March 19, 1902 (9th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Adam Carr Bell

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. A. C. BELL (Pictou).

Agreeable to notice given the other day, I wish, Mr. Mr. OSLER.
Speaker, to move in reference to the third report of the standing committee on Public Accounts. A great deal of attention has naturally been turned towards the management of the Intercolonial Railway and the general government railway system, and among other matters which engross the attention of members of the House at this time is the working of that road. The committee on Public Accounts have taken cognizance of some of the facts, and certain members who are interesting themselves in the investigation before the Public Accounts Committee, asked to have a certain witness summoned to appear and give evidence. The motion was opposed by the minister interested and other ministers present, and in the end was negatived by a majority vote. Under these circumstances, there was nothing left for those prosecuting this inquiry but to appeal from the committee to the House. I have looked into the question with the view of discovering what precedents 1 could find bearing on it, but so far I can find none whatever. The rule seems to be, as laid down in the authorities
No witness shall be summoned to appear before the committee and be paid his expenses unless a certificate shall have beni first filed with the chairman of the committee, by a member thereof, stating that the evidence of such witness is, in his opinion, material and important.
Technically speaking, that was not done, but a motion for the summoning of the witness was made by a member of the committee, seconded by another member of that committee and supported by verbal explanations in the course of which these gentlemen stated that they considered the evidence of such witness material and important to the investigation. I have looked to see if I could discover any precedent for the action of the committee in rejecting this motion and can find none. Apparently nothing of the kind has ever occurred before in the history of this parliament. On no occasion has it ever been necessary for any member of any standing committee to appeal to the House against a decision of the kind to which I am now referring. In the opinion of those who are prosecuting the inquiry before that committee, which naturally has a majority under the control of the government, there is nothing left for them but to appeal to the House from its decision and ask the House to instruct it to summon the witness in question.
I do not know that I need go into a full explanation of why this investigation is now proceeding. I may say briefly that the figures in the Public Accounts, Auditor General's return, and the report of the Minister of Railways, seem to show that there are matters which the public advantage requires should be looked into, and in reference to which it would not be at all surprising to find that serious deviations from the course

of good government and honest management have been made during the past year.
But, to summarize, I would call the attention of the House to the fact that the amount spent this year, on the Intercolonial Railway, a work which has already cost the people a large sum of money, is very great indeed. Under the head of capital expenditure, we find that nearly $4,000,000 has been expended on that work which must have been regarded very many years ago by the people of Canada as a completed work. Of course, the figures I give include the Prince Edward Island Railway- the whole system which is under the management of the Minister of Railways. The actual figures as given in the returns of the Auditor General is $3,941,406. Now, that is not all the Intercolonial Railway has cost the people of Canada this year. We find that, under the system of book-keeping adopted by the minister, or under his direction I presume, there is suspense accounts by means of which $213,000 which should have appeared, and which would have swollen that expenditure above $4,000,000, has been carried into the following year. That, of course, must be added to the expenditure of the year of which I am speaking. In addition, there is a deficit in the working expenses of the road of this year of $348,186. There is a deficit on Prince Edward Island Railway of $67,883. That is to say, the Intercolonial Railway and Prince Edward Island Railway have cost the people of Canada, for the year ending June 30 1901, the sum of $4,570,536. Such an enormous outlay naturally attracts attention to the management of the Intercolonial Railway. I believe, that, in the public interest, the inquiry should be made as thorough and complete as possible. Moreover, in the interest of the minister in charge and of the government of the country, that inquiry should be made thorough, searching, exhaustive and complete. But when we sought to go on with our inquiry, we are met at the first stage, almost at the very first witness, asked for by the gentlemen who were in the minority on that committee, and who, representing the minority in parliament and in the country, speak for those whose interests are to be protected by that minority, by a refusal to call that witness, though he is manifestly a competent witness, and though the minority declared him to be most material, important and necessary witness, if the inquiry into the affairs of the Intercolonial Railway is to be made what it ought to be. I do not criticise the action of the Minister of Railways and Canals in opposing the calling of that witness. That is not my business.
I suppose he acted in the manner which he thought would most properly conserve his own interest, perhaps his own reputation. That is a matter for himself. But I would call the attention of the House to the fact that he is, so far as I can discover,
the first minister whose conduct has been challenged or inquired into by the Public Accounts Committee, since Canada had existence as a country, who thought it necessary to refuse the request of a minority of the committee to call a proper and material witness. If he is anxious for a complete, exhaustive and satisfactory inquiry, I should think he would be glad to have any witnesses the committee asked for. I shall not go on and discuss the statement made by the minister before the committee, because I think that would be out of order, and, no doubt, he will make his own statement here and now. But, to my mind, that which should regulate and decide such a matter as we are now discussing is the one question, is it in the interest of the people of Canada, is it in the interest of the department whose management is being inquired into, that the witness should be called ? It has not been the rule in the past, to inquire very closely into the scope of the evidence that a witness! would give if called before the committee. It lias, apparently, been the rule in the committee that the greatest latitude should be allowed by those initiating the Inquiries, and they have been allowed to judge what value the evidence of the witness would have if called before the committee. In this case, the person the calling of whom as a witness is desired by members of the committee who happen to be in the minority, and whose attendance is refused by the committee under the direct instructions of the minister, happens to be the man, who, of all others in Canada, outside the office of the Intercolonial Railway and the Minister of Railways, knows most about the matter into which the committee is inquiring. He spent the greater part of his life in a most responsible position in connection with the road. He knows its working and every feature of importance that it is necessarv for the committee to understand. He has an unblemished reputation as a railway man, and a magnificent reputation as a railway engineer; and there can be no doubt that the evidence he can give to the committee if he were allowed to attend and testify would develop no attack on the minister, but the truth and the whole truth in respect of those matters into which the committee thought it well to inquire. The matter is as I have stated. There has been gigantic outlay on the railway, and there is evidence to show that very poor management had been used in controlling the affairs of the railway. In the counties through which the Intercolonial Railway runs, it is a matter of common repute that the road is run more as a political and electioneering machine than as a railway; that, whenever it is necessary In the interest of the government of the day, the resources, the employees of that road are called to the service of the party in power. I could give evidence on that subject if necessary,

but I am not going further than to state that it is a matter of common repute in those counties that the road has been deflected from its purpose and converted into an engine of advantage and gain for the government of the day.

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