February 25, 1925

CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

It is a rule of the House.

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

Alfred Speakman

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPEAKMAN:

But, in the second

place, this committee can elicit information and in their report will give their reasons for or against the adoption of the proposal contained in the resolution, and at that time, if we are not satisfied with their conclusions, we shall have the opportunity to again discuss and, if necessary, decide on the principle itself. That, of course, is what I intend to do, to treat the proposal on its merits after the committee has reported on it, when perhaps I shall be able to discuss it more intelligently than I can do at the present time. I wish to impress on the House the feeling of those hon. members who are honestly desirous of discharging their duties intelligently and conscientiously, but who are unable to do so at the present time through sheer ignorance. I think this proposal would help us to deal with the estimates more satisfactorily because we shall know what we are talking about, and we shall present to the country the spectacle of a House of Commons better equipped to discuss one of the most important subjects brought before it-the expenditure of the money which the people have to pay.

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

Clifford William Robinson

Liberal

Mr. ROBINSON:

How will those who are not on the committee have this knowledge, or have more knowledge than they have at the present time?

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

Alfred Speakman

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPEAKMAN:

In this way; on all

sides of the House there would be men qualified to lead the discusion, men who could bring out the essential information required, and from them the rest of the House would learn something of the estimates under discussion.

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

François Jean Pelletier

Liberal

Mr. PELLETIER:

It would be hearsay.

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

Alfred Speakman

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPEAKMAN:

No, it would be intelligent discussion led by those better informed members, and through that intelligent discussion other members not upon those committees would receive information. We had a splendid example last year of what we may expect. When the branch lines were being discussed in this House no member outside of those representing the constituencies affected knew anything about the question. We either sat silent or discussed the question in ignorance. When it was referred to the special committee, engineers were summoned, maps were produced, and each branch line was discussed, and later on the floor of the House the bills were intelligently discussed before they were passed. I believe we would find the same thing happen with regard to the estimates, which is perhaps one of the most important subjects with which we have to deal.

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

Eugène Fiset

Liberal

Sir EUGENE FISET (Rimouski):

Mr. Speaker, I have listened carefully to the discussion on the proposal to submit the estimates to a special committee. I have had some experience both in the preparation of estimates and also in trying to answer the numerous questions that were put to the poor minister on the floor. I have been very forcibly struck by the proposal which is now before the House. But one thing seems to have been forgotten; at any rate it has not been mentioned by any of the ministers or by others who have taken part in the debate. If you submit all the estimates to a special committee for consideration, it is tantamount to this: you might as well ask each minister to have printed and submitted to each member of the House the detailed information that is prepared for him in book form by the officials of his department. That is the information that will be given by officials of the department if the estimates are discussed in a special committee. Why not have this information printed before the estimates are discussed in the House and distributed to each member? By this method we would avoid not only the discussion in the special committee but the second discussion that is bound to take place when the estimates are again submitted to the committee of the Whole?

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

Harold Putnam

Liberal

Mr. HAROLD PUTNAM (Colchester):

Mr. Speaker, it does seem to a tyro in parliamentary practice like myself that with the exception of two or three contributions this discussion has taken a very illogical range. Some hon. gentlemen seem under the hysteria that unless they can discuss this very question here and this afternoon the opportunity will never recur. As I take it, if the amendment

Scrutiny oj Estimates

proposed by the hon. Acting Minister of Finance (Mr. Robb) prevails, in due course of a brief time there will be a report from a committee and nothing under the firmament of heaven can then prevent this House from having a discussion, whether or not the finding of that committee be in favour of the submission of the estimates first to a committee. The hon. member for Burrard (Mr. Clark), with a fear not worthy of his intelligence, made the direct statement that unless the discussion proceeded now it would be impossible ever again to have the discussion on its merits, before this House. /

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

John Arthur Clark

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. CLARK:

I beg to differ, if I may rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker; I said no such thing. I said that if the amendment is accepted by the mover of this resolution (Mr. Coote) it is not possible for the House to express its opinion on this subject to-day.

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

Harold Putnam

Liberal

Mr. PUTNAM:

The hon. member did not say "to-day"; be put it absolutely. But I freely and willingly accept his statement of what he really meant.

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

John Arthur Clark

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. CLARK:

Read it to-morrow.

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

Harold Putnam

Liberal

Mr. PUTNAM:

Oh, my ears are sharper

than my tongue, and I am giving what the hon. member said.

The mover of the resolution presupposes that at least in some circumstances a committee to deal with a given matter in its first stage would be above the ability of the House of Commons, and I can reverently say that the amendment carries out better and more logically the purpose of his motion than the motion itself. The motion says in effect that to have a committee of the House review the recommendations of the cabinet is better than to have the House do so; that a committee should take the first shock of handling the estimates before they are discussed in the House. He has urged the principle of exalting a committee over the House; of making a committee a shock absorber in the matter of the estimates. Then, Mr. Speaker, we have gone on record :as desiring a committee to report on the revision of the rules, rather than having that matter of revision taken up initially by debate in the open House. The committee to be thus charged with a revision of the rules is obviously the place where any and all revisions of those rules should first be dealt with.

What the mover of the original motion and the mover of the amendment both have in view is a potential change in the rules. We are on record as referring to a committee all rules which may be susceptible of change;

{Mr. Putnam.]

let us refer this one also to that same committee or assert that impliedly it is already so referred. The right hon. leader of the opposition (Mr. Meighen) seems to think that the motion is in effect wiped out mechanically or chemically by the amendment. It seems to me that the right hon. gentleman should show why an exception should be made of this proposed change of rule by discussing it in the open House first rather than having it initially dealt with by the committee to which the whole question of the change of rules has already been referred. I think a burden of proof stands squarely against him. In fact, the House has already expressed its sense as to the method by which this matter of qualifying the rules should be dealt with, and I think it is good sense.

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

Donald Sutherland

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. DONALD SUTHERLAND (South Oxford) :

I have listened with much interest

to the discussion of this motion and to the amendment which has been moved. I have been endeavouring to locate the cause for any such radical movement as is suggested in the motion and also in the amendment, and I say that I think the hon. member for Rimouski (Sir Eugene Fiset) has touched upon the real reason for the bringing up of this discussion. If we had submitted to us by each minister as he brings on his estimates a detailed statement of what the money was being used for, it would not only facilitate the passing of the estimates but it would avoid any such discussion as we have here and the moving of such motions as we have had this afternoon. I have a very vivid recollection of attempts on the part of ministers to smuggle their estimates through the House; I have even made that statement on the floor of the House and have not been rebuked for it. With such a scheme as is proposed by the hon. member for Macleod (Mr. Coote) it would be impossible for anything of that kind to happen. A committee such as is suggested in the original motion would review the estimates submitted by each minister and hon. members would have a pretty well defined idea of what the money was being voted for. We have seen ministers submit their estimates to the House and deliberately withhold information to which the House was entitled before an intelligent vote on the items under consideration could be given. That has occurred time and time again. I have also noticed that many estimates of a questionable or suspicious nature are held over until the last days of the session, and millions of dollars are fired through at the last minute, late at night or early in the morning after an all night session, without

Scrutiny oj Estimates

very much consideration. I think it is high time that some better method should be adopted than the one that has been in effect here during the last two or three years.

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:

In what regard have the last

two or three years differed from the other fourteen that my hon friend has spent in the House ?

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

Donald Sutherland

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SUTHERLAND:

If my hon. friend desires that information I will endeavour to illustrate it by something that happened in this House in 1923. While in committee of the Whole on the estimates of the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Motherwell), information was asked with regard to a particular matter. Upon my submitting a question on the subject the Chairman informed the committee that that matter came under the head of civil government and when I attempted to discuss the matter referred to I was ruled out of order.

I think it was the hon. member for Battle River (Mr. Spencer) who asked where the payment came in for a man who was known to be in the employ of the government. After the item was passed and the question was put directly to the minister he quietly informed the committee that the matter came under the item which had just been passed and Hansard does not show that the item he claimed was passed, was ever submitted. I was in the House all the time and followed the passing of these estimates carefully. My attention was closely fixed upon the item referred to and I never heard that item called.

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:

If my hon. friend will allow

me, the question I asked him was in what regard it differed from the experience of the other fourteen years. My hon. friend will recall that he was once before ruled out of order in 1918 when he was finding fault with the ministry he was then supporting, with Dr. Tolmie, when he held up the House four or five hours.

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

Donald Sutherland

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SUTHERLAND:

I do not recall that incident, but it is just possible, because I insist on getting information that I think I am entitled to have. In this instance, the chairman of the committee informs me that the matter came under the head of civil government. I looked over the items under civil government, and I could not find it. Then another item comes up, and the minister quietly informs the committee that it was in the item which had just been passed. He was asked to reopen the question, but he would not do anything of the kind. I am referring to the money that was paid illegally out of the treasury of this country

to the organizer of the Liberal party, Mr. Duncan Marshall, and I believe that is the thing that is more responsible for this discussion coming before this House to-day than anything else-the obvious lack of common ordinary courtesy on the part of the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Motherwell) and his effort to conceal from the committee the moneys that are being voted by this House. If the estimates were submitted to a committee of the House before they came up for consideration in committee of the Whole, or if the suggestion of the hon. member for Rimouski (Sir Eugene Fiset) were adopted and each minister came down with a detailed statement showing what the money he was asking parliament to vote was for, I think there would be no necessity for a special committee. But hitherto we have had to extract information from some of the ministers by a long and laborious process, particularly from the Minister of Agriculture, and that same process had to be gone through here on Friday night. It seems to be a habit with him to bring up his estimates on Friday night. After I left the House on Friday night I noticed in Hansard that someone requested that the particular item then before the committee with regard to live stock should be left over until more members who had left for home late Friday night should be here, and the minister informed the committee that possibly I would be back again on Monday when these items came up, and he was anxious to get them through before I returned. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, is that a proper way of voting the money of the people of this country? I say that the practice that has been followed here during the last two or thrss years is responsible for the protests which have been made here this afternoon, and if the government would adopt a reasonable method of presenting its estimates and have each minister give a detailed statement as to what the moneys voted were to be used for, I think there would be no request to have the estimates referred to a special committee. _ I do not like to refer to these things in this way, but it has come to the stage where I must protest against the methods that have been adopted and followed in voting money without the knowledge of what it is to be used for being in possession of members of this House.

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

Thomas Alexander Crerar

Progressive

Hon. T. A. CRERAR (Marquette):

Mr. Speaker, the subject which we are discussing, you will recall, was discussed very fully in the parliament preceding this one, in the session of 1921, on a motion that was introduced by your Honour, then occupying a

Scrutiny oj Estimates

seat on the floor of this chamber. You suggested the appointment of a committee to scrutinize estimates before they were submitted by the different ministers to the committee of the Whole. As I listened to the discussion this afternoon, my mind wandered back to the debate that took place on this subject four years ago. I recall that your Honour introduced that resolution in a very effective and forceful speech. You set out in much more detail than is contained in the motion of my hon. friend from Macleod (Mr. Coote) the means that should be taken to effect the purpose you had in view. I recall that after you had spoken, my hon. friend from West York (Sir Henry Drayton), who was then occupying the position of Minister of Finance also spoke, and while he did not disagree with the principle that you, Mr. Speaker, had enunciated and supported in your speech, he did rather take the position that after all it was not very necessary. True, he said, they had done something of the kind in the British parliament, but then conditions there were wholly different from what they were in the Canadian parliament. Then I recall that the present Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) spoke and supported you quite vigorously in the position you had taken, and urged that it was of very great importance that this committee should be appointed, or at all events that serious consideration should be given to the appointment of a committee for that specific purpose. Others also took part in that debate.

I recall that the then sitting member for Neepawa- made what I think was the most effective contribution, after the speech of your Honour, to that debate. The upshot of our discussion was that at the suggestion of the government your Honour withdrew your motion, and it was the general consensus of opinion in the House at that time that the discussion had done a great deal of good.

I do not find myself on common ground with the right hon. leader of the opposition (Mr. Meighen) when he takes the view that the amendment which has been submitted, and has been accepted by my hon. friend from Macleod, disposes of the whole matter; not at all. As has already been pointed out in the discussion, it simply amounts to this: It makes this question of whether a change in our procedure should be made and the estimates submitted to a special committee, a matter of special reference to the committee that is going to consider the revision of the rules of the House; it is an instruction to that committee that this matter must be dealt with by them; that is all it is. Otherwise the committee charged with the

revision of the rules of the House, if such be deemed1 necessary, might not feel under any obligation whatever to consider a change in the practice of submitting estimates. It does seem to me that that is the sensible way to proceed, and for this reason. We should not lightly change the rules and the practice of this House; when we do make a change we should be as certain as we can be that our judgment is sound and that the change will be beneficial to the conduct of the public business of the country.

We have had a suggestion made by my hon. friend from Rimouski (Sir Eugene Fiset) this afternoon, which by the wav appears to me to be the only concrete suggestion that has been made in the discussion. I am not prepared at the moment to accept his suggestion, valuable as I think it may be; but I do think that this suggestion could be made, to the committee that is charged1 with a revision of the rules, and evidence secured and the books examined in which the expenditures submitted to the ministers are set out, and submitted by the minister to the House. In that way its value could be best determined. That would be an eminently sensible way of proceeding. But I must say that I doubt if any committee charged with the duty of revising the estimates before they are submitted' to the House would prove of very much greater value than the procedure we now follow with regard to the estimates. I think it would be of some value, but after all if we are to secure economy in public administration-and if there is one note that has run through all the speeches made in this debate this afternoon it is the desire and the need for economy-there must be more than a desire for economy among the members of this House. There has got to be a desire and an understanding, and a thorough understanding, of the need of economy in the constituencies, back in the country. Because, after all, this parliament is simply the mirror, it is in large measure the reflection, of the opinion that exists in the country-at any rate it should be.

I agree with the criticism that has been made this afternoon, that perhaps we take up too much time in academic discussions in this House. After all, what is the function of parliament? The function of parliament is legislative. It has to do with the consideration of the expenditure of public moneys, it has to do with the consideration of the all important question of how those moneys will be raised, the forms of our taxation, the question of what laws we shall enact and how they shall be enforced. Parliament in the real sense of the word is not a body that.

Scrutiny of Estimates

exists for the purpose of carrying on propaganda. That is peculiarly a thing that should be done outside of parliament; and when your public opinion has crystallized, as a result of propaganda, along any particular line of reform then that opinion will be reflected in the nature of your legislation and your administration. Such being the case I feel that a burden lies upon the individual members of this House to carry the gospel of edonomv back into their own constituencies. It has been apparent, I think, to anyone who has observed the proceedings of parliament closely, that very often criticisms of expenditures suggested or expenditures omitted are the result-to some degree at any rate, and we are all sinners in that respect more or less-of the particular or peculiar political effect they may have in some constituency or constituencies; and that, I maintain, is not the atmosphere in which we can approach this question of economy in public expenditures. Unfortunately we have had this condition of opinion in the country in the past-and I am not reflecting on or directing my attention to any particular section of the country; it is a disease that seems to have affected the whole body politic more or less -that the merit of a member and the value to his constituency was judged too much by the number of scalps he brought home at his belt at the end of the session in the way of votes of money for works in his constituency.

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

Agnes Campbell Macphail

Progressive

Miss MACPHAIL:

I want to call the

attention of the hon. gentleman to the fact that that is not true of Southeast Grey.

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

Thomas Alexander Crerar

Progressive

Mr. CRERAR:

I am sure public opinion

in that constituency has improved since my hon. friend has been its representative. I repeat, what I have described is a condition that has, to too great extent, existed in the country, and I say that no matter how many committees you may have to consider estimates, no matter how many questions you may direct to sweating, agonized ministers in this House, you will never find a real basis for economy until there is full appreciation and an understanding of the needs of it among the people outside of parliament.

Now I think that the hon. member for Macleod (Mr. Coote) in accepting the suggestion that the matter be refer-

5. p.m. red to this special committee has acted wisely. I do hope that that committee, whoever may compose it, will thoroughly examine the whole question, get whatever evidence they can, approach it in an impartial manner, find if possible means whereby these estimates can be scrutinized, and if possible revised, before they are submitted on the floor of parliament, and thus not only save the time of parliament but make some saving to the pockets of the taxpayers of this country as well.

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