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


John Graham Haggart

Conservative (1867-1942)

Hon. JOHN HAGGART (South Lanark).

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Railways and Canals (Hon. Mr. Blair) has given us a lecture as to how we ought to proceed in the conduct of an investigation before the Public Accounts Committee. My hon. friend (Mr. Bell) who moved this motion showed without doubt that never before had such a precedent been before the committee or before this House in connection with an investigation into an affair of the greatest importance to this country, because, I say it is a most important matter where the expenditure on a public work in this country was $4,500,000 and more in excess of the revenue, an expenditure which ought to alarm the whole country when taken into consideration with the expenditures that the hon. gentleman has made from the time he entered office to the present day. Our duty is to inquire into such expenditures as these, and in making that inquiry have we not to follow the precedents and rules which have been established and which have serv-

ed as a guide for every deliberate assembly, every committee, as well as for this House and the British House of Parliament ? An hon. member gets up and summons a witness. Another hon. member gets up and declares that to the best of his information and belief the witness he has summoned is prepared to give evidence. Now, we had the extraordinary proceeding of the minister who was on trial before the country entering an objection to the summoning of this witness. It is a matter of public notoriety in the papers of the hon. gentleman's own province and along the line of the Intercolonial Railway that if inquiries were pushed before the Public Accounts Committee as to the expenditure of public moneys on that road, such developments would be made-I am using the words of the papers-as would astonish the country. I am putting it in the mildest possible terms. We are exercising our duty of investigation and are we to be confined to the officials whom the hon. gentleman puts into office, and who, when he puts them in the box, have hanging oyer their heads the fear of dismissal, to whom the minister puts his questions and suggests the answers ? Are we to be dictated to in what manner we shall make this inquiry ? Yes, we have to examine these officials and every one else who is connected with the office, but we are not to go outside at all. We are to be confined to the officers of the department and to the hon. gentleman's officials. I venture to say that such a course was never before dictated to the committee of a free assembly having control over its own affairs. That committee is appointed for the closest investigation of the public accounts of this country, and we are told forsooth, that we must confine ourselves to an examination of the officials of the department. But the Minister of Railways has been taken down. Some of his supporters in the committee had mental reservations in supporting him, notably the member from Yarmouth (Mr. Flint) who hoped that some time in the future the minister might change liis mind and that the witness we needed should be summoned. Ashamed of the proceedings in the committee he now promises to the House that after the officials have been examined, then if it is necessary Mr. Archibald would afterwards be summoned. What we demand is that the committee shall have full power to call witnesses, and that when a member states that he believes that a certain witness is able to give information which shall be valuable to parliament, that that witness shall be summoned. Who is the witness we desire to summon in this case. He is a gentleman who was chief engineer of that railroad for a number of years up to 1897, and against whose honour and record for ability never a word could be said. He was dismissed from his office. What for ? Was it because he was an inefficient engineer in chief ? Not at all. He was dismissed because he would not serve the political purposes of the present Minister of Railways, and because he was too honest and too honourable to do that. We are told that this man is to coach the opposition and that if he was brought up here he might give us some information. Well, it is information we want, and that in itself is sufficient reason why he should be summoned. If the House votes now to sustain the Minister of Railways, it will establish a precedent which will not be in the interest of this country. The Minister of Railways has introduced new manners into this old parliament of Canada, to which this House has been a stranger hitherto. He is bringing in the fashion of dragooning, which I suppose he learned in his little operations in New Brunswick, where it may pass current, but it will not do in this parliament of Canada. There is too much honour in this House for that. The members on the opposite side of the House know very well that what we demand here is simply fair-paly. No precedent can be brought for the House refusing to summon this witness. In England it is said to be necessary that a person should state in writing the reasons why a witness should be summoned before a committee, and I offered at the last meeting of the committee to give my reasons in writing, but the chairman of the committee said there was no necessity for that as the matter could be considered when the report was being considered in the House. The minister says he is not on his trial. He is on his trial. He is on his trial for capitalizing the amount which he paid to the Grand Trunk Railway ; he is on his trial before the people of this country for the enormous expenditure of over $22,000,000, made up of capital expenditure and deficits on the Intercolonial Railway since he took charge of it. Including the amount which he asks us to vote for this year and next year on capital account, his expenditure on capital account on the Intercolonial amounts to nearly $23,000,000, which is more than the whole surpluses during the period the Liberals have been in power. That money which might have been expended in developing this country largely is being sunk in that sink hole by the Minister of Railways, and he now refuses to allow us to summon a necessary witness in order to inquire how his expenditures have been made. I appeal to this House ; I appeal to the country ; I appeal to the supporters of the Minister of Railways. It is the business of the opposition to investigate, and are they to be thwarted in their investigation ? Will this House of Commons sanction that ? And, Sir, if the supporters of the government refuse to do what is right there is nothing left to us but to appeal afterwards to the people of the country, who will, I believe,

insist on our getting fair-play, and insist on having the public expenditure of this country properly investigated.

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