December 9, 1909

LIB

Joseph Alfred Ernest Roy (Whip of the Liberal Party)

Liberal

Mr. ERNEST ROY (Dorchester).

Mr. Speaker, I am a new member of this House and am not very familiar with parliamentary procedure; but I cannot understand the statement of one hon. member on the other side of the House, that the Minister of Labour has not the courage to adopt the principle of this Bill. If I understand the procedure of parliament correctly, when a minister proposes to refer a Bill to a select committee, it is understood that the principle of the Bill will be adopted, for the second reading of the Bill has to take place before it can go to a committee., I think it is understood by every hon. member that the Bill in its present form must be modified before it is passed. I think the Bill should be referred, not to a standing committee of this House, but to a special committee, which would be in a better position to obtain the information necessary to pronounce on the Bill. Therefore, I think the position taken by the hon. the Minister of Labour is the proper position to take on the Bill.

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CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. R. L. BORDEN.

Mr. Speaker, before dealing with the matter with which we are immediately concerned, I would like to correct a very grave misapprehension on the part of my hon. friend from North Cape Breton and Victoria (Mr. MacKenzie), who has declared that no legislation in the interest of labour was ever passed by a Conservative administration. I want to tell my hon. friend, and I am surprised that he is ignorant of it, that the most important measure ever passed in the interest of labouring men in Canada was passed by the government of Sir John A. Macdonald. But for that legislation men combining to strike to-day in Canada would be criminals in the eyes of the law. A Conservative member of parliament, the late E. F. C'larke, for many years a respected and honoured member of this House, was in jail in the city of Toronto under the law as it was before Sir John A. Macdonald brought in the Act which gave labouring

men the right to strike without subjecting J themselves to a criminal prosecution.

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CON
CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. R. L. BORDEN.

Yes, but we need not go into matters of detail. My hon. friend the Minister of Labour has spoken on this question. It is a question that has been before parliament for four years. One would have supposed that a government responsible for all the legislation that goes through parliament, as every government under modern conditions is, would have taken up this subject. I do not know whether the hon. Minister of Labour concurs with the statement made by the hon. member for Nanaimo that the government at present have all the information necessary on this subject. Am I to infer that my hon. friend the Minister of Labour concurs in that statement?

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. KING.

The government has a great deal of very valuable information, but I think it would be of decided advantage to the House to have an investigation.'

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CON

Robert Laird Borden (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. R. L. BORDEN.

My hon. friend is rather non-committal. It seems to me that the question resolves inself into this. The government either have or have not the information; if they have not, there have been four years during which this matter has been mooted more than once in parliament, and one would have thought that in that time they would have appointed a royal commission to obtain the necessary information, as was done by the government of Nova Scotia two years ago. When the question was first mooted in parliament four years ago my hon. friend was deputy Minister of Labour. Where have been hi.s affections for the labouring men of this country during these four years? But there is another very curious circumstance in connection with this matter. The government are to-day acting in absolute reversal of the position they took in 1907, when they brought in a so-called Conciliation Act. I asked at that time, by a resolution which I moved at the beginning of the session, and afterwards on the third reading of that Bill, that all matters touching disputes between employers and employees should be referred to a committee of this House in order that both sides might be heard. I took the ground then, which I am prepared to stand by to-day, that in these matters it is only fair that both sides should be heard before legislation of such great importance should be dealt with by parliament. What was the answer at that time? It was that the government had all the information in their possession. I have the words of the Minister of Labour of the day, Hon. Mr. Lemieux, under my hand He said:

I therefore believe that, at the present time, with the information we have before ns, with the reports of the Royal Commission of 1903, with the montHy reports which we receive from our correspondents from all parts of Canada, and with the ample reports that are presented to this House by the Labour Department, it is quite unnecesary to appoint a Committee of this House to take evidence in connection with this Bill.

My hon. friend from Nanaimo was at that time very strongly in favour of the position the government took, that there was no need to appoint a commission or to have any hearing before a commission. My hon. friend, I remind him in all kindness, takes a different stand to-night. He says that although the information is there, we should have a special committee for the purpose of passing on it and reporting to this House. I would ask my hon. friend if that is a good arugment to-day, why was it not a good argument in 1907? I urged that very argument myself in 1907, but I did not succeed at that time in securing the ear of my hon. friend, because I had the misfortune of seeing him vote against me, both on the motion I made in the early part of the' session, and on the motion I made on the third reading of that Bill.

This subject, as my hon. friend from Medicine Hat (Mr. Magrath) has truly said,_ is one that must be met. In common with every member of this House, I am disposed to give the most sympathic consideration to every measure that will improve the condition of the labouring men in this country. We want our labouring men to live and prosper under fair conditions so that, as has been well said to-night, we shall have a strong virile population, not doomed to work to the last limit of their physical strength, or to compete on unfair conditions with the pauper labour of any other country. We ought to give every possible consideration to their claims in this regard and I am disposed to do that. The question is one which must not be shelved by any proposal to submit it to a committee. I am willing that it should go before a committee for exactly the same reasons that I gave when I asked for a special committee on the Conciliation Act of 1897. I think that Act should have gone before a committee in order that both sides might have been heard; and had that course been followed, there would have been infinitely less dissatisfaction with that measure and it would have worked out infinitely better and have been very materially improved. I am disposed to send this Bill to a committee of the House, not in order that it be shelved-because we must have a satisfactory understanding from the government that it will not be shelved-but in order that employees and employers may be heard, and in order that any information in possession of the government-if they have any, if they have had enough

interest in the subject to collect information-shall be put before the committee, and in order that the committee, after giving a fair hearing to all parties, may make a report to the House. Under the circumstances I would accept the proposal, on the distinct understanding from the government, that the committee will meet at once and expedite its work and bring back a report to the House to be dealt with before the end of the session.

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LAB

Alphonse Verville

Labour

Mr. VERVILLE.

I am very proud indeed to have brought this question before the House this afternoon and especially to find that it has excited so interesting a debate. This is probably the first time we have had so much discussion on the hours of labour, and many hon. gentlemen on both sides have expressed themselves, in different fashions, in favour of a shorter working day. As I said on moving the second reading of the Bill, my intention was not to make any extended remarks myself, but to obtain the views of others, and to my great satisfaction. I have heard a great deal more than I expected. Some remarks have been made regarding farm labour but there is no comparison whatever between farm labour and that which is dealt with in this Bill. We have also heard it argued that men could not do as much work in eight hours as in ten. Well, we heard that same argument every time a proposition was made to reduce the hours. Not very long ago men worked twelve hours a day. Then the day was reduced to ten hours, and no one will say that the same amount of work is not done in the ten hours as formerly was done in the twelve. The same result will follow a reduction to eight hours. Experience has proved that the longer day is not productive of more work. We have had some question about the working of the fair wage law. Well, 1 acknowledge that it has done a great deal of good for the labouring classes, but as regards the hours of labour, we have no body but ourselves to thank for their reduction, because what gain we have made has been achieved only after very hard struggling. I heard the hon. member for London say that he would favour a Bill which would apply generally.

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CON
LAB

Alphonse Verville

Labour

Mr. VERVILLE.

I heard the hon. gentleman say the same on the public platform.

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CON

Thomas Beattie

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BEATTIE.

I introduced an eight hour Bill here in 1898.

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?

Mr. VERVILLE .@

There would be no use in any one introducing such a measure in this House because it would be beyond our jurisdiction, and it was for that reason I have not brought in a Bill of that nature. The arguments which have been urged this afternoon against this Bill are exactly the Mr. R. L. BORDEN.

same as were advanced in other countries on similar occasions. In 1847, in England, when the ten hour law was before the House, exactly the same arguments were used against it. In 1856 and 1857, when that question was brought up in Australia, we had the same arguments over again. The plea was always that if you shorten the hours of labour, you will reduce the sum of the work done. However, I am gratified to know that we have made a considerable step in advance, and if the government will promise that this measure will not be shelved, I am quite willing to refer it to a special committee. I am willing, if the Bill receives its second reading, to make a motion to have it referred to a special committee. We will then have affirmed the principle of the Bill, and it will be for the government to see that no obstacle is allowed to prevent the committee from getting through with its deliberations. I would like to have before that committee those men who are strongly opposed to any reduction in thg number of hours in the labouring day while at the same time they are quite willing to reduce their own hours of labour to three or four. I would like to meet these men before the committee. I would like also to have some of the labour men come before that committee and express their views, and then let the committee compare notes, and I am sure we shall win because we are on the right side. If the Bill be given a second reading, its principle -will then be adopted, and if the government will give a chance to the committee to get to work right away, we shall have their report before the session is over and be in a position to enact legislation which will materially improve the condition of the working class.

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Motion agreed to. Bill read the second time.


LAB

Alphonse Verville

Labour

Mr. VERVILLE.

I desire to move the reference of the Bill to a special committee as suggested. I move:

That the said Bill be referred to a special committee consisting of Messrs. King, Mac-donell (Toronto), Smith (Nanaimo), Staples, Prowse, Marshall and Verville.

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CON

James Davis Taylor

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. J. D. TAYLOR (New Westminster).

It seems to me tha,t. before the House assents to the adoption of that motion, we should have some assurance from the Minister of Labour (Mr. King) that he expects the committee to make a favourable report on the Bill. Having passed the second reading and adopted the principle of the Bill, I think we are entitled to have a committee that is known to be favourable to the measure, and that the committee to whom it is referred should not be expected to say whether we shall adopt such a Bill or not, but to perfect the Bill, because, as has been stated by hon. members here to-night,

in its present shape the Bill is not workable. I think we are entitled to a declaration from the government as to what they expect from this committee, for, though the motion has been moved by the hon. member from Maisonneuve (Mr. Verville) it is upon the government that the responsibility rests, and if the government do not know what to expect from that committee, I think it is their business to find out. We ought not to take this step in the dark.

I would like to say, while on my feet, that some hon. members have taken what seems to me a most extraordinary position as to why this matter is before us. The question is not one of pity for or sympathy with the employees of contractors who are working for the government. It impresses me rather in this way: This is supposed to be a government of the people; a very large proportion of the contributors to this government are the organized workingmen who believe in the eight hour day; these people simply come to their servants in this House and ask them to see to it that in the expenditure of their money on contracts carried on for the Dominion government, a provision shall be inserted that the principle which they hold so dear shall not be violated. I think that is a reasonable request, and that having passed the second reading of this Bill we should not entrust it to any committee unless we have some assurance as to the attitude of the committee towards the Bill.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. KING.

The hon. member (Mr. Taylor) has made what seems to me a most extraordinary proposal. He suggests that I should give him an assurance how this committee will report. I fail to see what other meaning can be put upon his words than that he feels that members of this House who . are selected as a committee are not prepared to report to this House honestly, straightforwardly and intelligently on the evidence that is brought before them.

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CON

James Davis Taylor

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. J. D. TAYLOR.

I object to the hon. gentleman (Mr. King) putting any sinister interpretation on my remarks. I spoke very plainly, as I usually do, and without any meaning other than was plainly expressed in my words.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. KING.

The hon. member objects to my interpretation of his words, but he has only himself to blame for giving us words that are capable of such an interpretation. I cannot see how any member of the House could suggest that any one can tell this House, before the committee listens to any evidence with regard to a measure, how that committee is going to report. I think the position will be self-evident to every hon. member. I do not think there is any member of the House other than the hon. member (Mr. J. D. Taylor) himself

who would think of asking for such an assurance.

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CON

Arthur Meighen

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. A. MEIGHEN (Portage la Prairie).

We have had the great privilege of listening to two addresses on this subject from the Minister of Labour (Mr. King), and at the close of the second address I think that every hon. me/nber is as much in the dark as he was at the first of the debate as to what the policy of the government is in regard to this Bill. We may have learned a great deal about the principle of the eight hour day and about many features of the Bill, but I can state one thing that we have not learned in the course of the debate, and that is the policy of the government. If I understood the question and remarks of the hon. member for New Westminster (Mr. J. D. Taylor), what he' wanted from the Minister of Labour was a clear statement of the policy of the government with regard to this measure. The hon. member for Dorchester (Mr. Ernest Roy) contends-and, in a measure, rightly contends-that when this House passes the second reading of the Bill, it .adopts the principle of the Bill, and he further goes on to explain that the Minister of Labour has endorsed the principle of this Bill. Now if the principle of the Bill is something that can be taken as endorsed by the speech of the Minister of Labour, then I, for one am utterly at a loss to see any i>rinciple whatever in the Bill. Throughout, the course of his address, the Minister of Labour expressed antagonism to the general principle and to the extended adoption of the principle of the eight hour day.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. KING.

Would the hon. member (Mr. Meighen) kindly give to the House any statement of mine from which he can draw such an inference.

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CON

Arthur Meighen

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN.

Will the hon. minister (Mr. King) state that he is in favour of the absolute, unequivocal adoption of the eight hour day throughout Canada?

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December 9, 1909