The minister has given us a statement of the total amount to be spent on bridges. He has also stated that he could Dot give us the specific amount for each bridge. May I ask how he makes up the sum total ? Are we to understand that the [DOT]engineer in charge of that work gives a general estimate of the total amount to be expended on the different bridges, or does he not give the department a specific amount or an estimate of the amounts required on each bridge ? If he does not, how is it possible to make up the sum total without just simply guessing at it ?
I have given the names of these twenty-five bridges that it is proposed to double up and I have stated that we have not the specific items in respect to each one of the number. But, the engineers have made an estimate as to the total cost of them and their estimate is $46,000. That is included in the $385,000.
It makes it rather difficult for the committee to understand where this amount is to be expended and it gives a great deal of liberty to the minister in the expenditure of it. Would it not be better, when the engineer inspects a bridge and finds that a certain improvement has to be made upon it, that he should report to the department that it will cost a certain specific amount? It would be better that he should report the amount required for each specific bridge and then we could tell if the money was expended for the purpose for which it had been voted.
How are we to hold down the minister to the expenditure which he tells us he is going to make ? He says that it will take $46,000 to do the work. Now the hon. minister could expend that $46,000 on half the number of bridges proposed tp be strengthened and he could still be within the vote. My, hon. friend shakes his head; I cannot understand it in any other way. If the hon. gentleman will say that he is asking for $3,000 to be expended on a specific bridge when he brings in his report showing how the money has been expended we can tell whether the money has been expended for the purpose for which it was voted.
I do not see it in that light. If the engineer reported to me that twenty-five bridges which he named required to be doubled up and that it was going to cost $46,000. and if he was only able with the $46,000 to dispose of half of them, it would strike me very forcibly that he should be condemned and I think he would place the minister and the department in a
very false position. We state that we propose to apply that $46,000 to the doubling up of all these bridges. If we were to come back next year and say that we used the $46,000 and that only half a dozen or fifteen of that number were dealt with and there still remained ten more it would be a matter which might be very severely criticised.
In one case the opposition and the country would have to content themselves with criticism and in the other case they would have the prevention. Prevention is a good deal better than criticism with this government. In the one case they would not be able to spend the money improperly, because the Auditor General would say, you cannot do this because you announced when you submitted your estimate to parliament that you were going to expend so much on each bridge, and that is the statute. The government might, in the other cases, if they chose strengthen one or two of the bridges, say that they were not going to do any of the rest and still be within the item. Then, the hon. minister says that we may criticise them. What good would that do the people of this country after the money had been spent in an improper way ? Suppose the hon. minister gets the item through upon the understanding that he is going to make this expenditure on twenty bridges and he only spends the money on two bridges and does not spend anything on the eighteen remaining ones, and suppose the Auditor General under the item has not the power of preventing the expenditure, you will have to be satisfied with simply finding fault. The country has had some experience in that regard with this government. The people are rather tired of finding fault with the government for not doing what they say they will do. It is better to have the purpose of the vote stated in the statute so that the Auditor General will be able to say, if the money is diverted to any other purpose, that this is not a proper expenditure and that the money must lie expended under the terms of the vote. The hon. minister says that this amount is required for the strengthening of so many bridges. Let us take the hon. minister at his word and at the same time put it in the statute. In my opininon, the criticisim of my hon. friend from Peel (Mr. Blain) is quite right.
The hon. Minister of Railways and Canals is asking to do something that no minister has previously asked. Last year we had the same nature of discussion up and the item under discussion which evoked a reference to this matter was an item of $63,500 for additional sidings along the line of the Intercolonial Railway. What the hon. minister (Mr. Fielding) then claim-