March 6, 1928 (16th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Thomas Langton Church

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. T. L. CHURCH (Toronto Northwest):

Motions similar to this have been made every year for the past three years and the Minister of Railways, whoever he happened to be, has always offered a plausible excuse for adopting that plan, namely, that an opportunity would be afforded for discussion when the report of the committee was presented later on. But that is not the way the matter works out in practice. There is no more reason why a select committee should be appointed to consider the estimates of the

C.N.R.-Railways and Shipping Committee
Department of Railways, or of the Canadian National Railways, than there is for pursuing a similar qourse in regard to the estimates of the Post Office Department, the Department of National Revenue or any other branch of the public service. The proper way to consider the estimates as a whole is to appoint a number of estimate committees to supervise the estimates of the various departments, then summon the officials before those committees and ask for detailed explanations of the public expenditures. The present system of trying to audit the estimates in oommittee of the whole is an inefficient and antiquated one and is only a post mortem method. One of my reasons for objecting to the present motion is that when the course which it recommends is adopted the report of that committee does not come back to the house until an advanced hour in the morning of the day of prorogation, when there is not the faintest possibility of intelligent discussion. The committee is just a whitewashing one. When it is appointed and is carrying on its sittings you cannot get any information there of real value in regard to this great public undertaking known as the Canadian National Railways. Not only should the capital expenditures of the system be thoroughly investigated, but the entire administration of the railway, and the operation of those deficit-producing lines in the United States with which it is affiliated, should be brought under review. But nothing of that kind occurs. Really it seems that the president of this system, Sir Henry Thornton, has very little to do. Recently he took a month's holiday in Mexico. Tomorrow he may be on a mission to Peru, or to Bogota. In the course of time he will have visited the seven seas and whatever capitals are located on them. It is useless for a member of parliament, acting in the interests of his constituents, to try to get any information with respect to the operation and administration of this railway. In the Ontario legislature, where the estimates of that great public undertaking the Hydro Electric Power Commission are under review, they would not think of passing any such resolution as this and shunting it all off on a committee on whitewash. The functions of this committee are purely and simply of a whitewashing character. Its report will be brought down in the dying hours of the session and no opportunity whatever will be afforded of criticizing the railway policy of the government. In connection with the administration of the Canadian National Railways one would think that if any appointments needed to be made Canadians would 56103-66i
be chosen but they have been ignored. The graduate of a law school in connection with Yale university, Mr. Gaston, was brought over to fill an important position which could have been filled just as efficiently by some one of the many returned soldiers affiliated with Canadian law firms. If you pass this resolution you might just as well pass the whole of the estimates without any inquiry at all. The people of this country are not satisfied with the entire administration of this so-called publicly owned road. It is not a publicly owned road at all, and the head of the system makes a political football of the fuel question in the interest of coal barons in the United States. It has become a popular method on the part of this government to refer embarrassing questions to special committees and courts. And what is the result? You cannot get information from ministers in the house, and you cannot get it when you attend these committees. The St. Lawrence waterways question is also being made a political football. That question has been referred to the run of the law courts, and the Lord knows when it will come back; perhaps two or three months before the next general election which will likely take place two or three years hence. In France and in the United States the estimates of the public departments are considered by certain special estimate committees, and as a result those estimates are carefully scrutinized. The estimates of the national railway are referred to a special committee, and nothing further is heard about them. The report is brought down within an hour or two of prorogration when intelligent consideration or discussion is out of the question. Personally I prefer the system followed in France and the United States and it should be made to apply to all departments generally. The practice we follow is simply to hold a post mortem after the money has been spent. Parliament, under the plan followed here, has no control whatever of the estimates of the Canadian National Railways. We want to overhaul our methods of considering estimates and adopt the committee system as a whole brought up to date as in France where the officials can appear before these committees and give information and not single out the Canadian National Railways for this special treatment.

Full View