I do not think the minister is treating the House with courtesy when he makes that statement. I am not seeking to pester him with things that do not come under the item, but as I read this item it is:
Conciliation and Labour Act, including publication, printing, binding and distribution of Labour Gazette and allowance to correspondents, $50,000.
Surely, under the duties of the department and the administration of the Conciliation and Labour Act, I would be justified in asking a very ordinary question, and I think the House has been very tolerant with my hon. friend in refraining long ago from inquiring as to what progress has been made in the settlement of. the strike. If the minister refuses to answer, then we are to rely upon press reports, and when he refuses to answer my very simple question, I think I am justified in making a few speculations. It would appear from items in the press that very satisfactory progress has not been made. I think the minister should take this opportunity to tell the House just what progress he has made. Certainly I am amazed at his bald, blank, and scarcely courteous refusal to give the information.
I am very sorry, indeed, Mr. Chairman, if my hon. friend from Centre Vancouver (Mr. Stevens) understood me as being discourteous in suggesting to him that the next item that we will have to discuss is the one which has to do with the expense connected with handling the mining difficulties in Nova Scotia. There was no intention of being discourteous. I now understand that the hon. gentleman would like some information as to the status of the situation in Nova Scotia, which we discussed in this House some weeks ago, and, of course, I will be very glad to give such information as I have at hand in regard to that matter. As hon. gentlemen have seen from press reports, an effort was made to reconvene the Gillen Board. As a matter of fact, the Gillen Board was reconvened, and, shortly after reconvening in Halifax, two members of the board, in substance and in effect, wired their resignation to me, indicating that they had no authority, as a reconvened board, to deal [Mr. Stevens.)
with the question that had been indicated in this House they should properly and effectively deal with. The resignation of the two members of the board, namely the chairman and the representative of the employees, was promptly accepted by the minister, and later I received from the former representative of the company on that board a letter which, in substance, indicated that he was heartily in accord with the belief of his colleagues that the reconvened board could not, under any intent of the law, deal again with the situation that they had undertaken to deal with in January last. The result was that we undertook, of course, in carrying out the evident desire of this House, to at once institute a new board of investigation under 63A of the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act, as amended in 1918, and that board is now in course of formation.
A week ago last Wednesday the miners' representative appointed a member to that board to represent the employees. The companies have not yet appointed their representative. They asked for some delay, sufficient to compensate or make allowance for the holiday, which was given them. That time expires to-night, when, if an appointment has not been made by the companies, it will be the duty of the minister to appoint a representative for the companies. Then it will be necessary for another five days to elapse, in which we hope that the two members appointed will agree on the choice of a chairman. If they fail to do so, it will again devolve upon the minister to choose a chairman for the board, so that we hope to have a newly established board functioning in regard to the mining dispute of Nova Scotia within the next ten days.
The condition, as I understand it, is that coal mining is going on under fairly satisfactory conditions. The strike-on-the-job, in so far as it was ever effective, has been, as I understand, distinctly and entirely abandoned, full work is being given ungrudgingly, and the actual coal mining situation is better than it . was when we discussed the matter in the House on the 30th March last. Of course,
I judge that is because the men believe that, as soon as possible, there will be another board functioning and investigating entirely the situation on their behalf.
I was very strongly under the impression that the Government
was only wasting time in this dispute in endeavouring to reconvene the old board. However, I had not studied the act particularly, and I assumed the Prime Minister, who had charge of the matter, and who, I had understood framed the act, knew its terms, and that when he accepted the suggestion of the leader of the Progressive party that the old board be reconvened, he was accepting something that was practical and that would lead somewhere. But on subsequent inquiry I find the impression I was under was absolutely and plainly correct, and that there could be no possible misinterpretation of the matter at all. I must say that, under the circumstances, and a very clear reading of the statute, I do not know why the Government ever set to work to attempt to reconvene the old board, to go back into the old dispute, because, manifestly, the old board had no power in the world to go back in to that dispute. The old board had completed its functions when it made its report, and it could only be reconvened for the purpose of interpreting that report under section 22A of the act. It could not be reconvened and reassume any of the powers at all that it formerly exercised. All it could do would be to go down and give the support of either side without any powers at all. Consequently, when the old board was presumably reconvened, time was being wasted, and when the members resigned they were resigning offices they did not hold. They had nothing to resign. The offices they had held terminated sometime before, with the handing in of their report. So that there was nothing but time wasted in connection with the reconvening of the old board.
Of course, the minister under the provisions of section 63A, which he has just referred to, and properly referred to, could properly appoint a new board. He could, by going through the regular process, or rather he could not, but the parties to the dispute, could, if they so chose, have taken the former members. But they were the men to make the choice; under the act, the Government could not make the choice at all. If the Government was operating under the act, the Government had to leave it to the parties to name their representatives. All the rest of the procedure was just so much, I will not say intentional, but just so much waste time, and I could not help thinking that the minister himself has been of that impression all along. With, however, that time gone, simply through inappreciation of the
law owing to hasty action on the part of members of the Government, we are now apparently at the stage where the law is being complied with, where, under section 63-A, the minister is taking steps to have a new board established. That is all right.
I do not know whether that is the best method or not; the minister ought to be in a position to know that a great deal better than I. There may be some advantage in having a royal commission under the Inquiries Act, and I am quite prepared to accept his judgment that this is the best step to take. I am glad to see something done to bring about better conditions and to have the Labour Department function as it is intended to function in disputes of this kind. Let me, however, express the hope that, when the board is appointed, it goes to the ground and learns all the facts; that the minister sees, to the best of his ability, that it goes there, and also that, hereafter, when we have declarations of labour policy from the Minister of Labour, we shall be able to understand that they are declarations of government policy. I presume, however, that all are concurring with the minister this time in the appointment of a new board under section 63-.A, and that this is not a step which he is taking, only to be repudiated by his colleagues later on.
I am, indeed, gratified to hear this evening the statement from my right hon. friend. I was personally convinced, on the third day of April, when he rose from his seat in this House and undertook to insist that, unconditionally, the Gillen Board be reconvened, he knew full well or believed that it would be inconsistent with the provision and intent of the act, under all the circumstances, to reconvene that hoard, and that the board, when it was convened, would have no effect or authority in law. I felt, at that time, that my right hon. friend-and I am not criticising in this-was endeavouring to assist in delaying the game for the purpose, possibly, of casting some reflection upon the Minister of Labour or the Labour Department or, possibly, upon some of the present colleagues or associates of the Minister of Labour in the present Government.
Hear, hear. Certainly. I understood the reconvening of the board to be unconditional, and unconditional, not depending at all on McLachlan's stand. I never made even the suggestion that the board be reconvened-much less insisted that it be reconvened; but when hon. gentlemen said that the board was going to be reconvened, I asked if the reconvening was to be unconditional and stated my understanding that it was to be unconditional. Will the hon. gentleman cease now to misrepresent me? Will he read the preceding paragraph?
I have not the slightest desire or intention of misrepresenting my right hon. friend; but if I might be permitted to suggest, it is purely and simply, as a result of the position taken and insisted upon by my right hon. friend, that the delay of the past two or three weeks has occurred in dealing with the mining situation in Nova Scotia. No other statement or reason is responsible for the delay that has occurred, during the past two or three weeks,in placing a board on the job, properly functioning under the law, to do the thing that this House of Commons, according to its declaration on the evening of March 30, last, wanted done. I know how capable the right hon. gentleman is when he undertakes to convince this house that he is not responsible or to disprove anything which I might say to the contrary. I know full well how easily and readily he will evade the responsibility and undertake to place it upon some of my colleagues or upon myself. Again,
I repeat, as Minister of Labour, that the Right hon. Arthur Meighen is primarily responsible
The right hon. leader of the Opposition is primarily responsible for the delay of the last two or three weeks,
which delay I can assure him I am trying to make up for as fast as possible under the law. As he has said and given me credit for, I felt at the time, after the discussion and after full consideration of the law, that the law did not contemplate the reconvening of the board for the purpose of going as fully into all the circumstances as this House appeared to indicate it wanted those circumstances investigated. We could have reconvened the board in order to express its opinion on some phase of its previous award, but I did not think we could have reconvened it for the purpose of an entirely renewed investigation. The situation is as I have stated. We are endeavouring to make up now, as best we can, for lost time.
I cannot say whether astonishment or amusement is uppermost in my mind listening to the speech of the minister. I am responsible, he says, for three weeks' delay; and if I got his remarks correctly, although I am finding increasing difficulty in following him, as he is getting further from the realm of reason every time he speaks, the cause of that delay is that I insisted on the Gillen Board being reconvened. I may be entitled to all the compliments he pays me as to fidelity to reason and, consequently, some success in convincing people; but I shall not need to over-exercise any of those powers to-night. Hon. members were present in this Chamber all through these discussions, and, if any hon. member has any recollection of my even suggesting the reconvening of the Gillen Board, I should like him now to stand in his place and say so. He will search Hansard in vain for any suggestion, either in the first discussion or the second. On the first discussion, as every hon. member knows, the hon. member for Marquette (Mr. Crerar), in perfectly good faith, having heard the debate, having heard the impossible position taken up by the minister, with which position nobody, not even his colleagues, could agree, suggested that the Gillen Board be reconvened; that it be asked to go back and complete on the ground the work that it had commenced. That was followed by the remarks of the Minister of Finance (Mr. Fielding), who stated his confidence in the personnel of that board, and recited certain questions that he had put to the parties that had come down to ask for a royal commission. Those parties had themselves stated that they believed that the members of that
board had endeavoured to do what was right, and the Minister of Finance repeated, at that time, that he had made a suggestion that the Gillen Board was the proper one. That was followed by a proclamation of the minister to the press-because he keeps very close to the press, whatever faults he may have-to the effect that they could not move until McLaehlan came down and receded from his position. Consequently the Minister of Finance (Mr. Fielding) having taken the one stand, accepting the suggestion of the leader of the Progressive party (Mr. Crerar), in which I had no part at all, and as respects which I did not even make a statement, and the Minister of Labour having made a statement to the press of the country wholly contradictory of his colleague's view, I asked in the House, the next day, what was to ibe done. I called attention to 'both statements and inquired whether the board was to be reconvened, or whether the policy of the Minister of Labour, as stated in the press, was to be carried out. I was promptly and distinctly informed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) that the Gillen Board was to be reconvened, and that steps had already been taken-I think I am giving the words of the hon. member, or, at least, their effect-to get in communication with the members of the board; whereupon, having in mind the proclamation of the minister that nothing would be done until there was a repudiation of the stand taken hy Mr. McLacKlan and his men. I asked whether this reconvening was to be unconditional and irrespective of the conduct of Mr. McLaehlan.
Does my hon. friend think that the Minister of Labour acted in disregard of the rights of all the people of Canada when he took the position that no consideration should be given to a man or men who promulgated and sought to carry out any such thing as they were talking about, such as "loafing on the job?" Does he think that the Minister of Labour improperly took that position? My hon. friend appears to justify the conduct, the attitude, and the claims of McLaehlan on April 3rd, and I want to know whether or not I misunderstand him in this respect.