August 23, 1946

PC

Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt

Progressive Conservative

Mr. MERRITT:

In answer to the member for Trinity the minister said that statements of policy about the services had been made in press releases. At page 5018 of Hansard, when the naval estimates were under consideration, in answer to the hon. member for Yale, who had asked for a general statement on service estimates, the minister said:

I made a fairly complete statement last session as to the naval position, and subsequently in a number of public addresses, press releases and the like I have indicated the general character and size of the post-war navy, and my plan had been to proceed with these estimates in the ordinary way.

In my view statements of policy as it develops, if it is not secret, should be made to this house by the minister.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
LIB

Douglas Charles Abbott (Minister of National Defence; Minister of National Defence for Naval Services)

Liberal

Mr. ABBOTT:

When the house is sitting.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
PC

Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt

Progressive Conservative

Mr. MERRITT:

We try to follow these .things as best we can, but it is very difficult to sort out the actual policy from what may be newspaper speculation or incomplete reports of the minister's statements, and hon. members, who are more interested in details of policy than the general public may be, are not completely satisfied by these press reports. I know that was my own reaction to these reports. I would urge the minister to use the house as the place in which to announce statements of policy, and not to tell us in the house that his policy has been revealed in press releases, as he did several times the other day.

The report of May 17 in the Montreal Gazette, to which the hon, member for Trinity referred, with regard to progress in coordination and standardization of equipment and staff with the United States and the erection of defence and weather stations in the continental Arctic zone, was a pretty categorical statement. That was about the 17th of May, and at that time discussions were going on in Ottawa on these points between service representatives of the two countries. Although I quite understand that some of the decision* arrived at may be secret, and that there are

Supply-Defence-Army

things which it would be improper to announce, I believe that a categorical report such as that which I hold in my hand, and which I shall be glad to hand to the minister if he has not seen it-

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
LIB

Douglas Charles Abbott (Minister of National Defence; Minister of National Defence for Naval Services)

Liberal

Mr. ABBOTT:

I have seen it.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
PC
LIB

Douglas Charles Abbott (Minister of National Defence; Minister of National Defence for Naval Services)

Liberal

Mr. ABBOTT:

As to statements of policy being made in the house, I quite agree that such statements should be made in the house while it is in session, and I do so sometimes; on other occasions I do not. As to the point that I should make a long and comprehensive statement as to military policy, perhaps it would have been desirable for me to do so; that is a matter of opinion. Rut the same thing applies to every other department of government that comes before this house to have its appropriation voted. I am here as minister of National Defence ready to answer any question which is put to me; and the usual procedure on supply is, not for the minister to make speeches, but for the members to question him on the various items. During the war -my hon. friend was not here, of course; he was in the army-a practice grew up under the War Appropriation Act of the minister making-because his estimates were voted en bloc-a broad comprehensive statement in which he reviewed the operations of military forces during the past year and made some forecast for the future. Now there has been a good deal of talk in the house to the effect that the war is over and we are back on a peacetime basis. If the house wishes the minister to make these statements when the estimates are opened I shall have no objection to doing so, but I honestly feel that the better way would be to follow the procedure which was followed before the war, of allowing hon. members, when the estimates are introduced, to make speeches if they wish, to ask the minister questions, and so on. It is for that reason I proceeded as I did, and it has been done with the other war departments-the Department of Munitions and Supply and the rest.

On this question of making policy statements every time the joint defence board meets in Ottawa and discusses matters, I do not think it is feasible. I believe the government must assume its responsibility of announcing from time to time, when matters of policy are decided upon, what those matters are, and I do not think it can be expected, because there is natural and understandable speculation as to whether the Americans would like to establish weather stations in northern

Canada with us, or other matters of that kind, that the minister should rush into the house and either affirm or deny these reports. I am sure that my hon. friend does not suggest that.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
PC

Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt

Progressive Conservative

Mr. MERRITT:

If I may interrupt the minister, we are asking now on the estimates.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
LIB

Douglas Charles Abbott (Minister of National Defence; Minister of National Defence for Naval Services)

Liberal

Mr. ABBOTT:

That is right. Well, I have given the committee all I can give up to the present as to our policy with respect to the matters referred to. So far as weather stations are concerned I answered a moment ago that the weather stations are operated by the Department of Mines and Resources, and there is no present intention that that shall be changed. If there are any other matters, or similar questions, I shall be glad to answer them.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
PC

Grote Stirling

Progressive Conservative

Mr. STIRLING:

May I remind the minister that at the beginning of the discussion of the naval estimates I asked him a specific question on this matter and, whereas he referred to other points which I had raised, he did not refer to this matter of policy. I made it two-furrowed: I referred to the fact that I understood that in London shortly the spokesmen for the defence of the commonwealth were going to meet, and I asked the minister whether he would make any comments on Canada's representations at that meeting.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
LIB

Douglas Charles Abbott (Minister of National Defence; Minister of National Defence for Naval Services)

Liberal

Mr. ABBOTT:

I did that in answer to another question. I apologize to my hon. friend if I overlooked it in answer to his. I did so a little later in answer to the hon. member for Cariboo. It is difficult, when one hon. member asks a question and another gets up in the meantime and asks another question, to keep track of everything that is asked. I do it as well as I can, and if there are some questions which I overlook, it is not intentional.

Perhaps I had better correct what I said about these weather stations. I am not sure whether they are under Mines and Resources or Transport; it is one or the other that handles the meteorological stations.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
PC
SC

Norman Jaques

Social Credit

Mr. JAQUES:

The other day I asked the minister a question about a pension, and he said I might bring it up under this item.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
LIB

Douglas Charles Abbott (Minister of National Defence; Minister of National Defence for Naval Services)

Liberal

Mr. ABBOTT:

We introduced this morning and gave first reading to the bill to amend the Militia Pension Act, and I think it would be appropriate under that bill, which may come on to-morrow. It is not under this item.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
SC

Ernest George Hansell

Social Credit

Mr. HANSELL:

The question will only be asked once, anyway.

Supply-Defence-Army

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
LIB

Douglas Charles Abbott (Minister of National Defence; Minister of National Defence for Naval Services)

Liberal

Mr. ABBOTT:

But I have not here, perhaps, the experts on pensions whom I may have here on that bill.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
SC

Norman Jaques

Social Credit

Mr. JAQUES:

Would the minister say that it would be better for me to ask it to-morrow?

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
LIB

Douglas Charles Abbott (Minister of National Defence; Minister of National Defence for Naval Services)

Liberal

Mr. ABBOTT:

If my hon. friend expects to be here for the next day or two, it would be more appropriate to ask it when we are in committee on that bill.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
SC
PC

Edmund Davie Fulton

Progressive Conservative

Mr. FULTON:

It seems to me that what has just been said by the minister indicates again the advantages that would be served by appointing a standing committee of this house on defence matters. This was referred to by the hon. member for Nanaimo in his remarks when these estimates were first opened. It was referred to last session on September 28 by the hon. member for Vancouver South, when he went at some length into the constructive suggestions put forward by the official opposition for defence policy. At that time, Mr. Chairman, as you will recall, the minister said he felt there was a good deal of merit in the suggestion; and on a later occasion the Prime Minister, when the suggestion was brought to his attention, made the same statement and said that the government would give it careful consideration and possibly set up the committee at some time in the near future. Since that time no further statement has been made by the government in that connection, and we are wondering just what is their decision, or whether any decision has been taken. I should like the minister, if he will, to give us the benefit of some comments on that point. But before he does so there are some further points which could be urged in support of the suggestion that there be a standing committee of the house on defence matters.

In the first place, it would give the members a chance to discuss and support the estimates intelligently in the house. At the present time there are, naturally, many aspects of defence policy which we cannot know, and it is well known that the officials of the department are hesitant when telephoned up by an opposition member to give information which is related to policy. Members of course will be careful not to ask them questions of policy, because it is putting them in an unfair position; and one is hampered in that way, the information is not as readily available to members as it is to the government. The result is that frequently we come in here and all we see is an item in the estimates of so many millions of dollars; it seems a large item, and one's first inclination is to say "You are

spending too much money", because we have not the information as to what it was that went into the decision to appropriate that money. I believe the estimates would be discussed a great deal more intelligently if we could get that information, and probably in many cases they would be supported instead of being crticized.

Another consideration which makes it desirable to have a standing committee on defence is that the armed forces are always a vulnerable target for attacks of many kinds. While everyone would like to see economy practised, I think one should be careful not simply to say, "You are spending a lot of money on the armed forces and therefore we will attack them and appose all the money which is being spent there." But it seems to me, on reviewing speeches and statements in past years, that in many cases the armed forces have been an obvious and vulnerable target for attack. Somebody says, "Well, we have to slash the estimates; let's get busy and do it." One knows too that the services themselves find it difficult to ask for large appropriations because they are met with the answer, "Treasury board would never authorize that; or if they do, the members of the house when the estimates come up will criticize us for extravagance." And so in many cases the services are actually starved for want of money. If members could have information as to the necessity for that money I think it would facilitate the passage of estimates and the work of the house generally. It would also put us in a much better position to discharge our duty of suggesting a sensible defence policy. It would enable members, knowing the full inside story, to go out into the country and defend the armed forces and advocate recruiting. The suggestion was made the other day that the minister should embark on a recruiting tour of the country. I hope he will, but I think it would help if all members of the house, when they go back to their constituencies, would advocate recruiting for both the permanent force and the reserve army. We would be in a much better position then to talk intelligently about it, and more inclined to do it if we knew what the policy was as well as the background of that policy.

In this connection I would make a general observation. I feel that recruiting for either the permanent force or the reserve army will not be successful until the country comes to realize and is made to realize that the armed forces should play and will play in the future a prominent part in the national life of the dominion. In the past many people have been inclined to regard the permanent force

Supply-Defence-Army

as a joke and permanent force officers as stuffy individuals. So long as that attitude prevails, naturally the force will not attract the class of recruits that we consider desirable, and every effort should be made to impress upon the permanent force and on the reserve army, as well as on the people generally that the armed forces-I am speaking particularly of the army, but I have in mind the armed forces generally-will from now on be an integral part of our national life and that a career in the services will not be an isolated career but a calling which is an essential part of the national life. In that event, especially as I understand that the policy is developing whereby men will leave the force at a younger age, one will be able to step into the force and after a time step out of it with hardly any sense of transition. It will not be a long step, merely a passage. The whole thing, I say, would be an integral part of the national life, related to our scientific and technical development, so that desirable persons will be encouraged to enter the services and will not feel isolated from the rest of their fellow citizens but will be conscious instead of performing an equally important task, as important as if they were in some other walk of life.

I suggest therefore that the greatest care should be exercised in the selection particularly of district officers commanding. They should be persons who are able to take their place in any of the functions of their community. They should not regard it as just a bore to have to go to convocation ceremonies at the universities. Instead, they should want to go and should feel that it is their rightful place, and the attitude of mind should be encouraged in which, if a district officer commanding is not at a public function, people will ask questions. If the army and the other services are to be an integral part of our national life their representatives should take their place on public platforms together with other dignatories and public officials. If that is to be the aim, then you must select persons capable of discharging those functions, and whose attitude of mind is that they have their rightful place to fill at every public function. The appointment of a defence committee of the house would go a long way towards bringing these things about and it would give us a better picture of the policy generally and enable us to go back to our constituencies and support the armed forces.

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink
PC

Alan Cockeram

Progressive Conservative

Mr. COCKERAM:

I wish to say a few

words before the minister goes away. I should ask him to look at the statement he

made the other day at page 5073 of Hansard, that there were still 830 men serving detention for desertion and absenteeism. The minister announced that an amnesty had been granted men who had never joined the army. In my opinion those men who enlisted and tried to do the job but who through the exigencies of the service possibly lost their courage are the ones who should have been given the first amnesty, if any was to be given. After all, peace has not yet been signed. Will the minister make a statement as to why he did not grant amnesty to the 830 who are serving detention at the present time?

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Permalink

August 23, 1946