February 8, 1955 (22nd Parliament, 2nd Session)


Charles Gavan Power


Mr. Power (Quebec South):

He would have to be good. I do not know whether the question arises or not, but out of these circumstances it would appear to me that inevitably the questioning would be addressed to the officers of the department. In any case, I would suggest to the minister that he make it perfectly clear to the house there will be no prohibition on officers being asked questions if the minister cannot reply to them himself.
I am not quite sure whether the order of reference should not be altered to meet those conditions. Perhaps, as has already been said, when the individual estimates are referred, the ministry may adopt the idea of stating in the order of reference that matters of policy are not to be discussed in the committee, but I do not think I would go as far as the hon. member who last spoke. I would suggest that matters of policy could be discussed in this special committee, and that questions respecting policy should be addressed only to the minister and not to his officials.
If the order of reference is not wide enough and does not go far enough I suggest to the minister that it should be widened. This is something new; it is an experiment. If in the government's mind it is a reform let us treat it as a reform and see that it is properly framed so that it operates. If it is

Special Committee on Estimates only a concession to my hon. friends of the opposition then let us make our concession freely and willingly, not grudgingly.
Reference has been made to the United States system of committees, and to the British system. With respect to the system in the United States it should be quite clear to all of us that on account of the differences in our parliamentary and constitutional practices it would not be easy and indeed might be very difficult for us to adopt anything like the United States system.
In the first place, in so far as I am able to judge their system does not carry any ministerial responsibility. The ministers are not even in the house. There does not appear to be any governmental responsibility for appropriations since any member of congress may move to add additional expenditure to appropriations. One reads of dozens if not hundreds of bills being introduced by private members for the purpose of giving pensions to worthy soldiers or civil servants. One also hears a great deal of the practice known as log-rolling, whereby certain members of congress agree with certain other members to obtain larger expenditures in their particular regions of the country. In view of these things any attempt to import the United States system would, I believe, be useless in this country.
With respect to the British system, it is worthy I believe of consultation and should perhaps be consulted, but I am reminded of a book I read recently with reference to the British House of Commons. It is a house, as we all know, replete with respect for customs, usages, and tradition. But something like 100 years ago they had to alter the rules of that house very radically indeed. Up to that time it had been known as an English gentlemen's club. Unfortunately, a large group of Irish arrived. The Irish were not Englishmen, and they had no ambitions whatsoever to be gentlemen.
With respect to us, we are not Englishmen either. We have our own traditions and 80 or 90 years of parliamentary government. Surely with these traditions back of us we can feel a way or invent a way whereby we can make our parliamentary system work without slavishly following that of any other country.
Going back to the story I mentioned, with respect to the Irishmen-though perhaps I had better not make any invidious comparisons in connection with the second qualification. However, I should say that owing to our own hypersensitivity with respect to the language used in the house, and owing to the decisions of successive Speakers, we have to some extent lost the flavour and saltiness of

the forthright language of our pioneer forebears, and in our attempts to become gentlemen quite a number of us have become little Lords Fauntleroy minus the lace collar and well brushed curls.
However, and be that as it may, I should say there are very great advantages in referring estimates to a special committee. These advantages have been enumerated by hon. members on all sides of the house, though I confess I was a little surprised that the hon. member for Greenwood (Mr. Macdonnell) did not appear to share the enthusiasm of his neighbour who last spoke and favoured referring these estimates to the committee.
Nevertheless the control, criticism, and scrutiny of the estimates is one of the bulwarks of the opposition. The opposition should, if it is doing its duty, take every possible step to see to it that these expenditures are appropriate and in the interests of the country. May I say as one who enjoyed being in the opposition for two parliaments that I have great sympathy for the opposition, and believe it is the duty of the government and the house to give the opposition every opportunity to scrutinize these estimates.
With respect to hon. members on the government side, perhaps it should be said that there is no constitutional or legal bar to their scrutinizing the estimates also. Such scrutiny is not by law, practice, or the constitution the sole prerogative of members of the opposition. I suggest to many hon. members on the government side that they too would learn a great deal about the function of government, they would learn a lot about the inner workings of departments, if they would take the time and trouble to scrutinize the manner in which estimates are prepared and brought to this house.
From the standpoint of the government I can think of no better procedure than to have deputy ministers appear before parliamentary committees. Anyone who has been in the government must be aware of the almost intolerable pressure brought upon ministers to increase the estimates of the departments. Whether it be the natural tendency to empire-building which exists in all departments and which is very difficult to control; whether it be the pressure to have new gadgets in departmental offices; or whether it be only keeping up with the Jones's in some other department, the ministers have only one way of protecting themselves against this pressure from their officials and that is to be able to say, "No, I cannot get by with this in the House of Commons." If the departmental officers are brought face to face with members of the house and made to understand the reluctance of members to give in to their

whims and fancies, then perhaps the minister would have a much easier time with his department. Without being derogatory in any way to our civil service, I think it would be a good idea to match bureaucracy face to face with democracy as represented by the members of this house.

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