Mr. C. G. MacNEIL (Vancouver North):
Mr. Speaker, I move:
That the report be not now concurred in but that it be referred back to the standing committee on public accounts with instructions to delete clause 4 therefrom.
Under clause 4 authority is requested from this house that the public accounts committee may sit for a period not exceeding two days in the city of Toronto, and that the payment of any travelling expenses incurred be authorized.
Public Accounts Committee Report
As one of the minority of that committee who protested against this procedure, I find it necessary to carry the protest in this form to the floor of the house. It is not my intention to obstruct the business of the committee but rather to protest against a plan which I believe will obstruct the true purposes of the inquiry.
I submit that this procedure is not within the intentions of parliament when the inquiry was authorized. As far as I can discover there is no precedent for it in the records of parliament. Not a word of evidence has yet been heard; and apparently the members of the committee are to be transported to Toronto and to be dazzled, or to be influenced, before any evidence is heard, by the sight of a humming industry. I submit that the present state of the plant is not in question. What is in question is the state of the plant in October 1936 and at the time the contract was executed in March 1938. This is an attempt to focus attention on that which has occurred since the execution of the contract, whereas the purpose of the inquiry is to deal with that which occurred prior to the execution of the contract. Since the execution of the contract, and according to the statement made by the minister in the house the other evening, a sum approximating $844,000 has been spent on the plant. It should be in good shape. If it is not in good shape, others should pass judgment on that matter. Apparently it is in such good shape that the John Inglis Company is in a position to advertise in all the trade journals that it is prepared to take on a great deal of other business. It is altogether too late for the jury to visit the scene of the crime.
I submit that the committee is not in a position to determine the ability of the company to execute the contract according to schedule. It has been contended that that should be the purpose of the committee at its outset. For that purpose experts are required, and if during the proceedings of the committee it be found necessary to secure evidence on any of these matters, experts should be secured. There are many on the committee-and perhaps I may include myself in the number,-who could not tell the difference 'between certain types of shaping presses and heavy duty boring lathes. If we are to determine whether or not the company is in a position to carry out the contract according to schedule, it will be necessary to examine production schedules. I can readily imagine that there would be objection to such a procedure, and in any event it is entirely beyond the resources of the committee. Appraisal and inspection companies
now employed by the Canadian government could carry out this work if in the judgment of the committee it were considered necessary.
Statements have been made repeatedly that discussion of this contract in the house has delayed the company in meeting the requirements of Canada's defence forces. What could delay the work in this factory more than to conduct through the premises at this time fifty members of a standing committee of this house, and to require that company to make preparations for such a visit? In addition, prominent officials of the company will later be required to give evidence at length before the committee.
I have also in mind the warning given on various occasions by the Minister of Finance (Mr. Dunning) that committees of this house should exercise care in incurring expense for printing and the calling of witnesses. Therefore the cost of this plan should be taken into consideration. And it should be taken into consideration on the basis of the outside liability. The phrasing of this report is such that it does not restrain hon. members who take the trip from submitting accounts for their out-of-pocket expenses. It has been the custom when members of this house are required to undertake journeys on public business of this kind that they seek reimbursement of their out-of-pocket expenses. The suggestion has been made that members of the committee might refrain from submitting expense accounts, but there is nothing in the phrasing of this report to restrain them, and therefore the outside liability should be considered. I have made a rough and ready calculation, and the lowest estimate of the cost of a two-day sitting in Toronto is something in the neighbourhood of S650. I can itemize that if any hon. member requires it.
In justice to all the firms concerned it follows that similar visits should be made to other plants-to Montreal in order to visit the premises of Montreal Construction Supply and Equipment Limited, and possibly to the dominion government arsenal in the city of Quebec. Certainly if proper comparisons are to be made, visits should be made under this precedent to other established firms in Canada equipped to do machining work of this kind.
I submit therefore that the ultimate cost of the policy for which this report establishes a precedent would involve a sum of over $2,000 to be paid out of the public treasury, and for no good purpose. For that reason the trip would be regarded simply as a junketing trip.
I desire to restate the purposes of this inquiry as I stated them when I moved the
Public Accounts Committee Report
motion of reference to the committee. I moved the motion of reference because of specific issues raised by Mr. Justice Davis. He stated in his report that certain matters would have to be determined by parliament. The first was whether or not the Bren gun could be manufactured under public auspices or by private manufacture. The second was whether the conduct of the individuals concerned was above question, as referred to on page 35 of the report. The third was whether adequate reasons existed for the failure of the interdepartmental committee to report back to the government when the system of supervision of contracts broke down, as referred to on page 41 of the report. The fourth was to discover whether the procedure followed in negotiating this contract protected the public interest, as referred to on page 49. The fifth was whether proper steps were taken to ensure proper discharge of the responsibility assumed in the selection of one particular contractor, as referred to at page 50.
These were the main reasons I advanced in moving my motion of reference to the committee. I protest most vigorously against the proposal embodied in clause 4 of the report of the committee, inspired by the eminent and learned counsel for the defence on the committee, as being nothing more or less than a brazen window-dressing to obscure the real purpose of the inquiry.
Subtopic: MOTION FOB CONCURRENCE IN FIRST REPORT