May 26, 1921

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Mr. BE LAND@

May I suggest by way of explanation, Mr. Speaker, that if I referred to the debate in the other House it was because the right hon. Prime Minister stated that he was not desirous of making a full statement in view of a fuller statement presented to the other House.

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UNION

Edgar Nelson Rhodes (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Unionist

Mr. SPEAKER:

Quite so. I have no doubt the Prime Minister considered that it was open to hon. members of the House to read the debates of the Senate. But the Prime Minister has no authority, and I am

quite sure there was no desire, to take it upon himself to abrogate the rules of the House.

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L LIB

Jacques Bureau

Laurier Liberal

Mr. BUREAU:

I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. If I am well informed, an hon. gentleman occupying a high position in political life has stated that the proposal to abolish the Conservation Commission was due to the fact that two civil servaiits were very anxious to see the commission go out of business so as to advance their own interests.

Now, I shall not take up very much of the time of the House. I only want to point out that the reasons adduced by the Prime Minister are not sufficiently strong, in my opinion, to justify the course which is being taken. I do not think that the fact that some of the commission's reports were got out in nice bindings is a sufficient excuse for abolishing the commission. These books go broadcast throughout this country and other countries and I am sure that the Prime Minister would not, any more than I would, like to see a publication hearing the name of a commission carrying on a public service, a Government institution, go out to other countries in anything but decent form. I am sorry to see the Conservation Commission go out of business, because I think it has rendered great service. It has rendered splendid service so far as forestry is concerned. As has been stated by the hon. member for Beauce, the commission has educated the people in the matter of the preservation of our forests, and I know that they have made valuable suggestions as to the line of conduct to be followed in this connection. Of course, if the Government have decided on taking this action there is no use in our continuing the debate. But I want to express my regret and my sorrow at the abolition of this very useful body, 'composed of men representing the various provinces who have been getting together each year to discuss the resources of those provinces and the result of whose deliberations in concrete form has been spread all over Canada and sent to other countries as well.

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UNION

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

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

Mr. Speaker-

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UNION

Edgar Nelson Rhodes (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Unionist

Mr. SPEAKER:

I must remind hon. gentlemen that if the Prime Minister exercises his right to reply the debate will be closed.

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UNION

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

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

I know that I owe it to the House to be exceedingly brief, even if I do not do full justice tc the verv com-

prehensive remarks of the hon. member for Beauce (Mr. Beland) and of the hon. member for Three Rivers (Mr. Bureau). I do not doubt for a minute the bona fides, or indeed the sincerity, of the hon. member for Beauce in the strong plea which he has made, but I do think he has been imposed upon by members of the commission, with whom he has been associated.

This decision on the part of the Government has not been come to precipitately, nor without consideration; nor has the Government been stampeded by the evil designs of two civil servants. I have been associated with the question very closely for four years and more. The difficulties inherent in the situation were impressed upon me, and it was not after consultation with one or two civil servants or heads of branches, but after very many consultations on the part of a committee of the Government, and, indeed, with all affected, and after the most thorough review of the question from the ground up that this decision was arrived at. I could go into details of all the matters presented by the hon. member for Beauce. I have heard that case urged before; it has all been put before me not in such good form, but in substance pretty much the same, and I am convinced that there is very little in what has been pressed upon the House by the hon. member. I do not wish to be understood as saying that the commission has not rendered good service; but those words are largely applicable to the initial work of the commission which, in my humble judgment, it must have been designed to perform, namely, to investigate in a broad way the general subject of conservation, and having done so, to advise as to the lines of policy to be pursued. It did that in relation to forest fires started by railways, and it indicated legislation that it thought should be enacted, empowering the Railway Commission in this regard. That legislation was enacted; the Railway Commission took the matter in hand as the administrative body, and very probably good has resulted. I believe the legislation was good; but now we have a forestry service; we had to have it to carry out a forestry conservation policy at all. That forestry service must necessarily be ascertaining data all the time; it has to do that to carry out its administrative functions. Why should there be another body and an irresponsible one doing the same work? The hon. member says that we have a Department of Health, so that the commission does not need to operate any longer as regards

public health. Having admitted that-and he is perfectly right-he throws up his whole case as to water-powers, because we now have a Water-power Branch; he throws up his whole case as regards forestry, because we now have a forestry service.

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L LIB
UNION

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

Unionist

Mr. MEIGHEN:

No, it did not exist in 1909; it was established between that and 1912; before that no real forestry policy was developed. I have here a memorandum covering the subject very fully. As regards fisheries I could quote from some proceedings of the commission itself, which would establish most definitely that it really was anomalous to have the Conservation Commission even acting in an advisory capacity as regards fisheries. At the meeting it was admitted that they had no one competent to advise, and they sought, and continued to seek until 1918, to have some one upon whom they thought they could rely in this regard. They persuaded a Dr. Jones to undertake this work, and Dr. Jones, upon being requested to do so, said that he had not only an open mind but almost a vacant one on the subject; that while he would be glad to try the experiment for a year, if he did not accomplish anything, he supposed some one else would take the matter up. They did not succeed in getting that expert until 1918, and I do not think they have succeeded yet; but they were offering "advice on fish culture, oysters, salmon, white fish; they published a small library of expert treatises, and tried their hand in settling international, federal and provincial fishery disputes." That is an example of what went on in that regard.

The hon. member mentioned-and this is of some importance-that this idea arose from a similar one that had taken root in the United States, from a movement that at that time had reached considerable magnitude, a movement that generated from the belief that the resources of this continent were being depleted at too rapid a pace and that the attention of Government should be very forcibly directed towards the need of their conservation. It took its rise from that movement and an organization was formed in the United States, a Commission of Conservation, for like purposes to that which was formed in this country. But the hon. gentleman must be aware that the United States commission has not sought to plant its roots permanently in the soil and to continue indefinitely as an expensive Government de-

partment irresponsible to a minister. The functions of the United States commission have been either discharged or since allocated to appropriate departments. That is what we seek to do here; that is what I think, if I may say so, should have been done before this.

The hon. member mentions that the commission was asked by the International Joint Commission to make a report as to the Long Sault. That is only natural; but that did not constitute the commission an advisor as to public policy before the International Joint Commission, and the commission came as adviser on public policy before the International Joint Commission in connection with the application for a diversion. That occurred in 1918, and this country found itself represented by two bodies, the Government on the one hand and the commission on the other. Is 'that not overlapping? Could anything more absurd be conceived? The hon. member says that the expenditure is not sufficient; that there has not been overlapping shown. Let me just cite some overlapping. There is overlapping in water-powers; in connection with that power report from British Columbia, 133 pages were appropriated from the report of the Water-power Branch, simply embodied in it, and the name of the director was put down as co-editor of the report. That is all printed as a separate booklet. And what business have we in connection with water-powers that we do not own, taking upon ourselves the expense and responsibility of a compilation and an expensive investigation of them? We should do that in connection with the powers we do own; but as regards the others, we should merely co-operate with the provinces in giving them the general advantage of the information that we have. That is what we are doing respecting Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and, I think, in respect of the water-powers of British Columbia unnecessary expense was gone to simply because we had an irresponsible commission. There is overlapping in connection with External Affairs, and I have given that instance. There is also overlapping as regards Mines. As regards all this lignite investigation work, I think it is presumption on the part of the commission to claim that the results are in any way traceable to them. I think the same is true as to other investigational work mentioned by the hon. member. It is true as regards the Long Sault dam. I do not think the commission would come to this House now and say that it was responsible

for saving this country from a calamity in regard to the Long Sault; I do not believe the hon. member credits this himself. I do not want to delay the House further. While I do not say that any useful work that the commission is carrying on should be discontinued, I do say that the work which it is carrying has to be carried on by administrative functions of Government, whether the commission does it or not. So, why have it done by two bodies simultaneously and at double expense? And why particularly have it done by a body over whose expenditures we have very unsatisfactory control?

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Mqjion agreed to, Bill read the second time, and the House went into committee thereon, Mr. Boivin in the Chair. On clause 1-repeal.


UNI L

William Stevens Fielding

Unionist (Liberal)

Mr. FIELDING:

Two points made by the Prime Minister seem to be good argument. One is that there is a large measure of overlapping between the work of the commission and the work of the department, and that should be avoided. The second point is the absence of any proper dink of connection between the executive power and the commission. It occurred to me not very long after the commission was appointed that there was a weakness in that respect. I am strongly of the opinion that for every branch of the public service provided for out of the public treasury, there should be somewhere a responsible minister answerable to this Parliament. I think that is a sound principle, and I wish I could feel it had been adopted as fully as my right hon. friend thinks in relation to the railways. However, we need not dwell upon that. I have felt all along that, excellent as was the work of this commission, it would have been better if it had had that connecting link. In view of all the important work it has done, and of the great number of volumes it has published, and the general excellent character of its work, I regret that the Government have felt that the only remedy is the abolition of the commission. I think that it would have been wise to establish that necessary connecting link and bring the commission under the authority of some responsible minister, and gradually work the two things into harmony. In view of the excellent work that has been accomplished by the commission, I think it is a pity that the Government have taken the extreme step of abolishing it.

Apart from the immediate officials of the commission, there are a large number of

gentlemen throughout the country who have taken an interest in its work, and who without reward or fee have given their services from time to time. I think that service also was worth preserving for the assistance and advice of the Government, and I therefore express my regret that the Government have felt that the only remedy for these evils, if they^ be evils, was the abolition of the commission.

I would much prefer that those services be utilized, and I had hoped that it would be possible to do that without abolishing the commission. The overlapping, I think, could have been avoided,, and a connecting link could have been established between the work of the commission and the Government, through a responsible minister.

I think that would have been wiser than to abolish the commission.

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L LIB

Henri Sévérin Béland

Laurier Liberal

Mr. BELAND:

No doubt the Government intends to retain the services of the high officials of the commission, such men as Mr. James White, for instance, who from the inception has been- the Secretary, and later Assistant to the chairman of the commission. I have many times heard the Hon. Mr. Sifton, who acted as the chairman of the commission for I think some seven or eight years, speak in very high praise of Mr. James White, and I have myself on many occasions been in a position to judge of his ability and his fitness for a very important post in almost any department of the Government, in some department, at all events. I have no brief to speak for Mr. White. I have not seen him or heard from him for almost a year, and there was no question then of the commission being abolished. I speak absolutely independently of any suggestion on his part. Some of the other officials have also won the commendation of the commission and I hope the Government will find a way to utilize their services in some of the other departments.

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Section agreed to. Bill reported, read the third time, and passed. On the motion of Right Hon. Mr. Meighen the House adjourned at 12.58 a.m. Friday. Friday, May 27, 1921


May 26, 1921