May 14, 1908 (10th Parliament, 4th Session)


George Eulas Foster

Conservative (1867-1942)


Mr. Speaker, I desire to call the attention of the House for a short time, as requested in the notice, to the position of the Marine and Fisheries Department as it at present appears. In order to do that it will be necessary very briefly to sum up the preceding circumstances which led up to the appointment of the last commission. The first commission for a number of months pursued its inquiry, mostly with reference to the Civil Service situation, conditions and requirements, and devoted a portion of its time to the investigation of the practical working of one portion of the Marine and Fisheries Department, and then, as the House knows, laid its report before the government ; that report was brought down to this House about the middle of March. The report of that commission was somewhat startling to the House and to the country. In brief it showed a state of things in the department which, to say the least, did not contribute to efficiency or tend to establish public confidence in the department, and seemed to call for vigorous and instant action in order to have the faults which had been shown and the bad conditions which had been described in the report remedied as quickly as possible. It is not necessary to recall the express words of that report and the many pointed allusions which were made to certain specific matters. That commission did not busy itself in the same way with any other department of the government, and in fine it came to the conclusion that the Department of Marine and Fisheries seemed to be without direct guidance, was in fact without a head and lacked a conscience. When that report came before this House it at once received the attention of the House and the government, and it was seen to be so important that full and instant action was necessary. The matter could not be left as it was left by the report of the first commission. The Minister of Marine and Fisheries and I think the leader of the government and others were particularly struck with the idea that under the report of the first commission the officers of the Department of Marine and Fisheries were left more or less under a cloud of suspicion of wrongdoing, and it made itself apparent to the government that it was an improper thing that the officers of one of the great departments of this government should be left in that position. It was destructive of faith and confidence in the department, it hung over the officers of the department and militated against their freedom and efficiency of work ; it was, in fine, a statement of circumstances and inferences which made it absolutely imperative that such steps as were proper should be taken immediately to investigate those matters and to remedy where remedy was necessary, to condemn and reform where condemnation was necessary. The government did not accede to the view of hon. members on this side of the House that it was proper that the se-.cond commission should be allowed to complete in all the departments of the government what the first commission had only in part completed in a small portion of the Department of Marine and Fisheries.
It therefore appointed a second commission with limited power and limited scope, and limited as well in the methods by which it should be conducted. Whilst the other was a public inquiry and in the public interest, this was to be a departmental inquiry simply into what were considered the charges or insinuations or inferences against the officers of the department. On this side of the House we contended for a broad commission against which the door of no department should be shut and which would have unlimited power to carry on the investigations which had been left uncompleted by the first commission. Judge Cassels was appointed as the second commission, and there were given him two lawyers to, I suppose, watch the interests of the government. These two lawyers were, as has been stated in the House, supporters and partisans of the government. They received their instructions from the Minister of Justice and are practically under the direction of the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Marine himself. It seems to be absolutely impossible, and I think it was not otherwise contended, that Judge Cassels should be put to the almost superhuman task of going through the whole records of the department in all its extensions, and therefore these lawyers were appointed into whose hands were entrusted file bringing of such matters before the commissioner as they might think proper and requisite for carrying out the purpose of the commission which was entrusted to him. It was known by the government

anti well. But in what situation are they to do their duty now ? Anonymous writings and whisperings to the commissioner or to the lawyers, saying that papers are being destroyed, that such and such person is trying to do away with evidence ; one man brought up before these lawyers and questioned as to what suspicion he has of A. B., or J. 0., or of some one else, men prompted and pressed, with all the force and ingenuity of these lawyers, to play the spy and the informer upon their companions in office.
There is the disorganization resulting from suspicion, no man feels like trusting his fellow, no one knows what is being carried on in order to save one and injure another, and all the time two partisan defenders of the government and the department are running through the records and the guilty persons in that department, if there are any, have opportunities for doing away with incriminating documents and evidence. And worse than all, during that whole time, this headless and conscienceless department, as it is characterized by the first commission, is spending the money of the country. What more has happened? An investigation has been made into the conduct of an officer down the St. Lawrence. What has been proved? That he has been guilty of padding pay sheets, and that there has been a conspiracy to defraud the government, and that the government have actually been defrauded. If in that single case fraud has been brought to the surface, in how many cases may it not be found that similar frauds have been committed, and so people will say until the commission has finished its report. For all we know, the whole of the river service-an immense and important service- is permeated and saturated by just such abuses and frauds. What is needed is a thorough and a speedy investigation, so that every honest man might have the chance to have the cloud lifted from him and every guilty man be punished. Today the minister does not know but that there are in that department persons in positions of great trust who will be found guilty when this commission has finished its work. Yet these persons cannot be touched. They remain there. The point I make presses the more strongly the absolute necessity for an immediate investigation and the avoidance of the delays which are inevitable if the present commission continues the work. But delay is what the government seem to desire. Events quickly pass into oblivion and the reports of the first commission are being smothered by the lapse of time. Judge Cassels goes on his circuit and then takes his vacation, nobody is particularly at work, the old machine hums on iu the best way it can, and the people become interested in the next thing that turns up and forget this. And all the time the solicitors, the partisan defenders of the government, have Mr. FOSTER.
their wages going on, and 'I suppose are doing their investigation. And in the meanwhile the efficiency of the department is impaired and deteriorated and its officers are under a cloud.
We do not know all that has been brought out by the present commission so far, but some things have been brought out which do not tend to make public confidence greater. What has been brought out ? A carbide company is formed, it sells to the government, sells without competition, and in that carbide company you find a cabinet minister interested, we find that stock in it was given him by the promoter, and we find that same minister at the head of the Marine and Fisheries Department. That does not help us at all to have more confidence iu that department than we had at the start.

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