February 8, 1955 (22nd Parliament, 2nd Session)


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


Mr. Harris:

Or to withhold it, as my hon. friend says. Lest one should think that I have not other matters in mind, may I say that of course we meet here to preserve the liberty and the freedom of the citizen. Nevertheless, if the government did not have legislation to present to parliament and if you can imagine a state of society in which there would be no other matter to be debated, we would still have to consider the estimates and either vote them or reject them. It therefore might be supposed that the consideration of expenditures in parliament would take a good deal of our time. Over the years I think we have found that we take about 50433-60
Special Committee on Estimates one-fifth to one-third of the time of parliament in considering the estimates. This time is spread out in the normal session from early in February until the final day, as a rule, on which we sit.
There has grown up in the country an impression that during the final week, and especially on the final day, it has been our custom to pass large sums of money at a rate which is not in accordance with the seriousness of the subject. To my mind that opinion is false; but unfortunately it is fostered by members in the house who, in my view, do not take the trouble to consider the amount of time we put in on estimates early in the session. I think it is true that in the last week of the session before last we passed about $800 million. It is equally true that we passed all the other expenditures in the preceding eight or nine weeks during which we had bten considering them. Both because the facts do not bear out what they say and also because I think it proper that parliament should not depreciate its own value, I suggest to hon. members that we should have a second look at the oft-repeated statement that we put through estimates in a scandalous manner in the last few days of the session.
The arguments that are usually advanced in favour of a different method of dealing with the estimates are these: First, in order to avoid what I have already mentioned is the false impression of the speed with which we deal with these things in the last few days of the session; second, that hon. members do not have in committee of supply sufficient time to cross-examine a minister until they obtain the information they have in mind. I have been spoken to by many members who say they do not feel like monopolizing the time of the minister or of the committee and that they are therefore constrained not to take tod long at any one time on a subject in which they are vitally interested. The third reason is-and it is a natural consequence of that-that if there was more time there could be better informed and more critical statements made about government policy and about a particular department in which an hon. member may be interested. I think we all agree as to the desirability of that objective. Government policy will be that much better in proportion to the good criticism which is directed towards it. I do not think any government wants to have passed through this house something in the order of $5 billion without careful scrutiny, careful thought and intelligent criticism. We have had some experience in dealing with expenditures of this order in the recent ten

Special Committee on Estimates or fifteen years. During the war we had a war expenditures committee; and since the war we have had a number of defence expenditure committees. These committees have served certainly two useful purposes and perhaps more. One on this side of the house cannot help saying that, despite all the sittings and all the work which was done, none of the committees turned up anything which was really detrimental to the manner in which the government had been spending the public money.

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