May 19, 1952 (21st Parliament, 6th Session)


Brooke Claxton (Minister of National Defence)


Mr. Claxton:

A billion and a half for real estate and something approaching a billion dollars for stores, equipment, and the like. I have made as careful comparisons as I can on the basis of the information available on the subject of fire losses. As I said in
Military Establishments-Fires and Thefts the house a few days ago, we compared the experience of the Department of National Defence with the experience in six major cities in Canada. The experience in the Department of National Defence for the years 1950 and 1951, the last for which we have figures, was about the same as it was in 1949. The incidence of loss through fire in the Department of National Defence was just half as great on a fair basis of comparison as the loss to civilian property in these principal cities despite the fact that in national defence we are engaged in operations using inflammable and explosive materials, despite the fact that the camps and air stations are located at isolated centres and do not have the advantage of mutual protection, and despite the fact that a large part of the property is of wartime construction and is highly inflammable and very difficult to extinguish once a fire has started.
I ask the leader of the opposition or anyone else to establish before the defence expenditures committee that the rate of loss by fire in the armed forces is higher in proportion than it is in civilian life. This is a fair comparison, and no figures have ever been put before me which disclose the contrary. The leader of the opposition referred to the number of fires of incendiary origin. So far as it has been established in a court of law, there has only been one fire of incendiary origin. That was the last fire at Plouffe park and the soldier responsible was sentenced to two years less a day. Every fire is investigated by fire marshals and by the special officers of the R.C.M.P. In some cases civilian investigators are brought in. I suggest that to have one proven case of arson for the whole Department of National Defence in the last five years is far smaller than the record of arson in civil life.
The amount of loss by theft is not the gigantic figure mentioned by the leader of the opposition or implied through his reference to a figure of over $7 million. A return filed before the committee on defence expenditures gives a summary of losses due to theft or fraud, fire and other write-offs for the three services from April 1, 1950, to March 31, 1952, a period of two years. Losses due to theft or fraud less the amount recovered came to $85,809.75. I think every hon. member of the house has enough information from his own experience of fires and fire losses, of theft and losses by theft, and particularly with respect to property like that in the Department of National Defence and the services involving camps where construction is going on and large stores widely distributed among almost a thousand units throughout

the country, to realize that a loss of $85,000 odd in two years by theft or fraud is extremely small.
I have the figures on prosecutions for theft in the civil courts in cases where civilians were convicted, cases where servicemen were convicted and also cases where servicemen were convicted by courts martial for the same offence. The last period for which we have figures is from October 1, 1949, to September 30, 1950. In the civil courts charges in which civilians were convicted totalled 6,643. The number of servicemen convicted in civil courts was 94, and the number of servicemen convicted in courts martial was 31. The total male population of Canada between 18 and 45, which are the ages corresponding to those of practically all members of the armed forces, was 2,722,201 at that time. The mean population of the armed forces during that period was 61,799. The incidence of theft by civilians was -23 per cent and the incidence of theft by servicemen was -20 per cent, so that on the only figures that have been put before me the record of service personnel is better than that of civilian personnel.
Put in another way, during this period the service population was 2-22 per cent of the male population between the ages of 18 and 45, but service personnel were convicted either by civil courts or courts martial of committing 1-9 per cent of the offences of theft committed in the country, considerably less proportionately than the civilian population. In the armed forces today there are over 97,000 individuals. Employed in civilian occupations by the Department of National Defence and the armed services there are another 40,000 civilians making a total population employed full time of 137,000 people.
It is no part of my reply, Mr. Speaker, to say that the 137,000 are all perfect. Unfortunately, in such a large group there are a considerable number of individuals who have been tempted to do wrong. When we find them out we prosecute them; and we have I believe in the provost corps and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which make investigations into every loss in which theft or fraud is suspected, a group comparable in efficiency and honesty with any group of civil or other police in this country.
That we should have any losses is deplorable. It must not be taken in any way, shape or form that, in making this reply, I am endeavouring to whitewash or to show complacency about the present situation, anything that has happened or anything that may happen. Our job is to use every means possible so as to ensure that the utmost care is

taken in safeguarding public property and in preventing loss, whether it be by fire, theft, fraud or any other means.
Toward that end from time to time we have the assistance of officers of the treasury. We have of course within the department itself an internal audit with a travelling group of auditors. We have the control of the Auditor General, to whom these audit reports are sent; and also from time to time we engage outside assistance to look into the question of systems and the like. We have the advantage of making comparisons with the systems and results in other countries, and in particular the United States and Great Britain. There has never been put before me any figure which would indicate that our losses by these causes are any greater than in the armed forces of those countries. As I indicated the other day in the house, the experience in connection with theft, in the Canadian National Railways, which carries on very large operations, showed losses which, in proportion to the amount involved, appear to be greater than those in the Department of National Defence.
Some general assertions have been made by the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew) and I must make some corrections. The use of round figures of large size should be indulged in with a sense of responsibility; and when the errors are large one can't help wondering how sound are the charges based upon the figures used to back them up.
I mentioned a few moments ago a statement placed before the committee on defence expenditures which showed losses due to theft in two years amounting to $85,809.75 and losses due to fire of $5,205,970.54-a long way from the figure of over $7 million. The other figure is for "write-offs" of $2,112,931.15. There is no evidence yet put forward to show that this resulted from theft, fraud or fire, or to suggest that they were not proper write-offs largely of an accounting nature.
The committee on defence expenditures is sitting. It has had these figures put before it. The witnesses are available. They have answered questions with respect to the figures. And I understand, from the last information coming to me, they have dealt with the write-offs, fires and thefts in so far as the navy is concerned, and that they are proceeding with the others. And I suggest that is the right place to do it.
The leader of the opposition referred to the cost of defence this year as of the order of two and a half billions of dollars. There is provision for two billions in the estimates and he spoke of another half billion in the supplementaries. How anyone can anticipate supplementaries of that magnitude at this
Military Establishments-Fires and Thefts stage, I do not know. There is no basis for it. With the exception of the year 1951-52, the Department of National Defence has come within one per cent of spending the amount appropriated!. It would surprise me if there were any supplementaries this year for the defence department.
But another figure was given. In his broadcast the leader of the opposition, making much the same argument as he made today, said:
Let us see just how some of these figures are made up. In the estimates of the Department of National Defence there is for instance a figure of $17 million for publicity. This sum does not include the salaries of the well-trained civil servants who perform the regular duties in connection with information and ordinary publicity.
Note that additional sentence-"This sum does not include the salaries of the well-trained civil servants who perform the regular duties in connection with information and ordinary publicity"-which tends to give a sort of corroborative detail as evidence to support the $17 million figure.
When I read this I must say I was astonished. I was not astonished at the figure, because I knew the figure was wrong; but I was astonished that it should have been given. I looked at once at the statement available to every hon. member, contained in the envelope at the back of the estimates, in which is set out a summary of standard objects of expenditure, under all the different categories, and arranged on a similar basis for each government department. I find there that the item for publicity for national defence is not $17 million but $2,875,460.

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