Public Works Drains Its Own Swamp

BLAIR FRASER November 1 1953


Public Works Drains Its Own Swamp

BLAIR FRASER November 1 1953


Public Works Drains Its Own Swamp


YOU WOULDN’T think so to look at it but it’s a very different St. Laurent Government which will face the Twenty-Second Parliament this month. Appointment of one junior minister and transfer of another may not sound like much of a Cabinet shuffle but in fact it’s a revolutionary change in Liberal Government organization.

Not to keep you in suspense any longer, the revolution took place when Hon. Robert H. Winters was moved to Public Works from Resources and Development. That may look like a logical move—Winters is one of the few professional engineers in public life and obviously qualified for the job—but that’s just what made the appointment so unusual. Normally the Minister of Public Works knows a great deal about politics. Now, for the first time in human memory, he knows something about public works.

Public Works has been, in fact, the last surviving puddle of the great Dismal Swamp of politics and patronage which once engulfed the whole government service. There hasn’t been an actual scandal in the department since the 1890s, when the notorious McGreevy affair exposed a nasty situation, but though oldfashioned graft was cleaned up, oldfashioned patronage was not. Public Works remained proverbial, in and out of the government service, for inefficiency and general ineptitude.

This was not the fault of the harried handful of competent civil servants trying to run the department. They had to work with the blunt instruments the politicians gave them, and as the years went by they got more and more discouraged and resigned to defeat.

To help correct this situation and improve the department’s morale, Winters has taken with him his own deputy minister, Major-General Hugh Young, former vice-president of Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation. If the team of Winters and Young can’t make Public Works work, the Liberals will be inclined to claim it can’t be done at all.

AWAY BACK last June, before the election campaign began, the Government sent out letters to various Canadian organizations (e.g., the Red Cross) asking them to nominate members to receive the Queen’s Coronation Medal.

In Britain the whole operation took about a month—the medals were distributed early in July. In Canada they have finally gone out in the last few weeks after approximately four months of delay, and the officials responsible are heaving belated sighs of relief. As usual, royal honors turned out to be a bureaucratic headache.

The first cause of delay was the usual one: In many cases the or-

ganizations nominated more people than they were entitled to. Groups who’d been asked to name two people named four, and so on. This had been anticipated, and was dealt with firmly; letters went hack saying there’d been some misunderstanding; only two medals were available and would the organization please name two people and not four. This exchange of correspondence took time.

When the nominations had been whittled down, though, it still turned out that someone’s arithmetic had been faulty. At the Queen’s own request the Continued on page 77

Backstage at Ottawa


total number of Coronation Medals for Canada is kept secret, but it is no secret that the number of nominations exceeded the number of medals by seventy-nine.

This intelligence reached the Cabinet in the middle of the election campaign. There were not many ministers around Ottawa at that time anyway, but those who were could see that this was no time to start pruning the list. By common consent, nothing was done.

In September, when Secretary of State Jack Pickersgill got back from his post-election trip to Newfoundland, he took a hard look at this infant which had been left on his doorstep and found the situation wasn’t as bad as he’d feared. The total of names did exceed the total of medals, all right, but the list of names had never been closely examined. It turned out to be full of duplications—same man nominated by more than one organization —and when these were weeded out, there were enough medals to go round and even a few over.

HON. JAMES Sinclair, Minister of Fisheries, is now in New Delhi heading Canada’s delegation to the annual meeting of the Colombo Plan. When he gets back to Ottawa he will probably have a question to put to his Cabinet colleagues:

Will Canada increase its contribution of twenty-five millions a year to the Colombo Plan? If so, by how much?

Some increase is urgently necessary if the Colombo Plan is to be carried forward on the scale of present opera-

tions. But politicians might find it easier to vote the money if more Canadian voters could remember what the Colombo Plan is.

Not long ago one private agency of information and public enlightenment wrote to Ottawa for a report on what had been accomplished by the Plan “in Colombia,” and asked whether it would be extended to “other parts of South America.”

Colombo in fact is the capital of Ceylon, and the Colombo Plan is so called because it was conceived at a Commonwealth Conference there in 1950. It’s a plan for the capital development of underdeveloped countries in Southeast Asia. All told, it contemplates the investment of five billion dollars in a period of six years. Two billions were to be supplied by the Asian countries themselves, and three billions—or an average of five hundred million dollars a year—were to be provided as direct assistance from abroad.

The Plan has never been implemented in full because it was admitted from the start that the Commonwealth alone could not put up five hundred millions a year. No name was mentioned for the absent guest at the Colombo table, but it was obviously the United States. The United States has given several hundred million dollars in aid to Asia under various headings but has never formally joined the Colombo Plan nor is it likely to. The Commonwealth has gone ahead on its own, on a smaller scale.

Informally and perhaps indiscreetly, Canada told India and Pakistan they

would get fifteen millions and ten millions, respectively, from Ottawa each year. Sure enough, when the money was voted it was twenty-five millions—but everybody had forgotten about Ceylon and Burma, also members of the Plan.

Ceylon didn’t put in any projects for Canada in the first year of the Plan, so India and Pakistan got their fifteen and ten millions in full. But the second year Ceylon got a million and a half, and this year is getting a million and three-quarters, out of the same total donation of twenty-five millions. In effect, Ceylon’s share is coming out of what we originally promised India and Pakistan. Burma hasn’t come in at all yet.

Meanwhile the projects already in hand for India and Pakistan, far from shrinking, are growing. As often happens with schemes so big and so varied, there have been unforeseen difficulties.

In Pakistan, for example, Canada is building a cement plant in the Thai area of the Punjab. Nothing that size had ever been built there before and nobody knew of any reason why they shouldn’t just go ahead and pour the foundations. But at the last minute Canada decided to double-check and asked a European firm of engineers to test the soil. It turned out to be pitted with subterranean cavities which would have caused the plant to collapse when it went into operation. That trouble has now been fixed —but the result is that the cost will be much greater.

At the same time new projects are coming up for which Canada is well qualified, and Canada is taking them on. The latest is a hydro-electric job on the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan, nineteen miles from Peshawar. Pakistan has done an amazing job at pacifying and settling the bandit tribesmen of the northwest, but if they are no longer to live by raiding and pillage, they must have something else to do. The Warsak Dam, not far from the Khyber Pass, will provide water for irrigation and power for small industries. It will take three and a half million Canadian dollars, an allocation already approved by the Cabinet.

Ceylon has a dry belt, now virtually desert, which once was fertile farm land. Eight centuries ago a progressive king of Ceylon built basins to catch the rainfall which now rushes into the sea, and used it to irrigate the dry soil. Modern engineers are astounded at the placement of these basins—they say if the job were being started today they’d put their dams at exactly the same places—-but they don’t know how a twelfth-century Ceylonese did such accurate calculation. The Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations has already begun a project to clear the jungle from these eighthundred-year-old basins and rebuild the dams so they can be put into use.

Besides the twenty-five millions a year in capital aid Canada also provides four hundred thousand for technical assistance. In the past three years this program has brought about three hundred students from India, Pakistan, Ceylon and a number of other countries to Canadian universities and industries. It has also sent technical experts from Canada to advise on problems abroad.

At the outset Canada’s technical assistance didn’t attract much notice in Asia. Indian and Pakistani engineers had been trained in Britain, dealt with British companies and universities, and probably had doubts (which they were too polite to express) that Canada could teach them anything useful.

As time went on, though, and students came and returned, the Asians found (a) they didn’t freeze to death in this sub-Arctic country, and (b) they could learn various useful things. An average of more than a hundred a

year are coming to Canada now. Not all the scholarships are a success. Some of the students like Canada too well “we never had it so good; how do we arrange to stay here?” Others, including some of the best, are first amazed and then embittered at the wealth and the casual waste in this country. They see food thrown away that would feed an Indian family for a week and if. fills them witli revulsion. But most of the students—not only college hoys but experienced men of affairs who come to study Canadian methods are earnest, industrious men who do what they came to do, work unsparingly, and go home with enormous bundles of notes. They’re taking hack a good report of Canada, with the result that more and more applications are coming in. Not. all can he filled. There is a ceiling on the number of students Canadian universities and Canadian factories can accommodate and it is not much higher than the number coming now. If the annual four hundred thousand dollars were raised, say, to six hundred thousand that would be as much as the technical assistance program could profitably spend. On the capital side there is no limit, to the amount Asia could use if Canada could provide it and there have been many to urge that Canada should provide more. John Diefenbaker for the Progressive Conservatives and many spokesmen of the CCF have called on the Government to give fifty millions a year instead of twenty-five. Last month the Canadian Congress of Labor passed a resolution raising the ante to a hundred millions. Men closer to the task are more modest in their suggestions. If Canada wants to double the scale of her program, that’s fine. But if she wants to continue the program pretty much on the scale it has assumed then they think she could do with an appropriation of about thirty-five millions a year. How likely is it that the Canadian share will be increased? Opinions vary. All parties and most, leading spokesmen approve the Colombo Plan and pay lip service at least to the idea of increasing its scope. At the same time all parties know that a considerable hostility exists in Canada to foreign aid of any kind. “Why should they give millions to India when they can’t put a new Post Office in Jonesville Junction?” is an attitude more widespread than speeches of leading politicians would indicate. And so there are some MPs and ministers, genuinely sympathetic with the aims and objectives of Colombo, who advocate letting well enough alone. Twenty-five millions, an accepted figure, will go through parliament without debate. Any increase, however trivial, might start trouble, either in the House or in caucus. Others, more sanguine, say the public won’t notice anyway. Only a few seem to retain confidence in the Canadian voter’s ability to see the point of the Colombo Plan and to appreciate its value in the political offensive of freedom against Communism. Nik Cavell, director of Canada’s share in the Colombo Plan, put it this way in a recent speech to the Canadian Exporters’ Association : “In Asia two great nations, India and China, are developing side by side. Both have drawn up plans for the future. Both have the same problems. India is attempting to develop and fulfill her plan on democratic and constitutional lines; China is following the ruthless Russian pattern. The rest of Asia is watching . . .

“We must remember that this is one phase of our own fight for freedom and give all the help we can.” ic