February 25, 1925

LIB

George Perry Graham (Minister of Railways and Canals)

Liberal

Mr. GRAHAM:

Would there not be a difficulty, in that the estimates would then run a very great risk of being made public before they had got to parliament at adl? One of the difficulties which the government and ministers have is in trying to keep the estimates secret before they are printed. The reason for that desire is quite obvious. Has the hon. member given any thought to the idea that a committee dealing with the deputies might lend itself to the estimates becoming public, so that they would then be liable to change before coming to the House? Not only might there be a reduction-and I am not objecting to that, for it is the object of my hon. friend's resolution-but there would be everlasting pressure on the committee to have the estimates increased in many ways.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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PRO

George Gibson Coote

Progressive

Mr. COOTE:

I must admit that I have not given a great deal of thought to that aspect of the subject, and 'possibly there is a valid objection there. However, I want to impress upon parliament at this moment the necessity for carefully examining our expenditures. We have been told repeatedly that two-thirds of the expenditures of this country are uncontrollable, and if that is the case it shows all the more necessity for exercising every possible care in the keeping dlown of all controllable expenditures. I should like to read-

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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LIB

Hewitt Bostock (Speaker of the Senate)

Liberal

Mr. SPEAKER:

Order. I am unable to hear what the hon. gentleman is saying, and I would ask all hon. members on both sides of the House in justice to him as well as to others to be silent.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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PRO

George Gibson Coote

Progressive

Mr. COOTE:

I shall now read from a short editorial taken from the Ottawa Citizen:

The House of Commons is supposed, in theory, to control public expenditure. In actual (practice, it is a very blind control. False economy is practised generally without saving the country anything, while extravagant expenditures slip past session after session. As Mr. Fred L. Davis, a former member of parliament, says, " Every administration has extolled economy and practised extravagance."

The House of Commons is incapable of exercising effective control of national expenditure, because parliament is rarely given the necessary information in time to be of any aid to constructive criticism. The Auditor General's report, as it is tabled in the House, is of very little value to parliament, excepting for post-mortem purposes. The public accounts committee is rarely ever heard of, excepting when some particularly outrageous raid has been made on the public treasury. It is almost impossible for any

Scrutiny of Estimates

private member to delve through the complicated mass of accounts so that they can be effectively checked up during the session.

The time to regulate public expenditure is before the money is voted and not after it is spent. Parliament should have sufficient information whe*n the estimates are before the House to make it possible for members to give more intelligent consideration to routine costs as well as to proposed new expenditures.

The procedure outlined in this resolution, Mr. Speaker, has already been adopted in regard to the estimates of the Canadian National Railways and the Canadian Government Merchant Marine, and I believe it has worked very well. I do not see why it would not work equally well with respect to the estimates of at least some of our other departments. Take, for instance, the agricultural estimates,-I select this particular department because recently in this House we have had an example of how difficult it is to get information which is of value to the committee; nearly a whole afternoon and evening were taken up discussing the one item of dairying, under which it was proposed to expend $230,000. I do not so much begrudge the time consumed in discussing this particular item, but I do believe that the time devoted to it was not nearly so well spent as it might have been. Several members will ask the minister questions at the same time, the minister must consult his deputy who sits in front of him, the deputy looks through his books to find the answers, and by that time possibly three or four other members have put further questions. Naturally the minister answers those questions which he prefers to answer, and sometimes he does not get a chance to answer all the questions which he is quite willing to deal with. After going through this procedure for an hour or two, members get tired and leave the chamber because they are not able to obtain intelligent answers to their questions. Very often the information desired is not available. But if these estimates were handed over to a small select committee, the dairy commissioner could be called and the members of the committee could obtain from him the information they desired and they would be in a position to decide whether the expenditure was necessary or advisable; or possibly they would show him how the money could be better spent, or better results obtained from its expenditure. This procedure might be applied to the estimates of many other departments. I have purposely taken the Department of Agriculture because a year ago we had a very good example of how little information we sometimes get after spending hours and hours in committee of the Whole on one item. On the occasion I have in mind we were

discussing the Health of Animals Branch and we spent practically two sittings in dealing with one item of $10,000, and after 11.30 at night we discussed the practical work in connection with that vote-the Health of Animals branch. I believe the total vote at that time for the branch was $2,000,000, but nearly all our time was devoted to the discussion of the one item of $10,000, the remainder of the vote going through at midnight at the request of the minister, who said in effect "We have sat so long on this item and got nothing done; please let it go through". I think that instance is typical of what happened last session in the discussion of the estimates of several other departments. I believe that economies might be effected if the method I now propose were adopted.

Some objection might be taken to my resolution because of the fact that it would require the formation of more committees. But we have now a number of select standing committees of the House, and I think it would be practical to refer to those committees the estimates of most of our departments. The standing committee on Agriculture and Colonization might very properly deal with the estimates of the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Immigration and Colonization, the Department of Indian Affairs, the Department of the Interior and the Soldier Settlement board. The select standing committee on Railways and Canals might be given the estimates of the Department of Public Works to report on. The select standing committee on Mines, Forests and Water Powers might be the proper body to consider the estimates of the Department of Marine and Fisheries and the Mines department. The select standing committee on Banking and Commerce might very well deal with the estimates of the Department of Trade and Commerce, the Department of Customs and Excise, and perhaps the Post Office Department. The select standing committee on Public Accounts has done practically nothing for the last two sessions, and I think it might very well be asked to take up the estimates of Soldiers' Civil Reestablishment, Pensions, National Defence and certain miscellaneous items. It seems to me that such a committee might well be instructed to inquire into the matter of the redemption of our public debt which, I believe, is one of the most important and difficult questions that this parliament has to deal with. We are raising money each year to pay interest on our national debt, and not only are we not making any provision for retirement of the debt, but we are actually adding to it almost every year.

Scrutiny of Estimates

I think, Mr. Speaker, it would be a much more effective way of dealing with our estimates if, as this resolution suggests, they were submitted to the select standing committees of the House to be inquired into and reported upon. That would not preclude discussion of any items in committee of the Whole, but as most of the details in relation to expenditure under these estimates would be thoroughly discussed in the select standing committees, it would be only on comparatively rare occasions that there would be any very lengthy discussion in committee of the Whole on matters of detail. Of course, matters of policy would likely have to be discussed sometimes at considerable length. I hope this resolution will receive favourable consideration at the hands of the government, for I feel certain it would result in a saving of time and of money, if the government adopted the common sense view of accepting recommendations by any of the select standing committees for cutting down of certain estimates. I believe it would be much easier to cut down estimates in a select committee than in committee of the whole House.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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LIB

James Alexander Robb (Minister of Immigration and Colonization)

Liberal

Hon. J. A. ROBB (Acting Minister of Finance):

Mr. Speaker, the observations of my hon. friend from Maoleod (Mr. Coote) must convince hon. members that he takes his duties seriously and has made a careful study of the methods of handling business in this House. With some parts of his speech I quite agree. More than sixteen years' experience in this House has taught me that all parliaments are about the same; we waste hours and days wrangling over academic questions, sometimes over votes for one to five or ten thousand dollars, and in the last days of the session we allow millions to go through without very much consideration. But I would not like the idea to go out that under the Canadian parliamentary system-the British system-there is not a careful scrutiny of the estimates to be submitted to parliament. I have had fairly friendly relations with ministers under different governments, Conservative as well as Liberal, and I imagine the procedure is about the same all the way through: a minister has sometimes more trouble in getting his estimates through the council1 chamber than he has in getting them passed in the House. Under our system the estimates are first very carefully prepared in the departments, and I think every hon. gentleman will admit that when they are brought down there is disappointment to someone; items are left out that hon. members from some parts of Canada have strongly

urged upon the department. Then they are scrutinized by the minister of the department. I do not know what the method of the previous government was, but I know that the Treasury board, a committee of the cabinet, spent about a month over these estimates-brought in the deputies, sometimes brought in the assistants to the deputies in various departments; and the Treasury board had to be convinced that this money was necessary before the items were passed. Then after they passed the Treasury board they came to the council chamber, really a committee of this parliament, where they were submitted1 to a very close examination. So that our estimates are fairly well adjusted before they are printed and submitted to parliament.

Following that idea, under our system we have the committee on Public Accounts, which makes a very close scrutiny of expenditure. We have, therefore, ample safeguards -safeguards in the preparation of the estimates, safeguards in the watching of the expenditure made under those estimates. But I repeat that we do waste time in academic debates and in long discussions of small items, while sometimes large items are allowed to go through without much consideration. If the hon. member for Macleod (Mr. Coote) would be prepared to amend his resolution along the following lines, it would meet with the approval of the government, and, I hope with the approval of the House:

That the resolution be amended by inserting in the second line thereof, after the word " House," the words " the desirability of having," and by deleting from the second line thereof the words, " should be," and by adding to the resolution the words: *' should be

referred to the special committee to be appointed to consider jointly with His Honour the Speaker the advisability of revising the rules of the House."

As amended the resolution would read:

That, in the opinion of this House, the desirability of having the estimates referred to select committees before being submitted to the committee of the Whole should be referred to the special committee to be appointed to consider jointly with His Honour the Speaker the advisability of revising the rules of the House.

If my hon. friend will agree to that amendment the government will offer no opposition.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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LIB

Hewitt Bostock (Speaker of the Senate)

Liberal

Mr. SPEAKER:

I understand that the

amendment is moved by the hon. minister?

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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LIB

James Alexander Robb (Minister of Immigration and Colonization)

Liberal

Mr. ROBB:

I thought perhaps my hon.

friend (Mr. Coote) would like to amend it along these lines.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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PRO

George Gibson Coote

Progressive

Mr. COOTE:

I understand that I would

not be allowed to amend my own resolution but. I would have no objection to such an amendment.

Scrutiny of Estimates

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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LIB

James Alexander Robb (Minister of Immigration and Colonization)

Liberal

Mr. ROBB:

I would move it, then.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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CON

Edmund James Bristol

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BRISTOL:

Does that refer to one

sub-committee?

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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LIB

James Alexander Robb (Minister of Immigration and Colonization)

Liberal

Mr. ROBB:

Yes.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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CON

Edmund James Bristol

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BRISTOL:

In that case some members might be well informed on one branch and others on another, and you would have that one committee handling the whole business of the country in that fashion.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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LIB

James Alexander Robb (Minister of Immigration and Colonization)

Liberal

Mr. ROBB:

A resolution was adopted by

the House on Monday that a committee of the House should consider certain proposed amendments to the rules, and this matter is referred to that committee.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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CON

Edmund James Bristol

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BRISTOL:

I understand that. A

semi-legal or semi-business committee might be very useful for considering the rules of the House, but would it be useful for the rest of what you are proposing?

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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LIB

James Alexander Robb (Minister of Immigration and Colonization)

Liberal

Mr. ROBB:

The committee would submit its report.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
Permalink
CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Right Hon. ARTHUR MEIGHEN (Leader of the Opposition):

I do not propose to discuss the resolution, but to express my admiration of the accommodating disposition of the hon. member (Mr. Coote) who moved the original motion and who has now expressed a willingness to accept an amendment which has exactly the same effect as though a line were struck through his whole motion. If motions are to be put on the order paper and when the House is prepared to discuss them amendments are made that simply mean the applying of a chemical to the printed page and wiping out the ink-well, it is trifling with parliament. If this motion as amended passes it leaves everything exactly where at was, exactly as if the motion had never been put on the order paper, because the whole of the rules are already submitted to this committee. The committee now is charged with the responsibility of offering to the House amendments which it recommends, amendments by way of excision, alteration or addition. I had thought the hon. member (Mr. Coote) was desirous of obtaining an expression of opinion on the part of parliament on a very important alteration of the whole system of submitting estimates. Parliament cannot express an opinion if the resolution is accepted as amended.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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IND

William Charles Good

Independent Progressive

Mr. GOOD:

Can parliament not express

its opinion after the committee brings in its report?

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

It can, but it could do

that without this resolution being here at all; that is what I am trying to show. As

soon as the chemical of the minister is applied, with the consent of the mover, we are in precisely the same position as if the motion had never been on the order paper.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
Permalink
LIB

George Perry Graham (Minister of Railways and Canals)

Liberal

Mr. GRAHAM:

Not exactly, Mr. Speaker.

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
Permalink
CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

Will the minister suggest, before I give up the floor, where the difference is?

Topic:   SCRUTINY OF ESTIMATES
Subtopic:   MOTION BY MR. COOTE FOR REFERENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEES
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February 25, 1925