March 3, 1933

CON

George Gordon

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

I think it would have been unfortunate if we had done it before.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

It is unfortunate it had not been done before. It is most unfortunate that at the very outset the ministry had not followed in this, as in all matters, the regular constitutional procedure, the procedure which gives parliament control over all expenditures and especially control over all taxation.

The minister began his remarks by referring to the emergency session of 1930, and pointed out that following that session the powers which the government took to itself were somewhat enlarged. May I remind him that at that very session of 1930 the government was told in no unmistakable terms that what we were facing was a depression which in all probability would last a very considerable time, and that what they were asking for at that time, namely, the right to emergent powers, so to speak, ought to be assumed only for that particular session and should not become a regular feature of proceedings. The ministry asked at that time for $20,000,000 but they did not indicate to parliament how that amount was to be spent. What they received was a cheque for $20,000,000 for the government simply to do with as it thought best. If the ministry had been obliged to give a statement to parliament at that time which would have made clear the directions in which that $20,000,000 was to go, how it would be divided up, and to give to the house some indication as to how the amount had been arrived at, they would have found that the consequent discussion would have led to a much smaller sum being appropriated for the purposes of meeting the need for relief as it existed at that time. As I recall, there had been previous occasions upon which the federal government had assisted the municipalities and the provinces in unemployment relief. During the entire preceding ten years the total amount spent out of the federal treasury as assistance to the provinces and the municipalities for unemployment relief did not exceed $2,000,000.

2668 COMMONS

Relief Act, 1933-Mr. Mackenzie King

Yet my hon. friends asked for $20,000,000, and that is where they made the initial mistake. If they had come to parliament and had said that they thought a serious condition was arising but believed as they subsequently said that it would be over within a year as a result of their policies; and had asked for the one year an amount equivalent to that which had been spent for unemployment relief in the preceding ten years, say $2,000,000 or double the amount if you like, $4,000,000, they would have had all that they needed to meet the situation until parliament resumed again at the following regular session. It was that first mistake of the usurping of the authority of the House of Commons by the ministry which led to extravagance at the outset.

At the next session the ministry came and demanded not only a blank cheque for the purposes of unemployment relief but for powers to enact by order in council any measure which they might think advisable with respect to peace, order and good government. That was an arbitrary authority the like of which was not assumed for any purpose even during the period of the war by the prime minister of the day. This parliament never before granted to any government the power which the present ministry took from the House of Commons to deal with the unemployment situation. The minister stepped over this part of the ground very lightly; he said they took those powers to help to meet the condition. He did not mention the fact that they were taken from the House of Commons under closure. As a matter of fact, the ministry were so determined to get all this excessive and exceptional power into their own hands that in order to obtain it they had to resort to the use of the closure.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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CON

George Gordon

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

The country approved the action.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

The country has never approved it, and I think my hon. friends will come deeply to regret the looseness of control there has been over the expenditure of public moneys. The minister has not said very much about the total expenditure which has been made by the administration without any control whatever on the part of the House of Commons. That is a fact that cannot be brought home too often to hon. members. I am quite sure that the statement by the ministry this afternoon that they are going to put some limit at least on the amount they will require is the result of the discussion that took place in this chamber the other day when the attention of the house and the country was drawn to the excessive

amounts that had been expended, because, if my hon. friend had had any virtuous intention of imposing some limit on the amount to be expended, he would have brought that fact to the attention of the house at the very outset, and made it part of his speech when he was presenting the whole matter to the House of Commons. I am glad, however, he is prepared in order to begin anew in a right direction, to take at least one step back. May I emphasize again the significance of what has been done, so that hon. members will not be led into believing that even yet we are being given very much in the way of control. Just inside two years, according to the minister's own statement the other evening, the ministry have by order in council paid out of the consolidated revenue fund of Canada in direct and indirect relief, and in advances to provinces, most of which advances, I think in the minister's own mind, are likely never to be repaid, the sum of $115,000,000. That is in two years.

Prior to the time of the war there was not a single year in which the total expenditure of Canada equalled that amount. What the ministry have done in the matter of dealing with unemployment relief might be exemplified in this way: had Sir Robert Borden come to the house the year immediately preceding the war and said to the members assembled that these looked like emergent times and that he thought in the circumstances the government ought to be permitted to do what it pleased with public expenditures for that year; that it had decided no estimates would be presented to parliament, but that the government would demand a blank cheque and the right to be allowed to expend what it pleased, he would have been asking for no more in the way of exemption from control by parliament over expenditures than this government has actually taken from the House of Commons as respects the years expenditure on relief account. He would have been asking for no more for one year than this government has taken for two. If there had been no estimates presented to parliament for any portion whatever of the public service, the total expenditure would have been just equivalent in one year to the total which this government in two years has spent, but without any control by parliament, on account of unemployment relief. I do not wonder that since this fact has been brought out, the ministry have begun to shiver a little, and see the necessity of at least coming back to some restriction. I hope now that they have got far enough back in the right direction to at least fix a total amount, they will recall that this is what

Relief Act, 1933-Mr. Mackenzie King

we stressed very strongly as imperative in the last two years, and that it was in an endeavour to have them fix some amount that we were compelled to keep lip the discussion on this side until in order to get their own way they had resort to the closure. Now that the minister has begun to retreat,

I hope he will go back just one step further if only for the sake of maintaining a semblance of parliamentary control over public expenditure. That one step further is to indicate how much of that-did he say $70,000,000 or $20,000,000 they were going to ask for?-

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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CON

George Gordon

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

There is a considerable

difference.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

-last year it was $70,000,000 that he used, what he is going to ask for now is $20,000,000, how much of that $20,000,000 will be used for one particular purpose and how much of it for another? The bill which we had before us last year, the provisions of which we are being asked to renew, gives the minister power to spend these moneys on particular services which are named in a very broad way. For example, they can pay out of the consolidated revenue account whatever is needed for the requirements of the national parks and the drought-stricken areas; what they need to assist in defraying the cost of the production, sale and distribution of the products of the field, farm, forest, sea, river and mine; what they wish to loan to any province on terms to be agreed upon; what they wish to guarantee of moneys to be borrowed by the provinces; what assistance they wish to give any province in the way of direct relief, and also what they wish to do in the way of loaning or guaranteeing moneys to any public or private corporations. Will the minister tell us how much of that $20,000,000 they intend to devote to those different objects? I am going to ask him to give us that in committee. But in order to have some light thrown on the matter from past experience, I should like him to tell us how much they have spent on each of these various counts in the past two years. How much has gone each year to private corporations out of this unemployment relief fund, and will similar or lesser amounts be taken out of the $20,000,000 for the same purpose? We should also be informed whether this $20,000,000 will cover all the ministry intend to loan and not merely what is paid out in the form of direct relief. These are important questions that later on I may ask the minister to answer in detail.

Before, however, coming to that, may I say a word about what my hon. friend has just said in reference to the suggestion that

there should be a national commission to supervise the expenditure so far as it is federal expenditure and to do in cooperation with provinces and municipalities what lies within its power in regard to coordinating and unifying unemployment relief measures as between the different parts of the dominion. The minister says that they discussed this matter with the provinces, and that the provinces said that their business was to administer relief. The provinces might quite rightly say that; it is their business and nobody is asking that they should be deprived of the right of carrying it out. Any suggestion made with regard to a national commission has not been to relieve the municipalities or the provinces of anything that is their duty. The proposal of a national commission has had relation to the supervision of expenditure of moneys which come from the federal treasury and from it alone, so that through such a commission an account may be given to parliament of the amounts that have been spent, and with it some statement of the policy which has governed and should govern in, the matter of expenditure. The other evening we heard the minister tell us how much had been spent on this, and on that, but as I said to him at the time, the picture that was presented on that occasion was anything but one which hon. members could comprehend as a whole; it was the most chaotic view of a national situation which could possibly be presented by a ministry.

A commission of the kind I have mentioned, had it been appointed, would have proceeded somewhat along these lines: They would have had their permanent experts associated with them who would have'advised as to what would be most in the public interest in the way of the distribution of these moneys, and at the end of the year a budget would have been presented to the government, which the government would have brought into this house and had discussed, a budget which would set out, very much as the Minister of Finance does in his budget with respect to the affairs of the country generally, what was required in all for the purposes of unemployment relief, and in some detail how the government proposed to have the necessary moneys disbursed. Does my hon. friend mean to say that with a budget like that before them, hon. members of this parliament from every part of Canada could have made no contribution towards the solution of the unemployment question? That is where I take the strongest exception, to the way in which the government has proceeded in this matter. They have proceeded

2670 COMMONS

Relief Act, 1933-Mr. Mackenzie King

as though the members of the House of Commons had no knowledge of, and had nothing to do with, and nothing to say about unemployment or unemployment relief, that all that they are expected to do is to vote sums of money to be spent by the government as it pleases. I say that is all wrong. I think this House of Commons on both sides has members who are familiar with conditions in the different constituencies of Canada and who each year, would have been able to make and would be able to make now if they were given a chance, very valuable suggestions as to what would be most desirable and serviceable in the way of meeting present conditions. More than that, I think the country would be impressed by what would be said in this house back and forth, in the way of support and criticism of the different projects that might be proposed, and thereby put in a position to form some judgment upon them. That is an opportunity which the House of Commons and the country should have at all times where the expenditure of public moneys is involved.

The answer which the minister gives for not proceeding in that way is equivalent to saying that the federal government with respect to the expenditure of federal moneys has recognized responsibility only to the provinces and to the municipalities, but recognizes no responsibility to the House of Commons, no responsibility to the federal parliament, and no responsibility to the people of Canada through the federal parliament for the expenditure of federal moneys. That is what his answer implies, and what it comes to. That I say is quite wrong, and now that to a certain extent the minister has begun to see the error of his ways I think he should begin to tell us a little more in detail and as near as he can just how he intends to spend this 820,000,000 during the course of the next fiscal year.

Just to help him on his way in that regard, may I ask him if he will tell us, to take first the last item set forth in the bill of last year, how much of the blank cheque moneys has gone up to the present in the way of loans or to guarantee the payment of money by any public corporation or undertaking, or has been advanced in cash to any public corporation or undertaking?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Mr. Chairman, I wonder if the right hon. gentleman has any appreciation of what he is talking about.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
Permalink
?

Some hon. MEMBERS:

Oh, oh.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

I mean that very

seriously, for that any responsible member of parliament should give us what he has been saying in the last fifteen minutes is incomprehensible.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

Let the Prime Minister speak for himself.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

It is incomprehensible that any responsible man would say in this house what has been said.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

I am as responsible as the Prime Minister. He is talking as an irresponsible leader of the government at the moment.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
Permalink
CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Don't get worried.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
Permalink
LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

No, and I

won't stand any insulting words from my right hon. friend either. He talks about me not being responsible; I tell him that he does not know what he is talking about.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
Permalink
CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

I am sure if the right hon. gentleman has no further knowledge of that than he has of what he has been talking about, his opinion is not very valuable.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
Permalink
LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

A very fine

exhibition by the Prime Minister.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

It is incomprehensible

that such a statement could have been made by the right hon. gentleman as has been made in this period of depression. Why? He took the relief bill, took the different items, and he said: How much is to be spent in guarantees and loans to the provinces? And as to the hon. member behind him who cheered the loudest, I wonder what he has got to say about how much had to be loaned to British Columbia.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
Permalink
LIB

Wilfred Hanbury

Liberal

Mr. HANBURY:

Too much.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Exactly. That government happened to be opposed to him in politics, and the loan was too much.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
Permalink
LIB

Wilfred Hanbury

Liberal

Mr. HANBURY:

No. There happens to

be a lot of graft in British Columbia that you could have regulated.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND FARM RELIEF
Subtopic:   CONTINUATION FOR ONE TEAR OF PROVISIONS OF RELIEF ACT, 1932
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March 3, 1933