ADJOURNMENT-THE AUDITOR GENERAL.
The PRIME MINISTER moved the adjournment of the House.
Before the House adjourns, there is a matter which has been placed in my hands which I think is of some importance, and I am requested to read the following letter :
This is the circular :
Copy of a circular sent to the departments.
Auditor General's Office,
Ottawa, September, 12, 1903.
Sir,-While the difficulty in connection with the issuing of letters-of-credit exists I shall be very glad, as far as the working strength of the Audit Office will permit, to pass applications for Receiver General's cheques for the more pressing claims that are before your department. Be good enough to send all the vouchers which are necessary to justify me in passing your applications. The staff of this office would be glad, I am sure, to work after the ordinary office hours if the convenience of your department required it in this connection.
(Sgd.) JOHN GORMAN,
for Auditor General.
Ottawa, September 16, 1903.
Dear Mr. Taylor,-The Minister of Finance is reported in this morning's ' Citizen ' as having said in reply to you that it was undoubtedly important that members should be able to draw a few dollars as the exhibition was on. He was unable to give any information, however. The Auditor General had the power to create the dead-lock and that was the beginning and end of it.
I beg to inclose my circular of last Saturday which sufficiently explains itself and which was written as soon as I knew that a Bill was to be introduced to deal with the subject. This circular was written to remove as far as possible the dead-lock which until then I hoped from day to day would he shortly at an end.
At any time since the issuing of the circular the members could have been paid all their requirements, as they can now, within twenty-four hours, by applications for Receiver General's cheques from the clerk.
Will you oblige me by reading the circular and this letter to the House.
J. L. McDOUGALL.
G. Taylor, Esq., M.P., House of Commons. Auditor General's Office, Canada, This tvas written from the Auditor General's office, and is the circular be referred to in his letter. From the reading of this, it appears to me that the government should not take the position that they cannot pay members their per diem allowance. It is over a week now since this dead-lock occurred between the Auditor General and the Finance Minister, and the Auditor General says it can be settled in twenty-four hours. The Finance Minister ought to see that it is settled, and the dead-lock brought to an end, so that not only the members but the staff of the House generally shall be paid. He ought to see that the clerk issues a receiver general's warrant and gets the money immediately. Something should be done to relieve the situation.
My hon. friend will have to ill al with the Speaker and the Clerk of the House, who is neither an official of mine nor of the government. All I can say is that there is nothing that the Minister of Finance or the government can do to meet the difficulty. I pointed out in some observations which I made the other day the difference between the system of audit by letters of credit and the system of direct application. By the method described by the Auditor General, the hon. gentleman can make application to the clerk or the accountant ; the accountant will issue his certificate : that will go to the Auditor General, who will send it to the Finance Minister, and in due course the money will be paid. That is a matter for the Speaker and the clerk. No action that I can take can affect the matter in any shape or form.
It seems to me that it is placing the hou. members of this House in a rather unfair position before the country to give the impression, by repeatedly referring to tills matter, which will no doubt be settled in a very few days, that members of parliament are unable to pay their board bills, or to get along for a week without drawing some money. For my part, while I am perhaps as short as any other member, I do not think there are. any serious complaints from members, and I do not think we shall suffer very much if we all have to wait until this matter is fairly settled. My object in calling the attention of the House to it is that I think it is unfair that it should go to the country that we are here for no other purpose than to draw money from the treasury. The newspapers are commenting upon this thing. I have more sympathy with the messengers and pages and those who have contracts with the government. But it appears that prominence has been given to the position of members of parliament, as if thery were the only persons who were suffering. I do not think any of us are suffering, and we are prepared to stand it longer if necessary.
I would remind the hon. gentleman that the government has not brought up this matter at all. It has been brought up by lion, gentlemen opposite. We have made no allusion to it except when it has been brought up by others. ,
I do not accuse the Minister of Finance of bringing it up. I reflect upon the parties who have been bringing it up.
It seems to me that tiie difficulty would be easily settled if we had a correct understanding of it. I understand that all the Auditor General desires is to get the old cheques and the bank statement accompanying them. Surely the Finance Minister can furnish those, as the Auditor 362
General believes he requires them to do his work properly, and without them he is not able to carry out the provisions of the law.
My hon. friend has raised what is really a different question. There is no quarrel between the Minister of Finance and the Auditor General. The point is simply this, that the Martineau commission lias recommended a different method of dealing with the accounts and bank statements from what has hitherto prevailed, and the treasury board has adopted their recommendation. The words of the treasury board's order were taken from the report of the Martineau commission. After adopting the first minute the treasury board made a little change, in order to meet the views of the Auditor General. I do not question the Auditor General's sincerity ; I have great respect for .him ; but he prefers to have the old method, under which the Martineau defalcation lias occurred, whereas the commissioners suggest a change. It is not a very great change ; we have adopted it, and I do not see why the Auditor General cannot follow it out.
I understood that the Auditor General recommended that the cheques should be sent to him, instead of being as heretofore sent to tlie various departments that issue them, but if they are sent to the Finance Department, all he asks is that a duplicate statement be made out and sent with the cheques to his office, so that he can audit the accounts and see that they correspond witli the statement from the bank. Without that, I do not see how he can audit the accounts. It would appear to me that there should be ho serious objection to furnishing that statement.
I can assure my hou. friend that he has not been fully informed of the matter. There is no objection to furnishing the Auditor General with any information he desires; but I deny the right of the Auditor General to dictate how the treasury board should do its work.
That, it seems to me is not the question. Tlie Auditor General, according to the best advice and information he can get believes that he is honestly carrying, out the strict letter of the law, and he is as much bound to do that as the treasury board are to carry out their judgment.
I must add that tlie government and the treasury board are acting under the advice of the Minister of Justice, who advises that everything we have done is entirely in accordance with the law ; and if the Auditor General honestly and conscientiously believes that he is obliged by the law to do these things, all I can say is that it is time that we made the law clear, and that is what we propose to do.
What does the Auditor General mean by this statement in his letter :
This circular was written to remove as far as possible the deadlock which until then I hoped from day to day would shortly be at an end.
There seems to have been a deadlock between the Auditor General and the Finance Department, and he hoped from day to day that it would be removed. In reference to the statement made by my hon. friend from Haltou (Mr. Henderson), about bringing this matter up, I made one reference to it before to-day. The Auditor General has written to me as a member of the House, asking me to read this statement, and I have done so. I may say for myself that I have not drawn much of my indemnity; but only last Thursday, when I wanted to draw some, I was refused', and this week when I returned, the deadlock was still on. Several members have asked me if they could not get some money, and I thought it my duty to make reference to the matter. I do not care what impression goes to the country with reference to the members or the staff of the House. The law allows us so much indemnity for the session, and we can draw so much per diem if we need it. Many members have not drawn any yet, but the time has come when they'Feed some money, and why should we be inconvenienced when the country owes us the amount. It is no reflection on a member that he says he wants some mjoney and wants this deadlock to be brought to an end. If it is the fault of the Auditor General let us know it; if it is the fault of the Finance Minister, let us know it. He hoped from day to day that this deadlock would be brought to an end.
So I did. '
the hon. gentleman has not been able to receive his indemnity in the same way and with the same promptness as in the past is because the Auditor General has refused to issue to the Clerk of this House the usual letter of credit. I do not care what dispute he may have with other people, in my judgment he has no right to refuse that, and we propose to amend the law so that he shall not have the power to hold up members of the House or any department of the government on such a frivolous and unreasonable pretext. If the law authorizes him to take the stand he takes, the law should be amended.
Motion agreed to, and House adjourned at 12.15 a.m.