I do not think there could be a more unfortunate feature in our public life than that there should develop a disposition on the part of public men, or on the part of public organs to attempt to force on the minds of the people of this country, a predisposition to believe that there was a dishonest purpose on the part of any administration. We ought to assume, and we must assume, that our governments are pure. It is such a cheap, such an easy and such an abominable practice, to go on insinuating corrupt motives and corrupt acts on the part of an opponent, that to my mind every man who w'ishes a healthy sentiment in the public life of Canada, ought to discourage it to every extent in his power. We ought be willing to believe that the government of the day are doing what they can in the interests of the people. So far as I am concerned I have no sympathy with this casting of suspicions, and I regret that this matter should be discussed here at all. I do not believe there was any such corrupt bargain in the case I have referred to. I do not believe anything of the kind was intended, and if the Auditor General has introduced such an insinuation into the report he has gone entirely outside of his duties and functions, and has made a grave mistake. But, while that is the case, there can be no doubt that among the party organs on both sides, and probably among public men on both sides, there is a constant tendency to cover up their own faults by insinuating evil doing or corruption on the part of their opponents. Therefore it is to my mind in the interests of every succeeding administration of this country, to conduct our public affairs in such fashion that the people of the country shall learn to have confidence in the fact that the purpose of every succeeding government is to have the fullest and freest inquiry into all matters, so that the people of the country may always rest in confidence that the business of the country for the time being is honestly transacted. While it may not be an opportune time for the administration to engage in this work now, and while it may be enough to observe that we are approaching the end of a long session, still I
think it would be well for the administration to let it be understood that so far as they are concerned they have nothing to fear from any inquiry of any kind whatever which is conducted within proper constitutional limits by any official of the government or by anybody else. I am satisfied that this administration does not fear anything of the kind, and I believe it is in the interests not only of this government but of any government that may succeed, to make that point perfectly clear. If there is any weakness or any defect at all in the powers which the Auditor General has to discharge his duties, that defect should be repaired. So nearly as 1 can discover, the view which the Auditor General takes, and the view that all reasonable men take, is, that there may be a necessity to a certain extent, 1 do not know how far, to increase the powers of the Auditor General, to make inquiry under certain circumstances.
. If that be admitted there is a great justification for some change in the law which would enable the Auditor General to discharge his full functions under certain restrictions, which restrictions should be clearly stated and which should not be of such a nature as to admit of constant and unwarranted interference.
There should be some power granted to the officer whose duty it is to watch the expenditure. if he thinks a bargain has been made without sufficient knowledge ,of the circumstances, or that it is an improvident bargain, to suspend, for a certain time, action in the direction of payment, to enable him to institute such an inquiry as would satisfy him, and through him,'the people of the country that everything was being done that could be done to secure economical expenditure. That is, to my mind, aii that is asked for by my leader, both in the matter and in the manner in which he has introduced this question to parliament at this time. We know that the auditor was not always a feature of our politics, either in the mother country or in -Canada. There was a time, not very long ago, when there was no such office as an audit office either in Great Britain or in this country ; but no man to-day would, I think, suggest that wo should go back to those days and dispense with the audit office, and leave it entirely in the hands of an administration to satisfy the people as to the nature of the public expenditure by -simply appealing to the. country on the ground of their fitness, their character, their standing and their respect for themselves as an administration. It does not imply that a man or an administration is dishonest because you ask them to submit to certain checks and guards on expenditure. It is, to my mind, merely a proper course to follow in reference to the mul titudinous expenditures of this country, which no government can possibly supervise for itself, or in reference to the employment of the host of officials that we
have in Canada. No administration can thoroughly supervise for itself all the enormous expenditures of this country; the people cannot supervise them for themselves : and the members of parliament have no opportunity' of supervising them. We must retain the services of the Auditor General ; and when he shows a reasonable ground for the contention that he requires to have his powers increased, we should be ready to increase his powers. I feel that this is. not a matter which the opposition would be disposed to introduce as a contentious matter. It is too important ; it is above that ; it is a matter which the administration of the day should decide : but it is the duty of the opposition to bring it to the notice of the administration. There can be no question at all, I presume, that to-day, just as in the days when the Conservative party wore in power, the Auditor General looks upon the opposition as his natural allies. It is his business to watch the administration so far as their appropriations are concerned, and to watch the officials in so far as all the expenditures are concerned ; and it is only natural that he should regard the opposition of the day as his natural allies and assistants. In every ease where the Auditor General thought the government were not giving him such support as he felt himself entitled to, but on the contrary regarded him as rather overmeddling. as too carping and critical, as a man with whom, in course of time, they might grow somewhat out of patience, and to whom they might not turn a ready ear, nothing would be more natural than that he should either appeal to the country as a whole or take the natural course, during the time parliament is in session, of appealing to that body of people who constitute the opposition of the day. But, after all, this is a matter which it is the duty of the administration to deal with. If the administration can show, as they have not on this occasion attempted to show, that the Audit Act is amply effective and that there are no grounds whatever for any request on the part of the Auditor General or the opposition to improve it, then they are perfectly justified : but I do not think the government of the day -are altogether justified, when this matter is brought to their notice, in treating it as it has been treated by the administration on this occasion. It must be said that they have treated it with scant courtesy. The Finance Minister made a very-short speech. He did not profess to exert himself, but disposed of the whole subject as one which might be lightly brushed aside. He treated it as an attack by the apposition, and did not deal with the question in its broad aspects. He made only a brief reference to the particular contract out of which this whole question may be said to have taken its rise ; and, so far as tiiat particular contract was concerned, it seems to me the effect of the speech of the
Finance Minister was to justify the position of the Auditor General. The result would seem to go to show that by the intervention of the Auditor General the great purpose to which the people of the country are devoted -the economizing of the public funds-has been served. If that is true, it is a very powerful argument why some careful inquiries into this matter should be made.
At six o'clock, House took recess.
House resumed at eight o'clock.
Topic: SUPPLY-THE AUDITOR GENERAL.
Subtopic: J. L. McDOUGALL,