Mr. E. R. E. CHEVRIER (Ottawa):
Mr. Speaker, will the hon. Minister of the Interior (Mr. Murphy) advise the house how long the dismissals of employees is to continue in
Department oj Interior-Retiring Employees
the Department of the Interior, and what progress has been made, if any, in the way of reestablishing those who have been let out?
Hon. THOMAS G. MURPHY (Minister of the Interior): Mr. Speaker, it would be
manifestly impossible to answer the first part of the question put by the hon. member, but with regard to the second portion of his question, namely, as to what steps have been taken by the government to provide for these employees, I would say that that has been more or less answered already.
Possibly it might not be out of place at this time to say something in regard to this matter. The former Minister of the Interior has put certain questions to the house in regard to it and has expressed his solicitude for these employees. Pie feels that the government should make certain provision for these civil servants who have been retired or who have received notice of dismissal. It is not a pleasant position in which I find myself at this time. Because of the transfer of the natural resources to the prairie provinces many people have for the last eight or nine months found themselves to be without a position. However, that is not a matter for which I can accept full responsibility because these resources were returned to the western provinces before this government assumed office or before I had the honour of administering the affaire of this department. It is a little unusual to hear the ex-minister express such solicitude in view of the fact that no provision to take care of any of these employees was made in the agreements transferring the natural resources to the western provinces, or in the legislation confirming those agreements. It might well have been made the subject of more than discussion; some steps might have been taken to see that these employees were looked after. However, a search of the agreements and legislation discloses nothing providing for these people.
The services of some 591 employees formerly employed in what might be termed the outside services have been dispensed with. Some of them have been taken over by the provinces but there is nothing in the records to show that the former government attempted in any manner to provide for any of them The only thing on the files is a letter written by the former minister expressing the hope that something might be done. [DOT]
Owing to this transfer there is no work for those previously employed in many of the branches of the department. Speaking on this very question on May 1, 1930, the hon. leader of the opposition (Mr. Mackenzie King) said:
I might answer my hon. friend as to the reasons why the government did decide not to
await the answers by the courts before transferring the resources. It was perfectly apparent to the government that the agreements with Manitoba and Alberta would pass, which would mean that so far as the Department of the Interior was concerned that department would more or less pass out of existence.
Mr. Bennett: Functus officio.
Mr. Mackenzie King: Yes, it would practically pass out of existence, t%vo-thirds of it at any rate, and we would be keeping on a department of the government, simply for the purpose of awaiting the answer by the courts. That was one reason.
On May 2, 1930, in replying to a question asked by the hon. member for Argenteuil (Sir George Perley), the hon. leader of the opposition said:
I think I can promise my hon. friend that the number will not be increased. As he is aware, in this house we have passed to-day enactments under which the natural resources of the three western provinces must be transferred to those provinces, as well as certain lands to the province of British Columbia. When that transfer is effected it should be possible to do away entirely with the ministry of the interior. Some reorganization and consolidation will be effected as respects the Department of Immigration, the Department of Indian Affairs, the forestry service and allied branches of the public service.
Those remarks would show that there existed in the minds of the then government an intention to curtail to a great extent the activities of this department. As I stated before, having that in mind, they took no steps whatever to make any provision for these employees.
When the present" government took office this was the first question brought to my attention. Knowing that a great many of these employees would find themselves without employment when the reorganization took place, I addressed a letter to each of my colleagues in the cabinet, asking them and their departments to take care of as many as possible of those employees of the Department of the Interior who might be retired. This letter is dated October 2, 1930, and reads as follows: My dear colleague:
The transfer of the natural resources to the western provinces will render surplus to the future requirements of this department a large number of well-trained and highly skilled officials of extensive departmental experience.
All of these employees have confidently expected to work out their full period of service with the federal government, and have predicated their domestic arrangements on this understanding. If no place can be found for these in the federal public service, the Dominion is obligated to grant pensions or whatever other consideration has been earned under the act under which the employees have been contributing. Those affected have already filed a petition asking for consideration beyond that provided in the existing Superannuation or Retirement Acts.
Department of Interior-Retiring Employees
From this you will see that it is distinctly good business to give precedence to those employees when assistance is required. New work is being undertaken by certain branches of the public service, and in some cases the permanent positions have not been provided in the estimates so there is no vacancy in the establishment to which permanent employees could be transferred. In order to overcome this difficulty I am prepared to authorize a loan of surplus permanent employees of the Department of the Interior up to the end of the present fiscal year, that is until the 31st of March, 1931, the date to which their salaries have been voted, provided, of course, your department undertakes to create positions for their retention after that date. The Civil Service Commission is aware of this and is ready and willing to facilitate such transfers.
If your department needs any assistance might I suggest that you nominate an official to confer with a representative of this department in order that the situation may be carefully analyzed with a view to promoting the transfer of suitably qualified employees from the Department of the Interior.
I have not had a great deal of experience in the public service of Canada, but I find that it is not easy to transfer an employee from one department of the government to another. Many things militate against this being done. First, there is the natural ambition of individuals in other departments; if a position becomes vacant and they are in line for promotion, naturally they wish to secure that position. That applies right down the line until the lowest paid position is the only one available, and an employee, say in the Department of the Interior, who has been receiving a certain salary, is a little loathe to accept so great a reduction. I am not arguing that should a vacancy occur in a department, an employee losing his position in another department should as a matter of course be put into that vacant position, but at least it might fairly be claimed that he should have an equal right to compete for that position with others in the other departments. That would put them on an equal basis, but the departments-and no government is to blame for this-are apparently run as closed institutions or, as one might say, closed competitive institutions so far as the employees are concerned. They are not willing to allow an employee from one department to transfer to another. Further, in many cases an employee in a department such as the Interior department, knowing of a vacancy in another department, prefers tc remain in his own department and to take his chance, rather than to transfer to the other.
This is not a new situation. In the Department of the Interior it had been known for some four years that this reorganization was
bound to occur, and the matter has been very much to the fore this year. I do not suppose any employee in any of the branches of the Department of the Interior has not been for the last year or for at least ten months, fully cognizant that this reorganization was coming.
I have given to the house the events as they have transpired until the present time. We have now entered a new fiscal year and the estimates of the department show that the appropriations are much less. Accordingly, we have to meet that situation. Certain criticisms have been levelled against the department to the effect that these employees have been dismissed in a very cruel manner. They received their notices, it is true. How else could the dismissals have been made except by giving notice to them? The Civil Service Act provides that when an employee's position is abolished or when his services are no longer required, he shall be given a certain leave of absence. Under the present situation in the Department of the Interior, that period of time will extend from two to six months. They are not cut off at a moment's notice; rather, they are given that two to six months' notice during which time their full salary will be paid. The following instructions were given to the various heads of branches of the department when this reorganization was to take place:
In effecting staff reductions to bring the salary list within the limits of the figure set by Treasury Board, the department will work m cooperation with the Civil Service Commission.
In the matter of retention on the staff, regard will then be had for preference in the following order, provided always that no employee will be retained unless efficient to perform the service required,-
That is, efficiency is the first test.
1. Those w'ho enlisted in Canada and saw active service in any theatre of war and who have now domestic responsibilities.
2. Other employees with domestic responsibilities.
3. Those who enlisted in Canada and saw active service in any theatre of war and who have no dependents.
4. Others with no dependents.
Generally speaking it will not be possible to retain any employee who has reached the age of sixty-five years or who has put in the full thirty-five years of service unless such retention is a matter of special necessity to the department.
Following that, conferences were arranged with the heads of the various services, and the matter was fully explained to them. Further, the names of those employees who have been retired or -who have received their notice of dismissal, are listed with the Civil Service Commission for reassignment to any other branch of the government when vacancies
Department oj Interior-Retiring Employees
occur. This is carrying out the law as I understand it and as it is laid down in the Civil Service Act, chapter 22, section 54, which reads:
Any employee holding a permanent position that is to be abolished, or which is no longer required, shall be laid off and his salary discontinued but his name shall be placed, in the order provided by the regulations of the commission. on the list of persons eligible for the class of positions from which he was laid off or for any other position for which he may have qualified.
That has been done in the case of each of the employees who have lost their positions.
I do not think I can add anything further at the present time, but if the question should arise again I am willing to make my position as clear as possible to the house.
Subtopic: STATEMENT BY MINISTER RESPECTING RETIREMENT OF EMPLOYEES OF DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR