December 6, 1910

FIRST READINGS.


Bill (No. 31) respecting the Guelph and Goderich Railway Company.-Mr. Rankin. Bill (No. 32) to incorporate the Security Trusts Corporation.-Mr. Martin (Regina). Bill (No. 33) respecting the South Ontario Pacific Railway Company.-Mr. Nesbitt. Bill (No. 34) respecting the Walkerton and Lucknow Railway Company.-Mr. Donnelly.


PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE.

LIB

Alexander Bannerman Warburton

Liberal

Mr. WARBURTON.

There was a proposal which I presented a few days ago with regard to the Public Accounts Committee, which, I understood, was to come up this afternoon. I move:

Thalt the public accounts of the fiscal year ending 31st March, 1910, and volumes one and two of the Auditor General's Report of the same period be referred to the Select Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

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CON

Haughton Lennox

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. H. LENNOX (South Simcoe).

I gave notice the other day that I proposed to move an amendment to this motion. The same question was before the House a year ago and many hon. members have been considering the matter since and have become impressed with the necessity of a wider range of investigation before the Public Accounts Committee. The right hon. gentleman who leads the House (Sir Wilfrid Laurier) was good enough then to say that the remarks I addressed to the House had so impressed him and that the proposition looked so reasonable, that he would like' further time to consider it. Upon that understanding, the matter was allowed to stand over. I thought then that, inasmuch as on that occasion only the first and third volumes of the Auditor General were referred to the committee, when a motion was made to refer the second volume to the committee, the right hon. gentleman would seize upon that occasion as a fitting one in which to have the matter brought before the House again. I found, however, that the second volume was not laid on the table for nearly a month and a half and that, strange to say, it was never referred to the Eublie Accounts Committee. I then got busy with other matters, very interesting to me and I believe also very interesting to the country, and the one to which I am now referring escaped further discussion last year. The right hon. gentleman and others have had an opportunity of considering the question in the meantime, and I entertain the hope that the Prime Minister will now, in harmony with the suggestion which he threw out last year, see fit to let the amendment go through without^ a vote. What I am moving for is that instead of having only the accounts for the last financial year ending March 31, last, referred to the Public Accounts Committee, we shall refer to it the accounts of last year and the accounts of the preceding year, together with the Auditor General's Reports for those two years; and I do so because, in my experience and that of other hon. members, occasions arise when it is necessary to go back further than one year. And if we keep in mind the great object to be served, namely that'the people should know what their representatives are doing with the people's money, it does not seem at all unreason-

able that we should have at least two years' accounts referred to the committee. This is a reform I am asking, and it is one of a good long list required in the Public Accounts Committee. For instance I have no quarrel with the chairman -that is the chairman we have now-he is a very desirable chairman as compared with those we have had on some previous occasions, but I feel all the same that we could make an improvement as regards the question of chairmanship. Does it not seem that when these accounts are the accounts of the government and when there is a majority of the committee supporting the government, it would be more seemly, more in accord with the fitness of things and more likely to let the people know exactly what is being done by the government, if we had a chairman selected by the men who are mainly active in investigating our public accounts. That is the practice followed in England. The right hon. gentleman is very eloquent at times in pointing to British precedent particularly if it is against an argument advanced by the other side. The right hon. gentleman is disposed to follow British precedent when it suits him, but when it does not suit him he follows it at a very respectful distance. What does the right hon. gentleman think of that as a precedent? Would it not be apt to give the people a better chance of knowing what the government is doing? Would it not be calculated to give the people more confidence in the audit supposed to take place in the Public Accounts Committee? Well, I will come again next year, the Prime Minister will have time to consider it in the meantime, and if when I come next year, we have not had a general election in the meantime, I shall appeal to the right hon. gentleman, and if we have had a general election, I will appeal to the hon. leader of the opposition, as to whether it would not be better to have this reform brought about.

There are other improvements that we ought to have; one of them was suggested last year; that is, in regard to the enormous number of men we have on this committee. Does the right hon. the First Minister realize that it is absolutely impossible .ever to have efficient work done in this committee so long as we have 82 men supposed to do the work? So, when I come again next year, I hope I shall be-if we have a general election, I certainly shall be -appealing to the hon. leader of the opposition, who will then be the Prime Minister, for that reform as well.

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Duncan Graham

Mr. GEAHAM.

Which one?

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CON

Haughton Lennox

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LENNOX.

My hon. friend interjects which one, and that is because we have such a wealth of material on this side of the House. On the other side of the House there would be no question which one, because there is only one man who measures Mr. LENNOX.

at all up to the position. I may be told that the present method has been adopted for years and has been sanctioned by the Conservative party. I admit it, but I do not care. We are living in a progressive age; but as regards giving the people a chance to look in at what is being done, we are not living under a progressive government. I am in favour of giving the people a chance, through their representatives of auditing the public accounts fairly and ks fully as the circumstances will admit. And again what might be a tolerable system in 1896, when our total expenditures did not exceed $44,000,000, and when abuses were rare, suggestions^ of dishonesty were rare, and proof of dishonesty was rarer still, becomes an intolerable system and a great danger when we are spending, according to the estimates brought down, with supplementary estimates which may be added, no less, perhaps, than $144,000,000, and when startling and cogent evidence of dishonesty and graft assails us from every side. And what might be a fair and workable system in 1896, when supporters of the government vied with members of the opposition as auditors on behalf of the people to drag to light any isolated cases of dishonesty or wrong-doing that might have arisen, becomes intolerable when we have members of the government assembling in the Public Accounts Committee and concurring in, and sanctioning, if not conniving at, a system of premeditated and organized opposition such as we have witnessed in that committee in the last ten years. So we need not go back to 1896 to find an answer to my argument. It may be said, why not come to the House from time to time as occasion arises?

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An hon. MEMBER.

Hear, hear.

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CON

Haughton Lennox

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LENNOX.

The hon. gentleman who says hear, hear, may not be in the habit of attending the Public Accounts Committee. We cannot come to the House when the occasion arises, because we are met by the rule that forbids discussion in the House upon a matter pending before a committee; when we move in the committee for enlarged powers, we are voted down; when we move to have the matter referred to the House, we are met with the statement that unless we close the investigation, and therefore render our application to the House useless, we cannot refer it to the House. So we are on the horns of a dilemma, either to refer the matter to the House and have nothing to deal with, or to take the measure of justice accorded by the committee, which is no justice at all. Again, I would not want to refer it to the House from time to time, for this reason: Do the members of the government, when they talk about hastening the session, really mean it? Do they want short sessions? If they do,

why have applications from day to day or week to week,.or even two or three in a session, which will involve half a day's discussion, when the matter could be settled at once by allowing sufficient latitude to the Public Accounts Committee. If the Prime Minister would come up and see what takes place in that Public Accounts Committee during one week, especially if the committee did not know it was being watched, he would do more good than he has done in three sessions in the House of Commons, by reforming the methods followed there. Members realize that if an investigation can be staved off till near the end of the session, it will not be held at all, and the result is- that the matter is talked out. It rarely happens that a public work has been commenced, finished and paid for in the same financial year, and it is not until an account runs into the second or third year that the figures take on form and colour, and that the sinister significance of some of the payments begins to manifest itself. So, if we are confronted with the rule that we can investigate only the transactions of a single year, we have perhaps to plunge into the middle of a transaction that has no beginning and that may have no end at that time. We are bound by this artificial rule, which never had any origin in sound principle, and is utterly unreasonable when transactions aTe so numerous and so gigantic as those that relate to Canada at the present time. I was going to say that we had a lot of free traders on the other side of the House. I do not know whether we have any or not.

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LIB

Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Sir WILFRID LAURIER.

We have some on the other side now.

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CON

Haughton Lennox

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LENNOX.

That is good. We have some gentlemen on this side of the House who do, to a very much greater extent than the hon. members on that side of the House, realize what is the true meaning of the National Policy and if that is what the First Minister means I quite agree with him. But we have the men who were for years talking about pulling down your walls and letting down your bars and all that kind of thing, principally to let the products of the United States come in and overrun the markets of the Dominion of Canada. What do you say to taking down the wall now, removing these bars and letting the people have a look in, the people whose moneys are being spent? Would it not be reasonable, is there any good reason why it should not be done? I have heard the right hon. the leader of the House (Sir Wilfrid Laurier) talk of Haman's gallows, its immense height; he and his government in the Public Accounts Committee have builded a wall against the people to shut the people out from a knowledge of their transactions, many of them nefarious, many of them dishonest, many

of them of a charatcer which could not be defended, if they came to light-he and they have builded a wail higher than Haman's gallows and thicker and far stronger than the walls of the Laurier tower which fell down a few years ago, and behind that wall there cower such men as the double named Leopold Lazarus, the North Atlantic Trading Company, ,the men of the Carbide Companies and the Sub-Target Gun Company and the Robbins Irrigation Company, the Adamson's and the Burrows, and the Walbergs and the Pearsons and the Lodges and the Mer-wins and I think the Dodges, and the Mc-Avity's and the Galloway herd, all feeding at the public trough at the expense of the people of this country. Does the right hon. gentleman want that kind of. thing to continue? The 82 men who are appointed on that committee are 82 auditors appointed to look after the peoples' money, to audit the public accounts, to get at the bottom of things, to find out what has been done and to tell the people. That is constitutionally our position. Has it been done? We on this side of the House have striven to do it, but have been blocked and prevented by hon. gentlemen supporting my right hon. friend. I will ask the Prime Minister, I will ask hon. gentlemen on the other side of the House, to take a review and say how many of them can stand up and say that they have discharged their duty as auditors on behalf of the public in investigating the public accounts, ascertaining how the public money has been spent and have carried to the people, as far as they could, a knowledge of what the government has been doing. I defy one gentleman to stand up and say he has done it in the last ten years, and I chal lenge the Prime Minister to call into caucus or into his private office his supporters and ascertain if one of them will tell the Prime Minister that he has discharged his public duty in an endeavour to find out how public moneys have been expended, and bringing the matter to light and revealing it to the people.

If that is the case, have I made out a case for reform and for asking this particular reform to-day? I am in earnest about this matter. I have been called some uncomplimentary names in the press; at one time I was called a watch dog. Nobody likes to be called a dog. A gentleman of the Lumsden committee, that some of our friends were calling me the watch dog, but he said: I hope you do not mind, I call you the timber wolf. I did not know what' kind of an animal the timber wolf was, but I have been investigating and I am satisfied to accept the appellation. The timber wolf is not a skulker like the prairie wolf, he is all right.- But I am here to ask and I asked last session and some sessions before for some reforms in order to get the

people to know more about what is going on in the government behind this high and thick wall, in order tht the people may know what their servants are doing with their money, and I now ask that the government should concur with me in this reform, and I ask them now to allow this motion to pass without a division. If they will not, we will have a division. I therefore move:-

That the motion now read be amended by inserting therein after the figures ' 1910 ' the words and figures following, that is to say: 'and the Public Accounts and the Auditor General's Report for the year ended 31st March, 1909/

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LIB
CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BORDEN (Halifax).

What particular cases?

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LIB

Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Sir WILFRID LAURIER.

Cases in which the investigation is incomplete if confined to one year. It is our practice to

refer the public accounts of the last fiscal year to the Public Accounts Committee. If an investigation confined to the one year is incomplete, and if the House were asked to refer to the committee these accounts for a previous year, for my part I think there would be good reason to grant the request. But my hon. friend asked us to depart from a practice which has remained unchanged since confederation. He proposes that the committee should have power not only to investigate the public accounts of the last financial year, but to go over again accounts investigated the previous year. I am sure my hon. friend will see that the arguments he has used do not appeal to me. He charges that there has been dishonesty and graft, on which points I altogether disagree with him. He must not be surprised if such arguments do not impress me or other members on this side of the House. What I would suggest is that, if in the Public Accounts Committee, which is now sitting, the hon. gentleman, or any of his friends is of opinion that there is a matter which cannot be fully investigated if the investigation be confined to the accounts for one year, or that any investigation of the previous year should be reopened, that should be made a special matter; and, if the committee come to the conclusion that such a matter should be investigated, then and there it would be our duty to grant the request. -

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CON

Haughton Lennox

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LENNOX.

If the Prime Minister will allow me, he has addressed a long argument referring to cases in which there was a partial investigation of last year's public accounts and suggests that we want to go into these matters further. My argument refers to cases that do not reveal themselves before the thing has been going on for two or three years. In such a case, we begin an investigation for the first time, but we cannot complete the investigation, because we find ourselves stopped by the rules that you cannot go beyond the accounts of the financial year referred to the committee. The cases to which I refer are much more numerous than those of which the Prime Minister speaks. [DOT]

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LIB

Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Sir WILFRID LAURIER.

It seems to me that the hon. gentleman's argument proves too much for his amendment. [DOT] He states that it may be desired to investigate a matter that goes back two or three years. Therefore, to complete that investigation, the committee should have the accounts not merely of one previous year, but of two or three years referred to them. The hon. gentleman's amendment covers only one year. And so his argument is exactly in line with what I was pointing out. In such a case as he has indicated, it would be better to have all the accounts

involved referred to the committee that the whole transaction may be investigated. But last year's committee went through the accounts of the previous year that were referred to it. And now the hon. gentleman wants the privilege this year of going over all those accounts without exception, because that would be the effect of referring to the committee the public accounts, and the three volumes of the Auditor General's Report of the previous year. What I suggest as more reasonable is that, if it is desired to go into any of the accounts of the previous year, the matter should be brought before the committee, and if the committee recommend the investigation of accounts of previous years, that recommendation can be discussed and adopted here. For these reasons, I move, in amendment to the amendment:

That when, in a. report of the committee on public accounts, it is recommended that particular items of the Auditor General's Report of the previous year be referred to the said committee, the House will favourably consider said recommendation.

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CON

William Ross Smyth

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. W. R. SMYTH. (East Algoma).

Last session this House did me the honour of placing me on the Public Acounts Committee. I do not know for what reason I was selected for that position, unless it be that I was somewhat widely known as a business man. When I attended that committee I confess that I was much disappointed at the proceedings. I supposed that I was going there practically in the capacity of a director in a concern, the concern being this great Dominion of Canada, that the shareholders were the people of this Dominion, and that the right hon. the Prime Minister was the president of this company. Sir, I found an entirely different state of affairs, I found that while our worthy chairman-against whom I have not a word to say, because I think he wishes to do what is fair and right-I found opposed to me as a layman, as a man of business training, an array of eminent lawyers, as you might call them, sitting alongside the chairman, and particularly my hon. friend the Minister of Public Works (Mr. Pugsley), who is known to be a lawyer. He is always very close to the ear of the chairman, and when anything comes up touching his department, he is always ready to give the wink to the gentleman who sits beside him to .plead on behalf of the government, suggesting that these gentlemen raise some legal or technical objection which the ordinary layman perhaps does not understand. Now I do not know why this government should array these gentlemen in front of the chair to raise legal and technical objections to every matter that a layman brings up. If this government are honest, if they are transacting the affairs of this country hon-Sir WILFRID LAURIER.

estly, there should toe nothing to hide My observation has alsq been directed to another state of affairs. I find that the right hon. Prime Minister and the ministers of the departments who appear in that committee, are guilty of causing some poor fellows, to perjure themselves to my mind, when they come before that committee. Perjury is not too strong a word to use in that connection. You find men coming there with an honest intention to give honest evidence, tout they are so twisted and bamboozled by objections and otherwise, that they are afraid to open their mouths. We find even civil servants coming there, whose bread and butter depend on their trying to screen any misdoing of this government or their agents. Now, Sir, I want to say that if a business man, a layman, is to be of any use at all on that committee, the Prime Minister must adopt the policy of allowing him to get at the truth from the witnesses who appear, to get at what he believes to be the truth; then I think we will find in many instances that the ordinary layman will he of some use in getting at the truth, because he will adopt common sense, business methods,and will obtain a better result than the committee are now obtaining.

I hope the right hon. gentleman will not only agree with the amendment of my hon. friend from South Simcoe (Mr. Lennox), but that he will reform the committee along the lines I have suggested. But if the right hon. gentleman refuses to do that if he prefers that that committee be turned into a Donnybrook Fair, as I have seen it some times, then let it be known; because there are some men with fighting qualities on this side of the House and we are ready for a fight. But we would rather fight as gentlemen, we would rather do our duty to our constituents, and to our country, than to engage in these unseemly wranghngs that take place in that committee. I have had the honour of sitting as a member in another legislature than this, and sitting on the opposition benches, in the days when my hon. friend the Minister of Railways (Mr. Graham), was a member of that legislature, and was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee; and I must say, Mr. Speaker, that "in the worst days of that committee it was very much superior to the Public Accounts Committee of this House of Commons. After the hon. gentleman vacated that position, or after he was compelled to, the committee reformed its proceedings, so that they can now go back one or two years, or even three years, if need be, and investigate any transaction that happens to be under investigation; they can investigate it from the start right up to the minute the committee is sitting. Therefore, I do not see why the amendment of my hon. friend from Simcoe, should not be accepted, unless

this government wishes to hold a club over the heads of the opposition, and prevent them from seeing what the public is entitled to see. I am sorry to see that the Prime Minister does not agree with my hon. friend from Simcoe, and I still hope that he will change his mind.

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LIB

Alfred Henry Clarke

Liberal

Mr. A. H. CLARKE. (Essex).

Having had some experience with this much abused Public Accounts Committee, I think it is only fair that I should offer some ob. servations on the motion which has been made, and concerning which my hon. friend who has just sat down (Mr. Smyth), has seen fit to make a speech, devoid of any arguments, that I could see, bearing upon the matter in question. If it be true that perjury is committed in that committee, if it be true, as he says, that a layman does not meet with the success which he thinks he deserves in investigating the public accounts, I cannot for the life of me, see how that state of things is going to be improved by adopting the motion of the hon. member for Simcoe, (Mr. Lennox). If there is perjury, and if there are improper proceedings, if there is unfairness to laymen in regard to the investigations of one year's accounts, evidently all that trouble will be doubled if the accounts of two years are submitted to the committee. Now I cannot understand why this motion should be made. The Committee of Public Accounts is as alert now as it has been at any time since confederation. Ever since confederation there have been member^, belonging to the opposition on that committee who have made it their business to investigate the affairs of the year as they have gone along. Is it that the present opposition is not so alert as the oppositions of past years have been? Is it that they are not so assiduous in attending to the business of the country as in past years? Up to the present time they have been able, in the year under consideration, to investigate the accounts of that year, and if they are not able to do so at the present time, surely it is a reflection upon those watch dogs, or those timber wolves, as they may style themselves, if they do not do their duty in that respect.

Now, I am glad to hear the praise of the conduct of the chairman of that committee, and I think it is well deserved. We have heard these charges of abuse with reference to the Public Accounts Committee. Surely there have been some instances which can be pointed out where the chairman has not done his duty. But, we have hon. gentlemen coming here saying in one breath, there are abuses in that committee, and in the other breath, we have them saying that we have a chairman against whom no complaint whatever can be made. These two stories do not hold together. If there are abuses

the chairman is the man to rectify them, and yet they say that the chairman's conduct has been perfectly satisfactory, and I am sure it has been. Speaking with reference to the time before that of the present chairman, the greatest complaints that I have heard have not been entirely against members on this side of the House. It must be remembered that most of the work of the committee is at the instance of members from the other side of the House. It must be remembered that members on the other side of the House mainly cross-examine the witnesses, and I have heard it said that they, too, mainly tried to distort the evidence so that the real facts are not known. I do not take much stock in that sort of thing. In every Public Accounts Committee you hear the same thing. If you read the history of the Public Accounts Committee in the great mother of parliaments, you find the same accusation made. We have it in the Public Accounts Committee here where reference is made to what has gone on in the province of Ontario, where my hon. friend the last speaker, I am sure, will agree that there is the most perfect organization to be found in any parliament. I recollect that two years ago it was brought up when something was asked to be done. It was pointed out that they had not done it in the province of Ontario under the great Whitney administration, but immediately the friends of that gentleman said: That is only a provincial organization and we cannot follow them here because we are dealing with matters on a higher plane. In so far as I know, there has been the greatest facility for investigation in the Public Accounts Committee with respect to matters brought up before that committee.

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Some hon. MEMBERS

Oh, oh.

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LIB

Alfred Henry Clarke

Liberal

Mr. CLARKE (Essex).

If an effort is made to go back two or three years, I think that any chairman of a committee would say that it is not within the province of the committee unless there has been a special reference to it for that purpose. I know quite well that when I had the honour of being chairman of the committee, no matter how far back the committee wanted to go, whether it wanted to go two or twenty years back, it had a perfect right to go back, so long as the inquiry had relation to the item under consideration. But when it is proposed to deal minutely with items two or three years back I think it has been invariably the ruling in this committee as well as in other committees that it is something over which the committee has no jurisdiction, because it is beyond the reference, it is beyond the matters which properly are assigned to the committee to investigate.

COMMONS [DOT]

I do not know of any case where the? fullest investigation has not been permitted with regard to the matters which have been referred to the committee. It is an easy matter, if there are other things to be investigated, to obtain a reference, and I db not understand that the Public Accounts Committee, under the general order of reference, is the only one that investigates. If there are charges of improper conduct then, quite properly, the House will refer them to that committee, or to any other committee, but the Public Accounts Committee, as I understand it, is a routine committee; it is not there to investigate scandals, it is not there to investigate charges, it is there to investigate the routine accounts of the preceding year. There is the fullest opportunity, to investigate them. If the one year's accounts cannot be investigated in one year, surely there is very little hope of having the committee properly investigate them by referring to them accounts of two years ago, especially with the growing business with which the committee has to deal. It may be said that in times past there were not so many expenditures. It is also to be said that in times past the sessions were not so long as they are to-day. The matters for investigation are greater in proportion as the length of _ the session is greater, and if we are going to leave arrears over we will never get through. It seems to me that the amendment submitted by my right, hon. friend the leader of the government (Sir Wilfrid Laurier) to complete the investigations which have not been completed must certainly meet every reasonable requirement. If, beyond that, some one discovers that in past years there has been some terrible scandal, it is perfectly open for any hon. member to bring it up in the House, and if there are sufficient grounds, it is open to the House to refer it to that committee or any other committee to investigate the charge.

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December 6, 1910