Hon. C. G. Power (Quebec South):
who for many years has been urging that estimates be sent to a committee, I rather welcomed the statement made by the Minister of Finance (Mr. Harris) this afternoon and the discussion which has taken place; but I do believe that there are some things which arise out of the discussion and some perhaps have not been mentioned, which should be clarified by the minister before we finally adopt with enthusiasm his suggestion.
I am somewhat confused as to just what the procedure is to be in the special committee on estimates. I think I should say it would appear that in the minds of many speed is the requirement and speed is what we should be aiming at. I would suggest that really time is not the important element in this as much as efficiency.
With respect to the procedure in the committee, it would appear that all parties seem to be in agreement on one thing anyway, namely, that policy is the business of the government and the responsibility of the minister, and that officers of the department should not properly be questioned on matters of policy. I do not think anyone will deny that under our system of government the minister is responsible for all the details of his administration. He cannot foist on the shoulders of his officers the
Special Committee on Estimates responsibility for his administration any more than the responsibility for the policies that he advocates.
Now, coming to the procedure in the committee, I am inclined to agree with the hon. member for Greenwood (Mr. Mac-donnell) that the business of carrying on by whispering or sotto voce suggestions will be impracticable if not futile in the narrow confines of a committee room. Pretty nearly all the members of the committee will hear the replies that the deputy minister whispers to his minister and naturally the members of the committee will say: "Well, Mr. Minister, ask him this or ask him that", which would be a sort of three-handed form of questioning which would finally finish up by being a bit ridiculous.
I would say that there should be nothing in the order of reference nor in the intentions of the government to preclude officers of the department from being examined and cross-examined. But I would say this: If any minister believes that he on his own can answer all the questions which an ingenious opposition can put to him, well, then, let him try it.