Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, Scrapbook Debates, 8th Parl, 2nd Sess, (6 May 1864)

Document Information

Date: 1864-05-06
By: Province of Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Province of Canada, Parliament, Scrapbook Debates, 8th Parl, 2nd Sess, 1864 at 123-126.
Other formats: Click here to view the original document (PDF).


 FRIDAY, May 6th, 1864

The Public Accounts and the Board of Audit

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance] moved for leave

To introduce a bill to amend the law relating to the Public Accounts and the Board of Audit.

The hon. gentleman said the importance of preserving a strict audit of all the expenses of the country was admitted by everybody. The means by which it was carried out, under the present act, were, he believed not sufficient for the purpose. The object of the present bill would be to add to the Board of Audit the deputy-heads of the great disbursing departments of the Government—that was to say, the Deputy Postmaster General, the Assistant Commissioner of Crown Lands, the Assistant Commissioner of Public Works, and Deputy Receiver General. The present Board of Audit was composed of the officers of the Finance Department only. The Deputy Inspector General, the Auditor himself, and the Commissioner of Customs, the Finance Department, were, he (Mr. Galt) believed, held responsible for all the expenses; but this Department was the one which was really antagonistic to the other departments. The latter spent the money, while the Finance Department was the one expected to provide it. It was quite desirable, as far as possible, to have all expenditures thoroughly audited before they were made. He was not prepared to say the bill now about to be introduced would give a perfect system of audit. He believed that that board, as thus constituted, would be able to suggest a more comprehensive and complete system, whereby the whole accounts of the country might be submitted for audit as in England, before they were paid. By including in the Board the heads of the great disbursing departments, Government proposed to secure a more thorough audit of the expenditure before the mosey was actually paid out. There were various matters

  • (p. 124 in the primary document)

of detail which he would not dwell upon at this stage. There was this important provision in the act; It had been a constant cause of complaint against, and attack upon Governments, that expenditures took place without the previous sanction of Parliament. The House was aware that, inasmuch as the estimates were voted only up to the 31st December of each year, when the financial year closed, every expenditure which took place from the 1st January till the time the accounts became law, which was generally the following March or April, was really an unauthorized expenditure. This state of things ought not to continue. It was clear that, with the financial year ending as it did, and Parliament not dealing with the supplies till the March or April following, it required that Government should take the responsibility of these interim expenditures. It was a fact that those expenditures were made under the authority of Government without the previous sanction of Parliament. The Government, therefore, believed that by a change in the duration of the financial year, and by the introduction of a more strict system of audit, the present evils could be remedied, and that the present system should be terminated by the direct authority of Parliament itself. A change in the financial year was necessary; because if Parliament were to declare that no expenditure should be made without its sanction, and should direct that any officer of the Government should be made independent of executive influence so far as to be able to stop payments, it was clear that all payments might be stopped till the March or April following, which would be inconsistent with the interests of the Province. It was desirable, if Parliament wished to assert absolute control over the expenditure and prevent expenditures not authorized by the House, that it should alter the period to which the supplies at present applied. It was desirable for the convenience of the public service and the convenience of Parliament that the financial year should be changed. The present bill provided that the accounts of the Province should be made up to the 30th June, instead of the 31st December, and it would, consequently, be the duty of the Government to bring down estimates to cover the old and new periods, namely, reaching to the 30th June, 1865. Estimates for eighteen months instead of twelve, as before, would therefore be submitted this session. These estimates would be brought down, subject to a provision of this bill, which expressly directed the Board of Audit to prevent the payment of any public money for which previous Parliamentary sanction had not been given. A great deal of difficulty had been created for all precious Governments for spending money without previous Parliamentary sanction. He was quite certain of this, that no Government ever spent money unsanctioned by Parliament unless under very great pressure. He thought it would be felt by the House that it was in accordance with public opinion that such an enactment as the present should take place. He was quite sure that it would be a very great relief to any Government to be absolutely deprived of the power of spending anything without the previous sanction of Parliament. This was one of the points covered by the bill. The hon. gentleman said, in reply to an interruption by Hon. J.S. Macdonald, he could not tell what pressure was put upon that hon. gentleman, nor to what extent he yielded with regard to unauthorized expenditures. He (Mr. Galt) believed this act would be found advantageous to the public service. It would require a change in our financial year, a similar change having been proposed by Hon. Mr. Howland, in the propriety of which he (Mr. G.) believed the late Finance Minister [Luther Holton] also concurred. Government, after the introduction of this bill, would feel it necessary to bring down estimates for the ordinary twelve months, and also for the extra six months included in this bill.

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga]—Separately?

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—Yes, certainly. One advantage that would arise from the change of the financial year was that there would be ample time for all the usual yearly reports being prepared, so that when Parliament met there would never be delay from the accounts not being closed. The Post Office Department’s year ended on the 30th Sept., while the other departments closed their year on the 31st Dec., which difference led to great inconvenience. According to the change proposed, the Post Office Department would close its year on the 30th of June like the others. One point aimed at was, as far as possible, to put an end to the system of accountable warrants. Hitherto the practice had been to make advances on those warrants. Well, it was thought important that the whole of that system should, as speedily as possible, be done away with, and that warrants should be made out for services when specifically perfumed, and when revised by the proper officer. An audit, to be worth anything, must be made before the money was paid. If a check was to be imposed upon improper expenditures, it must be before the money was paid. He did not claim that this was a perfect measure, but it was intended and calculated to put a stop to a system which he did not think was beneficial to the public service. It was, as he said before, by checking expenditure before the money was advanced that they were to establish a proper system. By adding the heads of the other departments which he had mentioned to the Board of Audit, by throwing upon them a personal responsibility for their actions, by giving the Board power to make such rules and regulations as were required, such as in the matter of bookkeeping and auditing accounts, he thought the House would accomplish a good step towards a great improvement. He believed a more perfect means of checking the system of public accounts would also be found conducive to the benefit of the public service. He would move that the bill be read a first time.

Some Hon. MembersCheers.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] said it was rather strange that the hon. Finance Minister had made the discovery that these reforms were of urgent necessity, so soon after entering upon the duties of his office. He agreed with much that had been said by his hon. friend, particularly with regard to the unauthorized payments, and to the necessity of a change in the fiscal year. Changes in the law with a view to the carrying out of these desirable reforms had been determined upon by him (Mr. Holton) and communicated to his hon. friends opposite, weeks before he retired from office.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay]—With respect to the inadequacy of the present system of audit, no person who had any experience with regard to its working would deny that it was not effective in all cases. For instance, with regard to the accounts relating to the administration of justice, he was surprised to find, from his own experience, that they were not subjected to the operation of the Audit Act.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West] said that in Upper Canada there was a county audit.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay]—Perhaps so, but there was no audit in the Finance Department. Some time after he (Mr. Holton) assumed office, he was astonished to find that numerous accounts, extending over many years, and covering a large expenditure, had not undergone any audit. Among these were accounts relating to the administration of justice in the district of Montreal. He would like to know whether his hon. friend had considered this branch of the subject?

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—Yes.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] would like to know how it was proposed to treat it?

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance] was understood to reply that the bill provided that the Board of Audit should audit the whole of these accounts. With regard to these accounts in Upper Canada, there was a local audit; but this was not sufficient—there should be a provincial audit as well. With regard to a remark made by his hon. friend from Chateauguay [Luther Holton], he (Mr. Galt) had great pleasure in stating that that hon. gentleman (Mr. Holton) had mentioned to him in conversation his intention of changing the fiscal year and the mode of making the estimates. He did not recollect whether his hon. friend had said anything with respect to payments without the authority of Legislature; but he had no doubt that hon. gentleman fully realized the desirability of a change in the law in that respect.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

William Powell [Carleton] said that there must be some system of audit followed, inasmuch as it sometimes occurred that items, which were allowed by the local auditors, were afterwards struck out.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West] said that his hon. friend from Chateauguay (Mr. Holton) was in error when he said that the accounts connected with the administration of justice were exempted from audit under the Audit Act. There was a local audit, as had been already stated; and there was a second audit in the Inspector General’s department. Of course the new bill would provide additional checks.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall] said that public opinion had been aroused by the state of things revealed by the Financial Commission.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall]—Reforms had been proposed by his hon. friend from West York (Mr. Howland), as well as his hon. friend from Chateauguay (Mr. Holton), and were now taken up by the hon. gentleman opposite. It was very gratifying, indeed, to see hon. gentlemen on the Ministerial benches so happily converted to a belief in the beneficial effect of the reforms of the late Government.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear, and laughter.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall]—He was glad to see them endeavoring to carry out those reforms, and he begged to assure them that in so doing they would have the hearty support of hon. gentlemen on both sides.

Some Hon. MembersLaughter.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] was understood to explain that he did not mean to say that the accounts to which he had referred were not liable to audit, but that they had been exempted from the operation of the act. The surprise which he felt at the action of his hon. friend the Finance Minister [Alexander Galt], and to which he had given expression at the commencement of the present debate, arose, not so much from the fact that the hon. Finance Minister [Alexander Galt] had availed himself of the excellent reforms proposed to be effected by the late Government, but that he had discovered, after some ten days in his office, that these changes were of the most urgent necessity.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance] said that hon. gentlemen opposite had been in office for two years; yet they had not brought about any of these reforms. We had heard a great deal about them—hon. gentlemen opposite had talked a great deal about these reforms, but they had not brought about any.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear, and laughter.

John Sandfield Macdonald [Cornwall]—You would not let us.

Some Hon. MembersCheers and laughter.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance] said it should be a subject of delight and not surprise to hon. gentlemen on the Opposition benches to see that reforms were at last about to be carried out.

Some Hon. MembersCheers.

John Rose [Montreal Centre] wished to know whether it was intended, by the Finance Minister [Alexander Galt], to bring any portion of the legislative expenditure within the operation of the Board of Audit. A portion of the expenditure of this and the other House might very properly be made to come under it.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Joseph Cauchon [Montmorency]—The House is independent.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance] said the suggestion of the hon. member for Montreal Centre (Mr. Rose) was a very wise one indeed, and the matter had engaged the attention of the Government. Of course the House was independent in this respect; and it would be for it to say, when the bill was distributed, whether or not a clause in the sense referred to by the hon. member for Montreal Centre [John Rose] should be introduced.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West] cited the law as it stood to shew that, by the express words of the act, the accounts relative to the administration of justice were not exempt from audit. Each auditor had his special department of accounts.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

William McDougall [Ontario North] said that when the late Government brought down good and necessary measures, they were resisted and met by motions of want of confidence. The conduct pursued by the present Opposition was of quite a different nature—they were willing to support useful measures, irrespective of party. This measure, it was true, was good enough as far as it went.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

William McDougall [Ontario North]—We should not, however, blind ourselves to what was really required. Would the addition of a few members to the Board of Audit have the effect of preventing improper expenditure? Did the existence of the Board prevent the hon. Finance Minister [Alexander Galt] from making advances to certain great corporations? Did it prevent the payment of large accounts for printing and stationery?

An Hon. Member—Did it prevent you from paying similar accounts?

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Another Hon. Member—Mr. Blackburn’s for instance.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

William McDougall [Ontario North] said he really hoped the hon. member for Montmorenci [Joseph Cauchon] and other hon. gentlemen would desist from interruptions which did not promote the harmony of the debate, nor tend to throw any light on the subject.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance] desired the hon. member for North Ontario (Mr. McDougall) to read the eighth clause of the bill now before the House, and he thought he would find it perfectly clear. The object of the eighth clause was to provide that it shall be the duty of the audit to see that no warrants were issued without the authority of Parliament.

William McDougall [Ontario North] was understood to say that this was done daily in the departments.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—The very object of the bill is to put a stop to that practice.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

The proper time, however, to discuss the matters of detail was manifestly after the bill was distributed, and not now.

Joseph Cauchon [Montmorency] said he desired to make a few remarks in reply to the hon. member for North Ontario (Mr. McDougall). That hon. gentleman had complained of the irregularity of the interruptions; but he (Mr. Cauchon) begged to remind him that the whole discussion was just as irregular, and shewed a very bad spirit indeed in thus entering into a debate on the details of an important measure which had only just been introduced, and had not been distributed.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Joseph Cauchon [Montmorency]—It would be a much wiser course in the hon. gentleman to whom he had alluded to, to avoid attacks which could only provoke recriminations. For instance, very extraordinary accounts were said to have been paid in the hon. gentleman’s own department.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Joseph Cauchon [Montmorency]—And he might also be asked if it was true that an order had been given to one of the hon. gentleman’s friends, for a supply of stationery to his department for six months to come. He (Mr. Cauchon) therefore, thought it would be much

  • (p. 125 in the primary document)

better for the hon. gentleman to avoid such attacks as those in which he had indulged.

The bill was then read a first time and ordered for a second reading on Tuesday.

Leave a Reply