May 19, 1952

PC

John George Diefenbaker

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Diefenbaker:

The minister has spoken about outside persons being asked to investigate. Before he turns to the subject of a royal commission, I was wondering whether this would not be the time to answer the question that was put on the order paper with regard to Mr. George Currie.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxton:

I will come to Mr. Currie.

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PC

John George Diefenbaker

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Diefenbaker:

That is fine. I thought the minister was going to another subject, and that this might be a good opportunity.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxton:

As I say, those suggestions have been made. On October 26, 1949, was made one of the numerous recommendations for a committee, denying that committees delegate parliamentary responsibility; April 26, 1950, demand for examination of government business by experts; May 30, 1950, suggested royal commission on government organization; April 28, 1950, demand for royal commission; June 12, 1951, demand for committee on estimates.

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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

And we got that.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxton:

You got no committee on estimates.

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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Oh, yes; we have.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxlon:

Well, I have followed the matter and I have not seen any committee on estimates.

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PC

George Alexander Drew (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Drew:

Are not the defence estimates sent to a committee?

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxlon:

No. The defence estimates come before parliament. As recently as May 12 we had from the hon. gentleman another request of a similar character. Parliament is the place where this kind of operation should be carried on. This is the place where the estimates of the Department of National Defence have been examined at length every year. Parliament has set up a committee on defence expenditures which has been going into the expenditures since the date fixed in its terms of reference, March 31, 1950. There is the committee on public accounts and I understand that it will be looking tomorrow at the report of the Auditor General in so far as it relates to defence expenditures. Then we have pending, before the courts, the prosecutions at Petawawa. In addition, as I announced in the house on April 21, there is

Military Establishments-Fires and Thefts the appointment of Mr. George S. Currie, C.A., who has the terms of reference which I stated to the house at that time; and those show that he will have such other powers as he finds are necessary to carry out his job. What more could be done than that, if Mr. Currie is a man of the capacity described by the hon. member for Greenwood (Mr. Macdonnell), I think it was, and if he is a man of the integrity described by the leader of the opposition? And I agree that he is. Then if he wants extra power to do the job that has been given to him, he knows he will get it or else he will not try to do the job.

When this situation at Petawawa was drawn to my attention, I felt that the methods of accounting, stockkeeping, their operation and the responsibility for the losses at Petawawa or losses of that character elsewhere should be looked into by the best person we could find in all Canada. He was communicated with and he agreed to take the job. He at once told me that he would have to be away on the other side on business but that that absence would mean no delay because, in the meantime, partners and members of his firm would carry on the investigation so that it would be completed just as soon as it would have been had he been here throughout. That is the way he wanted to operate, that is the way he operates, and it seems to be a perfectly reasonable way to operate.

I am not going to delay the house further, Mr. Speaker. I suggest that the motion of the leader of the opposition is not much different from the one moved on May 12, which may be found at page 2105 of Hansard, when he asked for a royal commission for the purpose of examining and making recommendations for improving the organization and general efficiency of government administration; because in his speech he referred particularly to the Department of National Defence and the Department of Agriculture. This is a narrower field, related to one department. The house indicated its attitude to that proposal on that occasion and took the view-quite properly, I submit-that parliament is the body to which the government is responsible for its administration. That is the view that has been taken consistently by this side of the house and we do not see any reason for changing that view because of anything suggested this afternoon.

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

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

Mr. M. J. Coldwell (Roseiown-Biggar):

Mr. Speaker, the concluding words of the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Claxton) were substantially the words with which I was going to begin what I had to say. The proposals for royal commissions by the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew) on former occasions, particularly the one he made a week

2338 HOUSE OF

Military Establishments-Fires and Thefts ago today, were of a wider and a more general character than the one we now have before us.

Last week I pointed out that the motion involved the abrogation of the duties of this house since it dealt widely and generally with government administration. This afternoon the leader of the opposition has introduced a motion of quite a different character. The motion today is specific and deals with one department. Then it restricts itself to certain matters in connection with that department that are of public concern.

We are asked to approve a judicial inquiry into the organization of the Department of National Defence, to investigate the account-ting, inspection and administrative supervision of public property. Those requests are quite specific, I think, and in spite of anything that may follow in the amendment, they ask us, in view of the disquiet that is widespread across the country, to approve of a royal commission to investigate specifically the matters referred to in this amendment.

It is true that the motion speaks of theft, looting and fire. It does not use extravagant language. It does not say there has been wholesale looting but rather speaks of theft, looting and fire which we, as members of this house, know to be a fact that has been established not only before a committee of the house but in the courts of this country. And therefore, this being a proposal of a different nature, I feel that the attitude of the house should be different toward it. Speaking in the house last week in regard to the amendment to which the minister referred, I said something like this: that if members of parliament had any real function it must be that we control the finances and administration of this country. Then I went on to say that since the amendment involved the whole field of governmental administration we would be abrogating our functions if we agreed to it.

In the course of his remarks this afternoon, the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew) referred quite properly to a number of royal commissions that had resulted in reports that were of general interest to this house and to the country. But I would point out that every one of these reports and every one of the subjects investigated were of a specific nature: arts and sciences, the Massey report; the inquiry into radio which resulted in the C.B.C.; the customs scandal in connection with the Department of National Revenue some years ago; the inquiry into the operation of railways, and again into the feasibility and desirability of the Saskatchewan river project. All these were of a specific character,

and the house generally approved of these commissions. But, as I said before, last week we were discussing something of a general nature, but today we are discussing something that is quite specific.

I listened with care to the leader of the opposition and to the Minister of National Defence, and I noted the defence that the minister made of some matters that had been under discussion and criticism in this house and before the committee. For example, I noted that he spoke of the rate of loss by fire among the civilian population of the country and among the military. I did not think that that argument was a particularly sound one, because after all in civilian life buildings, equipment and so on are not under constant supervision and constant patrol, which I understand is undertaken by the military in their warehouses, storehouses and so on across the country. Consequently, we should expect that the fire hazard in military establishments would be very greatly minimized by the constant patrol and supervision that exists. After all, $85,000 loss in theft and looting in two years is a very considerable amount, particularly if you look at it in the aggregate, but even if you break the amount down to losses of $3,500 a month or thereabouts, it is a considerable amount.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxton:

$50,000 of that was at Peta-wawa.

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

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

Mr. Coldwell:

Yes; at Petawawa. That is a very considerable loss. Then the comparison made again with civilian thefts and thefts in military establishments is one that strikes me as not being particularly sound. We have always thought of the military as being under constant regulation, constant inspection and so on, and that care is exercised when supplies are drawn, or anything leaves the military camp; therefore we would expect that again thefts at Petawawa and at other camps would be minimized in that way.

I want to say this to the minister. The department and the minister may be right, but the thing is that the people must be assured that the minister and the department are right. At the moment, anyone who travels across this country will realize that the public putting up this vast sum of money for defence at the present time are not convinced that everything is right. It is true that the leader of the opposition used the estimate of $2,500 million. The minister answered that that was an exaggeration. Whether it is $2,500 million or not, it is $2,106 million, which is a very considerable amount of money to be dealing with.

I hold in my hand the estimates of the departments of national defence for the United Kingdom for the year 1950-51, not

the current estimates. As hon. members will see, they consist of three volumes, the army estimates, 196 pages; the naval estimates, 304 pages; the air force estimates, 229 pages. Though the printing is somewhat different, and therefore the amount of printing probably in the books which I hold in my hand may not comprise as many items as a similar number of pages of our estimates do, yet I would point out that in our estimates this year there are only 14 pages of explanatory notes. In every one of these volumes you have the estimates, and on the opposite page there are usually explanatory notes of what the estimates involve. Possibly that does account, to some extent, for the fact that the debate in the House of Commons at Westminster is rather more restricted than the debate in our parliament in Canada regarding such estimates.

I want to say to the minister-and I am not going to labour the point this afternoon- that in my opinion, in the interests of the department and in his own position as minister, I believe the government would be well advised to accept the proposal involved in this amendment and to give the people of Canada the assurance that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the administration of the Department of National Defence at the present time.

I have said before that when I have been moving across this country I have heard many criticisms of what the ordinary man considers to be lack of supervision, extravagance, the tremendous movement of men on the trains, and so on. We hear the railway men discussing that matter quite frequently. They see cars around being used for all sorts and kinds of purposes, or at least people think they are being used for all sorts and kinds of purposes. That also leads to a considerable amount of criticism. Then of course, we have these recent cases of fire, theft and the disappearance of public property. When you put them all together they make a very impressive loss in the mind of the average person in our country.

I take it all hon. members in this house want the people of Canada to feel that in making these vast expenditures-and they are vast-for the defence of our country, and, as we sometimes put it, for our way of life, great care is taken to see that every dollar that the people of Canada are asked to provide shall be carefully and economically expended. That I think is the duty of this parliament, since the question has been raised, not only here but all across the country, as to the efficient organization and administration of the Department of National Defence. As the leader of the

Military Establishments-Fires and Thefts opposition (Mr. Drew) said, a similar royal commission was appointed many years ago in the United Kingdom to inquire into phases of government administration and organization. I believe the government would be well advised to accept this present suggestion of a specific nature, and the house would be well advised indeed to support the amendment now before us.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. J. M. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

Mr. Speaker, I hope the hon. member for Rose-town-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) will not be embarrassed unduly if I say that I agree with almost every word he said.

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

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

Mr. Coldwell:

Not this time.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

I am not

going to enter into a battle of decimals with the minister. I listened to his decimals and I am not going to enter into that. Incidentally, the comments made by the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar on that comparison were very sound indeed for the reason he gave. Surely a closely knit unit like military forces should be able to have supervision of a type which we could hardly expect in ordinary civilian life.

The reason I am on my feet is to stress- again I quote the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar-that it is not only necessary that things should be right; it is necessary that the people believe they are right. There is no question whatever but that up and down this country there is not only a feeling of alarm and disturbance at the present time that we have to find this huge amount of money; there is a feeling that this money is easily come by, so far as the armed forces are concerned, and is not being husbanded as it might be.

I want to be as fair on this as we can ever be.

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?

Some hon. Members:

Oh, oh.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

Let me give you the simple facts with regard to that contract. The amount involved is trifling compared to the millions and billions we are spending, but if this is an example of the way they are dealing with these larger things then all I can say is that the people of Canada have every right to be uneasy and that they should have some kind of independent inquiry. In December last I brought to the attention of the committee- I suppose I may just mention that a committee existed-the fact that some 63,000 serving forks had been ordered. Serving forks are described as the forks used by cooks in roasting meats and also in dining halls for the serving of meat from platters. I am not getting on to forbidden ground beyond that and I hope you will not call me to order.

On the order paper last December there was a correction; the 63,000 was corrected to 42,000, I think. Then they had another look at it and I got an answer. It took only four months to prepare. This was not one of the cases where they were very prompt, but no doubt there was a reason. After all it was only an inquiry from a member of parliament. The answer was as follows:

An order has been placed by the Department of Defence Production on behalf of the Department of National Defence for 14,500 serving forks.

The total quantity is made up of 10,000 for current use by the army based on an actual issue of 4,500 in 1951-500 for the Royal Canadian Navy and 4,000 for mobilization stockpile.

I still believe that the 14,000 should have at least one zero knocked off, or perhaps two. I am told that a large hotel would use only a score or two of these forks. I am disturbed when you probe and find a soft spot like that. So far as I know after four months nobody seems disturbed about it. True they have reduced it to 14,000, but I still think that that is ten times or one hundred times too many.

However, let us assume that it is 14,000. They came down from 60,000 to 40,000 to 14,000 and as far as I know no one has been criticized. While that may seem a trifling thing it gives me a disturbed feeling about the whole affair. We hear all kinds of rumours. The air force is full of them. It is not a rumour but a fact that 20,000 trunks have been ordered. We do not ordinarily have trunks in the army.

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LIB

Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)

Liberal

Mr. Claxton:

Yes, every man has a trunk.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

Well, that is all right if every man has a trunk.

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May 19, 1952