On the order for motions:
Hon. L. S. ST. LAURENT (Acting Secretary of State for External Affairs): I should like to make a statement to the house with regard to the future of a nurriber of defence projects which were built in northwestern Canada during the war. The record of Canada and the United States in developing communications throughout the northwest during the war is one in which both countries can take justifiable pride. Starting from rudimentary beginnings a series of important defence projects was created which it is hoped will greatly influence the development of northwestern Canada. The major part of the construction work was undertaken by the' United States, since they were able to make resources and men available at a time when the Canadian war effort was being concentrated overseas. Apart from the Alaska highway, however, Canada assumed the cost of construction of everything deemed to be of permanent value, so that the combined result represents a sound and logical programme of cooperation between Canada and the United States.
I do not propose to go into a detailed history of these defence projects, which are a matter of public record of the last five years. Rather I would mention the outstanding results which are inherited, as it were, as a by-production of the joint defence efforts during the war years. A chain of airfields stretches from Edmonton to Alaska. Connecting these fields there is the Alaska highway. To supplement
these communications by road and air there is a land-line system comprising telephone, telegraph, and teletype facilities extending along the length of the highway. Other supplementary facilities were developed as needed.
The United States army has been responsible for maintaining the highway and operating the land-line communications system. ' The airfields on what is known as the northwest staging route are under the control of the R.C.A.F., but many facilities are operated by the United States military authorities. With the war'over, the United States government is anxious to withdraw from the responsibility which if assumed in northwestern Canada, and wre must determine what use shall be made of these joint defence projects. Two sets of considerations must be borne in mind: future defence needs and current civil uses. With respect to the first category, it may be some time before we can- reach definite conclusions; there are many factors to be taken into account. As regards civil uses, we must estimate what is best adapted to assist in the development of the country. The two aspects cannot be separated, and each-must affect the other.
With respect to our international obligations we are free to follow whatever course seems to us best. The agreement with the United States on the Alaska highway provides that at the conclusion of the war that part of the highway which lies in Canada shall become in all respects an integral part of the Canadian highway system, subject to the understanding that there shall at no time be imposed any discriminatory conditions in relation to the use of the road as between Canadian and United States civilian traffic. We have repaid the United States the costs of construction for the airfields and the land-line system, so that there is no question that the decision as to their future rests with the Canadian government.
Having in mind problems both of defence and of civil use, the government has decided upon the following course. With regard to the airfields on the northwest staging route, the R.C.A.F. will assume responsibility for United States facilities upon the withdrawal of the United States military authorities. The question of eventual civil control is one which will have to be carefully studied in the light of future developments. For the time being, however, it has been decided to place the responsibility on the R.C.A.F., who already control the fields and can take over from the United, States more readily and efficiently than any other agency.
The United States government has been informed that it is agreeable to the Canadian
Allied Control Council
government that the United States withdraw from the operation of the land-line system from Edmonton to the Alaska border on June 1, 1946. On that date responsibility for the system will be assumed by the Department of National Defence for Air. Whether an adequate system of radio communications can with advantage be substituted for the present system of land lines is a question that is being actively explored by the departments concerned. In the meantime, however, there is need for continued use of the land lines, and the R.C.A.F. is better situated than any other agency in the matter of personnel trained in this technical field.
The United States government has been informed that it is agreeable to the Canadian government that the United States withdraw from the Alaska highway on April 1, 1946. The Canadian army will assume responsibility, for maintenance on that date. Again, as in the ease of the airfields, the matter of eventual civil control is one for careful consideration in the light of developments. For the immediate future it is believed that the most suitable initial step is for the Canadian army to take over from the United States army and to continue maintaining the highway as a military road.
These provisional arrangements under which the army and the R.C.A.F. will cooperate closely should provide adequate means for continuing collaboration with the United States and at the same time for assisting in the future development of northwestern Canada. On both counts we should strive to make the wispst use of the facilities which were provided for military purposes during the war. Until the future is clearer it would be unwise to decide on rigid and unchangeable policies, but the steps which I have outlined will, in the opinion of the government, provide satisfactory arrangements for the immediate future and can be altered when necessary in the light of future development.