February 8, 1955

PC

Gordon Knapman Fraser

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fraser (Peterborough):

Because they could not get information.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
LIB

Walter Edward Harris (Minister of Finance and Receiver General; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Harris:

Second, the committees served as a useful warning to those who might take advantage or think they could take advantage of the haste which was a necessary part of government activity in a time of emergency. There are other reasons, of course, and other useful results flowed from those committees. I know that hon. members are well aware of them. But these committees dealt with large sums of money. Even now they deal with almost one-half the budget when they examine the affairs of national defence. We did not think it necessary at that time to consider the ordinary departmental estimates in a committee similar to that which had considered the war expenditures.

The whole question seems to resolve itself into divided opinions as to what the committee would do and what it might add to the deliberations of the committee of supply. Most members start off with the assumption that this committee will be in addition to and not by way of substitution for the committee of supply and will therefore perhaps only be an added burden to the activities of parliament. Even those who do not hold that view think that, whatever the committee does, we could not possibly have in that committee any different position from that which we have in the committee of supply, namely that the minister of a department concerned will be responsible for the conduct of the affairs of his department before that committee.

I think I should say a few words, Mr. Speaker, about the systems in the United Kingdom and in the United States and then indicate in what respect I think we ought to follow them, if at all. In the United Kingdom they have what they call an estimates committee but what, according to my reading of the record, would be something between an estimates committee and a public accounts committee as we understand it in Canada. The committee consists of 36 members, of which only 7 constitute a quorum. But they

divide themselves into subcommittees and the subcommittees do the actual preliminary work. The committee examine officials of all departments concerned, but it should be noted that they do not go through the estimates as we understand them. Rather they select one item in the estimates which is a matter of public interest and they prepare a quite comprehensive report about it. I have in mind one of two or three years ago on overseas broadcasting. The item ran, I think, to about four million pounds. The report itself is 27 pages long of printed material and the evidence and the appendices run to another 145 pages. It will be seen that this kind of committee takes far more time to consider estimates than we have in mind in this house. That particular subcommittee, as I remember it, was appointed in November and brought in its report the following July just on one item in the estimates of a particular department and not on any other item in that or any other department. The committee has authority to sit not only when the house is sitting, which is rare in the United Kingdom, but to sit as well when the house is not in session at all. They have even gone as far afield as central Africa on one occasion to examine into a particular matter of concern there.

Looking through the Hansard of the United Kingdom, I found that in the period from 1946 to the end of last session only on three occasions were reports of the estimates committee considered in the committee of supply of the United Kingdom parliament. I realize that the reports would appear in the journals, but the point I am making is that they were not debated in the house except on those occasions I have mentioned. It may be that I missed one in the index but I think I covered them fairly thoroughly. Two of these debates were only side issues, so to speak. Only one of them was a full-dress debate and it concerned school buildings in the United Kingdom and was originated by one of the opposition members at the opening of one of the allotted days for supply. I am not suggesting that the reports are not useful. On the contrary, I am sure they are. I am sure that the committees do put on the record a great deal of useful information. 1 am sure that the members who serve on the committee are better qualified to deal with the departments when they consider them, and I am also sure that the minister of the department concerned has his mind refreshed on his problems and probably has useful advice and information given to him about the work he should be carrying on. On the other hand, I have stated the position as I see it and I am quite sure that that kind of activity is not what

we have in mind in Canada at the moment when we speak of an estimates committee.

In the United States I think hon. members know that the appropriations committees of congress have vested in them authority to deal with appropriations. It is true that the executive makes recommendations to the committees, but I would suggest that over the years that congress has been functioning it is highly unlikely, except on occasions of emergency, that you will find an appropriation bill that was sent to the committees which did not have some change made in it before it became law. The committees, as I say, have this authority vested in them by law, and automatically they examine officials of departments, cabinet ministers and even persons outside the public service.

I mention that only to point out the distinction there and to say that I do not think for one moment that in the parliament of Canada, having in mind our constitutional arrangements, having in mind our belief in the theory of cabinet government supported by a majority in the house and taking responsibility for expenditures, we would want here to devolve into the hands of a committee the sole authority to pass expenditures. Indeed, I think the whole system of our government is based on the theory that the committee of supply consists of every member of the house and that every member has the right to scrutinize and pass on the advisability of every single vote in the blue book. I would go further and say that in addition to that privilege there is a joint responsibility on all of us to scrutinize these items and to pass upon them. It is that responsibility which troubles members who say that under the present system they do not have ample scope to discharge the duty in the way they think they should.

Having pointed out very sketchily the differences I find in other jurisdictions, I think I should indicate what we have in mind ought to be for the moment at least our procedure here. We think that the estimates committee, at least as a preliminary, ought to conduct itself as closely in keeping with the practice in committee of supply as possible. The minister who is in committee of supply is quite often asked a question about his department concerning a detail which no one expects him to carry in his mind, and so he has to have recourse to officials who can provide the information. By long practice these officials sit on the floor of the house but of course they do not take part in the discussion. They do give information, however, to the minister who gives it to the committee, and it is his answer for which he is responsible. We think that this course should 50433-60i

Special Committee on Estimates be followed in the estimates committee. It will be the responsibility of the minister to conduct the affairs of his department before the committee, and if he chooses to make all the answers himself that would be consistent in our view with the purposes of the committee. If, on the other hand, he thinks it desirable to leave the explanation of details of administration to others, that will also be his responsibility, but if this course is followed it will not be possible for an official or other person to be questioned as to the policy of the government. This must be the responsibility of the government and the minister concerned, and he cannot devolve that responsibility upon an official.

For that reason we hope that on an experimental basis, as I have said, we can do the work of three or four departments in the estimates committee in much the same manner that we do it now in the committee of supply, having in mind, however, that hon. members will want to take more time and will want to obtain more information than they say they have the opportunity to obtain at present. Therefore in the committee we can test the validity of the argument of those who say that this does not add anything to the committee of supply and see if in fact we can do the work in another place when the house is engaged in other business.

I am quite satisfied that there are a number of members who are frankly sceptical of the advantages of what is being proposed, and I think I can safely say that those hon. members are in all parties in the house. But I think we ought to make the experiment to see if in fact an estimates committee can have the advantages that those who sponsor it believe it has. I think all hon. members will agree with me that it would be better to begin cautiously and not make an initial error which might bring about an unsuccessful conclusion to the experiment. For that reason I am recommending a cautious approach to a new system, one which can be tried out without in any way saying that on a future occasion a committee might not decide to recommend to the house a different procedure.

My answer of course to those who say that this might limit the committee initially to the point where it would not be a success is simply that all of us, I think, are prepared to make the experiment. I think all of us are prepared to make it work but that it would be unwise to go beyond what at the moment appears to be possible in order to carry out the objective we have in mind.

The government hopes that the results of the experiment will be twofold at least. It hopes first, as I have said, that there will

940 HOUSE OF

Special Committee on Estimates be more intelligent criticism of government policy based on greater information in the hands of a member who wishes to make a particular study of a subject in which he is interested and, second, that there will be less time taken in committee of supply on the details than there is now taken in that committee. If neither of these results occurred, it would be a matter for consideration whether the experiment had been successful, and at that time those who think that the committee should be formed along the lines of that in the United Kingdom, or any similar committee adapted to Canadian conditions, would be free to say what they think was the cause of the failure of the experiment.

For the present we prefer, as I say, to keep the committee's activities definitely within the scope of the committee of supply so that we can achieve at least the minimum success in doing what members would like to have done. I would therefore ask the house to adopt the motion, even with the limitations I have indicated, to see if the estimates committee can be made to work in the interests of a more expeditious disposal of business and the better consideration of votes totalling about $5 billion.

I should, however, add that there will be certain consequences following from the passage of this motion. In the first place, we shall present to the committee, if established, the estimates of the departments of finance, veterans affairs, citizenship and immigration and northern affairs. In order to do that it will be necessary for hon. members opposite to realize that these estimates cannot go before the estimates committee until we have been moved into supply by a motion that the Speaker do leave the chair. When that motion is carried we shall have to move in supply that these estimates be transferred for consideration of the estimates committee.

As I have indicated on several occasions, though perhaps not in the house, that motion ought not to be debatable. It is not the intention of the government to create an additional debate to those now existing. If the committee is not going to be given the freedom to deal with these items, but rather have the motion create one more debate in committee of supply which we do not now have, then those who think this system will save the time of parliament seem to be misinformed. When the motion for supply is made, therefore, it will be the intention of the government, after that motion is carried, if it is, to call the four departments I have mentioned and one more at least. These items could

then be sent to the estimates committee for its immediate consideration, and we would have one more department's estimates to consider in the normal way on Thursdays and Fridays.

I would hope that this procedure would commend itself to hon. members and that the estimates committee could, during the months of February and March, do the work which we have in mind. There is no point, I suggest, Mr. Speaker, in having the estimates committee working much after the end of March or April because members will want to serve on other committees at that time.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. J. M. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

We

have all listened with interest, Mr. Speaker, to the speech of the Minister of Finance (Mr. Harris). We all recognize the importance of the proposal which he has put before us. He could not resist one or two opening gambits, which perhaps we should allow him. There was an indication of the impregnable self-satisfaction which we constantly observe in those opposite, and I thought he allowed himself to make a little slip when he forgot that the estimates of the department of immigration, a year or two ago, to all intents and purposes came down on the last day of the session. There may have been some technical reference to them before, but I think we all agree that, to all intents and purposes, they came down on the last day of the session.

I shall not take the time to cover the ground the minister covered in differentiating his proposal from the estimates committee in the British house, though I shall refer to that later, nor shall I disagree with him in his reference to the system in the United States. We do recognize, and have always recognized, the fact that our system of government is different in that it is not merely representative, as in the United States, but it is also responsible. We have never sought to deny that for one moment, indeed we have affirmed and underlined the fact that the government has responsibility. There have been one or two suggestions from quarters which should have known much better that we were trying, by indirection, to introduce the United States method or something like it, but nothing could be farther from the facts.

Now, Mr. Speaker, this is a measure seeking to improve the way we spend our money. The minister referred to the fact that in the early days parliament did little, if anything, more than grant money. I propose to read a sentence here to indicate how true that

is. This sentence is contained in a writ issued under authority of Henry III in 1254, summoning parliament:

The sheriff of each county is ordered "to cause to come before the King's council, two good and discreet knights of the shire, whom the men of the county shall have chosen for this purpose in the stead of all and of each of them to consider along with the knights of other shires what aid they will grant the king."

In other words, they were brought together for the purpose of giving the king money.

At the present time the federal government, as we all recall, spends nearly $5 billion or, in the average, not much short of $350 for every man, woman and child. The matter is much in people's minds. I only wish today that our words here could carry far enough to make the citizens of Canada take this as seriously as they should. I quote briefly from the Regina Leader-Post of October last these words:

Economy in government is as essential to the economic welfare of the country as economy in business is to the health of that business. It is necessary therefore that government scrutinize ordinary peacetime expenditures carefully with a view to keeping them to a minimum, . . .

Later, in the same article, this appears: The trouble is, of course, that we forget it's our money the government is spending.

Many Canadians are indifferent about government spending.

But every citizen should remember that by far the biggest part of the government's income is money that it takes from every citizen in the form of taxes. This is money which we ourselves would be spending, or saving, if the government did not take it in order to spend it, or save it, on our behalf.

Now, Mr. Speaker, as I said, I wish we could persuade the people of Canada to take the interest in this that they should. Sometimes I feel they have grown to despair about economy and therefore have turned their minds-as was indicated by a recent Gallup poll where only 11 per cent put economy at the top-in many cases towards what more they can get for themselves. If we are not fair with ourselves in scrutinizing the present method of taking care of the expenditure of our money, the discussion is really not worth while. If private business behaved as we do, it would not last any time.

Let us consider what the practice has been. The estimates are brought down early; that is admitted. What are the estimates? Well, the estimates are represented to us as being the result of a hypothetical battle between the treasury board and the various departments. We are asked to believe that there is a terrific battle, and that the treasury board is

Special Committee on Estimates ever so tough. The late minister of finance used to reassure us on this point. I am not sure that the present Minister of Finance has not, by implication, indicated he thought his predecessor had not done a very good job.

Let us look at what a close and not unfriendly observer thinks about the economy which has been exercised. I am using words which I used previously in this house, and which emanated from the Ottawa correspondent of the Winnipeg Free Press in December last. He said:

Careful study of the federal civil service indicated that the cause of the hitherto uncontrollable growth was simple. Whenever there was a need for expansion, the departments expanded. They did not search within themselves for surplus personnel and meet the need for expansion by making better use of their existing staff. They invariably added to it.

The same writer says:

Hitherto, the treasury board has only dealt with proposals for increases. There has never been, until now, a consistent effort made to employ the existing staff more efficiently or to reduce the civil service.

We all know, or all believe we know, that there is carelessness and extravagance. Some time ago the hon. member for Burnaby-Coquitlam (Mr. Regier) said that he knew the Department of National Defence had wasted $300,000 in his riding in the purchase of a swamp that was absolutely useless for the purpose for which it was bought.

I want to ask, what happens when the estimates come into this house? Let us consider the way in which they are adopted. In the first place they are regarded as sacred. In the ten years I have been here, only once has a dollar ever been stricken off. In some cases the estimates, which are all regarded as government measures, are actually used also as government legislation.

I remember on one occasion when the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Howe) and I argued across the gangway here as to whether there was authority for a certain expenditure, and he brought the argument to a very complete end by saying in effect, "Well, what does it matter? If this resolution passes, does that not settle it?" And of course it did settle it. In other words, you can have indirect legislation by an item being brought into this House of Commons.

Let us again try to describe what happens in committee of the whole. The minister of the department is deeply entrenched with experts in close support. The instructions are that the line must be held at all costs, that there must be no giving way anywhere, that they must hold to the last man-that

942 HOUSE OF

Special Committee on Estimates there shall be no discretion of any kind, that not a dollar must be struck off. Oh no, I am wrong there, because there was a dollar struck off once. There was one case where it was discovered in the Department of Public Works that a certain plan had not been carried out, and the minister of the department struck off a quarter of a million dollars-for which I give him credit.

But of course the Minister of Public Works (Mr. Winters) is different from some of the rest of the ministry. He is an engineer; and engineers have to have regard for figures.

I can imagine some others sitting near him, seers such as the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardiner), who would not have felt it necessary to stand up in the House of Commons and say that a mistake had been made. He would have been able to explain it away, so that in the end the amount would have remained there. And who knows; perhaps it might be used for some other and different purpose about which no one had thought until then.

Meanwhile what are the opposition doing? Well, they are doing their best. They advance against the dug-in minister with his close support; but they are in the open. They have no experts in close support. The minister is -well dug in, and nearly always the line .holds.

How, it would not be fair to say that there is no result from that. True, there may be no result at the moment, and there may be no result during the current year; but I like to think, however little the ministers show it, that they do pay some attention to what we say, and that perhaps afterwards they do say to each other, "You know, that was a good point. We got away with it, and we had the answer ready, and the answer was pat. But that question was really a good one, and we must pay some attention to it next year, although without admitting that there was anything wrong."

I think that is a reasonably fair description of what happens. Now comes the idea of a committee. I believe the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) has said that this is an experiment, and the Minister of Finance (Mr. Harris) has pretty well followed that line, too. Of course the idea of a committee is a very attractive one. The newspapers have taken it up. We see that the Globe and Mail says this about the setting up of the committee:

The only complaints against this innovation are that it is belated and that the scope of the proposed committee is too narrow.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
LIB

John Whitney Pickersgill (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration)

Liberal

Mr. Pickersgill:

Too little and too late.

[Mr. Macdonnell.l

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell:

Too little and too late, yes. Then it says:

Having been graciously permitted to set up an estimates committee, they should make sure that it covers the ground. The government's plan, it is unofficially stated, is that the committee should study expenditures of the departments of External Affairs, Citizenship, Finance, the Secretary of State and Veterans Affairs. This is not good enough. The list does not include the big spenders, as that word is generally understood.

Now, it is most natural to think that a small committee can be much better than a committee of the whole house. That argument sounds so convincing. You get a few men around a table in a spirit of intimacy, where they can concentrate better, and where information can easily be got. Indeed I believe the natural tendency is for people to accept that view. But I would suggest to the house that there is another side to the question, and that we need to be on our guard, "Won't you walk into my parlour?", said the spider to the fly.

I do not think we should forget that it is the desire of the ministers to get the estimates through the house with the least wear and tear to themselves, and with the least possible questioning. And it is with that thought in mind that I shall read one or two comments from a very experienced British politician, in which he throws out a word of caution which, I suggest, we would do well to remember. At page 570 of the British parliamentary debates, 5th series, 1953, the Hon. Walter Elliot, a former minister of the crown, has this to say:

I am very jealous of any projects to take discussion away from the floor of the house. I am uneasy about sending too much to select committees of members specialising on particular matters, such as foreign affairs or colonial affairs or, for that matter, domestic affairs. I will refer in a moment to the committee stage of bills, but I would say that the over-use of the specialised committee is a great danger.

And later on the same page he says-and this I commend to all members of the house who are not ministers, and to the minister as well:

The only thing, I am sure, of which a minister is frightened is the whole house.

And I would like to think that the ministers here are frightened of the whole house. Of course they would be more frightened if they did not have two-thirds of the members in the house who never frighten them at all. He continues:

That is when a minister really begins to pay attention to outside opinion, when this place, which has the power, which has the strength, which has the last word, begins to come into play. Then the strongest minister-*

And let us remember that the Minister of Finance has been caricatured as Hercules, so

we ought to have that in mind when we are considering this-that it is he who is bringing this forward. It continues:

Then the strongest minister bringing forward, from his point of view, the most important matter, is bound to pay the very closest attention to it. Believe me, he pays much more attention to a debate where the whole weight of the House of Commons is being focused on him, in the hearing of his colleagues, than he does to any amount of expert opinion in a room upstairs, whence he can come out and say, "Well, the boys were rather fussy, but we have got the bill."

Now, I commend that earnestly to every member in the house. And I wish to read a word more from the same source as it appears at page 575-and this is something I think we should remember. The whole genius of this system of ours is that there is struggle going on. Let us be candid about it; there is a struggle for power going on. And this is indicated in what I am about to read:

The difficulty in which parliament is always placed is that the purpose of parliament is controversy. We come here not to agree but to differ. If we all agree, there is no necessity for our being here. This is the place for argument, where differences of opinion are brought out. What we should consider is, not how differences of opinion can most easily be smoothed away, but how they can be brought fruitfully to conflict.

Well, even a man with pacific tendencies like myself can realize how true that is, and how we should be on our guard against what can be made to appear to us as reasonable, and which can be useful if it is properly used, but which could also be used merely to dig those entrenchments I tried to describe just that much deeper, and to make the gentlemen in close support that much more effective.

Let us remember this, with regard to ourselves in the opposition, that often we call ourselves watchdogs. But watchdogs should be able to growl and to bite. And if we are slipping into a situation where we do not growl and bite so well, then we ought to be very much on our guard, indeed.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
?

An hon. Member:

What about barking?

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
LIB

John Whitney Pickersgill (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration)

Liberal

Mr. Pickersgill:

This is a new set of false teeth.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell:

Therefore when they come to us in a very pleasant atmosphere, as the minister did, and they say* "Let us sit down together and we will deal with this pleasantly, so that nothing will ever arise that will jar us in any way, and so that we can come back to the house and the members will feel that the matter has been dealt with, and they will be shy of having anything further to say"-I say when we are put in that position, let us be on our guard.

Special Committee on Estimates

Ministers would not be human if they did not have the hope that this was going to be a softening-up process. Of course, that is what they hope. Why would they not hope it? And certainly it is our duty to be on guard and we are just a lot of nincompoops if we fall easily into a trap. I hope we will not.

That brings me to one or two things that the minister has said. One of them really nearly knocked me flat. As I understand it, when a minister says we are to go into the committee we are to sit around a table, all good fellows together. The civil servants are to be there, all good fellows together too and we are not to follow the common-sense course that everyone would imagine; that is, that we will be able to talk directly to these good fellows. No. The close support is still to be in support. They will not be in the front line and, as I understand it, any questions which are to be asked are to be asked of the minister who will then communicate with his supporters and the answer will be given him in that way.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
LIB

John Whitney Pickersgill (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration)

Liberal

Mr. Pickersgill:

May I ask the hon. gentleman a question?

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell:

Don't make it too hard.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
LIB

John Whitney Pickersgill (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration)

Liberal

Mr. Pickersgill:

Is he now arguing for bringing civil servants into politics?

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell:

Oh, no.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
PC

William Earl Rowe

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Rowe:

They have already been brought in.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
PC

Donald Methuen Fleming

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fleming:

Exhibit A.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell:

I think the minister should have left that one alone because I have made it clear already that we understand the principle of responsible government; that we understand we are not to discuss matters of policy with civil servants; that we understand we are there for the purpose of getting information; but, notwithstanding the assault of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, I still submit to this house that there will be something awfully ridiculous in our sitting around the table and asking questions of the minister and then having the minister turn around and ask the close support. We will all be able to hear what is said but we must not question them directly. I hope the minister will not stick to that because I think that bids fair to make the thing rather a farce.

Then the minister said-and here he left it rather at large-that this committee was to conduct itself, mutatis mutandis, in exactly the same way that the committee of the whole house conducts itself. He did not make that very specific. I am not going to go into

944 HOUSE OF

Special Committee on Estimates details on that. I am not just sure how far he takes that. I have one or two substantive comments I wish to make later on the conduct of the committee and therefore I shall leave that for the moment. But I have been disturbed. What the minister said really made me feel that-I will not say it is phony, because the last thing in the world I would ever charge the Minister of Finance with was introducing a phony-I do think he has not really thought the thing through. For us to go into a room together and just try to reproduce the atmosphere of this committee which is carried on in public, which is carried on sometimes with scores of people present, is not very realistic. I hope he will back away from it.

I now come to what seems to me to be essential and to be the only conditions on which we should be asked to consent to this committee; that there will be an opportunity to question civil servants, though of course not on matters of policy. That is understood. Secondly, though I am not going to argue that we should turn ourselves into something like the committee on estimates in Britain, because I realize the force of what the minister said, nevertheless, I do argue that we should have certain rights of questioning within the limits of common sense. For instance, I suppose crown corporations will come up directly or indirectly. There ought to be the right of questioning there. When you come to a subject like trade and commerce, you will find the government is in business in competition directly or indirectly with a lot of private business. And I would think that there ought to be a pretty wide range of questioning there, just as there is in the United Kingdom where, when they consider export credits, for example, they have a wide range of evidence made available to them.

The minister has pointed out the difficulty that that involves and the amount of work involved. I am not suggesting that we in any detail model ourselves on them, but I am suggesting that if these committees are going to be more than a rather poor imitation of the committee of the whole, there has to be some latitude. Let us take the committee on external affairs. My understanding is there has been quite wide latitude there. I am not speaking so much of witnesses who have appeared. I am not familiar with the detail of it, but even a hasty reading of the minutes shows there was a pretty wide range of questioning allowed. When it came to the committee recommendation, again we had the old situation of a government majority and the report was, shall we say, entirely free from criticism.

[Mr. Macdonnell.l

I want to make the point that there must be complete freedom, just as there has been in respect of the external affairs committee. It seems to me that should be the pattern. There must be the complete right of debate when the occasion arises in the house referring the items to the committee, and equally the right of debate when the report comes back, as there has been in the case of external affairs. That seems to me essential.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
LIB

Walter Edward Harris (Minister of Finance and Receiver General; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Harris:

Why does the hon. member

think there ought to be an additional debate on sending the estimates from the committee of supply to the committee on estimates?

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Macdonnell:

My understanding is

that in the case of external affairs the procedure is exactly as I have stated. There is a debate when the items are sent and there is a debate when the items come back. I did think, perhaps without sufficient warrant, that what we are doing here is to extend the procedure in the external affairs debate, and for my part, while the minister shakes his head, I put myself on record as saying that I see no reason why the practice followed in that connection, or an equivalent practice, should not be followed here. As a matter of fact, when one comes to think of it, are we in this committee of the whole house going to pass this on automatically without any opportunity of debate? Bear in mind-and this is as true as true can be -when the external affairs estimates come back from the external affairs committee it is inevitable that the rest of us in this committee have the feeling-I know I have it myself-that since all these estimates have been gone over by a good committee, to intermeddle in the debate further would be taking oneself too seriously. I do not think that is the right attitude. Somehow or other we must try to prevent that attitude arising because if it does it is lowering the position of this committee; it, in my view, is lowering the position of parliament. If you get to the stage where every committee is dealt with in that way it will have what is to me a very injurious effect on the procedure of this parliament.

In case the minister wants to throw the United Kingdom instance in my face, we should remember that in the United Kingdom they do not have ten provincial parliaments dealing with a lot of the legislation. They have a vast amount of work to do that we do not have to do here, and they are constrained to reduce the amount of time taken on estimates. Moreover, these procedures are not regarded there as party matters.

I understand in the public accounts committee in Britain a member of the opposition is the chairman, and that is something which, so far as I understood the minister, he did not suggest was going to be done in this Canadian House of Commons. Therefore, I say that the rights of debate, just as they have existed in respect of the external affairs committee or the equivalent, should not in any way be curtailed.

In other words, Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that this experiment, as I notice the Prime Minister called it and the minister again this afternoon, should be tried, but I wish to repeat that we should be on our guard against its being used as a method to get away from the House of Commons. Ministers being human, do not let us be sentimental enough to believe, as I said a moment ago, that they do not have that in their minds. Of course it is in their minds.

In consenting to this as an experiment, therefore, I believe we should ask that there be freedom of debate on the motion to refer it to committee, and freedom of inquiry in the committee, always excepting matters of policy which we recognize are the responsibility of the government. There should also be freedom of debate when the matter comes back to the committee of the whole.

In winding up my remarks I wish to underline and again read what Mr. Walter Elliot said with respect to the position in which we now find ourselves, and the only position that we should for one moment accept. He said:

I am very jealous of any projects to take discussion away from the floor of the house.

And then again he said:

This is the place for argument, where differences of opinion are brought out. What we should consider is, not how differences of opinion can most easily be smoothed away, but how they can be brought fruitfully to conflict.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
CCF

Angus MacInnis

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

Mr. Angus Maclnnis (Vancouver-Kingsway):

Mr. Speaker, when this matter was brought before the house some years ago, I believe, as the minister said, it was in 1947, this party approved of referring estimates to committee. But in doing so we were not and are not any less suspicious of the government and its intentions than if the estimates were considered on the floor of the house.

I listened carefully to the arguments advanced by the hon. member for Greenwood (Mr. Macdonnell) and though he finally approved of this motion most of his arguments, it seemed to me, were against the motion, though I believe the same arguments could be used against the setting up of any committee for any purpose.

Special Committee on Estimates

I believe we should try to remember that times change and parliament and legislatures are today being called upon to deal with many more matters of importance than they were even 20 or 25 years ago. For that reason, if for no other, we should try to find ways in which we can deal with these matters expeditiously.

I believe I am just as firm in my resolve as the hon. member for Greenwood that we should not forgo any opportunity for debate in this house on matters of importance. I would add, however, that during the years in considering the estimates in the house a great deal of time has been taken up not so much in dealing with particular items as in dealing with questions of policy or other questions which could not be discussed except on the estimates. I confess I have been as guilty in this respect as many other hon. members. However, one aspect of our parliamentary institution in which I take pride is that there is no question which cannot be discussed here. A private member will have an opportunity to discuss any subject in which he is interested if he watches for that opportunity, and most of us watch for such opportunities during the discussion on the estimates.

I am not sure whether I understood the minister correctly when he said that these estimates would be referred to the committee without debate. If he means that these committees will be brought into supply and no debate will be allowed, then I disagree with him because I am not prepared to sacrifice any opportunities we have for debate on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
LIB

Walter Edward Harris (Minister of Finance and Receiver General; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Harris:

If I might be permitted to clear up any doubt in my hon. friend's mind, my reference to there being no debate was on the formal motion in committee of supply to send these items to the estimates committee.

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink
CCF

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

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

Mr. Knowles:

Does not that take place with Mr. Speaker in the chair?

Topic:   APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER CERTAIN ESTIMATES
Permalink

February 8, 1955