November 7, 1941

CCF

Clarence Gillis

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. GILLIS:

Mr. Chairman, I rise to a point of order. This afternoon the acting leader of this group endeavoured to place before the house a matter which was of some considerable importance and requested specifically from the Prime Minister the privilege of discussing first the Minister of Labour's report; but, on account of the fact that a certain arrangement had been made, the Prime Minister's decision was that consideration should be given to the reports of the ministers in the order in which they reported. Our understanding was that the report of the Minister of Munitions and Supply would be considered specifically at this time. That minister is in his seat and prepared to discuss matters pertaining to his department. The speeches which have been made to-day are very good, but in my opinion are valueless unless the ministers who will answer the criticisms made are in their places for that purpose. I just want to draw that to the attention of the chairman. If it is the intention now to ignore the ruling made this afternoon, it seems to this group as though there is rank discrimination in that respect. We were held definitely to that rule. Up to the present the speakers who have taken the floor have made absolutely no reference to the department of the minister who is in his seat for the purpose of answering questions that may be raised with regard to his report. I bring that to the attention of the Chair because we desire to discuss some matters pertaining to the report of the Minister of Munitions and Supply, and to carry on as we are doing is a waste of time and, certainly, not constructive.

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LIB

Ian Alistair Mackenzie (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE (Vancouver Centre):

My hon. friend who has just spoken is perfectly correct in his interpretation of the understanding that was reached. I believe that last evening the Prime Minister, in deference to a request made by the leader of the opposition, agreed that there would be one or two speeches this afternoon before we proceeded in committee with questions of the various ministers.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

But may I say that at the moment, I believe, these speeches are exhausted, so we shall be able to go on.

The War-Mr. Hansell

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SC

Ernest George Hansell

Social Credit

Mr. E. G. HANSELL (Macleod):

Since the Minister of Munitions and Supply is in his seat, may I say a few words which do have some bearing upon his department.

During the summer, when the special committee on war expenditures met, I gradually became increasingly aware that perhaps the departments of government in their war effort were not as properly coordinating their efforts as they might do. I did not, however, raise any serious objection, or put forth any definite proposals. I thought that perhaps I might be mistaken. But this suspicion gradually grew upon me until, towards the end of the summer, I had occasion to inquire of one department of government upon a certain matter. In relating this, I should like to ask the Minister of Munitions and Supply a few questions.

This particular incident occurred when I received a request from a certain quarter in my constituency with respect to a proposed air training school to be built in a certain section of the country. We are all aware that when the empire air training scheme was first mooted, the Department of Transport immediately sent out their engineers to survey certain properties and make recommendations so that the best possible places might be secured for those air training schools. At that time I received numerous inquiries, as a consequence of engineers coming into certain sections, whether an air training school would be built here or there. I made inquiries at that time and discovered that for the time being the air training scheme had reached certain proportions and it was not anticipated that any more schools would be built. A very few months after that other schools were built. Now this summer comes another inquiry and naturally I thought, "Well now in my part of the country we have a good many air training schools and perhaps this is another false alarm." I got in touch with an office which comes under the Department of Munitions and Supply and asked whether or not there was to be an air training school in this particular part of the country. I wish to read a part of my letter to the official to whom I wrote. One paragraph will suffice:

Recently I have had numerous inquiries in respect to a proposed air training school being established near the town of Vulcan, Alberta, on what is known as the Galbraith property. The Trans-Canada Air Lines already have a landing field on this property.

There is no mistake about where this training school was expected to be built, but the answer I received was:

This will acknowledge your letter of August 21, relative to the proposed air training school being established near the town of Vulcan, Alberta.

For your information, we have made extensive inquiries but no one seems to know anything about an air training school to be constructed at this point.

I immediately mailed an air mail letter to my inquirer. Four days afterwards, perhaps five, I arrived home-and perhaps the story is a little humorous at this point. When I arrived home my boy came bouncing in. "Hello, dad", he said, "glad to see you home. Say, dad, did you write to So-and-So and tell them that there was not going to be any air training school out here?" I said, "Yes." "Hal ha! They are all laughing at you now," he said. "Well," I said, "that is all right; I am not very much concerned. It won't be the first time that people have laughed at me. What's on your mind?" He said, "The machinery is already out there ploughing up the runways and they are already putting in the school." I must confess that I felt a little bit embarrassed when I walked down town the next day.

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LIB
SC

Ernest George Hansell

Social Credit

Mr. HANSELL:

I do not object, and let me say this in answer to my hon. friend. I must say in fairness to those who have selected these sites that I believe they have selected them because they were the best they could select, irrespective of the constituencies in which they might be located.

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LIB
SC

Ernest George Hansell

Social Credit

Mr. HANSELL:

I am not finding fault

with the selection of the sites. My point to start with was that there should be a coordination of the work of the departments of government. When I made the inquiry I was told by letter that the department had made extensive inquiries and no one knew about an air training school being built at that point; yet the machinery was on the ground and the school was being built. Somebody slipped up-and I did not write to the office boy, either. I will not say to whom I wrote; I do not want to embarrass any government official. It was not the minister. I immediately wrote back and asked for an explanation. Let me read a paragraph from the reply. It seems that the Department of Transport selects the site -the minister can correct me if I am wrong- and the same department also lets the contract for the building of the runways. The Department of National Defence for Air has nothing to do with it. The Department of Munitions and Supply, on top of that, and apart from the Department of Transport, lets the contract for the erection of the

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buildings on the site. Here we have the Department of Transport doing one thing, and the Department of Munitions and Supply doing another, both working separately for an entirely different department, which is the Department of National Defence for Air. The paragraph giving the explanation reads:

When we made our reply to your letter we made inquiries of the R.C.A.F. and of this department and found that as yet no authority has been established to construct the school, and it is on this basis that your reply was made.

It does seem to me that when a certain project is to be erected or a certain objective is to be attained, all who are interested in that objective should be brought into consultation. That is what I would consider a proper coordination of effort. I have explained that I tried not to embarrass the government, but I must say that it has the appearance of withholding information-I am not saying that it does-until certain contracts are let, so that a certain amount of patronage can be effected. I am not saying that was done.

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LIB

Clarence Decatur Howe (Minister of Munitions and Supply)

Liberal

Mr. HOWE:

May I discuss that statement before the hon. member gets on to something else?

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SC

Ernest George Hansell

Social Credit

Mr. HANSELL:

I shall be through in a moment. At any rate, that would be the impression people would get, that the information was not given so that there could be a certain amount of patronage. I might give an illustration. Certain people came to that town from an outside place. Nobody knew them. They proceeded to rent a small building to put in a coffee shop. Some of those who knew this building said to them, "Are you sure you will make good on this coffee shop?-because there have been one or two in this town that have gone broke." They replied, "We will make good." They were asked what made them so sure and they replied, "Why, an air training school is to be built out here."

Nobody in that town knew anything about it. I repeat that I am not saying that the information was withheld for purposes of patronage, but it has all the appearance of it. Either that or you have to come .to the conclusion that there is not proper coordination. Here is one department which evidently did not know there was to be an air training school at this point when at the time the machinery was ploughing up the runways. Could the minister give us some statement on that, because other hon. members may find similar occurrences. We do not want these embarrassments. In this time of war, even though we may be members of the opposition

we are not going out to brand the government as this, that and the other thing. We have to attend Red Cross meetings, salvage meetings, all kinds of meetings; we are called on to explain this and that, and we want to help the war effort as much as possible. Therefore let us get some of these things cleaned up.

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LIB

Clarence Decatur Howe (Minister of Munitions and Supply)

Liberal

Mr. HOWE:

If my hon. friend considers this matter fairly I think he will see that the fault is entirely with himself in having addressed his letter to the wrong person. He did not say to whom he addressed it, but obviously the right person is the minister in charge of the department. I get dozens of such letters every day and I can either give the answer, if it is in my department, or send the letter to my colleague in the proper department, who answers directly and advises me. I dare say my hon. friend wrote to an official thinking to save my time.

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LIB

Clarence Decatur Howe (Minister of Munitions and Supply)

Liberal

Mr. HOWE:

We have private secretaries who are trained in that sort of work. Naturally if I sign a letter on a matter of the kind I must be sure the information is correct-or reasonably sure; I suppose nothing is infallible. Had that letter come to me my hon. friend would have received his answer. He may have written to someone in the Department of Munitions and Supply who would know nothing about it, because the air branch of the Department of Transport, while it reports to me as Minister of Munitions and Supply, is not a part of the Department of Munitions and Supply. He may have written to an officer of the air force, who would naturally look up the financial encumbrances of the air force and, finding that no financial encumbrances had got back to his file, would therefore assume that no such thing had taken place.

I would ask my hon. friend to address letters of that kind to a responsible minister, in which case the government will take the responsibility for the reply. I dare say the man who answered the letter did so in the best of good faith and to the best of his knowledge, but he would not have the knowledge which the minister would have.

The responsibility for spending any money for a war department rests with the Department of Munitions and Supply. It was placed there by the munitions and supply act passed by parliament. The only exception, apart from small sums which are spent by a department by arrangement with the Minister of Munitions and Supply, is that as a matter of convenience the Department of Munitions and Supply segregated to itself the air services division of the Department of Transport, because there was in the former department

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a staff highly skilled in selecting and improving airports. It was felt that to duplicate that staff would be a waste of effort. It would be impossible to duplicate this skilled staff in this very highly technical operation. The selection of an airport is not an easy task. The skill with which it is done depends greatly upon the experience of the men doing it, men who know both topography and problems of aviation, because there must be a relation between the two in the selection of an airport. It is true that surveys for airports are made by the air services division of the Department of Transport. The preparation of plans and specifications and the awarding of contracts is carried out by the air services division of the Department of Transport, and the work of building the runways and developing the field is supervised by the air services division of the Department of Transport. The selection of the sites is a matter for the user. The user in this case is the Department of National Defence for Air. The need for a site is determined by that department. The air services division of the Department of Transport is communicated with, told that a site is needed in a certain area, and asked to bring forward surveys. The division tries to anticipate those requests and makes many surveys of sites without a requisition. In this way information is had in advance as to where sites are available so that prompt service could be given to the air force. The air services division submits plans and estimates of cost of development usually on three or four alternative sites. These are placed before a special technical committee, and the choice of a site is made with one or two technical men from the air services division sitting in. I can say with full knowledge that they are invariably made on the basis of merit. I never concern myself with the selection of any site for an airport, and I know that my colleague the Minister of National Defence for Air is in exactly the same position. We decided when we undertook our work that the selection of sites, the location of air training schools, was a technical matter which we would leave entirely to our technical men, and that policy has been carried out.

I do not know whether I have covered the field; if not perhaps my hon. friend will ask a supplementary question.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

Before the minister leaves the matter of selection of airports will he tell the house if there have been sites selected for airports which have been promoted, shall I say, on local considerations, condemned as being improper locations

and subsequently taken up? I have in mind now the Pennfield airport. I think it was discussed in this house in the first session of this parliament. I know I had the opinion that Pennfield would be a good location for an airport in the maritime provinces. During and after the discussion that took place in this house the hon. member for Charlotte (Mr. Hill), who was very much interested in the proposition, who knew as much as or perhaps more about it than I did, urged it and ventured to stake his reputation as an engineer-and he has some reputation-on the usefulness of this site, but it was condemned out of hand by the technical officers of the minister's department. The present deputy minister came to see me; his assistant, I think a Mr. McLean, came along with him, and they convinced me with the superior knowledge they had that they were right. I was therefore astonished when in the following year Pennfield was decided upon for development as an airport for the British trainees, and millions, I was going to say, have now been spent upon it. Perhaps the minister does not know about that situation, but it is one of which I have some knowledge.

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LIB

Clarence Decatur Howe (Minister of Munitions and Supply)

Liberal

Mr. HOWE:

I know nothing about it. Of course airports are required for various purposes. At first we were selecting ports suitable for Trans-Canada Air Lines. Then at the same time ports were being 'chosen which were considered suitable as operational ports. The number of training schools has been steadily increased. We had a programme to start with that called for certain airports. We have since had a number of calls to provide additional airports. I believe the British schools required some thirty airports that were never dreamed of when the original programme was drawn up. Naturally the best airports are selected first. We have conducted surveys of locations; I know there are at present dozens of these surveys on file in the Department of Transport. As I say, the best, those that were cheapest and obviously most satisfactorily located, were chosen first. As those were taken up, the next most satisfactory had their turn, so it is quite possible that an airport might have been passed over when the first choice was being made, but that the time would come when it would be the best of those still available.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

By the

process of elimination.

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LIB

Clarence Decatur Howe (Minister of Munitions and Supply)

Liberal

Mr. HOWE:

By the process of elimination, and it is also possible that further information, not available at first, might have something to do with the matter. I think the first objection to Pennfield was that it was fog-

The War-Oil Situation

bound. Then I believe accurate records were kept, and it was found that it was not so fog-bound, or perhaps it is; I do not know. In any event the technical officers came to their own conclusions, though I should be glad to look up the file if my hon. friend is especially interested. I think that is the explanation. I believe the first choice was Moncton; the second choice was somewhere up in the north, and then Pennfield seemed to be the next best place available.

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SC

Ernest George Hansell

Social Credit

Mr. HANSELL:

I do not desire to prolong the discussion, but I should not like it to be thought that I am complaining about the selection of these fields. I am not. I believe the government have selected them because their engineers have considered those selected to be in the proper places. I know this, that if you drive from the southern part of Alberta north to Edmonton, which is in the central part of that province, you pass from ten to a dozen air training schools. I believe these were located in that part of the country because the prairie is flat, the air is clear, the altitude is high, the sun shines, it is near the mountains, and the climate is healthy. I am sure the engineers took all these matters into consideration. With regard to writing the minister let me say, in connection with the complaint I made a short time ago, that I really thought I was doing the minister a tremendous favour by not bothering him, so I wrote to what I would consider a rather high official of his department. I thank the minister, however, for his suggestion that I write him personally in future.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

If that phase of this matter is out of the way, I understand that some of the minister's officials have been waiting here for an hour or more; and, since I believe their time is valuable, it might be well if the minister, at this stage, would make the statement which I requested of him with respect to the whole gasoline situation, and in particular with respect to the charges made against the controller, or whoever they were made against, by the Joy Oil company. I should like to say this, that I have no idea in the world who the Joy Oil company are, or what they represent, or what they are, or whether they are right or wrong. I have never been approached by anyone in this connection; I do not know what their case is, beyond the contents of the paid advertisement which I saw in the newspaper.

But I should like to have the gasoline position clarified; if we are not saving enough gasoline in this country for war purposes, then I suggest to the minister that he exercise the power which he possesses, and I am sure the Canadian people will cooperate.

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November 7, 1941