April 21, 1920

L LIB

Henri Sévérin Béland

Laurier Liberal

Mr. BELAND:

With this very big difference that in one case the board of directors are shareholders in the company and in the other they are not; so that the control is quite different.

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UNION

Newton Wesley Rowell (Minister presiding over the Department of Health; President of the Privy Council)

Unionist

Mr. ROWELL:

What my hon. friend says applies to the whole operation of the Government system of railways. It does not apply merely to the purchase of supplies. The question is an important one, we have debated it in the House before, and I do not wish to enter into a discussion of it at the present time. But it was felt that the operation of this system of railways should be divorced as far as possible from any political interference or control, and that a responsible board of management should be appointed and held responsible for the operation of the railways.

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?

An hon. MEMBER:

That is agreed.

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UNION

Newton Wesley Rowell (Minister presiding over the Department of Health; President of the Privy Council)

Unionist

Mr. ROWELL:

That is agreed. The purchase of supplies for these railways is a necessary part of the work of the board of management. There is no question of that in this proposition; it is simply leaving to the board of the Canadian National Railways system this important branch of its work. The other portion of the purchasing, that is of supplies for the Government departments is what is covered by this resolution.

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UNI L

William Stevens Fielding

Unionist (Liberal)

Mr. FIELDING:

As I understand my hon. friend's remarks they are to be interpreted in this way: The Canadian National Railway purchases are to be made absolutely irrespective of politics but is not to be the system of purchasing for the rest of the departments. Is that what he means?

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UNION

Newton Wesley Rowell (Minister presiding over the Department of Health; President of the Privy Council)

Unionist

Mr. ROWELL:

No, I mean and say quite the contrary. I said that,the railway supplies were to be purchased by the railway management free from political suggestion and we are providing that the supplies in the other departments are to be purchased equally and wholly free from polities and purchased by tender in the manner provided by this resolution. There is this difference and it is introduced in deference to the view expressed in Parliament; the chairman of this board will be a member of the Government. When a similar measure was before the House last session ob-

*:T

jection was taken that there was no direct link between the commission and the Government. That objection has been removed and provision has been made by .this legislation that the chairman of the commission shall be a rpember of the Privy Council. He does not receive any salary as chairman of the board. He will be a minister presiding over one of the other departments and his compensation as minister of that other department will cover any service that he renders under this resolution.

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UNION

John Best

Unionist

Mr. BEST:

I can readily understand why there should be a purchasing commission for the Railway, Marine and Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment departments where there are many millions of dollars being spent, but if it is necessary to have a purchasing commission for these large spending departments I do not see any wisdom in having such a commission to do the purchasing for the small spending departments. The hon. gentleman who introduced the resolution told us that these supplies would be advertised for. I understand that is the rule now. I am a believer in a democratic government and in a democratic people and I think there is too much taken out of the hands of the Parliament of Canada now. A by-word throughout the Dominion of Canada tojday is that Government and Parliament have nothing to do but stand up and vote, that everything i,s handled by a commission. If there is something wrong or if there is a mistake made whom are we going to hold responsible-not the Government or Parliament but, we will say, the Civil Service Commission or the purchasing commission. Are the people of this country not to hold anybody responsible for mistakes that are made and anything improper that is done? I can quite understand the purchasing commission buying some goods and having the purchases concentrated here at Ottawa. But take the particular county of western Ontario in which I live-if some brooms or brushes and soap were needed there it would cost as much to send those articles from Ottawa as to buy them on the spot.

I am strongly opposed to anything being done, or any more commissions being appointed, that will take work out of the hands of members of Parliament. The members of the Government and the members of Parliament ought to be held responsible for all purchases that are made and all mistakes that may be committed. We know that at the present time no responsibility devolves upon members of Parliament in connection with the Civil Ser-

vice Commission. We were told at one time that three persons were to be appointed to the Civil Service 'Commission at a certain . salary. Then a year later w7e were told that three more were to be appointed at an increased salary. If that were all there would not be so much to complain of, but there is a huge staff there now.

We were told by the minister who introduced this. Bill that he is not aware that any of the staff of the present purchasing commission will be dismissed. If that is the case what does it mean? It means that we are adding to the debt of this country by every commission that we appoint. We were led to believe that the Civil Service Commission would cost about $45,000 a year, but the facts are that it is costing a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year, and it will ibe the same in the present instance. I think the Government should curb this tendency to appoint commissions. We have ministers capable of handling these matters, and now that the war is over and the departments do not have quite so much to do, I think we should allow those departments to handle the purchasing of these supplies. Surely the work done by these commissions can be placed under the control of the Government departments, so that the Government can deal with these mattters themselves and somebody be held responsible for the matter which is carried out. If there is any class of men to-day in Canada that should be qualified to purchase supplies for the Government's use, it is the men at the heads of the different departments. If this work were allotted to these men the Government and the people could hold them responsible for it. As it is now when a member of one of these commissions makes a mistake you cannot do anything with him. If a Cabinet Minister does anything blameworthy he is held responsible, and when he goes to the people for re-election they put him out, and punish him in that way. But appointments under this commission are made for a term of ten years and during that time this man can do almost what he likes.

It has been said that millions of dollars have been saved through the activities of the War Purchasing Commission. I assert that no man in this House can say and prove that $10 has been saved. I know of a case where a tender was sent in to the War Purchasing Commission, which tender was not accepted. Another contractor was awarded the contract and he bought the goods from the unsuccessful tenderer at a larger amount than the latter had tendered for to the Government, and thus

the successful tenderer made a very large profit. I am not saying that mistakes have not been made in the past. It is human to err and therefore mistakes have been made, and I suppose will continue to be made. But I firmly believe we ought to hold the Government-no matter what party is in office-responsible, and not appoint a commission involving a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, in order to get somebody a nice fat job, especially when it'is not possible to bring home responsibility to him. I repeat that in my opinion every department of Government ought to be held responsible for its own purchases.

I cannot understand the selection of three men to make purchases for so many different departments, especially when the purchases cover such a wide variety of articles. I do not think there is a company or a corporation in Canada that would send a watchmaker to buy boots and shoes, or a shoeman to purchase watches, -drugs, or commodities of that nature. Yet in this case three men are to be assigned to the task of making these purchases. Why not let the officials of each department do it? They should do it, because no one man is qualified to purchase for all the public departments-that is utterly impossible. Each man knows his own department, and that is all he can, in the ordinary course of things be conversant with.

We are only adding to the existing difficulties by embarking to a further extent upon the appointment of commissions. Surely the ministers and the deputy ministers are honest enough to be entrusted with this responsibility; they have been considered so in the past. Let them see that things are done right and if the existing officials are not competent let them be replaced. Let them advertise for tenders for supplies, and require them to accept the lowest tender, if it is possible otherwise to accept it. (In that way we can hold the Government responsible for whatever is done.

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L LIB

Archibald Blake McCoig

Laurier Liberal

Mr. McCOIG:

I must say that I heartily agree with much of what has been said by my hon. friend from Dufferin. It does seem to me most unfortunate that the Government-after the experience they have had with the commissions that have been appointed in the past, and the consequent dissatisfaction throughout the country- should now be proposing to appoint another commission consisting of two or three men, to make the purchases for all the different public departments. It appears to. me that it is utterly impossible to get two

or three qualified men who would be conversant with the needs of all the departments and know what was best to be done so far as those departments were concerned. We have heard a great deal from the Government on the subject of economy. Would this not be a good time for the Government to take action themselves along that line, cut out such appointments as these, and allow the different departments to purchase what they need as they did in days gone by. Let the Government do that and not create more positions, doubtless positions of a really soft character, for some friends who want to get a job and hang on to it at the expense of the country.

The question was raised a few minutes ago as to whether this commission would make purchases for the 'Soldiers' Civil Reestablishment. In this connection arises whether the members of this commission would have the special knowledge as to the requirements, for example, of those soldiers who are taking up farming as a profession. Another question that presents itself is whether these men will be qualified to purchase the seed grain that is needed. I doubt very much if the Government will show good judgment if they attempt to pass this resolution and force upon Parliament the appointment of these men. In my opinion it will only give rise to a lot of trouble. Perhaps we on this side should not worry very much about that but nevertheless I think the Government are only getting into a lot of difficulty which they would escape if they left this matter alone. As the hon. gentleman (,Mr. Best) has stated the heads of departments should be responsible for the purchasing of supplies that are needed. At present there seems to be an entire absence of responsibility. That is illustrated by the answer to an inquiry which was made the other day by the hon. member for North Ontario (Mr. Halbert). The answer was, with reference to the matter in question, that the Government knew nothing about it. By such a procedure as is now proposed the Government are simply shirking responsibility. The only satisfaction the people get out of it is that they have to pay these large salaries when money is needed for vastly more important purposes.

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UNION

Matthew Robert Blake

Unionist

Mr. BLAKE:

I would suggest to the hon. member for Dufferin (Mr. Best) that if he had taken the trouble to visit the offices of the commission and ascertained what their course of procedure is, and what they are doing, he would not have spoken as he

did. I have taken that trouble. I went to the offices of the War Purchasing Commission and investigated their work.

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L LIB

Andrew Ross McMaster

Laurier Liberal

Mr. McMASTER:

I can only hear every third word the hon. gentleman is saying.

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UNION

Matthew Robert Blake

Unionist

Mr. BLAKE:

If the hon. gentleman will keep quiet, I will guarantee that my voice will carry across the Chamber.

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CON

George Green Foster

Conservative (1867-1942)

Sir GEORGE FOSTER:

The hon. gentleman (Mr. McMaster) is getting his money's worth even at that.

Mr. BLAKE;: I have investigated the War Purchasing Commission's work and their manner of letting contracts, and how they disposed of the surplus material left with the Militia Department after the war was over. In every case I investigated I found that the commission obtained full value for the goods that were disposed of. There was, for example, the disposition of motor cars. The city of Winnipeg municipal hospitals wished to purchase two motor cars, but were disputing the price on the ground that it was too high. I went into the facts and I was quite satisfied that the Government was getting a very good price for the motor car and I could not see that there was any bargain in it for the hospital people.

This War Purchasing Commission has also had on its hands the disposition of surplus stock bought from time to time by the various departments of the Government, some of which stock had lain in store for probably twenty years. That only goes to show how criminally extravagant were the persons who heretofore looked after the purchasing of our supplies. I am satisfied that the War Purchasing Commission has saved this country millions of dollars not only in the purchasing of supplies during the war, but in the disposal of surplus stocks after the war.

I am satisfied that the principle of establishing a commission which will do the purchasing for all the departments of the government service is right and will work out satisfactorily in practice. For example, with a purchasing board, if a department wants a certain line of supplies, it will have to furnish specifications and those specifications will be checked and advertised, samples will be procured, and the delivered goods will have to measure up to those samples. In that way it does not matter whether even a watchmaker is buying the goods; it is simply a question of follow ing the specifications and seeing that the articles measure up to those specifications.

If hon. members will investigate the War Purchasing Commission I am satisfied they will be unanimous in the opinion that the establishment of this hoard will be a good thing for the country.

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L LIB

Lucien Cannon

Laurier Liberal

Mr. CANNON:

Did the hon. member investigate the re-sale in the West of cavalry saddles?

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UNION

Matthew Robert Blake

Unionist

Mr. BLAKE:

I am informed that some of those saddles were bought twenty-two years ago, so it can be seen how extravagant the purchases were in those days. I really have not gone into' the matter raised by my hon. friend.

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UNI L

Frederick Forsyth Pardee

Unionist (Liberal)

Mr. PARDEE:

If the hon. member for

Winnipeg thinks the Purchasing Commission to be appointed under this resolution will be so effective that it will save millions of dollars to this country, does he not think the Government might extend the same principle to the purchase of railway and marine supplies?

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UNI L
UNION
?

An hon. MEMBER:

Policy.

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UNION

Matthew Robert Blake

Unionist

Mr. BLAKE:

Not of policy, but a matter of great magnitude. With our railways spread all over the Dominion, it is almost impossible for the purchasing of supplies to be directed from Ottawa. I am satisfied that the man in charge of a division on a railway should be responsible for that division's needs. A man who runs a foundry in Winnipeg informed me that all the castings for shoe brakes are made in Hamilton and are then hauled to Winnipeg and western points, so that in the long run they cost really as much as if they had been cast at Winnipeg at a slightly higher price. I think that opens up the desirability of our having confidence in the men at the head of our Railways and Mercantile Marine, and if we have confidence in them, I see no reason why they should not he allowed to do their purchasing through their own organizations. -

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L LIB

Joseph Archambault

Laurier Liberal

Mr. ARCHAMBAULT:

Does the hon. .member believe in doing away with the Public Accounts Committee?

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April 21, 1920