May 22, 1901 (9th Parliament, 1st Session)


Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BORDEN (Halifax).

I accept the correction of my hon. friend from North Victoria (Mr. Hughes). I should not have omitted my hon. friend the Minister of Customs. But he happened to be absent from his place for the moment, and I inadvertently passed him over, for winch I owe him my sincere apologies. He certainly was loud In manner and in language and in voice with regard to these matters in those days, though now he roars you as gently as a sucking dove when he comes to deal with these questions. The Minister of Finance (Hon. Mr. Fielding) when dealing during this session with the finances of the country during the past four years, told us that we have had in these four years surpluses aggregating $14,095,194, to be increased by an estimated surplus this year of $0,350,000, making a total surplus during these years of $20,445,194. But the remarkable part of the hon. gentleman's statement was that even for this period, which showed surpluses of $20,000,000 and upwards, the debt of the country has been increased by no less than $8,790,373. Now, how has this come about ? It has come about through a most extraordinary system of expenditure. The Liberal-Conservative party have never been backward in spending money to develop tlie country, and they have always
been ready to support this government in any reasonable expenditure for that purpose. But there is a limit in these things ; and I am inclined to think that this government have not taken into consideration certain reasons which ought to have made the public expenditure during the last three or four years less than it has been. What is the duty of the government, and what is the duty of the opposition witli regard to such questions ? In the first place, 1 believe that a good deal of this enormous expenditure is owing to the fact that the government persisted in making ante-election pledges to the people, and thereby deprived themselves of the opportunity of holding off those who make demands upon them for expenditure on public works and otherwise. I will not go fully over the estimates, but I will take merely the supplementary estimates which were brought before the House for the purpose of being voted no earlier than two days ago, the 20tli of this month. I have looked over one branch of the public estimates-public works, harbours and rivers -and I find that it embraces no less than 269 different items covering an expenditure between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000, upon which the House is asked to pass judgment. Now, I admit that any government in this country will be called upon by its political friends to make enormous expenditures for works of this kind ; and I say that the duty of the government is to cut down the demands that have been made upon them to an amount which will be reasonably consistent with the ability of (lie country to undertake these burdens, looking not only to the present, but to the future. I cannot believe that the government have offered a sufficiently firm resistance to demands of this kind made upon them. For this reason tlie expenditure for the present year exceeds $50,000,000. and that proposed for the year ending 30tli June. 1892, runs up to over $60,000,000-it exceeds the public revenues even at a time of great prosperity, when the revenues are more abundant than we can reasonably hope they will be in the future. I have pointed out the duty of the government. Now, what is the duty of the opposition with regal'd to these matters ? Is it the duty, or is it within the ability of the. opposition to go over the 269 items of that character within two or three days of prorogation and obtain from the ministers sufficient information to deal intelligently with them and to weed out from them those items which are least reasonably necessary in the interests of the country ? Suppose we had had five kundred*items, and the amount increased to double, would it have been possible at this date to obtain sufficient information to enable the opposition to do that ? The opposition, with regard to a matter of this kind, is not in the position of the government. The government has a staff of officers to report upon these matters, it has facts furnished from the local!-

ties, it has information before it that cannot possibly be in possession of the opposition unless we are to continue this session until August or September next. Therefore, we can do only one thing with regard to these estimates-we can but enter a general protest.

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