January 27, 1909

LIB

Alexander Bannerman Warburton

Liberal

Mr. WARBURTON.

I am aware that it is alleged that there was an error in the date; but in making affidavits which attack the character of a public man, no lawyer has any excuse for making errors even in dates. If any hon. member of this House had been concerned in making that affidavit, and stated that that was an honest mistake, I would be compelled, under the rules of the House, to accept this statement; but when the men in St. John, who made these statements deliberately, and read them before a public meeting,

say that that was an honest mistake, I for one refuse to believe them. However, that matter has been judged by the people of this country. The changes were rung on these charges on every platform throughout the length and breadth of the land, and _ the people of New Brunswick, the province from which the Minister of Public Works comes, gave a decided verdict in his favour, sending him back to this House with a representation of eleven out of thirteen which it seems to me is a remarkably good certificate of character

We have head references to dredging contracts. In the part of the country from which I come I have herd no complaints on that score; the dredging contracts have been carried on satisfactorily, and at no very great expense. I did hear that the Minister of Public Works was badgered in this House last session for extending contracts for dredging purposes which had already been let, and that there was such an outcry that he gave way and called for new tenders, with the result that the new prices were considerably higher than those for which he could have renewed the old contracts, and the Dominion of Canada consequently lost a large sum of money, I think over $100,000 a year.

The hon. member for Halifax (Mr. Crosby), spoke of the good work done in Halifax by the good Liberals and Conservatives of that city. Well, Halifax is a very fine place, but it has had a peculiar record in Dominion politics. Some years ago it was represented by my good friend the late Hon. A. G. Jones; but there seems to be a lack of stability about it, for it frequently changes from one party to the other. It seems to be something like the monster which is always crying for more, more, and looking for something new. It has always been looking to the government to do something more for it, whether building elevators or something else, though it is a very wealthy city. I suppose in doing this it is consulting its own interests. I expect that four years hence it will change its representation back again to the Liberal party, and eight years hence it will perhaps change again. In the county I represent we have also good Liberals and Conservatives. They took the record of the present government into favourable consideration, with the result that they enabled my colleague and myself to bring that county back to what is and should be its natural home, and unless things change very materially, we propose to keep it there.

The hon. members of the opposition seem to be suspicious of everything. I suppose oppositions are born suspicious-it comes natural to them. Our hon. friends opposite are very often suspicious. A few months ago they were even suspicious that the country was going to turn out the present government and put them in office. But the

results of the_ general election have shown most conclusively and satisfactorily that that suspicion was absolutely unfounded. I do not propose to take up any more time of the House in discussing this matter. I think it has been fairly well thrashed out, and being a new member I shall not trespass any more, Mr. Speaker, on your attention.

Topic:   OPENING OF GOVERNMENT TENDERS.
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LIB

Joseph Alfred Ernest Roy (Whip of the Liberal Party)

Liberal

Mr. ERNEST ROY (Dorchester).

(Translation.) Mr. Speaker, the present debate having hitherto been carried on in the English language, it would not appear amiss that I should add a few words in French.

The hon. member for Halifax (Mr. Crosby) stated a moment ago that the principle at stake being one in which everybody must concur, no intelligent man in Canada could reasonably vote against it.

I am well aware that in a large number of Canadian constituencies, this argument was used for the purpose of injuring the Liberal government in public opinion and more particularly of discrediting the administration of the departments of government as regards the awarding of contracts. It must be conceded that, in the majority of constituencies, the people pronounced very clearly upon the issue thus placed be-,them the Conservative candidates. What w'as the principal question submitted to the people during the last general election? Our opponents accused the government of being corrupt and of spreading corruption by awarding contracts, not for the general advantage of Canada, but in the interest of the friends of the Liberal party and to the detriment of the national treasury. Such were the charges made by our opponents. Were those charges substantiated? They were repeated in the constituency where I had the honour of running and the Liberal candidate was returned. When asked: Have you any means of proving the truth of such charges, have they been investigated and with what result? they were constrained to admit that no proof had been adduced, and the people understood the situation. They felt that groundless charges should not be considered. It was sought to create the impression that all public contracts were granted by favour. It was said and repeated that the government could not be acting in the public interest, but that they considered only the return of the Liberal party and the private advantage of their friends.

The resolution now submitted by the member for Grenville is but a continuation of the same policy. It seems to me that the majority in this House should therefore reject it. Our opponents were either right or wrong. The people by their recent, verdict have declared them wrong.

The people having thus given judgment, should we go any further? If, as the hon. member who preceded me remarked, the

investigation had established that contracts were being granted contrary to the interests of Canada, not one member, I am sure, would have opposed the new method now suggested for putting a stop to all further abuses in that respect. , ,

I have no desire to prolong this aebate, but I consider it my duty to explain why I shall presently vote against the resolution submitted by the hon. member for Grenville (Mr. Eeid). T,

It is a question of principle, says lie. It is true. It is a question of principle, more especially as regards ministerial responsibility. It is the minister's duty to award contracts and to do so in the public interest. In such cases the lowest tender is not always the best, and each case should be considered on its merits. Does it not frequently happen that a tenderer is not in a position to properly carry out the contract? The tender may frequently be made by a man who, with the support of a few friends, is entering into an enterprise the nature of which he knows nothing, a man of small experience and perhaps over confident. In such cases should not the minister use his own judgment? Ministerial responsibility comes in here and it is the fundamental principle over our system of government. The responsible minister decides in what manner contracts shall be awarded.

What is the subject of the resolution now submitted to the House? Does it not tend gradually to deprive the ministers of that responsibility? Is it not natural that the head of a department should consider not only the amount of a tender, but also the qualifications of the tenderer? This appears to me to be the true principle that should guide us, the maintenance of ministerial responsibility. If the minister were bound by hard and fast rules, what would become of the principle? The head of a department would become a mere machine, moving in obedience to rigid and inflexible rules. He would be nothing, his initiative would be gone and the system of responsible government would give place to one of independent commissions. That, I believe, would not be going forward, but backward.

I will say no more. In former parliaments, my county of Dorchester was represented by a Conservative, and this fact confirms me in my intention of opposing the resolution. Since 1896, that riding had constantly favoured the Conservative policy, but this time it has returned a supporter of the government, although every argument which has been adduced here to-day was used during the campaign.

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CON

Pierre Édouard Blondin

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. P. E. BLONDIN (Champlain).

(Translation.) Mr. Speaker, I am a new comer in this House and I think it incumbent upon me to say something on the question now submitted. I do not consider it, as have done some of the members who have spoken before me, an attack directed Mr. BOY.

against the government. It is, to my mind, the enunciation of the principle that we should constantly seek more perfect methods in the awarding of public contracts, and I cannot understand why we should oppose such a resolution.

Has it been shown by any of the previous speakers that the resolution is not of a nature to further safeguard public interest in the granting of contracts? It matters little whether the government view this proposal as a reflection upon themselves. That is not the standpoint from which I consider the question. Conditions are never so perfect as to preclude improvement. The object of this proposal is to give further security and thereby fuller satisfaction to the public in connection with the granting of contracts. It has not been contended as yet that, under our present system, public interest is as fully safeguarded as it would be under the system advocated by the member for Grenville, and no argument has been made so far on that point of a nature to induce to vote against the motion, which accordingly I shall support.

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CON

Richard Stuart Lake

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. R. S. LAKE (Qu'Appelle).

Mr. Speaker, what has taken place this afternoon shows that there is some unrest in the country with reference to the awarding of contracts. I think it would be a great misfortune if the amendment proposed by the hon. member for South Wellington (Mr. Guthrie) should carry. That amendment, as I understand it, states that the regulation which has been laid before the House by the Minister of Public Works forms a sufficient and a complete safeguard of the public interest in regard to the opening of tenders. The fact that there is a great lack of confidence throughout the country in regard to this question should itself warrant very strong measures in regard to the care of tenders for the future, even if it were possible that the measures proposed by the government were under ordinary circumstances sufficient. I do not, however, think that they are sufficient; they fall very short of what they should be.

It has been stated that the precautions which it is proposed to take are just as great as those which are taken in Great Britain. I have some knowledge of the precautions that were taken in some of the departments in Great Britain some years ago and have no reason to suppose that they have been relaxed. In Great Britain they take a great deal more care of the tenders themselves. In the departments of which I have knowledge the tenders are sealed on receipt, by the department itself. The regulations now proposed contain no such provision. After the tender has been sealed in Great Britain it is placed under lock and key, and in some departments it is further safeguarded by the use of duplicate locks with keys in possession of different officers.

I know that in at least one department the tenders were opened in the presence of at last three of the senior officers of the department, and further that in one department it was the custom not to allow the junior clerks to serve too long a term in a position in which the tenders actually passed through their hands, so that every precaution is taken to prevent any possibility of tampering with the tenders. I do not think it will be alleged that these precautions have been taken there because of charges of maladministration in regard to the tenders; they have been taken in order to provide against any possibility of any suspicion being cast, and in order to give confidence to persons putting in tenders for public works or buildings or for the supply of articles to the public authorities in Great Britain.

Topic:   OPENING OF GOVERNMENT TENDERS.
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LIB

William Pugsley (Minister of Public Works)

Liberal

Mr. PUGSLEY.

My hon. friend seems to have a good knowledge of the practice in at least some of the departments in Great Britain. Does he know that the contractors or the public have been invited to be present at the opening of tenders?

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CON

Richard Stuart Lake

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LAKE.

Of course I am speaking from recollection, and I was not present when the tenders were opened, but in the particular department of which I have knowledge I do not think the public were invited to be present and I do not think they were present, but I am not quite certain upon that point. Anyway the logical sequence of what I have said is that it is advisable in this country, at least in the present state of public feeling, that we should have every possible safeguard, and I think the government would be making no mistake if they added to the safeguard which they have proposed, and I feel it would be a great pity if the House should adopt the amendment proposed. The proposals of the government are open to criticism. Personally I do not like the idea of having the minister as one of the officers to open the tenders. No doubt in most cases the matter will ultimately have to go to the minister, but the opening of tenders should be left to the senior permanent, non-partisan officials; the presence of the minister is introducing the political side into the detailed workings of the department. I hope the government will not allow the amendment to pass, but will give further consideration to the matter and that the Hoijse will not put itself on record as endorsing a regulation which does not go far enough and does not sufficiently guard the interests of the country.

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LIB

Edward Walter Nesbitt

Liberal

Mr. E. W. NESBITT (North Oxford).

Mr. Speaker, it is more on account of the spirit of the motion of my hon. friend from Grenville (Mr. J. D. Reid) and of the speeches by which it has been supported than of the motion itself, that I personally refuse to accept it, because I cannot see 8

that it makes any great difference whether one, two or three persons are present when a tender is opened. The motion and the speeches in support of it have been inclined to cast a reflection on the ministers of this government which personally I do not believe is deserved. It has struck me as peculiar in listening to the speeches this afternoon that there should be such an amount of suspicion in the parts of the country from which our Conservative friends come, because this is the first time in my life that I have heard of any suspicion that the tenders were not properly opened or that contracts were not properly awarded by this government. I very well remember a tender for a public building during the time of my friend the late Hon. James Sutherland, when Mr. Sutherland as Minister of Pubic Works went so far as to put up the money for the deposit for one of the tenderers, a friend of his and of mine, at the same time telling him most distinctly that although he was a very strong personal friend of his, and although he thought a great deal of him his tender would have to be the lowest or he would have no chance of getting a contract. It was only ^ this afternoon that I heard that our ministers are so dishonest that the contracts are not properly awarded. I am sure that the suggestion cannot be well founded, that it is entirely a matter of imagination. I have in my private and semi-public life often heard people accused of graft or of having some hidden reason for doing certain things, although I knew personally and absolutely that there was no ground for the charge except the mean suspicion of the mind of the person who originated it.

I can see nothing in the argument that the minister himself should not be one of those present at the opening of tenders, because under the constitution, so far as I have read it, the matter has to go to the minister eventually and he might just as well open the tender as have his secretary or some other subordinate official do so. After the receiving of tenders, the mere sealing and locking up of the document is of little importance, although I have no doubt they are sealed when they are put away. After all it is a matter of trust. If the minister and one of his subordinates wanted to be dishonest, the presence of the minister at the opening of the tenders would not greatly increase their opportunities of doing so. No matter what safeguard we adopt the tenders will have to be sent to some one. Perhaps they might be sent in some conspicuous manner, by a balloon or something of that kind so that every one could see them, but as it is essentially a matter of trust, I do not see what advantage would be gained by that.

What difference does it make whether there are one or two or three of the minister's assistants present at the opening of tenders? If the minister were dishonest he

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EDITION


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could keep any wrong-doing as secret with two or three subordinates as with one. But what reason have we to suppose the minister will be dishonest, that he will not do w'hat is absolutely fair? Is it not the privilege of every member on either side of the House to ask the minister what the tenders have been and all particulars?


LIB
LIB

Edward Walter Nesbitt

Liberal

Mr. NESBITT.

If that is the case, would not the minister be a green fellow and a very innocent fellow who would vary a tender? A man in any part of the country, in my constituency or any other, who tendered for any contract would certainly find out the amounts of the other tenders and if he could not find it out himself, would he not ask some member of this House to find out for him. Now you might say that after the tender is let there is no recourse. But at the same time, is it not asking too much of our credulity to believe that any minister would be so innocent as to confirm a tender that was not the lowest unless he had some very good reason to believe that it was in the public interest to confirm it, especially in view of the fact that he might have to tell this House at any moment what the tender was, and all the particulars concerning it? Looking at all the circumstances surrounding this motion', it seems to me that it has been moved for the sole purpose of casting a reflection on the minister of this government, and for that reason I shall vote for the amendment.

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CON

George Eulas Foster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Hon. GEO. E. FOSTER (North Toronto).

I have listened with a good deal of interest to the remarks of my hon. friend who has just taken his seat (Mr. Nesbitt), and I have only to say that if his theory is carried out to its logical fulfilment, we would do away with all safeguards, and make everything a matter of trust in all the departments of the government, as well as in all corporations, leaving everything as a mere matter of confidence in a person's integrity. I think that would not be a very successful way of conducting departmental business. I do not think my hon. friend the Postmaster General would let it go that way in his large department. My hon. friend from Prince Edward Island seemed to feel as if it were altogether out of place to say anything more in criticism of departmental uprightness and the like of that, because the matter had been brought up in the general elections and the government had been returned to power. Well, that is a rough and ready, hut not the most thorough, vindication of the acts of the government on the ground that they carried a majority of the constituencies.

But I wish to make a little more clear what I am afraid the Minister of Public Works left a little hazy with reference to the McAvity affair. It is important that we should have a proper conception of the facts, so far as we can get them. Now what Mr. NESBITT.

are the facts? If we go by affidavits, and if we place alongside the facts of the affidavit of Mr. Mayes the affidavit of Mr. McAvity, and what he met in Mr. Mayes' affidavit, and what he did not meet that is what he denies and what he practically admits.

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LIB
CON

George Eulas Foster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. FOSTER.

No, I must make my statement now. I have known my hon. friend a long time pretty well, and I know he would like to break in and make a speech of about fifteen minutes every ten minutes of the time which is allowed me, and I do not propose to let him do it. By and by, if I see there is a good opening for my hon. friend, I will let him in. Now there was a man by the name of Mayes, who lived in the city of St. John. Mayes was a contractor, and owned dredging plant and apparatus, or hired dredging plant and apparatus-that was his business. There was a man in the city of St. John by the name of McAvity, who was not a dredger and did not own a dredging plant, and had not up to that time, or since so far as I know, had anything to do as a part owner, or whole owner, or in any other capacity in reference to dredging. But Mr. McAvity was high in the councils of the Liberal party; he was the high chief muck-a-muck in the city of St. John; he was the great head of the patronage distribution in the city of St. John. There was a man in the city of St. John by the name of Wm. Pugsley, at that time Attorney General of the province. Now Mr. Mayes, the dredger and contractor, put in a tender for dredging at the rate, I think, of 50 cents per cubic yard. That tender was not accepted. It is immaterial whether there were other tenders or not. Mr. Mayes went to Mr. Pugsley, who was at that time the Attorney General of the province, and recounted his difficulties. Mr. Pugsley, according to Mr. Mayes' affidavit, told Mr. Mayes to go and talk it over with Mr. McAvity. Well, we can each take what each one wishes as to what was the significance of talking it over with McAvity. Mayes took the advice, according to the affidavit, and talked it over with McAvity. McAvity, who was not a contractor, is not a dredge owner, said to Mayes, I am going to Ottawa, meet me at Ottawa on a certain date. Mayes went to Ottawa, found McAvity there, met him on that same day. McAvity says to Mayes, What are you willing to do this for?-according to the affidavit-and Mayes says, I tendered for it at 50 cents per cubic yard, I can do it for that, and I am willing to take it now for that. McAvity says to Maves: Why not make it 55 cents, and give the other five cents to me? Mayes says to McAvity, What 'will you do? Will you join me in capital in buying a dredge, or hiring a dredge, and help me out in that way? If

you will, we will go in together and share the profits. McAvity said to Mayes, I am not in that business, but if you get the contract you can easily raise the money at the banks. They went to the minister of the department, the minister being the hon. Charles Hyman. Mr. Mayes sat down outside, and McAvity went inside to the holy of holies, or the holiest of the holy, whichever you prefer. After having been in there for a certain time, McAvity came back and said .to Mayes, I want you to go in and see the minister, and explain to him how it would be better to get a contract for 400,000 cubic yards-they had been talking about the expense-and tell him that if you went to the expense of getting large machinery you ought to have a heavy contract in order to make your profits. Mayes agreed, the affidavit- went on, and explained the whole matter thoroughly to Mr. Hyman, and came back. Then Mayes and McAvity talked about the matter, and Mayes said to McAvity: Well, we will think about it, and see about the agreement, and the like of that. McAvity, according to the affidavit, drew out an agreement ready for signature, and said, I have an agreement here, why not sign it now and get the thing arranged? Then the two talked with reference to the part McAvity was to take, and it ended in this, according to the affidavit, that McAvity promised nothing more than that he would use his influence to get a large contract of 400,000, or so, yards, but he would not take part in^ hiring the dredge or in going into the business on the partnership plan. Then, according to the affidavit, Mayes said to McAvity : Well, what is your part in this? Oh, well, said McAvity, write whatever you please, write something and I will sign it. And here is the regular agreement, written by Mr. Mayes and signed by Mr. George McAvity:

And whereas the said George McAvity is to receive moneys out of the performance of the said contract, he agrees and promises to use his influence and endeavours with the Minister of Public Works or office of the government at Ottawa, to increase the number of yards to he dredged at the aforesaid site of contract.

(Sgd.) GEORGE A. McAVlTY.

I am not reading the whole affidavit; that, I think, is about the essence of the affidavit. The hon. Minister of Public Works places a great deal of weight upon the fact that there was a mistake in the affidavit, that it was incorrect.

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LIB

William Pugsley (Minister of Public Works)

Liberal

Mr. PUGSLEY.

Will my hon. friend allow me to ask him a question ? Does my hon. friend vouch for that being an affidavit that has been sworn to ?

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CON
LIB

William Pugsley (Minister of Public Works)

Liberal

Mr. PUGSLEY.

That is not the question.

8}

Mr. FOSTER, (reading)

I, Gershon S. Mayes, of the parish of Lancaster, in the oi-ty and county of St. John, in the province of New Brunswick, contractor, do solemnly declare that on the first day of September, 1905, on the advice of Hon. William Pugsley, who was then Attorney General of the province of New Brunswick and is now Minister of Public Works of Canada, I had a conversation with George McAvity of the city of St. John, in said province, merchant, relative to tenders for dredging which was then to be done in the harbour of St. John by the Publdo Works Department of Canada of which Hon. C. S. Hyman was then minister.

Then continues a recital of the whole matter and finally :

And I make -this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true and knowing that it is of the same force and effect as if made under oath and by virtue of the Canada Evidence Act.

Declared before me at the city of St. John, in the city and county of St. John, this 12th day of October, A.D. 1908.

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W. H. HARRISON.


A commissioner for taking affidavits to he read in the Supreme Court. That is all I have to read ; let it be interpreted as it may. But the Minister of Public Works says: Do you not see there is an absolute error. On October 15, 1907, said the original document, I received a telephone message from Dr. Pugsley asking me to call in and see him next day. The Minister of Public Works says that is an error. The very evening that the statement is made Mr. Mayes comes out and says : St. John, October 13, 1908. Hon. Wm. Pugsley, Minister of Public Works, St. John, N.B. I notice by this evening's papers that you comment on my affidavit stating that you obtained $2,000 from .me oil -October 16, 1907. The date should be October- 16, 1905, and the error is entirely a typographical one which I regret and have taken the proper steps to have corrected. I remain yours, &c.,


January 27, 1909