Hon. J. W. Pickersgill (Minister of Transport):
Mr. Speaker, before Your Honour decides whether there is a question of privilege, and since the hon. member invited me to make an explanation, perhaps I might be permitted to explain the circumstances attending this whole matter.
I considered very carefully last Friday morning whether the very tentative decision which was taken by the government to carry on another stage in the formulation of air policy, which has not yet been formulated and which I am sure will not be formulated for at least another month, justified my coming to the house and taking up the time of the house in making what might be called a progress report of what the government is doing about this matter.
I came to the conclusion that I should abide by the rules of the house, which, as I have always understood them, provide that ministers should not use the period on motions-and there have been many complaints about this on the other side-for propaganda purposes to advance the position of the government by way of trial balloons. I understand the rules to provide that ministers should not make statements on motions unless they are factual and deal with some matter which has been definitely decided and is final, and which would then require action of some kind by parliament in due course.
In other words, if I had had anything to say which would have led immediately to legislation, I think it would have been a discourtesy to the house to make the statement elsewhere. If I had had anything to say which was definite and would involve a request for expenditures, then, since the government is responsible to the house and cannot spend public money without a vote of the house, it seems to me that one should not make these
statements outside the house, when the house is sitting, without first letting the house know that the government is going to ask for that expenditure to be made; in other words that is a matter which is going to become the business of the house. However, if it is an ordinary part of the administration entrusted to the government, about which hundreds of statements are made every day, we would have no time left for the carrying on of the legislative and other business of this house if the time of parliament was cluttered up with matters of that kind.
Having considered that very carefully, I came to the conclusion it would not be a proper thing to do on motions, then or later, nor was it a matter that necessarily needed to be announced to anyone at all. But after I had met the presidents of the two railways and the presidents of the two air lines on Monday morning, it was drawn to my attention that they had themselves been seen coming into my office and that there was some curiosity about this. I was approached by several people, and I indicated to them that there was nothing secret about this matter, and if anyone made any inquiry about it 1 would indicate to the public exactly what I had intended to indicate to the air lines as to the lines along which they were being asked to proceed.
This is not government policy. This is just a stage in the formulation of government policy; and when an hon. member asked a question about this matter, as was done in the house yesterday, I would have responded except that the Speaker decided the question was not of that degree of urgency. The hon. member then put it down for debate after ten o'clock. After that had been done I was, as is quite natural, approached by several members of the press to see if they could find out about this matter. I was told also that there was a speculative story in the Financial Post. I said "I am going to tell the House of Commons, after ten o'clock tonight, in a very general way what I told the air lines, and I would rather you listen then but there is nothing secret about it." It just so happened, because hon. members felt it more desirable to use the time in other ways, that I was precluded after ten o'clock last night from answering the hon. member's question, and to him I apologize for that although it was not really my fault.
But, sir, these principles which I communicated to the air lines are not a statement of government policy at all. They are a statement of certain principles on which the
Question of Privilege
government feels air policy should be based after there has been discussion, first with the main line carriers and then with the regional carriers and other interested bodies. I thought the house was entitled to have a legitimate curiosity satisfied about this matter, but since it was not a matter that the house was going to be called upon to deal with I did not feel I should have taken the initiative in inflicting it upon the house.
Subtopic: MR. NIELSEN STATEMENT BY TRANSPORT MINISTER ON TELEVISION RATHER THAN IN HOUSE