June 26, 1951

PC

Douglas Scott Harkness

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Harkness:

If I understand the minister aright, they have not started the new building for national defence headquarters and there is no likelihood that this $3,000,000 will be required this year?

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxion:

That is now so. If we were able now to get started this year we would only be able to acquire the property and commence the preparation of the plans.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

Does the $3,000,000 cover both the acquisition of property and the proposed construction? The minister has just said that all that is likely to happen this year is the acquisition of the property. Does the $3,000,000 cover both or just the acquisition of property?

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LIB
PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

Why do we

budget now for $3,000,000 when the minister thinks that there is really no chance of anything more than the acquisition of property being proceeded with?

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxion:

This is a commitment authority to enable us to to spend that amount should it be possible. If it were found possible or desirable to spend it this year, then we could spend it, but it is not contemplated that the whole amount will be spent this year.

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PC

Douglas Scott Harkness

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Harkness:

Is not that amount in the position where it could be switched, say to sundries, under this same general item?

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LIB
PC

Douglas Scott Harkness

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Harkness:

I do not think that is a very good way of estimating, to put in an item of $3,000,000 for the acquisition of land and construction of buildings which there is no intention of building this year. In other words,

you are not going to use the $3,000,000 for that; you may use only $100,000 or $300,000, and the remainder of the $3,000,000 can be put into any of these other items. It makes for rather loose administration, I should think.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxton:

That is true of any item in this vote 245. We are endeavouring to provide a defence program for three years costing $5,000 million. We are endeavouring to achieve just as much of that program each year as we can with the money provided by parliament.

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PC

Douglas Scott Harkness

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Harkness:

While all that is true, it still seems to me it removes parliamentary control over these expenditures, which is the very purpose of our dealing with the matter in this committee. If it were not for parliament exercising some control over these estimates it would be useless in theory for us to deal with them. Putting in an item of this sort, which can be switched to any other item which the minister decides would be a good one, really removes that parliamentary control. I do not think this is the type of thing we should be considering.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

My recollection is that last year authority was granted, first of all, for so much by way of expenditures and then there was a total figure for commitments. Is there a similar figure here? I cannot spot it at the moment. Is there an over-all figure for commitments as against expenditures? Perhaps it is in the estimates and I have missed it.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxion:

This was all covered in my preliminary statement. On page 36 we have item 245 which reads:

To provide for the defence forces of the navy, army and air services and defence research and development, and to authorize total commitments for this purpose of $3,831,270,000-

And then later on:

-against which commitments it is estimated that actual expenditures in 1951-52 will not exceed $1,595,050,000-

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

How much of this $3,000,060 item we are talking about now is in the $1,595,050,000? That seems to be relevant.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxion:

A total of $1,100,000 is the estimate of possible expenditure on this account this year.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

I am still puzzled. We have this figure of $3,000,000 which we pass as an item for expenditure, and we are now told that only $1,100,000 of that is included in the amount estimated for total expenditures. I must say that I agree

with the hon. member for Calgary East that it gets rather confusing. I hardly know where I am at. It seems to me that the net result is that we have $1,900,000 that is sort of floating about in no man's land, available to be dealt with in whatever way seems most convenient. Like the hon. member for Calgary East, I think this is budgeting which is really not budgeting at all.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxion:

This method of dealing with the estimates of this department has been explained each year. Greater details have been given this year in accordance with the recommendations made by the comptroller of the treasury and the public accounts committee. However, the principle of dealing with these items is exactly the same; there is no change.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

Maybe we have been at fault in the past, but that does not mean that we should go on. In fact, I think we were at fault in the past. I still want to know if the needs of the department, which we all want to meet, would not be satisfied by voting the $1,100,000? Why do we have to clutter it up with this additional amount? I must confess that I have never felt satisfied about this commitment figure. It always perplexed me. When you get an actual case of this kind I must confess that it does not make sense at all. We are apparently authorizing a commitment which we are told in advance there is no real expectation of needing.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxton:

The answer to this has been given on a good many occasions, and it is not a simple subject. We have to make a plan for a new defence headquarters or some other construction. In order to make that plain we have to ask architects to get to work, and we have to acquire property. Then we proceed with that as far as we can during that fiscal year, but in order to make contracts we have to have commitment authority in respect not only to the current fiscal year but also with reference to future fiscal years. In order to provide flexibility, in order to enable us to carry out the total program over the planned period of three years, this has been found by the Department of Finance and this department to be the best way in which we can do it.

The alternatives to the course we are following would be to ask parliament for a very much larger sum of money in the cash vote than we could possibly spend in order to get on with each one of a thousand different projects, some of which would be accomplished and others of which would not. But in order to provide for the possibility of each one of them being accomplished we

Supply-National Defence would have to ask parliament for 100 per cent of each particular project. We avoid that by asking for a large vote under one single item with commitment authority in respect of future years and the current year.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

I think I remember more clearly now. It seems to me that the explanation given to us, and a very natural and proper explanation too, was that the department needed to have certain commitment authority because it had to contract for things during the year which might take two or three years to be completed. That is perfectly intelligible, and I am not questioning it at all. This item seems to me to be somewhat different. As I understand this item of $3,350,000, and with reference to the expectation of what they need to contract for this year, the minister has told us that $1,100,000 is the expectation, the outside likelihood, of what they will need. After all, if they underestimate they can if necessary come back, but in the meantime we have this definite item, and it does not seem to me to come within the principle that the minister has outlined in other cases, and which I think I understand. It seems to me that we are being asked to vote over $3 million instead of $1,100,000.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
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June 26, 1951