The Deputy Chairman:
On page 3 of the Toronto Globe and Mail of today's issue, there are photographs which show North Star aircraft belonging to the Royal Canadian Air Force now in storage in a hangar about ten miles from the centre of Toronto. That is only one place that North Star aircraft, which are not being used for military purposes, are now to be found, but in relation to the minister's emphatic statement it is sufficient to refer to these photographs. In conjunction with the
Supply-National Defence remarks that I am now making, I propose to table for the records of the house this copy of the Globe and Mail so that hon. members who wish to know what the truth is may see the condition in which these aircraft are. These photographs show North Star aircraft of the R.C.A.F. with propellers off, with wing edges off, with tail pieces off, with fins off. They show the aircraft in a very advanced stage of dismantlement and disassembly.
They are being repaired.
I heard the remark interjected that they are being repaired. No, they are not. On the propellers of the engines of some of these aircraft there are signs hanging which have on them these words: "Do not turn propeller, engine inhibited." Those are the exact words on the signs that hang on some of these engines at this particular hangar, and I am only referring to the one. There are four of these substantially dismantled aircraft inside and one outside which have been standing there for some considerable time.
Every one of these four aircraft has its tail fin removed, and every one of them has the rudder taken off. In addition to that, most of their vital equipment has been removed, including such items as the automatic pilot, magnetos, oxygen equipment, and things of that kind. They have not been removed just to be stored there. Most of the equipment on these aircraft has been removed and has been shipped away. That is the condition in which these particular North Star transports are today. They are not small pieces of military equipment that can easily be overlooked. One can well understand a minister of national defence making ar inaccurate statement as to the number ot machine guns, the number of trench mortars, rifles, or small equipment.
One might even understand his not knowing where the Bren guns were which they tried to hand over as a profit-making venture to their own friends before the last war.
They helped us win the war. We needed them.
One can easily understand those things being overlooked. But these aircraft, with the reconditioning which has been done on them, have cost the people of this country well in excess of three-quarters of a million dollars each. These are not small, casual pieces of military equipment which may be lost in the sawdust or behind some doors. These are aircraft of a size and of a nature
Supply-National Defence which would certainly bring them to the attention of the minister, and in fact they have been so much in the mind of the minister that over and over again he has emphasized to the people of Canada that these North Star transports are the finest transports of their kind in the world.
Sure they are.
Those particular transports are substantially dismantled. They are not merely partly dismantled but are well advanced to the stage of being wholly inhibited. The engines, without which no aircraft can move, are inhibited, and are so described by the signs placed there by those who have military supervision over them. They are very definitely stored. In case anyone may think these are not aircraft belonging to the Royal Canadian Air Force, I may say that each of these aircraft has on it the insignia of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
How do you know?
I am asked how I know. I have seen them. I have seen the air force roundel on them, with the maple leaf. I have seen the Royal Canadian Air Force insignia on the machines, which indicates that they are part of the Royal Canadian Air Force. These are aircraft which were referred to the other night, and which the minister was referring to as well. I am going to repeat his words, at page 2324 of Hansard for April 4:
The hon. member said something about the aircraft situation in Canada and suggested that North Stars were being inhibited, stored and dismantled. Perhaps I have not the order of his words correct, but I have the three words he used. X can assure him that not one of those three words is accurate in any sense whatever.
We are dealing not merely with national defence; we are dealing with the expenditure by this department of over $390 million. This is the minister who insists that we take his unsupported word for the condition in which these aircraft are today. On his own statement, combined with the situation disclosed by these photographs which were taken yesterday, according to the account which accompanies them, the minister has given the best possible reason why a committee should be set up to inquire into our defence situation, with particular reference to the present state of the air force and the aircraft it possesses.
But we go one step further. It is interesting indeed to find the casual, light-hearted and careless attitude of some hon. members of this house when it has been disclosed that the Minister of National Defence has sought to mislead the house in regard to something with which he is particularly acquainted.
The Minister of National Defence is responsible for the statements made in regard to these aircraft. Unless there is an explanation, such as that he was grossly misinformed by his own department-and that could be the only explanation-then if the minister still respects our parliamentary system, he owes this house his resignation now.
Mr. Chairman, I am a bit surprised, after having been in public life for some eight years, that anyone in this house, on any side, should suggest that I would seek to mislead the house. I have not had that reputation in public or in private life. On the other hand, if I make a mistake I will be the first to admit it. In this connection I must say, in all honesty and fairness, that the truth of this matter lies somewhere between what the leader of the opposition says today as to the situation concerning these planes, and the perhaps too emphatic denial of what he said the other night; and I will be the first to tell the house about it as soon as I get the facts.
Today I verified the information I had, and found that even though these planes are as important as the hon. member has said-the North Stars are an important weapon-they represent something like twenty-two planes out of a total of more than a thousand, and it is not always possible to remain exactly up to date with regard to each item of equipment. Had this discussion taken place on the main estimates, as hon. members know, we would have had available the information which would have permitted a detailed reply. What I did was to reply to the remark of the leader of the opposition at page 2319 of Hansard, where he said:
They are not being stored in reserve for emergency use; they are being stored in a partly dismantled state with no suggestion at all, from the condition in which they now are, that there is any intention of using them.
Well, sir, why would we have planes of any kind, North Stars in particular, which, if they were not flying, were not flying because they were being modified, or being kept in reserve; but always, of course, in reserve for emergency use? Then the hon. member referred to the planes being stored in a partly dismantled state with no suggestion at all, from the condition in which they were, that there was any intention of using them. I ask you, Mr. Chairman, who on earth would have a number of North Stars for any purpose other than to use them when their use was necessary in accordance with service requirements?
The situation concerning these planes is very simple. We always have in reserve a number of planes of each category. That is the invariable practice of every air force, as far as I know; and, as far as they are able to do it, of every commercial air line. They
cannot have all their planes flying all the time. From time to time one is lost and is replaced by another. From time to time it is necessary to make a complete overhaul, and that aircraft is replaced in service by another. Then, as hon. members know, planes of all types are subject to modification from time to time. The chief of the air staff informs me that he considered it desirable that about twenty-five per cent of the North Stars should be kept in reserve. The five to which the leader of the opposition has referred are included in those planes kept in reserve. In order to put them into hangars at Downsview, near Toronto, it is essential to make economic use of the space, so we take off the ends of the tail and the wings.
With regard to the question of the removal of instruments, some trouble has been found with some of the instruments on the North Stars. We are in the process of replacing some of the flying instruments with other instruments or with suitable modifications of them. Work to that end is being done by Canadair, by the air force and the national research council. As soon as the necessary modifications are completed the instruments will be replaced. In the meantime, naturally, the planes are-I will admit the word though it is not the sense in which I usually use it or have usually heard it used-inhibited, meaning some moving parts are covered with grease, strips of paper, and the like. Other materials are put over some of the parts that might suffer damage through lack of use. What I have said applies to four of the planes.
As to the fifth, the one in the open, information received this morning indicates that it has not been in any sense put into storage but is waiting to be flown to Cartierville as soon as arrangements can be made for further modifications to be made at that point. That is the information I have about these five planes. In view of the fact that the situation lies between what the leader of the opposition said on April 4 at page 2319 of Hansard and what I said on page 2324, I was wrong in my final words when I said:
I can assure him that not one of those three words is accurate in any sense whatever.
I find that the phrase "in any sense whatever" is wrong in the light of the facts as I have subsequently ascertained them. My recollection of the facts as they were, I think, was correct, but the situation had changed. I came here prepared to hear something about this and very ready indeed to tell the house, as I always will be, what the facts are about any situation so long as it does not give information to a possible enemy.
To complete the information relating to these North Stars, may I say that one is at
Supply-National Defence the contractor's being modified. There is one other plane in reserve; two are on loan to the Canadian Pacific Air Lines and two are on loan to the Trans-Canada Air Lines. I believe that accounts for all of them. If it does not, I shall be told that by my officers as soon as they read Hansard, and I will bring the additional information to this house so as to give the house all the facts on every occasion, subject to the one qualification I have already given.
I hope, sir, that I have dealt with the observations of the leader of the opposition, but lest there be any misunderstanding about it or any feeling that I am regarding myself as infallible, I say that in a department as large as this it is impossible to have all the facts at one's finger tips when a debate develops such as that which developed in the house on the 4th of April. My erring was in perhaps responding with some vehemence to the vehemence expressed by the leader of the opposition.
Mr. Chairman, it seems
strange to me that the hon. gentleman who has just taken his seat should consider that these estimates should be dealt with in a perfunctory way. He has suggested that, had the item which he was discussing come up on the main estimates, he would have been prepared to deal with it with greater certainty.
I noticed in looking through the record of the debate that the Minister of Fisheries (Mr. Mayhew), and I believe the Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott), both had intimated that they were not in a position to answer questions but would be able to give that information when the main estimates are considered. I fail to follow this line of argument. It seems to me that "further supplementary estimates" is almost a misnomer. I am inclined to consider them as expenditures which have been made without authorization. For that reason, I believe they should be scrutinized with even greater care than the ordinary estimates. If a government goes beyond parliament and spends moneys which have not been authorized, it seems to me it can do so only under most extraordinary circumstances of which a complete explanation should be made.
A few days ago the leader of the opposition suggested, when this item was first brought up, that these estimates be submitted to a committee. The Minister of National Defence (Mr. Claxton) speaking at that time made it quite clear that no committee would be set up. He also made it clear that parliament was not to be taken into the confidence of the government. I draw to the attention of the committee that this is a. continuation of the
Supply-National Defence government's attitude, which has been in evidence for ten years now, in its lack of confidence in parliament. The results have been sad. Just a few moments ago I was looking at a speech which I made in the house only a short time before the budget over the air, in which I asked the Minister of Finance to take the house into his confidence that he might have the benefit of the wisdom of the house, and of the guidance and assistance of those who knew something of the problems confronting him.
The Deputy Chairman:
Order. I think I should ask the hon. member to deal specifically with this item. Information may be asked for, but I hope the hon. member will not wander beyond the item under consideration.
I am merely attempting to point out to the minister-and I think he has had a rather sad experience today-
Do you want to make it sadder?