George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)
Mr. Chairman, as has already been said this evening by the Minister of National Defence, we are now considering something of the utmost importance to every Canadian. We are being asked to approve at the present time the principle that it is expedient that this house authorize expenditures and commitments which, with what has already been approved at the earlier session, will mean that this country is committed during the current fiscal year to a possible total of over $1,400 million for national defence in actual expenditures and
Defence Appropriation Act undertaken commitments. Obviously the important thing for everyone to know is what is to be done with the money. Neither we in Canada nor the people of any other free country are going to preserve that freedom which hangs in so very delicate balance at the present time by the numbers of dollars, pounds, francs or any other unit of money. The thing that is going to count is the evidence that we give of armed power for the purpose of preserving peace.
It is only to the extent that here in Canada, and in the other nations with which we shall be associated, there is evidence that we mean with the utmost speed, the utmost skill and the utmost efficiency, to provide those forces which collectively can assure that our freedom will be preserved that we can hope for a moment that we shall continue in anything approaching peace in the face of the threat which we see throughout the world today.
When this subject was being discussed in the debate on the speech from the throne, it was my privilege to speak just after the Secretary of State for External Affairs and the Minister of National Defence had spoken. I spoke in that debate before the Prime Minister. At that time I indicated the desire that I knew was shared by every member of the opposition-and I feel sure I am not presuming in saying every member of the opposition-to co-operate and assist the government in every way that was within our power. I did emphasize the fact, however, that it would only be possible for the members of the opposition to give that measure of assistance that they were anxious to give, and to form a judgment with some knowledge of the facts, if we were taken into the confidence of the government to an extent that made it possible to reach a decision with all the essential information in our possession.
At that time I indicated also that I hoped that the Prime Minister would reconsider the earlier request which had been made to set up a committee on defence. I urged furthermore that the house should not prorogue at the end of this present special session but that it should adjourn in order that this defence committee, starting its work immediately, could examine the facts and make a report to the house at the earliest possible date so that we would be able to reach some conclusion with that additional information which would be before us. I also expressed the hope that we would be given a great deal more information than had been given us by the Minister of National Defence in the speech he had just made immediately before I spoke at that time. I regret that none of those suggestions found favour with the government.
Defence Appropriation Act
In spite of the fact that the Minister of National Defence has said this evening that the proposal for a defence committee was made three times in the last session and three times voted down, and therefore we should hear no more about it, may I suggest that the reasons given by the Prime Minister for not appointing such a committee were hardly in keeping either with his legal training or with his capacity for an examination of facts and an argument based upon those facts. He said that after all it was for the people of Canada to determine whether the government had done well, for their representatives in the house to determine whether the government had done well, and if the members thought the government had not done well then they should deal with them accordingly. The Prime Minister knew perfectly well exactly what the large majority behind him would do in connection with any matter of this kind.
We have seen much too consistent evidence of the unwillingness, with only one or two exceptions, of members on that side to support their arguments by their votes, as was indicated a few days ago by one rather outspoken member who objected to the course that was being followed and then voted for the course about which he had complained. I only mention that for this reason. The suggestion that this house is a committee which can deal'with this thing is not a suggestion that I think the Prime Minister meant us to take seriously, and this is an occasion for serious discussion. The Prime Minister well knows that there is no effective procedure whereby the large number of members in this house can consider matters of this kind, bring witnesses before them and obtain those facts which are so essential to any adequate understanding of the very basis upon which we are being asked to approve of this very large additional sum of money.
This house meets in committee, but that committee is different from those which have been so useful in other cases. As has been pointed out already, this idea of committees meeting to discuss the details of the organization and activities of different departments is not a strange new device being put forward with some new application to the Department of National Defence. It has worked extremely well in regard to the Department of External Affairs; and if there is one department that has secrets it is the Department of External Affairs, which in the very nature of its international associations must conduct discussions of the most secret nature. After all, external affairs is the department whose recommendations to the government, if they are approved, become
the basis of the broader plans for national defence such as we now have under consideration.
Nor is this idea of committees confined in any way to external affairs. When the Minister of National Defence points out the difficulty of having a committee deal with problems affecting fifty thousand people, has he forgotten that we have a committee on railways? My impression always has been that the railways employ a great many more than fifty thousand people. And when he points out the difficulties of having a committee deal with particular activities where people are engaged in different branches, as in the case of the army, navy and air force, has he forgotten that in the Department of Transport we have occasion to deal with railways, ships, aircraft and all the multitude of related activities coming under that department? No, Mr. Chairman; that argument does not hold water. There are other departments as well, dealing with some of the major aspects of the whole economy of the country, including agriculture and other great basic activities. Year by year this parliament demonstrates, through committees which meet and make recommendations, that not one of those arguments which have been put forward is in any way valid as against the setting up of a committee of this kind.
When we as members of parliament are asked to deal with these matters we must remember that we are supposed to have the information upon which to base our decisions. On September 1 the Prime Minister said, at page 117 of Hansard:
Hon. members will have to decide whether or not we set about it vigorously enough, whether or not it was a proper measure to take at that time, and whether it is to be realized as quickly as circumstances make it possible to realize it.
At another point on the same page he said:
It will be for the people, through their representatives in this house, to say whether they believe or do not believe that His Excellency's advisers have failed in that respect.
How can the representatives of the people in this house, or the people whom we represent, possibly know the circumstances unless we have a great deal more information than has been given us so far, either in the earlier speech of the Minister of National Defence or in his speech to us this evening? Again the minister has given us a multitude of percentages. Again he has told us how wonderful we are. Hon. members know how good Canadians are at fulfilling any task they undertake, when they are given a chance to put all their energy and ability into that task. Our job is to make sure that those Canadians who are being called upon to take part in
our national defence organization have a chance to demonstrate that efficiency, that energy and that spirit we know young Canadians do possess. That is a task which cannot be performed, however, unless we have a great deal more information than we now have. I ask hon. members not only to go back over what they remember of the statements made by the minister this evening, but to read Hansard carefully in the morning, to see just how much more they know about the actual organization and state of preparation of our defence forces than they knew when they came into this chamber this evening. What has been said has not added to our knowledge of what we have ready now to do the one job for which our forces are intended, or what the actual plans are by which this huge sum of money will be translated into terms of national defence.
In one of the percentages he gave us the minister said it was interesting to note that we have spent 54 per cent on personnel. Then he went on to say that we have spent less on personnel and more on equipment than many countries. Think of those words in all seriousness. "We have spent less on personnel and more on equipment than many countries." That is full of information, isn't it? That tells us all we want to know. Of course it does not tell us anything, Mr. Chairman, except that if we have been spending more on equipment and less on personnel than many countries, and those countries have some measure of national defence, then every member here should ask where that money has gone. Where has that billion and a half dollars gone that has been spent in the last five years? If we have been spending more on equipment and less on personnel it is very strange that we have so little to show for it today. Where are the first-line aircraft, the fighters, the bombers, the strategic aircraft? Hon. members know we do not have them. The plan for delivery of new aircraft is being accelerated, we are told; but we do not have them. Where are the army units in being, ready to go into action, resulting from these huge expenditures, an amount never even approached or dreamed of in any other five-year period in the peacetime history of this country? We know now just how many units we had ready to go into action.
The Minister of National Defence has taken issue with what he thought was the suggestion that this government should have known there was going to be an attack in Korea.
I have tried to follow the debate carefully and I cannot recall a single speaker who has said that this government should have known that there was going to be an attack in Korea. But what I have heard said is that if we were actually carrying out the plans which we were
Defence Appropriation Act told were being made, then we should have been in a state of readiness to take part in such an affair of that kind as might take place. Let us not concentrate on Korea as the possible scene. Suppose that something had happened on the same scale, no more extensive and no more limited, in some other area affected by our obligations under the North Atlantic security pact. Our position would have been no different. We were no more ready to assume any obligations under the North Atlantic security pact than we were under the resolution adopted by the United Nations. It is therefore appropriate now that we should ask this question: Why did that
situation exist, and what is the government going to do that will change this situation, that will make better use of the money that has to be spent in the future, and will bring into actual units in being those units that are going to be trained?
I had hoped that the Minister of National Defence would come here, would do as other ministers of national defence have done in other countries, and say, as has been said in effect elsewhere, that with the hope of peace we did not anticipate the problems and we did not do the things that were needed, but with the situation with which we are now confronted, this is what we are going to do; and would then tell us of a new plan to improve the equipment and the trained men we actually possess.
We must not be anchored to the past. In this case we must not repeat to ourselves that as it was in the beginning, so is it now and always shall be. In this case we must be prepared to demonstrate those qualities of initiative, ingenuity and originality which are the very hall-mark of the free system we are seeking to preserve. If there was one thing which emerged from the last war more clearly than anything else, it was that men and women whose minds are free and whose spirits are unshackled are able to improvise, to devise new things and to create new organizations, more rapidly, more effectively and more skilfully than those who have been subject to the highly-concentrated and allpowerful direction of the totalitarian state. Far from nazi or fascist centralized power giving them greater efficiency in war, we found that they had less; because ingenuity, initiative, vision, energy and the spirit of a free people were all lacking.
Our job now is to show that, as free people, we can face this desperate threat and that we can use the brains that have been unshackled and free in order to bring into existence with what we actually possess forces that will be effective, at the earliest possible date; and then to build as rapidly as possible
Defence Appropriation Act in addition to that. We have in this country large quantities of small arms, machine guns, mortars, grenades and many infantry weapons. We have 17-pounders, 25-pounders, 5.5's and 3.7's in large quantities or in numbers large enough to create artillery units of great hitting power. We have engineering equipment in the armouries and storehouses across this country. We have tanks, armoured vehicles and transport equipment. We have, as a matter of fact, large quantities of arms, equipment and stores of an extremely useful quality, although they may not be the last word and although they may not be that type that we would contemplate as the ideal two, three or four years from now.
While it is all too true that the reserve training has been disappointing, as was stated so emphatically and so undeniably by the hon. member for Nanaimo, nevertheless we have in this country outside the permanent force, both in the reserve and out of the reserve, trained men capable of taking their part in units which could be formed with these weapons and equipment to which I have referred.
One plan was put forward by the hon. member for Broadview. Other plans have been suggested in this chamber. As the hon. member for Broadview pointed out, he was not saying that this was by any manner of means a plan which could not be improved upon. He merely put it forward and said: Show us something better, but let us have a plan so that there is something we know is being done.
If we heard tonight, Mr. Chairman, that a landing had been made on the northwest coast of Canada, we would be moving as fast as we could to improvise, and we would not be worrying about percentages or about whether we were following the textbook as to the total amount of equipment we had in each particular unit. We would be moving as fast as we could to get together something to meet a threat of that kind, knowing perfectly well that with all the money that has been spent we have not at the moment a permanent force establishment adequate for that purpose.
If we would do that under such circumstances, why should not we be doing something of that kind at a time that we know that free people are under immediate threat everywhere? And we also know that the greatest hope that we have that there will be no such landing, either by sea or by air, that there will be no attack by Russia on us, or on any of the other free nations, is the speed and the effectiveness with which the free nations now show that they can use
the things they have to get together forces capable of using that equipment at the earliest possible date.
That does not necessitate the setting up of permanent establishments on a grandiose scale; but we have so many trained men and women out of the million who were in uniform such a comparatively short time ago that it certainly is practical, is possible and is reasonable to organize effective units with the equipment we now have. Whether that is something that is along the lines contemplated by the Department of National Defence, again I am not prepared to say. Anything of this kind can only be a suggestion, but in the name of everything we hold dear, let us stop drifting along, let us face the dreadful reality that is before us, and let us insist that the government tell us of some plans to make use of the equipment, of the weapons and of the general military establishments that we have across this country.
The Minister of National Defence has told us again that everything is going well; that we have no reason to be setting up a committee to obtain information. Everything has not gone well. We had the definite statement of the most experienced soldier in this house by far, in fact I believe the most experienced soldier in Canada, who told us here a few days ago that the training of our reserve forces was largely ineffective because of the small percentages that were going into camp. In that instance, it is proper to use percentages because if a reserve unit goes into camp with less than 25 per cent of its authorized strength, it does not get 25 per cent of its training; it gets very much less, and perhaps practically nothing that is useful, because a very large number of hon. members know very well from their own experience that when a unit goes into camp a certain minimum number of men are required each day for camp detail; and that you can get to a minimum point where there is practically nobody left for any training at all. In a great many instances that is precisely what is happening.
We have not been wasting thousands, we have been wasting millions of dollars in this country on ineffective training of that type. Do not let anybody make the statement that this is a reflection on the men who are in uniform and in camp. On \he contrary, it is a great tribute to them that under conditions of that kind they still have the heart to go to camp.
The armouries of this country have been the centres where the spirit of our great nonpermanent organizations has been kept alive. In these armouries from coast to coast training has been given that is useful; but, Mr.
Chairman, at a time when we are now talking about a possible immediate threat, of the defence of our soil, and when we are talking with an increasing sense of realism- and it has to increase a great deal more than has been displayed by the government so far -of the hope of preserving peace by the creation of effective defence plans, it is nothing but tragic folly to contemplate the possibility of going on pouring out large sums of money on ineffective training of that kind, when our job now is to make every dollar and every cent in every dollar count-because that itself is part of the struggle.
Last night many hon. members must have been surprised at the statement by the Secretary of State for External Affairs when he said, as reported at page 223 of Hansard:
But I am sure hon. members will appreciate that it is very difficult indeed at this time, in the midst of these discussions, to explain in detail what part we may have to play in regard to the carrying out of our obligations under the North Atlantic pact. It is possible, however-and I am sure the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Claxton) will not mind if I say this-to say at this time, pending revision of those plans which is now under way in the light of developments since June, that it is understood by our friends of the North Atlantic pact that our position in regard to collective defence in an attack on western Europe would be, on land, to use our permanent force to assist United States forces, or to be assisted by United States forces, in repelling a direct attack from the north, and using it as a basis for the expansion of our army for a later expeditionary force to defend Canada outside Canada.
With all the statements that have been made about our joining in a plan of collective security, that is a strange statement of Canada's position; that our permanent forces are to be used either to assist the United States or have them assist us in the defence of the north of this continent. In other words, our plan of collective security is that we stay in Canada and expect other members of the Atlantic pact to come and help us. I cannot believe that that is the concept of collective security that has been put forward in this country. If it is, well, then, it is a different concept from that which we had put before us in the past.
I cannot help comparing the statement that the Secretary of State for External Affairs made last night, about this permanent force being used as the basis for the expansion of our army for a later expeditionary force to defend Canada outside Canada, with the statement of the Minister of National Defence, who said that the right place to defend Canada, and which Canadians believed in, is as far away as possible. The Minister of National Defence also said: "We must maintain a force in being and the means necessary to develop our full potential as quickly as possible". Those were things we were told
Defence Appropriation Act in March-not in June, but in March. And also I cannot help recalling the words of the Secretary of State for External Affairs and comparing them with the statement now that this permanent force of ours is to stay here and to be used as the basis of our army for a later expeditionary force to defend Canada outside Canada. I cannot help comparing that with other words he used, words which seemed to have such a ring to them at the time. I have not those words before me, but I doubt if he will question them when I repeat them in substance. At that time he told us that never again would it be possible for any nation to build its strength behind the ramparts of sacrifices of others.
If that is so, then this seems strangely inconsistent with what he said at that time. There again is one of the reasons why we should really know what forces we are going to have and what new plans we have got, because we have no plan before us now except the one to carry on with the same unsatisfactory procedure that left us aghast at our unpreparedness when the test came.
Surely this is something that could be discussed by everybody, with the hope of getting ahead and not just with the idea of using blocking tactics and preventing anything being accomplished other than the very little that is put before us.
This amount of money for which we are now asked is something that will be supported by members of the House of Commons to the extent that they receive assurance. Hon. members certainly have no thought of holding back. Nevertheless we have the duty and the responsibility of making sure that before we leave here we do know something about what is actually being planned for the security of this country in the months immediately ahead.
Whether the Prime Minister intended that his statement should be taken literally or not, nevertheless he undoubtedly was indicating his own belief that the critical period is immediately before us when he said that the next decade of months would be so important. If that is so, then as members of the House of Commons we have no right to leave here for another five months if we are not sure that within this decade of months ahead of us every day is going to count in making use of what we have.
The Minister of National Defence placed a strange interpretation upon the request for a committee. I do not recall a single case when anyone has suggested that a defence committee would have it within its authority to declare policy for the Department of National Defence, any more than a committee
Defence Appropriation Act on external affairs declares policy for the Department of External Affairs, or the committee on railways, canals and telegraph lines declares policy for that department.
What that committee can do is to examine evidence, to examine the organization, to call the chiefs of staff, to call the senior officers, to call technical experts outside the government service to obtain information and to make recommendations in regard to details which obviously would be subject to the overall policy which always must be the responsibility of a government, under our system, and which every one of us recognizes.
Then there is another thing that has come up from time to time, and that is that we would be helping the enemy. Oh, it is so difficult to believe that the Kremlin will decide its course upon what it hears about what we discuss here! Nevertheless there is not a member of the house who would not be equally anxious to prevent any secret information getting into the hands of the enemy at any time. I am convinced that where it is clear that there is any bona fide reason for not asking a question, the question would never be pressed. But, do not think that the Russians do not know a lot more than members of the House of Commons know now. Do not think they do not know a lot more about the number of aircraft we have, and the condition or lack of condition of them.