July 3, 1931

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR


Scientific institutions - expenses connected with the Dominion observatory at Ottawa, $66,880; expenses connected with the Dominion astrophysical observatory at Victoria, B.C., $25,170.


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Mr CHEVRIER:

Mr. Chairman, I inquired of the minister the reason for the dismissal or retirement from the observatory branch of the Department of the Interior, of five employees and on June 22 he informed me that they had been retired so that returned soldiers might be taken into the service. I would like to know why these five permanent employees were retired so that returned soldiers might be taken into the service. I have no objection to returned soldiers being employed, but I would like to know why it was necessary to retire five permanent employees.

Hon. THOMAS G. MURPHY (Minister of the Interior): Mr. Chairman, the Department of the Interior is considered as a unit and when the staff was being reduced in the department it was not divided into water-

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tight compartments. Certain regulations or rules for guidance were laid down and those rules were followed out in all departments.

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LIB

Edgar-Rodolphe-Eugène Chevrier

Liberal

Mr. CHEVRIER:

There may be some

reason for these retirements, but I cannot get it. Apparently there were five people on the outside looking into the service and five permanent employees are retired. There may be a valid reason but up to the moment I have not been able to get it. If the minister will give me an answer which I can understand I am quite willing to allow the item to go through, but until that answer is given I am afraid I will have to oppose this item.

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LIB

Charles Murphy

Liberal

Mr. MURPHY:

I do not know that I can give any further answer to that already given.

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LIB

Edgar-Rodolphe-Eugène Chevrier

Liberal

Mr. CHEVRIER:

It was highly improper that $850,000 should be appropriated for salaries without an investigation as to whether or not that would be sufficient to carry on the service. The observatory does not fall within those branches affected by the transfer of the natural resources. If these men were over the age of sixty-five years and were entitled to superannuation, there might be some reason for their being retired. I have received a letter from the wife of a man who was employed in the observatory, from which I desire to quote certain portions. This letter is dated June 28, and reads:

The whole time my husband worked there everything seemed satisfactory and he has the very best of references from Mr. R. Meldrum Stewart and Mr. J. P. Henderson. It was quite a surprise that he was let out being a returned man with four years service in the army, married, and with two children. It was also very hard on the family as up to date we have not got one cent from the government and as you know we have our rent, gas and light and the usual expenses of living which we cannot meet, as Mr. Pilon has been unable to obtain work elsewhere. Those people do not seem to care who are responsible for the holding up of retirement money. It will not be very much, about $26 a month, $336 yearly as Mr. Pilon was only in the service for eleven years. Up to three weeks ago we managed to get our living but since then we have been getting help from the Red Cross.

What is the sense of such action? There may be some valid reasons why these five men were let out, but in the face of this letter and in the face of the so-called explanation of the minister, I must insist on knowing the reason why Mr. Pilon, if the minister wants the man's name, was retired as one of these five men. I want to know why this man who has a wife and two children living was retired andi replaced Iby another returned man. This may be a joke or something else, but surely the minister has some reason to

give for retiring these five men and replacing them by others.

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LIB

Charles Murphy

Liberal

Mr. MURPHY:

I think I have made the matter quite clear to the committee.

* Mr. CHEVRIER: Not to me.

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LIB

Charles Murphy

Liberal

Mr. MURPHY:

I say I think I have made the matter quite clear to the committee. The transfer of the natural resources to the western provinces certainly reduced the services which the various branches of the Department of the Interior formerly performed. Owing to the transfer of the resources and the consequent reduction in services, numerous employees would be affected. Their positions would be abolished because there was no further work for them to do. When these reductions were being made during the present fiscal year, certain rules were framed on which the departmental heads acted with the knowledge and cooperation of representatives of the Civil Service Commission. In canvassing the situation we might find that certain employees in this branch or that, taking into consideration the department as a whole, would be affected. Certainly they would, whether they were in the geodetic, topographical or some other branch of the service which might not be directly affected by the transfer. But we are taking the department as a whole, not considering any branch as a water-tight compartment with the employees not being directly affected by the transfer, and such employees, being part of the department, enter into the scheme the same as the others. In the carrying out of these rules which were framed for the guidance of departmental heads, these employees were affected just as if they were in another branch which was directly affected by the transfer. I do not think I could make the matter any plainer than that.

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

The minister, in connection with the reduction in staff, made a survey of all the branches of the department?

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Charles A. Stewart

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

No branch was immune? Retirements took place from nearly every portion of the Department of the Interior?

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LIB
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Charles A. Stewart

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

So that in these retirements it would appear there were five from the observatory.

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Charles A. Stewart

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

And those five were replaced from some other branch, the personnel being thus maintained at the same number?

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LIB
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Edgar-Rodolphe-Eugène Chevrier

Liberal

Mr. CHEVRIER:

I am willing to go a considerable distance with the minister; I know he had a very difficult situation to handle which has resulted in a tremendously difficult outcome, not only in this city but throughout Canada and particularly in the western provinces. I am going to repeat: The cat is now coming out of the bag. The reason why large numbers of retirements were made was not because these branches were affected by the transfer of the natural resources, but because the Prime Minister, in order to balance or to endeavour to balance the budget, saw fit to say that instead of granting $1,500,000, fie would grant only $850,000 to the Department of the Interior, and therefore the minister would have to cut his coat according to the cloth. As a result of that, rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, the knife had to be applied somewhere. In the Dominion observatory there was no reason why any reduction should have occurred because the minister himself has said so. As reported on page 1300 of Hansard, when I asked the minister what branches were affected by the transfer of the natural resources, the minister replied that the dbservatory was not affected by such transfer. Nevertheless, they proceed to lop off five of those observatory employees. I have no great quarrel with the fact that they have replaced those employees by five others who were let out from somewhere else, but there was no justification in the first place, under the guise of the transfer of the natural resources, for retiring those five employees and then substituting five others from another branch of the department. I cannot make the situation any plainer; the minister cannot make it any plainer, and I must leave it at his own door to say that the whole thing has been done through lack of proper representation being made. These men have been let out; they have been replaced by other people who have come from within the service. I have no quarrel to find with that but the saving effected is only $4,670. I suppose the minister would say that this great saving is due to the transfer of the natural resources. What I am going to ask the minister is this: "What positions were vacated by these five employees who were let out in the classification of positions in the observatory? Were these positions abolished? Were they of a temporary nature? If they are of a permanent nature, why retire these five employees and substitute others? Is this just a scheme to let these people out and then at a later date endeavour to fill up all these positions with other people?

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LIB

Charles Murphy

Liberal

Mr. MURPHY:

If the hon. member will look at page 86 of the estimates, which we are not dealing with at the present time, he will find at the bottom of the page the explanation of the sum which he mentioned, namely, $850,000. It reads:

The sum of $850,000 is submitted pending the final adjustment of staffs by the department and the Civil Service Commission, owing to the transfer of natural resources, such sum to cover allowances to those who may be retired and salaries of those retained.

Necessarily in making the reduction, the exact amount could not be known or estimated until the situation was fully canvassed and the services which were to be continued were decided on. Then and then only could one know the exact amount which would be required. In the meantime this sum was put in tentatively until that readjustment and reorganization could take place. In this reorganization the department was considered as a unit, and not as a system of watertight compartments. I do not think, Mr. Chairman, that I could make it any plainer to the committee than I have already done.

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LIB

Edgar-Rodolphe-Eugène Chevrier

Liberal

Mr. CHEVRIER:

I take it that the reason why these five employees were let out was not because of the transfer of the natural resources but purely and simply because the minister found himself with an appropriation of $850,000, whereas in the past he had an appropriation of $1,500,000. I would like to ask why one of these employees, a returned soldier by the name of Pilon, was retired to be replaced by another returned soldier.

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LIB

Charles Murphy

Liberal

Mr. MURPHY:

The employees who were notified of their retirement certainly were affected by the transfer of the natural resources in the manner I have indicated. I cannot allow the hon. gentleman to get away with that statement. Certainly they were affected by the transfer of the natural resources because they were in the Interior department and the transfer of the natural resources to the western provinces undoubtedly did affect that department to a very great extent. In the readjustment all employees had to take their chance-shall I say?-of retirement, whether they worked in a branch of the department that was directly affected by that transfer or not. Some branches were, of course, more directly affected in that sense than others, but they should have their rights

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in the service considered in just the same manner as those working in a branch which was not so directly affected by the transfer.

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July 3, 1931