September 15, 1903

CON

Frederick Debartzch Monk

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MONK.

I took the ground during the last parliament, as far as the question of transportation was concerned, before this Bill was introduced, and I still say, that if, instead of passing this Bill, we had the report of a commission, that would be of some use. But after the Bill is introduced, I consider the commission a useless expense.

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

The hon. gentleman is still confusing the question of a transcontinental railway with the broader question of transportation, which may include many matters not connected with railways. The question of transportation includes railways, but the question of i ail-ways is not the whole transportation question. There are questions of terminal facilities, water communication, harbour improvements and various other questions involved in the transportation problem, but ail of which are not included in the scope of this Bill. I come back to the point that my hon. friend, in conjunction with his associates, commended the idea of the transportation commission ; but now he rather falls back, and says that all these commissions are unnecessary. He objects to them on the constitutional ground that the government should deal with these matters directly and not by commission. Well, we know that under our system of government, both in the mother country and in the colonies, governments have been in the habit of appointing commissions for purposes which could be better accomplished in that way perhaps than directly by ministerial action. My hon. friend takes the ground that the railway commission is unnecessary, and that we should continue the old method of adjusting railway questions by the Railway Committee of the Privy Council. That is a fair question for discussion ; but I submit that my hon. friend is slightly late in the day in bringing it up. We had the Bill for the creation of a railway commission before this House for many weeks, and we discussed it in all its aspects ; and only now, for the first time, do we learn that hon. gentlemen opposite were opposed to that Bill. If my hon. friend did not want that measure to pass, the least the country would have expected of him would have been to have made a motion against its passage. But my hon. friend allowed the Bill to pass without objecting to it, and if hereafter he should be accused of being opposed to that Bill he could deny it, and refer triumphantly to ' Hansard ' to show that he had never voted against it or proposed any motion against it. If he had any objection to the creation of a railway commission, he should have raised that objection at an earlier date.

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CON

Frederick Debartzch Monk

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MONK.

I had objection to that feature of it.

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

That feature is the whole Bill itself. It is for the creation of another commission, a tribunal to do that which he says should be done by the Minister of Railways and the government, a tribunal which he says will cost the country $100,000 a year unnecessarily ; and yet he never voted against the Bill.

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CON

Frederick Debartzch Monk

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MONK.

The hon. ex-Minister of Railways said, in answer to a question from me, that he had made an estimate, and that he expected that the commission would cost this year $100,000.

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

That is all the more reason why the hon. gentleman should not have allowed that monstrosity to pass this House without protest. If the Bill was burdening the country unnecessarily to the extent of $100,000 a year, how does the hon. gentleman propose to answer to his constituents for having allowed that Bill to pass without any protest ? I think he takes a great responsibility in rising at this late day to attack that Bill. With regard to the question of a commission for the construction of this railway, my hon. friend thinks that the work should 1 e carried on directly by the government, and that the intervention of a commission, as proposed by this Bill, is not a convenient and satisfactory method. I can find no fault with his taking that stand. If he sees fit to propose an amendment declaring that it is not expedient to appoint a commission, and that the government should carry on that work itself, that is a fair position to take. But I take exception to liis statement with regard to an independent commission. He thinks that if a commission is to be appointed, it should be independent of the government. But to be independent of the government means to be

independent of parliament, and that means to be independent of the people ; and I say that in the ease of a commission charged with the expenditure of vast sums of public money, it is not constitutional doctrine, but the very opposite, to propose that it shall have the power to spend these vast sums and yet not be responsible to the government, to parliament and to the country.

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CON

Frederick Debartzch Monk

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MONK.

Is the position of the Auditor General entirely dependent on the people, and yet independent as regards the government ? What is the difference between the two ?

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

The great difference is that the Auditor General has not the power to spend one penny. He is not a spending minister.

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IND

William Findlay Maclean

Independent Conservative

Mr. MACLEAN.

He can check spending ministers.

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

Yes, and he can stop my hon. friend's indemnity. The power of the Auditor General is a power to obstruct, but he has not the power to spend a copper, and therefore no constitutional principle is violated when we say that he should be an independent officer. But it would be an invasion of all true constitutional principles to say that a great body, having power to spend many millions of public money, should not be responsible to this government and parliament. When we create a commission, we create a condition somewhat different from that of an ordinary official to a certain extent. While an ordinary official In one of the departments is immediately under the minister's direction, you do not exactly have the same relations with a commission. There is a degree of independence in the latter, and so far as that degree goes, it is for the public convenience and good; but if you want to carry that to the point of saying that these commissioners, charged with the expenditure of vast sums, are to be altogether independent of government, so that they can carry on their own sweet will, that is not a doctrine consistent with true constitutional principles. The situation is that while you employ gentlemen of ability and independence to do the work, if at any moment their conduct is inconsistent with the public interest, you have the power to remove them.

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CON

Thomas Simpson Sproule

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SPROULE.

They are the servants of the government no doubt, but in what sense ?

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

In the same sense that they are a railway commission.

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CON

Thomas Simpson Sproule

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SPROULE.

The government are charged with the duty of building the eastern section of the railway and employ commissioners to build it. These commissioners must be the servants of the government, Hon. Mr. FIELDING.

because the government appoints them and can discharge them and can stop operations whenever they see fit. Besides any contract let by these commissioners for over ten thousand dollars must be subject to the approval of the government. In every sense they are the servants of the government. That being the case, in what position will the government find themselves when they come to determine whether or not the government is importing stuff free to build that road. If the commissioners are only the servants of the government, it is the government who are building the road.

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

The road is to be constructed by contractors, who will get their material wherever they please, and who cannot import free of duties.

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CON

Thomas Simpson Sproule

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SPROULE.

They are only contracting with the commission for the government. The commission are charged with doing the work for the government, and purpose giving out contracts. It is really the government which is doing the work. I am afraid that when that clause comes to be interpreted by the courts, the courts will hold that it is the government for whom the materials were imported.

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

By the same process of reasoning my hon. friend might claim-and. he could make the claim with more force, because there is no intervening commission-that a contractor on one of our canals is entitled to get his materials free of duty. But nobody has ever before dreamt of anything of the sort. The contractor is not the government. The law, which has been on the statutes many years with respect to importations by the government, provides that articles imported direct by the government for public use will not pay duty. It would be a matter of little concern if they did, because it would only be taking out of one pocket and putting it into the other. That provision has never been applied to the case of a contractor, and will not.

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CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BORDEN (Halifax).

My hon. friend, in referring to the expenditure of this commission, gives us no information at all. When the ex-Minister of Railways (Hon. Mr. Blair) was putting through the House the Railwmy Commission Bill, he was able to give some information as to what the cost would be.

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

Not until the end of the discussion.

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CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BORDEN (Halifax).

I do not remember whether it was the beginning or the end.

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The MINISTER OF FINANCE.

I do.

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September 15, 1903