November 6, 1945

PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. J. M. MACDONNELL (Muskoka-Ontario):

I should like to make one or two observations on this resolution. First of all, I was considerably taken aback at the remark of the Minister of Finance; I am sure he would not like anyone else to refer to him as "loose", but if he does it himself I suppose we have to take his own word for it.

I should like to ask a question which seems to me very important. If this resolution passes, and if it goes to the committee as a reference to consider this very wide range of expenditures, notwithstanding the statement of the Minister of Finance that what the committee was primarily to concern itself with was current practices, does it mean that this house is really precluded from considering these expenditures? In other words, if this resolution carries, has every hon. member except those on the committee foreclosed himself from any effective discussion of these items?

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
Subtopic:   APPOINTMENT OP COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER EXPENDITURES AND DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WAR ASSETS
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?

Some hon. MEMBERS:

No.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. MACDONNELL:

I should like to have that question answered by the minister, and then I hope to make a few more observations.

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LIB

James Lorimer Ilsley (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. ILSLEY:

Mr. Speaker, as I was rising to move this motion the Clerk of the House came to me and intimated that there might be some clash between the sitting of this committee and a sitting of the committee of the whole house. I certainly never understood until that moment that any such question would arise in this connection. Certainly we must go on with a full discussion of the war appropriation, and of course it was not intended that the sitting of this committee would preclude the discussion of anything in

Surplus War Assets

the house; but as the point has been raised perhaps it will be necessary to get it settled by a ruling of the Speaker.

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
Subtopic:   APPOINTMENT OP COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER EXPENDITURES AND DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WAR ASSETS
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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. COLDWELL:

We have had this committee for several years, and no exception has ever been taken to matters being discussed here that were before the committee.

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LIB

Ian Alistair Mackenzie (Minister of Veterans Affairs; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE:

No. The only reservation would be that the house would probably be debarred from discussing the proceedings in the committee itself until it reported; otherwise there would not be any interference.

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
Subtopic:   APPOINTMENT OP COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER EXPENDITURES AND DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WAR ASSETS
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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. MACDONNELL:

I should like to be very clear, if I may, as to what the answer is. I appreciate what the Minister of Finance has said, that he was as much surprised to have the other view put to him as I was a few minutes ago. May I take it from what has happened that it is agreed that this resolution will not preclude the house from discussing these items? After all, we are talking not of theoretical but of practical things; and as a matter of practice I should like to ask hon. members who are much better informed on this than I am, if this actually goes to a committee, is it practicable to have it discussed in two places at the same time, and if it is not, does that mean that in the ordinary course of things this, committee will take several weeks to complete its deliberations and that almost inevitably the matter will come back near the end of the session? I raise that question and leave it to be answered later, and would make one or two further observations before I resume my seat.

I wish to say one or two things about what I hope will be the course of this committee, because it seems to me that if may either be a very useful committee or very much the reverse.

As I understand it, over the past five or six years we have spent many hundreds of millions of dollars through the Department of Munitions and Supply, and assets of a very considerable amount-I suppose running into many tens of millions of dollars-have been acquired and are now owned by way of capital assets by War Assets Corporation, it having received them from the government. Now I take it that it is of very great importance that we have a' sensible way of dealing with this, and I suppose the people of Canada would like to have a comprehensible and comprehensive statement covering the whole matter.

There are two or three practical points which the committee can discuss in a noncontentious and constructive manner. One of

them, obviously, is how these assets are to be made the most use of. They should not be thrown on the market indiscriminately. I am sure we can trust the Minister of Munitions and Supply (Mr. Howe) that they will not be, because he is an experienced man of business. I think the other thing which is very important is that in some way or other they should be so dealt with that small business in this country gets all the advantage it possibly can from these assets, and that they do not go into the hands of a few large companies that probably need them very much less.

I shall not take the time of the house to discuss other matters with regard to the com-mitttee, but I suggest that a good start means a good deal, and that if we go into the work of this committee with the idea that we are sensible men, dealing with a business proposition of enormous importance and magnitude, and if we can be received in that committee, regardless of party, in that spirit, we can do a much better job than could otherwise be done.

I come back to the proposition which I mentioned at first. I was a little taken aback at learning that although the committee is captain of its own soul and master of its own destiny, according to what was said in this house and repeated by the minister to-day, its proceedings are not to take place in camera. That, I assume, is a decision which could be overturned by the committee itself, but I suppose that will not be done. But what I am still uncertain about, and would like to be informed upon by people who are much better versed in this than I am, is the practical question as to whether or not, if this reference goes to the committee, there will be parallel and simultaneous discussions going on in this house; because there are hon. members who are not members of this committee who have' views to express. Is it practicable to have these discussions going on in two places? Is it practicable that the committee shall .come back and report the result of its work in sufficient time for discussions in the house itself?

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
Subtopic:   APPOINTMENT OP COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER EXPENDITURES AND DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WAR ASSETS
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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. M. J. COLDWELL (Rosetown-Biggar):

I should like to say a word in support of the establishment of this committee. I think that as a committee it performed a useful function, and we have never encountered the difficulty which it has just been suggested might arise. After all, the function of the war expenditures committee and the function of a committee of the whole of this house are rather different. In this house we take all the items, item by

Surplus War Assets

item, but we give them, in reality, a superficial consideration-that is, in a general way- whereas in the committee the usual practice is to divide the committee into several subcommittees; to these subcommittees are allotted certain very important segments, if I may put it that way, of the entire expenditure. We are thus able to make a thorough investigation of one particular type of expenditure, with the result that while the house carries on what I have termed, and I think correctly, a somewhat superficial examination of all the expenditures, the committee can pick out important expenditures and go into them thoroughly, and have the advantage not only of questioning the minister-who on the floor of this house places before hon. members information which of necessity he must obtain from his officials-but also of calling the officials before the committee and questioning them on eveiy detail of expenditure.

It is conceivable that while the work of the committee was proceeding some particular matter before the committee might arise in this house. This has never in the past embarrassed either the house or the committee, but there would be a pretty general understanding that the matter in question was being thoroughly investigated by the committee and that we need- not at the moment concern ourselves further about it. I believe that this committee performs a useful function; and may I add, in view of what the minister said, that I believe the committee should be free to go into any expenditure it desires to go into, to inquire into any action of the War Assets Corporation which it wishes to investigate, or anything in relation to the war allocation committee, and so on. After all, while theoretically, the public accounts committee may be the place where that kind of thing can be done, the auditor general's report is always many months behind. Besides, the auditor general's report deals with peace-time expenditures, which are usually referred to the public accounts committee unless something specific is involved. In my opinion the committee should be free. I do not think it has ever taken upon itself to do something it need not do, and I believe that, as now composed, it will carry on in the same way.

I do not want to prolong the discussion, and I will simply say that this committee can perform a useful function. I know what an obligation rests upon the members of the committee, because I was on the committee. I am not on it this time, I am glad to say, but we sat when the house was not sitting, and I suggest that if necessary this committee should again sit while the house is not sitting. It has been established very late.

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
Subtopic:   APPOINTMENT OP COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER EXPENDITURES AND DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WAR ASSETS
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LIB

Daniel (Dan) McIvor

Liberal

Mr. McIVOR:

Did this committee ever

save any money for the government?

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
Subtopic:   APPOINTMENT OP COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER EXPENDITURES AND DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WAR ASSETS
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PC

Thomas Langton Church

Progressive Conservative

Mr. T. L. CHURCH (Broadview):

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
Subtopic:   APPOINTMENT OP COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER EXPENDITURES AND DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WAR ASSETS
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CCF

Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. STANLEY KNOWLES (Winnipeg North Centre):

There is just one matter that I should like to ask the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Ilsley) to take into consideration; and I do so in relation to the closing remarks of my leader, the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell).

During the sessions of the last parliament it was a simple matter to arrange for this committee to sit during the recess. As the

Surplus War Assets

Acting Prime Minister will remember, the various sessions of parliament were never prorogued until .the day before the new session was to be convened, and all that was necessary was for the committee itself to report to the house that it had much work yet to do, and recommend that it be given permission to sit during the recess. Although we do not yet know what the practice will be, now that the war is over, the assumption is that when the work of the session is finished parliament will be prorogued. I raise the question-

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
Subtopic:   APPOINTMENT OP COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER EXPENDITURES AND DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WAR ASSETS
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LIB

Ian Alistair Mackenzie (Minister of Veterans Affairs; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE:

Not at this rate of progress.

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CCF

Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. KNOWLES:

-to find out whether arrangements can be made for the committee to sit between sessions of this parliament, bearing in mind that the period between sessions will not be a recess. I suggest to the government that even if the committee is to make an exhaustive survey of only one or two items-which is all it can do-it will hardly be possible for it to do that while the house is in session, particularly in view of the fact that there is not much time between now and Christmas, or whenever the house rises. I hope that this matter will be taken into consideration and that some way may be found whereby this committee may be enabled to sit between sessions so that it will have the freedom that it can have at such a time to do the exhaustive work on one or two items that it might undertake.

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LIB

James Lorimer Ilsley (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. ILSLEY:

Did the hon. gentleman ask me a question?

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CCF

Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. KNOWLES:

I should be glad if the minister would comment on my request.

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
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LIB

James Lorimer Ilsley (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. ILSLEY:

We are not in committee. I thought the hon. gentleman asked me a question, that is all. I shall have to look into the possibility of sitting between sessions. I do not think it is ever done. I remember at the time ihe price spreads committee of the House of Commons sat, the session closed and the committee was reconstituted as a royal commission so that it could sit between sessions, but I may be wrong about that.

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CCF

Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. KNOWLES:

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
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CCF

Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. KNOWLES:

No-in the recess; a technical difference.

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
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SC

Frederick Davis Shaw

Social Credit

Mr. SHAW:

In the recess. I was deeply interested in the comment of the minister that such a committee should not go out on a fishing expedition. I am not quite sure that I know the full implications of that remark, but may I say that I sincerely trust the committee will not be restricted in its desire to be helpful, even though it may mean the consideration of certain things which have recently taken place with respect, let us say, to the disposal of surplus crown assets. May I emphasize that in referring to this matter I have no particular desire that we should go back and look into the disposal of surplus or obsolete equipment simply for the purpose of stirring up something. If things of that nature have happened, then possibly we should be concerned about some change in the procedure of handling surplus crown assets. I think the committee can be of invaluable assistance to the government as well as to the people of Canada.

There is one other matter to which I should like to refer. We are no longer at war; therefore the need for this committee sitting in secret no longer exists, as far as 1 can see, and I welcomed the statement of the minister when he indicated that the government had no objection to the committee deciding to sit in open session. I trust that the committee will be guided to some extent by that observation of the minister. We welcome the setting up of this committee, and we really anticipate that it will be able to do some valuable work.

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LIB

Louis Orville Breithaupt

Liberal

Mr. L. O. BREITHAUPT (Waterloo North):

I wish to compliment the minister and the government in their decision to set up this committee. I take particular interest in this committee because in a speech I made in this house on September 17, I strongly recommended that such a committee be set up. It is an excellent idea, but instead of its being called the "War Expenditures committee" as previously, I believe it should be named the "National Expenditures and Economies committee", with the emphasis on national economy, which is a matter of great importance for the future. I make this suggestion to the minister for his favourable consideration.

Topic:   DEFENCE AND DEMOBILIZATION
Subtopic:   APPOINTMENT OP COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER EXPENDITURES AND DISPOSAL OF SURPLUS WAR ASSETS
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November 6, 1945