Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (leader of the Opposition) :
Mr. Speaker, before this motion carries I should like to point out to the Government the impossibility of this House proceeding intelligently with a consideration of the Estimates: until it has before it the full report of the Auditor General. There is no single right, or duty, or function of the Commons of greater importance than that of exercising careful scrutiny and control over public expenditures. Of so great importance has that function been recognized, that Parliament has framed special machinery by law with a view of insuring the control which the House of Commons should have. A part of that machinery is the Consolidated Revenue and Audit Act which has a special provision respecting the presentation to Parliament of the Auditor General's Report. That provision has been drafted by Parliament with the object of ensuring the presentation of the Auditor General's report in complete form to the House of Commons at an early date. May I quote to the House the chapter and section to which I refer? It is chapter 24, section 48 of the Revised Statutes and reads as follows:
The Minister of Finance shall cause an account to be prepared and transmitted to the Auditor General on or before the thirtieth day of June in every year, showing the issues made from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the fiscal year, ended on thirty-first day of March preceding, for services directly under his control.
Such accounts and reports of the Auditor General thereon shall be laid before the House of Commons by the Minister of Finance on or before the thirty-first clay of October next following, if Parliament is then sitting, or if not sitting, then within one week after Parliament is next assembled.
Hon. members will see that the provisions of the law in regard to the presentation to Parliament of the Auditor General's Report are in brief-that the report should be presented to Parliament, if it is in session, not later than the 31st of October, but if assembled at a later date, then within one week after it has assembled. This Parliament assembled on February 14th. We are now at the 15th of March, more than one month after the date of reassembling, and we have not as yet before us the full report of the Auditor General, nor are we able to obtain from the hon. the Minister of Finance, a statement as to when the full report will be presented. Mr. Speaker, I desire to point out that the Government is acting in direct violation of the law of the land in not presenting this report to Parliament in accordance with the provisions of the Act to which I have just referred.
When this matter was brought to the attention of the hon. the Minister of Finance a day or two ago my hon. friend made rather light of it. He stated that in delaying the presentation of the report he was but following an immemorial custom, or something to that effect. I have taken the trouble to compare the dates of presentation of the Reports of the Auditors General to Parliament in the last Parliament under the administration of Sir Wilfrid Laurier with a corresponding number of years of this Parliament, and I should like to give to the House the facts respecting the differences under the two Administrations.
The Parliament of 1907 assembled on ' November 28th, of that year, for the session of 1907-08. Volume 3 of the Report was presented on November 28th, 1907, the very day on which Parliament assembled; volume 1 on December 2nd, and volume 2 on December 17th. In other words all of the reports of the Auditor General were before Parliament before the end of the calendar year of 1907. Parliament in the session of 1909 assembled on January 21st. On January 21st of that year the Auditor General's Report was brought down-there was not the loss of a day. Parliament for the session of 1909-10 assembled on November 11th, and volumes 1 and 3 of the Auditor General's Report were presented on the following day. Volume 2 was presented on January 12th, 1910. Parliament for the session of 191011 assembled on November 17th. On November 21st, four days later, the full report of the Auditor General was presented to Parliament. In other words in the last Parliament of the Administration of Sir Wilfrid Laurier the Auditor General's Report twice within that time was presented in full before the end of the calendar year in which the fiscal year ended, and in no instance was the report later than February 23. Now, the fiscal year ends, as hon. members know, on the 31st of March, so that during the years of the Liberal Administration which I have just mentioned there was in each one a period of from over one to three full months when the House had before it the Auditor General's Report, thereby permitting a full discussion on the Estimates before the end of the fiscal year had been reached.
Now let me contrast with that statement, the facts in regard to matters as they have developed under the present Government. Parliament for the session of 1917 assembled on January 18th', 1917. Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4 were not brought
down until April 19, three months after Parliament reassembled and nineteen days after we had entered on a new fiscal year. Parliament for the session of 1918 assembled on March 18th of that year. Volume 4 of the Auditor General's Report was not brought down until April 22nd, over a month after Parliament had assembled and twenty-two days after we had entered upon the new fiscal year. Parliament for the session of 1919 assembled on February 20th, 1919. Volume 4 of the Auditor General's Report was not brought down until April 22nd, over two months after Parliament had reassembled and twenty-two days after the beginning of the new fiscal year. Parliament for the session of 1920 assembled on February 26th of that year. Volume 4 of the report was not brought down until May 17th, nearly three months after Parliament had reassembled and a month and a half after the beginning of the new fiscal year. In other words, Mr. Speaker, there has been a violation by the Government of the statute governing this matter for every year during the past five years. We seem to be getting into the practice of ignoring completely the statute which has been framed, as I have already mentioned, for the express purpose of enabling the Commons to exercise control over public expenditure which it is its first and most important duty to perform. There are possibly a number of explanations for this delay. I should hesitate to say that it is a deliberate device on the * part of the Government to prevent Parliament from having information to which it is rightly entitled in considering matters of public expenditure. I do not hesitate to say, however, that one cause is that members of the Government have not been attending to the business of administration as they should have been attending to it. We witnessed the spectacle last year in Ottawa that for the greater part of the fall months it was impossible to bring together a quorum of ministers. Some ministers were in Switzerland, others were in Spain, others were in Belgium, others were in France, others were in England, some were on the Atlantic coast, others were on the Pacific-they were everywhere excepting in Ottawa attending to their several departments. The result is that instead of public business being in a form which permits of Parliament proceeding in an expeditious and intelligent way we are obliged day
after day to call for reports which instead of being presented promptly are not only still incomplete but so incomplete that the Government can give no_ definite information as to when they will be available. May I also mention this fact? Hon. members opposite have been saying throughout the country in a somewhat boastful manner that the Opposition have done very little in the way of criticism of Government expenditures before the Public Accounts Committee. I ask my right hon. friend how it is possible to criticize expenditures when the volumes which contain the particulars in regard to these expenditures are not presented to Parliament in accordance with the requirements of the law. Let me point this out: The hon. the Minister of Finance mentioned a day or two ago that he had brought down certain volumes of the Auditor General's Report and that only one remained to be tabled. The one remaining is the really important one inasmuch as most of the matters that are controversial or contentious appear to be included in or referred to in volume 4. Parliament has placed before it statements which may be passed upon more or less without considerable discussion, the really important controversial subjects are necessarily held over until volume 4 is down. They arrive then for discussion at a time in the session when business has already been continued for a considerable period, the Government starts its late sittings at nights and on into the mornings, and an intelligent and careful discussion of public matters becomes next to impossible. Let me cite just one example. I have here volume II of the Auditor General's report for the present year, part K to SS. Under the summary of expenditure and revenue of the Department of Militia and Defence the following figures are given:
Salaries under statute $ 18,849 43
Civil Government salaries and
208,797 00Militia and Defence', general.. .. 4,616,781 00Miscellaneous
The details for these particular summaries are given in this report. But here is the next item:
War appropriation, $247,997,725.
And the reference to the particulars under that heading is Part ZZ; in other words, volume four, which as yet we do not know when we are likely to receive. This expenditure of $247,000,000 odd on account
of War Appropriation at this particular time cannot be scrutinized too carefully either in this House or before the Public Accounts committee, and I submit that Parliament is helpless in discussing that expenditure without having before it the reports, which it is entitled to have.
This delay on the part of the Government is the less excusable inasmuch as the matter was expressly brought to its attention on two or three occasions during our last session. When we were discussing Supplementary Estimates on June 7 last I took occasion to address the hon. Minister of Finance (Sir Henry Drayton) as follows:
I want to say, not by way of threat but simply that hon. gentlemen opposite will understand the position of the Opposition, that if the Government of the day should by any possibility be in office next year we shall not he willing to make these advances.
I was referring then- and I think the Government would do well to consider this particular feature at the moment-to the practice which my hon. friend asked us to adopt of voting a portion of the Supply en bloc at the end of the fiscal year before there had been any opportunity of considering the Estimates. I was pointing out to my hon. friend that there were very strong reasons for taking exception to that practice, and I drew his attention to the circumstance that while we were ready to concur last session to oblige the Government, we would not do so at a subsequent session if the Government was negligent in calling Parliament together at an early date and in providing the reports which we were entitled to have before us. I said to my hon. friend:
We shall expect the Government to call Parliament earlier than was done this year and to have public business sufficiently under way to enable the due control to be exercised over public expenditures which Parliament ought to have.
My hon. friend made this reference to my remarks:
I hope that next year the session will commence in the month of January.
Then the the very last day of the session the matter was again brought up, because we on this side of the House realized the significance of the Government's attitude in appearing indifferent to the demands of the law in the particular mentioned, and on the first day of July, the day Parliament .prorogued, I again took occasion to draw the Government's attention in the following words to the wisdom of presenting the Estimates at an earlier date: tMr. Mackenzie King.]
Might I take advantage of this moment again to suggest to the ^Government that if by any possibility they should be in office this fall thev consider the advisability of calling the session at an early date, so that we will not again be confronted with a situation such as we have had on this occasion, of reaching the month of July with a very large proportion of Estimates to be hurriedly passed in the last remaining twenty-four hours. I trust the Government will make a point not only of bringing down its Estimates as early as possible, but of affording early opportunity for a consideration of them. We of the Opposition-if we are still in opposition-will not agree to give the Government any votes on account if that can be avoided. The public interest in these matters must be protected as far as possible.
My right hon. friend the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Sir George Foster), who was acting Prime Minister at the time, gave the House this quasi assurance:
But the Government, as it always has done, will try and get the session on as early ds conveniently possible; and, as it always has done, it will have a body of Estimates ready for the Opposition almost from the time that the House gets into working order.
Well, Mr. Speaker, I submit that assembling Parliament in February when it is contemplated that Parliament shall assemble in November, is not bringing Parliament together "as early as conveniently possible".
Let me conclude with a reference to what was said by my hon. friend the member for Shelburne and Queen's (Mr. Fielding). It was, I think, practically the last word spoken in the last session. At page 4589 the hon. gentleman is reported as follows:
It is one thing to have a body of Estimates laid before us; it is another thing to have a proper opportunity presented to discuss them. It is the opportunity to discuss the Estimates that has been delayed in many cases.
That is the point of which we are complaining at the moment. There is not an opportunity intelligently to discuss these Estimates until we have in its completed form the Auditor General's report of the preceding fiscal year, and until we have several other reports which have already been asked for, and concerning which we can get no definite information from the Government. I think, Sir, that until we get a definite assurance from the Government that we are going to have a proper opportunity of discussing the Estimates with reports in their complete and full form we would not be justified in proceeding at the present moment with the consideration of any portion of those Estimates.