September 12, 1939 (18th Parliament, 5th Session)


William Allen Walsh

Conservative (1867-1942)


I was referring to the setting up of a board under the War Measures Act. I would prefer to see a ministry of munitions set up to function immediately, and not wait until a board has first been set up under the War Measures Act. I feel there is a necessity to appoint a ministry of munitions.
Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING {Prime Minister): Mr. Speaker, I might say first of all that this bill, the second reading of which has just been moved, is based on the bill which was passed by the British House of Commons as recently as the eighth of June of the present year, a bill providing for a ministry of supply. That bill was based on the Lloyd George bill, if I may so call it, which was enacted in 1915 at the time of the great war. All of the experience that had been gained under the Lloyd George measure was before those who were drafting the measure which was passed in June of this year; and, having regard to conditions in time of war being much the same in one country as in another, our administration felt that we could not be on safer ground in instituting the ministry for a similar purpose than by following as closely as we could the British enactment. Hon. members will, I think, agree with me that there parliament in the world which strives more earnestly to preserve freedom and prevent anything in the nature of the development of dictatorship than the British House of Commons; but, as has been pointed out time and again, measures which are suitable for a time of peace are not adequate for a time of war, and we are at present in a time of war, a very serious war indeed.
The British minister of munitions, Mr. Burgin, in speaking upon the very subject to which the leader of the opposition (Mr. Manion) and the hon. member for St. Law-rence-St. George (Mr. Cahan) have referred, namely the very extensive powers which are given in the bill to the ministry, made the following statement to the British House of Commons, and I will repeat to our House of Commons his words in reference to this measure. They will be found in the British Hansard, parliamentary debates, House of Commons, June 8, 1939:
The house, with its experience of past debates on the subject, will recognize at once that if you take the decision to appoint a minister of supply and set up a department, you must give to it powers adequate for the purposes that you intend to be served by that department.
Those powers must be wide and drastic. It is of the very essence of a supply department for a defence service that wide and drastic powers should be obtained. Of course, those powers are only to be used compulsorily if your voluntary system fails to deliver what is required. Hitherto, the voluntary system has been sufficient to meet the demand. We are now, however, in an emergency condition. We seem destined to live in an emergency condition. Therefore, something of the magnitude of the task must be appreciated in order to justify the wide powers that are granted by this bill.
I doubt if there is any hon. member who likes less than myself to entrust a ministry with too extensive powers. I have felt very strongly, as all hon. members know, on giving a ministry extreme powers to exercise at will, and I think that the very temperament which has caused me to feel as strongly as I have in that regal'd will enable me to watch with extra, zeal to see that these powers are not availed of in excess of what the situation may demand.
As regards the question asked by the hon. member for Weyburn (Mr. Douglas), perhaps he would wait until the bill is in committee; the question he has asked will come up naturally there.
With regard to the comment of the hon. member for Mount Royal (Mr. Walsh) as to the war supply board possibly being a failure and requiring a substitute later, I would say that I think the government, in taking the lesser step at the outset and taking it under the direction of one so experienced in military affairs and in financial affairs as the present Minister of Finance, is taking a very wise course. If it becomes necessary to
establish the department in full before parliament reassembles or when parliament does reassemble, it will only be because it is desirable to have more extensive authority than it is contemplated to take under the board which will be appointed under the War Measures Act. But the War Measures Act board will, we hope, enable the government to introduce this new branch of administration in a way which will effect economies at the outset and add to efficiency in the long run.

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