that he was.
Without question Stanley Knowles is a legendary Canadian. He was a pioneering New Democrat with an intergenerational voice who spoke for all and still speaks to us now. My colleague, our health critic, mentioned in his speech today what Stanley Knowles gave us in 1958. Does that still speak to us today about our going through the same things in the House of Commons. He said:
We welcome the beginning of a hospital insurance plan. But if it is a good idea to cover hospital bills by an insurance plan, why not do the same for all medical bills? The Liberals promised health insurance in 1919 but had no intention of starting it until 1959. Apparently, it was Mr. Mackenzie King's reading of the Bible, about the children of Israel having to wander the wilderness for 40 years, that prompted him to require the people of Canada to wander in the wilderness of high medical costs for 40 years before making even a start in this field.
He went on to say:
And now we have the spectacle of the present Liberal leader promising, all over again, what the Liberal Party first pledged itself to 40 years ago.
Here we are, another 42 years later. Does it not sound familiar? He further stated:
But Pearson's promise today is even more vague and misleading than most Liberal promises have proved to be.
I think Stanley Knowles definitely speaks to us even today. As well I will take this opportunity to comment that Stanley Knowles also said:
Debate is not a sin, a mistake, an error or something to be put up with in parliament. Debate is the essence of parliament.
What have we seen as parliamentarians in the House of Commons in the last while with this government? Numerous time allocations and probably the most horrendous thing today is that regulations will be passed once again to stifle the voice of parliamentary debate. I am sure Stanley Knowles would be turning over in his grave.
My colleague from Winnipeg—Transcona said in his eulogy to Stanley Knowles:
He was the last of a line of prairie ministers whose view of politics was shaped by their belief in the social gospel and biblical prophecies...Stanley was an exemplary politician. His knowledge of parliamentary rules and proceedings superseded that of many of his colleagues on either side of the House.
To understand Stanley Knowles we must understand the indissoluble link between Stanley Knowles the politician and Stanley Knowles the man. This was Stanley Knowles' integrity, his ability to bring together his belief system and his unwavering faith in our parliamentary system.
Growing up, Stanley had faced challenges that led him to follow the path that he did. As stated in the Montreal Gazette a few days after he passed on:
His social-democratic views were formed the hard way: by the death of his mother, Margaret, to tuberculosis and poor health care when he was 11. His father, Stanley Ernest, lost his job during the Depression without pension or benefit.
Stanley Knowles was on a lifelong mission. He himself stated “This became more or less the goal of my life, to correct what happened to my own family”.
Is that not often what it takes to get us going, to really fight for the things we believe in, that we do not want to see other people suffer some of the problems, illnesses and tragedies that we had to go through. We want to make a better life for the people around us and for our families.
Stanley's political career with the CCF began in 1934. He held various positions throughout those years including that of national vice-president from 1954 to 1961. His son David said that his father initially decided that he would work to save people's souls through the church but he soon realized that preaching from the pulpit was not going to put food on the table or get people hospital care. He realized he was in the wrong place and he should be in parliament.
According to historian Susan Mann he had to change laws rather than souls. Stanley Knowles went out to preach from a different house, the House of Commons. He ran for parliament in 1935 and again in 1940. He was elected as the CCF member for Winnipeg North Centre on November 30, 1942.
I now have two colleagues, the member for Winnipeg Centre and for Winnipeg North Centre, who represent the riding that Stanley once represented.
Stanley succeeded the late J. S. Woodsworth. He was elected in 1945, 1949, 1953, 1957, 1963, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979 and 1980. How would any of us feel to have the support of our constituents the way they stood behind this man because of the man he was? His integrity was never at question. That we should be elected that many times, we would definitely deserve to have our name recognized within Canada, a day recognized on our behalf, if we were able to make that kind of commitment to our constituents.
Stanley's career as a parliamentarian was brilliant. Many honours were bestowed upon him in recognition of his knowledge of parliamentary procedure and his integrity as a social democrat.
In 1957 John Diefenbaker offered Stanley the Speakership. According to the Montreal Gazette , the new Tory prime minister, the highly partisan John Diefenbaker was so impressed by Mr. Knowles that he offered him the job as Speaker of the Commons. Mr. Knowles declined. Why did he decline? He declined because it would constrain his ability to fight for pension reform on behalf of his constituents. That was a parliamentarian.
For Stanley Knowles the politician, government and its laws were to become his instruments of transformation and education to make Canadian society a better place for all. He fought persistently for the elderly and more specifically for the national pension plan. He also fought for the poor, for children, for women and for veterans.
During his 42 years in the House, Stanley not only gained respect for the role of parliament and its procedure but a sound understanding of it. It is no wonder that his career as a parliamentarian did not end when he ended his term as an active member of parliament in 1984.
NDP leader Ed Broadbent suggested that the House honour Stanley. Prime Minister Trudeau at that time followed through on the suggestion with a lifelong membership in the House and a seat at the clerk's table.
On March 13, 1984, the House voted unanimously and Stanley was able to keep living in the house that was his home, the House of Commons. In October of the same year Stanley Knowles was recognized as an officer of the Order of Canada.
Regardless of his health needs and his frailty, Stanley still attended question period daily. I am sure all of us would be thrilled to say that we had been in question period daily for our whole time here in Ottawa. He enjoyed the ritual, the rules and the history of parliament's hallowed halls which he has now joined.