March 15, 1921

UNION

Arthur Meighen (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

I said, the Government of which he was a member. He became a member in 1908. We will see how they lived up to the law in 1908, 1909 and 1910.

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L LIB
UNION

Arthur Meighen (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

It is not so very ancient. At all events, 1906 is not so very much more ancient than 1908.

For the year 1906-07 the House met on November 22; the first volume was brought down on February 4, 1907. This year the first volume was brought down not long after the opening of the session. I have not the exact date; perhaps the Minister of Finance will give it later. I might add also that that volume brought down on February 4, 1907, was only a portion of the first volume; the other portion was brought down on February 8, 1907-that is the way my notes read. The second volume was brought down on the first day of March, three months and eight days after the opening of the session. The third volume was brought down before the first -on the 9th day of January, 1907, nearly two months after the opening of the session, and the last volume, relating to the Post Office Department and the Mounted Police, was brought down on the 22nd of February, 1907, or exactly three months after the session opened. We are now at the end of the first month of this session, and my hon. friend comes'into the House in this great state of indignation-

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L LIB
UNION

Arthur Meighen (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

My Hon. friend from

Three Rivers appears to follow in every particular and to share the indignation of my hon. friend. If I am not wrong, the hon. member for Three Rivers was a mem-

ber of this Government that delayed three months in bringing down the report of 1906-07. Moreover, he was Solicitor-General, I believe-legal adviser-so that he would know they had to bring it down in a week or be branded as violators of law.

In the following year, 1907-08, the House met on the 28th of November, 1907. The first volume was brought down on the 29th of November; the second on the 17th of December, almost a month after; the third on the 28th of November. The first and the third were apparently brought down together.

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UNION

Arthur Meighen (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

The same year, of

course; did the hon. member think they would bring them down a year after?

For the year 1909-10 the House met on the 20th of January, 1909. The first and third volumes were brought down on the 22nd of January, 1909; I think that is the date given by my hon. friend. The next volume-it is marked here "P.O."; I assume that-figures relating to the Post Office Department were contained in it-was brought down on the 22nd of February, 1909, a delay of a month and two days longer than in the present instance. That was the first year in which my hon. friend was himself a member of the Government. It would have been peculiarity appropriate if he had waited on this occasion for two days more and then he could at least have said that the delay was one day longer than was the case when he himself was a member of the Government. But the next volume was brought down on the 23rd of February, so that, in the case of two volumes out of three, the same period exactly had elapsed of which he complains to-day. In the first year in which he was a member of the Government, only one was brought down and two remained after the expiration of the same time of which he complains today. Now three are down and only one remains, and my hon. friend is filled with indignation. Moreover, the expenditures, operations and activities of the Government are not only far greater to-day than they were in 1908 and 1909, but they spread over a far wider area and necessitate much greater delay in the preparation of these publications than was the case at that time.

For the year 1909-10 the House met on November 11. Two volumes, the first and third, were brought down on November 12. Volume 2 was not brought down until the 12th of January, or over two months after the House met. That was the next year in

which my hon. friend was a member of the Government; still he upbraids this Government for delay and violation of the law, and says that in the interests of the taxpayers of Canada he cannot allow one dollar of supply to be voted until the Auditor General's report comes down. It is very unfortunate for my hon. friend that he was for these three years a member of the Government.

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LIB
UNION

Arthur Meighen (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

It may have been unfortunate for the country, but on that subject I am not speaking now.

Now, in respect of the years to which my hon. friend refers, those since 1917, it must be remembered that during that period this country was at war; that there was an overseas ministry of militia; that the returns from that department ^particularly could not be in at the same time as the returns from other departments, and, furthermore, that every department of this Government was being conducted under difficulties of which the Government preceding it knew nothing at all. There would, therefore, be abundant reason, abundant necessity, for delay in these years that did not exist in his time by any means. Even yet there are returns from overseas-I cannot speak authoritatively on this, but I am very much disposed to think that this fourth volume is not down at the present time because of delayed returns that even yet must come from overseas. I understand that the fourth volume refers chiefly to war appropriations; but the fourth volume will be down; we have reason to believe that it will be down in very good time. In the meantime it is suggested only that the House shall go on with such Estimates as are fully covered in the volumes already on the Table. I do not think one single year can be pointed to during which my hon. friend or the hon. gentleman beside him were members of the Government when Estimates were not gone on with before the complete set of 'volumes of the Auditor General's Report were on the Table. If this be the case, by what show of reasoning does my hon. friend ask this House to block the Estimates and even to refuse to go into Supply before the last volume of the Auditor General's Report is on the Table? The only reason is that there is no better one to present, that there is nothing better to fight with-

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UNION

Arthur Meighen (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

-and consequently it

is "good enough," because something must

be found. It is surely important that we arrive at Supply at an early date. It is complained that Parliament did not meet in time. Again references could be made to previous meetings of Parliament, but it has been the practice for some time to call Parliament after the New Year, instead of before, and many hon. members-and they are not all on this side of the House either -have urged that that practice be followed, because of the delay and loss of time entailed in going and coming for the very short period prior to the Christmas holidays. It was hoped that this year we could meet earlier that last. We have met earlier than last year; indeed, we met almost two weeks earlier than last year. We met on a Monday, and no time whatever of the representatives of the people was lost by adjourning until the next week. We immediately got down to business; the debate on the Address was proceeded with; it was not rushed through by the Government ; all the time asked for by the Opposition was given, and the debate continued at considerable length after members of the Government had desisted,-it continued at the length it did because hon. gentlemen opposite determined that it should so continue and they themselves conducted the debate. After the debate on the Address was closed, there was abundant material before Parliament for the consideration of Parliament. Already only a week or so afterwards, the Estimates are laid on the Table, and we ask the House to proceed to a consideration of those Estimates, in order that the very thing of which my hon. friends complain shall not take place; in order that Parliament may early in the session get to those Estimates, consider them fully and without haste, and conserve the public interest thereby. If that be desirable, surely then it is not desirable that, for reasons such as my hon. friend has adduced, the consideration of Estimates should be deferred.

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UNI L

William Stevens Fielding

Unionist (Liberal)

Hon. W. S. FIELDING (Shelburne and Queens) :

Mr. Speaker, we are told by Shakespeare's Dogberry that " comparisons are odorous." They are sometimes interesting though they may not be helpful. I have been gathering some information from the speeches of the leader of the Opposition (Mr. Mackenzie King) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Meighen). They have been giving me some dates, and from those dates I learn-I am assuming that the figures given by my right hon. friend are correct-that in times past, some years ago, the Auditor General's Report was rather

slow in coming down; but whether it was due to the criticism of hon. gentlemen opposite or the pious resolve on the part of the Minister of Finance at that date, I cannot say, but, according to the Prime Minister a great change came about, and in the last Parliament which was in the time of a Liberal government, according to the dates given by the leader of the Opposition and not disputed by the leader of the Government, it appears the Auditor General's Report came down very promptly.

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UNION

Arthur Meighen (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

No, nearly two months after the opening of the House.

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UNI L
UNION

Arthur Meighen (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

In two, if not three

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UNI L

William Stevens Fielding

Unionist (Liberal)

Mr. FIELDING:

I understood from my right hon. friend that the dates given by the leader of the Opposition were very favourable; but he said that there were other dates, and so he went back to ancient history. There is, however, a more serious point than that. It appears to me that my right hon. friend has failed to appreciate adequately the importance which, not only these public documents, but others as well, have in regard to the business of the House, and I should be glad if I could assist him to get a better appreciation of the importance, the necessity, of having public documents brought down at an early date, without the need of commenting upon times past and without undertaking to make any comparison of one government with another.

The leader of the Opposition has truly said that the first and chief function of Parliament is to control public expenditures, and the documents relating to public expenditures are of paramount importance. We must first have the Estimates; we must have the Public Accounts; then we must have the report of the Auditor General for the year that is past. Before Parliament is asked to vote additional Supply to the Government, it is reasonable that Parliament shall have an account of how the money previously voted was spent, so that those three series of volumes, the Estimates, Public Accounts, and the Auditor General's report, are of vital importance. Irrespective of what anybody is doing now or has done in the past, I should like the Government to appreciate the great importance of so adjusting public affairs that those reports will come down at the earliest possible moment. I do not emphasize

4 p.m. the fact that the law requires that the Auditor General's Re-

port shall be brought down within so many days of the opening of Parliament. That is always found to be difficult and, perhaps, impossible. I do not 'insist on the Auditor General or the Government being tied up to the days mentioned; but an effort should be made to bring down those reports, and other reports as well, at an early date of the session. The whole basis of the business of the Government and of Parliament is that we shall have before us the reports of the various departments of the Government and when days, weeks and months roll on and we do not get those reports, the purpose of Parliament is defeated.

My right hon. friend says that the Auditor General is not responsible to the Government. That is true only in a measure; it is true that the Auditor General is an independent officer; that he can be dismissed only by a vote of the House. But it is not true that the Auditor General's department is so absolutely disconnected as my right hon. friend suggests. The Auditor General is my right hon. friend's own appointee, and he has a reasonable right to ask that that official shall attend to his duties. I am not suggesting that the present Auditor General, who was a clerk in that department in my own days and who is, I believe, a very capable man, is in any way in the wrong. But when my right hon. friend says that he is not responsible for the Auditor General, he is getting away from parliamentary responsibility which should extend to the Auditor General. I understand the Auditor General's complaint is that he has not a sufficient staff. Whose fault is that? It is the business of the Government to see that he has the staff that he needs, and that he is facilitated in bringing down his report at the earliest possible moment, and no arguments that the Government can make can absolutely absolve them from responsibility in that regard.

It has been said that there has been difficulty in regard to the printing, but there should not be any difficulty now. The Minister of Trade and Commerce (Sir George Foster) told us the other day of the immense improvement that had been made in the Printing Bureau by the dismissal of four hundred

and fifty men after many years' service. Well now, if they have improved it so much, if, as he says, the business is done more efficiently, might we not reasonably ask that these various public reports

should be ready at an early date? Behind that, is the question of the date when Parliament shall meet. I know that is a question on which there is some difference of opinion, but I want again to put forth my views 'in favour of carrying out what was the design of Parliament when the fiscal year was changed. Formerly the fiscal year ended on the 1st of July, and Parliament usually met in the month of January or February. That gave a period of seven months in which to get the public reports ready, a reasonable time, and when Parliament met in January or February, as a rule most of the reports were ready, or were shortly afterwards. But then there was this great difficulty: when Parliament met in January or February business men complained that they were kept here all through the summer until the hot weather, and many a business man who would be willing to give his time through the winter to the affairs of the nation was not prepared to sacrifice his time and neglect his business affairs away on until midsummer. So in the interests of efficient government, and to encourage men of the right stamp to give their time to the public service, it was decided to change the fiscal year, and by common consent on both sides of the House it was changed so as to end on the last day of March instead of on June 30. There was a gain of three months there in which to get the public documents ready. You could have seven months under the old system. You now have your fiscal year ending on 31st March, and you could meet in November or December and have just as much time in which to get the public documents ready as they had in former times when they met in January or February. Why cannot we do it? I am not making this a matter of party controversy, for I know we had some difficulty ourselves in doing it. But I think this Parliament could very well meet in November and dispose of the debate on the Address and a great deal of formal business, and make a good start on the business of the House before Christmas, when a reasonable adjournment could be had. Then after the Christmas vacation we could come back and end our business in May. This year-I do not know what plans are in the minds of the Government or hon. gentlemen opposite-all the indications are that if business drags along as it is doing now we shall be here in May, June, and July, and Heaven knows how much later. My hon. friend says that members on both sides of the House prefer to meet after the New Year. Notwithstanding that, the merit of the system itself should commend itself to the House. It is desirable that these public documents should be got ready earlier, and I think we should agree that it is desirable Parliament should meet earlier and not be kept sitting here until July, August or later, as sometimes is the case now. Unless we can agree to meet at an earlier date and get the business well advanced at an earlier date, I do not see how we are going to carry on the business of the country efficiently, and make the conditions of Parliament satisfactory to a large class of the best type of men in the country whom we should desire to have co-operate with us in Parliament. Therefore, the thought I would give to my right hon. friend, without finding any fault or entering into comparisons between now and the old days, is that he should appreciate in larger measure the great importance of having these documents ready in time, and, if necessary, get a large staff for the Auditor General and for the Printing Bureau. Let him get back these 450 men if it is going to give us the documents in time, so that Parliament may be able to meet earlier and have the documents ready at a reasonably early period in the session.

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Right Hon. S@

I confess that I have a good deal of difficulty in reconciling the present debate with the hon. gentleman's great anxiety that business should be proceeded with and the House adjourned at an early date. There are one or two faults which are laid at the door of this Government. The hon. member for Shelburne and Queen's (Mr. Fielding) gives two concrete suggestions. He makes a concrete suggestion as to the staff of the Auditor General, and another concrete suggestion as to the staff of the Printing Bureau. Now, if we have any ground for complaint in the matter of these criticisms it is rather to be found in the suggestion of the leader of the Opposition that the Government are responsible for what the Auditor General does; because the Government responsibility so far as the Auditor General is concerned is to supply him with the means wherewith to carry on his work, and, having done that, to' refrain from interfering with him in his work in any way, to turn him either this way or that. And we are not interfering with him.

Let us deal first of all with the questions of staffs. I would like to make it perfectly clear to the House that there is

no trouble about the printing of this report. The delay is not in the printing. So far as the staff of the Auditor General is concerned, I do not know how much larger a staff the hon. gentleman thinks the Auditor General should have.

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CON

Henry Lumley Drayton (Secretary of State of Canada; Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Sir HENRY DRAYTON:

It might get

to that point where there WQuld be so many that they would be tumbling over each other and the work pot be got out. It might be like conditions at the Printing Bureau at one time. We had employed in the Auditor General's department for the year 1920-1921, 114 employees; we have for this year 158 employees, or an increase of 44 permanent employees in that comparatively small department.

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L LIB

James Alexander Robb

Laurier Liberal

Mr. ROBB:

Is the minister satisfied

that the new employees are just as competent as the old ones?

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March 15, 1921