March 14, 1950 (21st Parliament, 2nd Session)


Douglas Scott Harkness

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Harkness:

From the government
benches, certainly. In addition to that I received from the other side of the house notes saying "Please do not ask any more questions." That is the situation when only one member tries to ask a few questions requesting details in connection with defence matters; he is howled down by the large number of government members in this house and every means really is taken to try to get him to desist. Under these circumstances it is quite obvious that we must have some other means whereby the large expenditures for this department can be properly examined. The only means by which that can be done, as far as I can see, and the only means that anyone has suggested so far as I am aware, is a standing committee on defence. About a week or so ago I received from a reserve force officer a letter in which he mentions several matters in connection with defence. He is a man whom I had known overseas; as a matter of fact, he is an old friend. The letter contains this sentence:
Is there no meansi of discussing defence questions and putting up contrary views to those of army headquarters without publicity?
In writing back to him I was obliged to say, of course, that there was no means. That letter would indicate that members of the reserve forces who are thinking on this matter and who have ideas which are contrary to those of the constituted authorities would like to see some means whereby those ideas could be brought to the attention of the minister and the defence chiefs and their merits discussed with those people. There just is not any means of anything like that being done at the present time. It is another indication of the necessity of there being some way in which members of this house can put forward their ideas and the ideas they pick up from other people who are interested in defence matters, and at least have an opinion on these contrary ideas expressed by the heads of the defence services and reasons given why, in their opinion, they would not be practical.
(Mr. Harkness.]

One other matter I should like to say something about is that of civil defence, and I have spoken about it in this house on numerous other occasions. We have never obtained from the minister or from the government any satisfactory information in connection with what was being done, nor have we been told whether anything at all was being done. All we have ever heard was that General Worthington had been appointed to look into the matter and to report upon it.
Last year when the defence estimates were up for consideration the minister said that this matter of preparing any plan for the defence of the civilian population in the event of ordinary bombing, atomic bombing or any other sort of attack, or preparing a plan for the evacuation of our large cities and so on was a matter of timing. I am prepared to agree with that statement; it probably is a matter of timing. The impression was left, however, that the time had not arrived for us to do anything along that line. Nevertheless, a large number of people think that the time has not only arrived when we should be doing something fairly definite, but is long past. A mere perusal of the newspapers during the last few months will indicate that there is a constantly growing awareness on the part of the general public of the necessity for plans for civilian defence being put into operation or at least for getting further along than this investigation-and-report stage at which the matter rests now, as far as we know.
A committee such as the one we are advocating would be the appropriate place where a question of that sort could be discussed, where the suggestions and ideas which members receive from their constituents right across Canada could be put forward and brought to the attention of the heads of the defence services, and where they might be, we will say, prodded into action on something definite.
The hon. member for Nanaimo (Mr. Pearkes) mentioned the act with respect to national defence which was introduced in the other place last year and which will come to us in this chamber for consideration this year. As to that act of last year, the minister indicated that, in his opinion, it would have to be dealt with by a committee. There is no committee of this house which is adapted to deal with that act. It seems to me that if, in the minister's own opinion, this long and important act is to be dealt with by a committee, the only choice the government has is to appoint a committee on defence to take the matter up; and as a result of that act coming in at this session, it seems a singularly appropriate time to institute or inaugurate a standing committee of the house on defence. I

hope that the government will pay to the arguments we put up now on this matter, and which we have put up in past years, the attention which they deserve, and will proceed to some action with regard to setting up this committee.

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