UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Parliamentary control of defence in Canada, 1945-1962. Lazar, Harvey


The purpose of this thesis is to examine the degree to which the Parliament of Canada was able to control the defence policy, administration and expenditures of the Canadian government in the 1945-1962 period. Because of the distribution of power between the two houses of Parliament, the thesis is primarily concerned with the House of Commons. In the second last chapter, however, the role of the Senate is analyzed. The House of Commons has four principal (although not mutually exclusive) techniques through which it attempts to exercise control. These include critical debate, control of finances, select committees and the question period. The use of each of these techniques is analyzed separately. Also, each of the four is analyzed with reference to the party in opposition. Hence for each technique, the 1945-1957 and the 1957-1962 periods were dealt with separately. The analysis of the defence debates and question period indicated striking differences in the pattern of opposition between the two periods. In the 1957-1962 period the Liberal opposition was concerned primarily with destroying the prospects of the government for the ensuing election. Hence the Liberals strove to discredit the defence programme of the government. Policy and politics were the major issues. Both in the debates and the question period the opposition dealt harshly and exhaustively with the defence policy of the government. The Liberal opposition virtually ignored, however, the administration of the defence departments. In contrast, the Progressive Conservative opposition of the 1945-1957 period devoted most of its energies, during question time and the debates, to the implementation of policy and administration of defence. Their efforts were culminated by their success in obstructing the 1955 amendment to the Defence Production Act. On the other hand, the Progressive Conservatives did not debate critically the major steps taken in the development of Canadian defence policy. Indeed, they never questioned the broad defence road that the government chose to follow. House of Commons control of defence expenditures was a myth. No direct control over the estimates was exercised. Nor did the debates in Supply serve, even indirectly, to indicate that the House of Commons still retained control of the purse. Moreover, statutory controls were less effective for defence than the other functions of government. In the 1945 to 1957 period, select committees were appointed with post-audit functions only. In five of these years the Public Accounts Committee dealt with irregularities in defence expenditures as a result of its examination of the annual Report of the Auditor General. Because of its broad duties, circumscribed powers and partisan atmosphere, however, this Committee was not especially effective. In 1951, however, after completing its examination of the Auditor General's Report, the Public Accounts Committee dealt specifically with defence expenditures and served usefully to inform members of current developments in the defence establishment. The work of the 1951 Public Accounts Committee was continued by the Special Committee on Defence Expenditures that met between 1951 and 1953. This Committee, despite the lack of permanent staff, received an enormous amount of evidence on the administration of defence. Its usefulness was cut down, however, by the partisan atmosphere which prevented the Committee from making constructive reports to the House. After dealing with the Currie Report in 1953, the Committee was not re-appointed. Thus, the only effective and continuous post-audit scrutiny was carried out by the Defence Branch of the Office of the Auditor General. Its efficacy was hampered too, however, by the failure of the House to develop a technique for dealing regularly with Report; for the House proper never debated the Auditor General’s Report and the Public Accounts Committee did not meet regularly during these years. Since 1957, the Public Accounts Committee has met annually and reported to the House without partisan interference, examples of ineffective administration and waste. Constructive recommendations have often been included. The Committee thus has not only strengthened its own usefulness as an effective organ of post-audit control. It has also increased the effectiveness of the Auditor General by guaranteeing more publicity for his annual report than it had been receiving in earlier years. These years also marked the initial ventures in pre-audit control through select committee. In 1958 and 1960 the defence estimates were dealt with through these committees. Although the work of these committees, especially the 1958 committee, was an improvement over the performances of Committee of Supply, they appeared to have no inherent advantages over what a better informed Committee of Supply could reasonably be expected to accomplish. Moreover, there was evidence that these select committees might be used as the focal point for interest group pressures. Finally, the defence policy discussions which accompanied the review of the estimates clearly would have been more effective had they been held in the House of Commons. Thus, since the Senate played no significant role, the record of Parliament in controlling defence was very poor. There was no effective pre-audit control of expenditure and post-audit control was at no time comprehensive. Defence debates in the 1945-1957 period seldom probed into the implications of policy decisions. In more recent years, although the debates have been more comprehensive, they have not been at a very high level of sophistication. Both these shortcomings, it might be noted, were closely related to the dearth of information available on defence. It is suggested that a select standing committee of the House might possibly help to strengthen parliamentary control. Such a committee, if left to investigate problems of administration, technology and weaponry, as well as past expenditures (all matters of fact) might serve two purposes. First, it might accumulate sufficient relevant information to permit more sophisticated policy debates and more informative discussion of the estimates. Second, it would permit better control of past expenditure through detailed and comprehensive investigation of defence.

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