May 28, 1948 (20th Parliament, 4th Session)


Alphonse Fournier (Minister of Public Works; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)


Mr. FOURNIER (Hull) :

Mr. Chairman, the hon. member for Fraser Valley has suggested that I immediately send the deputy minister of public works out to British Columbia in order that he may see the flood conditions prevailing there. I want to tell him that the deputy minister has been out there now for two days. Along with the resident engineer, Mr. Morton, he has been looking over the conditions in thaj area.
I am not prepared to discuss flood conditions throughout the country. Every day or so during the last two months an hon. member from Ontario, Quebec or some other province has stood up to question the Minister of Public

Reclamation of Marshlands
Works about flood conditions in his province. The legal authorities of the government inform me that the only jurisdiction the federal government has over waters in the different provinces is that which concerns navigation. We are supposed to look after navigable waters so that navigation will not be impeded by obstacles or works which might be constructed on the river or stream.
I am informed further that these flood conditions would not come under the jurisdiction of the federal government. I must admit that in the past we have entered into agreements to relieve conditions in certain parts of the country, especially in Ontario during the depression years and periods of unemployment. It has not been the practice, however, to undertake works to protect municipalities from floods, and I am told that that is not our responsibility.
The hon. member for Fraser Valley puts it on a wider plane; he says thalt this is a national situation, a national emergency. I suppose that that could be argued, and I am not going to start an argument with him today. Nobody sympathizes more with these people than my department, because we are in daily contact with those who live along these rivers and streams. Wherever we have works or dikes that are causing any damage we attend to the repairs and maintenance of those works, but we would not like to intervene because the provinces are jealous of their autonomy and resent encroachment upon their jurisdiction.
We are hesitant to do anything which is not within our jurisdiction in a province. I am not saying that it has not been done, but I know that in certain provinces whenever we try to do anything that is within provincial jurisdiction they are always ready to say: Why don't you attend to your own affairs? I want to tell you that in public works we are trying to do just that.
We are receiving requests from all over the country, especially during springtime, to relieve these conditions. I do not know that we have done very much so far. Personally I would be elated if this matter came under federal jurisdiction, because in my own district right across the river there is a town of 2,400 people which is flooded out nearly every spring to such an extent that fifty per cent of them must move out. Before I became a minister of the crown I made representations to the government and asked for relief, but the answer I received was just about the answer I am giving today.

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