May 23, 1935

?

Milton Neil Campbell

Mr. CAMPBELL:

And the minister will try to have the information for us by that time.

'Item 9 agreed to.

On schedule A, item 10-Alterations, improvements and additions to public buildings and to supplement where necessary, upon the authority of the governor in council, specific amounts provided in the schedule to The Public Works Construction Act, 1934, $4,000,000.

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LIB

John Campbell Elliott

Liberal

Mr. ELLIOTT:

I wish to say a few words with regard to this item. The minister was good enough recently to let me have a statement which will perhaps facilitate very considerably the discussion of item 10. I regret that he has not been able to do the same in regard to item 9. As the committee are aware, item 10 is for the amount of $4,000,000 to be expended in alterations, improvements and additions to public buildings and to supplement where necessary, upon the authority of the governor in council, specific amounts provided in the schedule to The Public Works Construction Act, 1934.

May I just call attention to what has been done as shown by the statement which the minister has handed to me? The Public Works Construction Act of 1934, it will be remembered, was introduced a few days before the house prorogued and at that time there was no great opportunity for discussing it because it was understood that the house would prorogue about the first of July and there was before us the Election Act, the Bank of Canada Act and considerable other business to dispose of, so the Public Works Construction Act was left to the very last moment. The list of 185 items contained in the act of last year contained two or three items in regard to which, in view of what has transpired, I think the administration deceived the committee. May I just mention one or two?

Take first the customs building at Centre-ville, New Brunswick, on the boundary. I know practically nothing about the necessity for this particular building because there was no inquiry made last year. The legislation was just hurried through and there was less objection to these specific items than there was to the large general items that were included in the appropriation. But here we have this customs building on the boundary at a cost of $5,000. I think that every member of the committee understood at that time that that was to be the price for the building. But now we find that that $5,000

Public Works Program

has been supplemented by $11,000 to be taken out of this grant, and I say that that is not treating the committee fairly.

There are some other items for additions to considerably larger buildings. 1 want to be reasonable about the matter, but I do not think it is possible to estimate too accurately what any particular building is going to cost. It was estimated that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police barracks at Edmonton would cost $200,000 but it has been necessary to provide an additional $80,000 from this vote of $4,000,000. An ordnance building for Halifax was estimated to cost S500.000. This was quite a substantial amount but it has been found necessary to supplement it, not by $50 000 or $100,000 but by $400,000. There is a more striking instance in connection with a building for customs and immigration purposes at St. Stephen, New Brunswick. It was originally estimated that this building would cost $75,000 but it has been found necessary to supplement this amount by $100,000. Another instance is in connection with a building for immigration and customs purposes at Huntingdon, British Columbia. The original estimate for this building provided for $3,500. Apparently it was to be a small customs building but I find that that amount has been supplemented by an amount of $35,500.

Such action is not fair to the committee which passed these estimates last year. I do not intend to take up much time in arguing this matter as I know very little about the locations of these various buildings. Hon. members who come from the districts in which the buildings are situated would be better able to speak in that regard, but I offer these instances as examples of what happens when a large amount of money is placed at the disposal of the minister. We had an example this afternoon of the claims made upon the minister when he is given large amounts of money to spend. I do not think the committee was treated quite fairly by having these items put in in that way. The minister will no doubt reply that that always happens but I would point out that that is not the fact. I should like to quote a statement of his to be found on page 4299 of Hansard of last year, as follows:

There is attached to the bill a schedule which sets out in detail the -works that are proposed, with a general item which is calculated to enable the departments to put every public building in the Dominion of Canada in first class repair, including painting, plumbing, heating, -wiring and so on. Then there is a similar vote for improvements to wharves and other structures in the harbours. It has been found that some of these wharves

are not adequate for present needs. Some of them require strengthening, owing to the increasing use of trucks which has resulted in heavier loads passing over the wharves, and a survey is being made with a view to bringing them up to present requirements. In addition recent storms on the Atlantic have made repairs necessary in many instances, and this vote will provide funds for these purposes.

It will be noted that the phrase "and construction of new buildings" was tacked on to item 135 of the schedule. My memory is that that was added the night we tried to adjourn but did not succeed.

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CON

Hugh Alexander Stewart (Minister of Public Works)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEWART (Leeds):

That is not in

this year.

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LIB

John Campbell Elliott

Liberal

Mr. ELLIOTT:

No and I hope it is not in because of the abuses which occurred as the result of its having been inserted at the last moment last year. I do not think such a clause was in the mind of the minister when he spoke on the second reading of the bill on June 26. Such a clause represents the thin end of the wedge. I do not think such action assists the party to which the minister belongs and it certainly does not assist in the administration of this department. I suggest that this plan be not followed in the future.

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CON

Isaac Duncan MacDougall

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MACDOUGALL:

When the hon. member was Minister of Public Works did he have knowledge of a vote of $52,000 for a public building in Hawkesbury?

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LIB

John Campbell Elliott

Liberal

Mr. ELLIOTT:

It went through the estimates in the regular way.

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CON

Isaac Duncan MacDougall

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MACDOUGALL:

No, it did not.

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LIB

John Campbell Elliott

Liberal

Mr. ELLIOTT:

What year was that?

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CON

Isaac Duncan MacDougall

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MACDOUGALL:

1926, when the hon. member was minister.

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LIB

John Campbell Elliott

Liberal

Mr. ELLIOTT:

What is the complaint?

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CON

Isaac Duncan MacDougall

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MACDOUGALL:

The building was never constructed although it was promised by you and by your party.

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LIB

John Campbell Elliott

Liberal

Mr. ELLIOTT:

Then there could have been no waste of public money.

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CON

Isaac Duncan MacDougall

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MACDOUGALL:

But there was a waste in public futility and truth.

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CON

Hugh Alexander Stewart (Minister of Public Works)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEWART (Leeds):

I am glad I can give the committee more information in connection with this matter than I could in connection with the last matter brought up. I gave my hon. friend certain information and he has made reference to the striking items contained therein. The Public Works Construction Act of last year contained a schedule made up of a large number of items but it must be remembered that in the time at the

Public Works Program

disposal of the departmental architects they were not able to make accurate estimates of the costs of these various buildings. Most of their time was taken up in preparing estimates of the oosts of the works included in the regular program and in some cases these buildings were placed in the schedule without that complete and accurate information which would enable a definite estimate of the cost to be made. In some instances it was found that the building was not adequate, perhaps the customs department would require more space than had been provided, and the result was that $2,730,000 was required out of this vote to supplement these items. I think it should be pointed out to the committee that in other instances the estimated cost was greater than the final cost. The decreased costs almost balance the increased 'costs, but in order to complete these buildings we must have these amounts. I might tell the committee that there is another building in connection with which we may require an additional amount, the building to be erected in the city of Victoria. So that we are accounting for the greater part of this building with these specific amounts in the statement given to my hon. friend amounting to $2,730,100. That will foe increased somewhat because some of the tenders are not yet in and we do not know what the amounts will be. We have reason to anticipate that in some cases they will exceed the amount in the schedule. My hon. friend will agree with me, I think, that during the past- few years there has been an accumulation of deferred maintenance in public buildings. We did set out to put them in good repair, all of them, and that work has been carried on, as most hon. members know, and the buildings in their towns have been put in a pretty good state of repair. But there are still some that have not been so treated and the balance of this vote will probably be required for that purpose. It may not require all, but there is substantial work to be done in that direction, work that is not completed. With that information I might confidently ask the committee to pass the item.

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LIB

John Campbell Elliott

Liberal

Mr. ELLIOTT:

No new buildings will be

constructed out of this $4,000,000?

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CON

Hugh Alexander Stewart (Minister of Public Works)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEWART (Leeds):

I am glad to

tell my hon. friend that that item is not in the bill. It caused me a good1 deal of trouble and it is not in the bill this year. No new buildings will be constructed out of this item.

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

I have a

question to ask but I doubt whether it should be directed to the Public Works

department; probably the Defence department would be the proper place to make the inquiry. However, perhaps the minister can tell me. He will remember that last year considerable sums of money were voted for Calgary, for the construction of barracks, stables and so on. My first complaint is that public tenders are not being asked for these buildings and therefore it is difficult to say whether or not they are being constructed at reasonable cost. There is going on at the present time in Calgary, if it is not already completed, the levelling of a landing field and I am given to understand that the work is under contract; and while there are at least three or four hundred idle men standing around in Calgary, my information is that the contractor has been allowed to purchase a very efficient levelling machine operated by a few men, with the result that the levelling is done very rapidly. Now the object of this whole vote is, I understand, to give employment; it is not to permit contractors to purchase very modern machinery with which they can rapidly complete the work, thus making no contribution to the provision of employment for idle men. That was going on in Calgary when I was there a short time ago. It does seem to me to be a mistaken policy. Surely the government is taking precautions to see that these works provide the greatest amount of employment. Not only that, but excavating is being done with steam shovels. Surely in times like these, if the object is to relieve unemployment, men should be given work with picks and shovels. It will cost more money, but the country is spending large sums on relief and it would be very much better to give employment to the men and enable them to preserve their self-respect. I know that has not been the rule in connection with the works in the parks under the Interior department, because they have been carrying on very much as they did in the past and are not employing machinery. In one of the localities in my constituency a large number of men have moved from the south and gone into the bush, and I notice a report from my leader's constituency that complaint has been made that the government-not this government but the provincial government-might very well employ these men on building a road, improving roads and constructing new roads into the localities in which they have taken up their lands. The answer I received when I complained to the provincial government was that the work could be done very much better and more cheaply with machinery, and that it was really cheaper to do the work

Public Works Program

with the machinery and keep on paying doles to the people to keep them alive. I protested there and1 I protest here against that sort of thing being done at this time. So far as Calgary is concerned, it is directly under the control of the federal government and apparently no restraint is placed on the contractor to have this work done by hand labour; instead he purchases a $35,000 machine that will displace 125 men daily. As I say, I do not know whether this is the department to which I should protest, but I do want to register a very vigorous protest first, against the system which the department has followed, of asking only a select list of contractors to tender on buildings, and then the failure to make provision to ensure that they shall not use all these modern machines and so cut out labour, particularly at a time like this. This applies to the federal government, and I simply mention the other thing as having come directly under my observation. It seems a crime that a hundred families should be kept on relief

when they might have employment and so preserve their self-respect.

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CON

Hugh Alexander Stewart (Minister of Public Works)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEWART (Leeds):

My hon. friend

has very fairly presented the problem from his standpoint, which is perhaps not different from the standpoint from which we have to approach it in the department. The particular work to which he refers is not under the control of the Public Works department but under National Defence. We have adopted in many instances the plan of inviting alternative tenders for excavation to be done by hand labour or in any way the contractor chooses. Sometimes we find the difference in cost to be considerable, and there is always the conflicting interest of having public works done as cheaply and economically as possible and, on the other hand, the desire to employ as large a number of men as possible at this time in doing the work. There is a division of opinion in that regard. Excavation by hand labour involves delay, though it employs a considerable number of men in some cases. Sometimes a steam shovel operates to very much greater advantage because of the obstructions that are found in the excavation. Where we can, without unduly increasing the cost, have excavation done by hand labour, we have adopted that course. But that has led to protests from unions of organized labour, who say, "You are holding up the work; you are not getting on with it and you are holding it up for weeks while mechanics are standing around. Why don't you go ahead and get it out and let us get to work"? The matter is not as simple as it looks; the conflicting

factors are there. I agree with my hon. friend, however, that where, without unduly increasing the cost or delaying the work, excavations can be made by hand it is desirable at this particular time to have this done.

As to the other matter, the invitation of tenders, there is a difference of opinion about that. There is a feeling all over the country that the contractors and the supply of labour and material should be confined to the locality in which the work is being carried on. Contractors in certain areas say that public tenders result in unfairness, hardship to them. They say that large firms that have secured contracts in other places for big amounts have an advantage; that they can come in and tender an amount which, although not very much less than that submitted by the local contractor, is just sufficient to take the work away from him. They say that these larger firms just cut the price fine enough to make it impossible for a local contractor to do the work. That has to be taken into consideration on the very same basis as that on which my hon. friend is placing the claim of the unemployed. These are local unemployed contractors or unemployed staffs of the smaller local contractors. There is a sentiment both in the house and out of it that even though the work does cost a little more, these local contractors should be taken care of. Some say that it should not be taken out of the province involved, for instance, that it is not fair to allow a contractor, say in Alberta, to do work in any other province. I do not share that view. This is public money, and strictly speaking any person in the dominion should have the right to tender on a public work; but local conditions, the times and the unemployment situation make it necessary in some cases to depart from that strict rule. There is however one rule that I think I may say is strictly observed and that is being sure of reasonable competition and that the cost of the work is not unduly enhanced by limiting the tenders to a selected list in the locality where the work is being carried on.

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

May I say to the minister that I am not particularly enamoured of the explanation he gives. In the first place it does not help the local situation one iota who gets the contract if a provision is inserted in it that the excavation and other work shall be done by employing in the district. That is a very simple insertion to make in any contract. In the second place, when my hon. friend tells me that the intention is to protect local contractors, I am bound to have the opinion

Public Works Program

that when two or three local contractors are invited to tender, it is not a very hard matter for them to get together, and the whole trouble is that labour does not get the money; it never gets it. Whatever the profits are, they go into the pockets of the contractor. If you submit to public competition, I do not care whether it comes from any part of Canada, you are in a much better position to defend yourselves than under the present system that has been pursued by this government with respect to not only the regular work of the department but the unemployment relief moneys as well. What on earth are we voting these moneys for? It is for the purpose of giving employment to people who cannot secure work to maintain themselves. Therefore I do not see anything in the argument of the minister that to confine the invitation of tenders to two or three local contractors is of any advantage for the purpose for which the vote is made or to the department itself. I am bound to think such a method will cost more money in the long run, and when that is coupled with the employment of every kind of machinery for the purpose of excavating, of course labour suffers and must undoubtedly suffer.

The minister states that other organizations, the mechanical organizations, are standing around protesting against delay in excavation. Unless the excavation is a tremendously big one, it means a matter of only eight or ten days' difference whether the excavation is done by hand labour or by machinery. It is true that excavation work can be done much more quickly with a steam shovel, and more cheaply; we do not deny that for a moment, but in times like these when we have so many unemployed men, these steam shovels should be abandoned altogether on government work. This is not a private undertaking; it is the spending of money voted for one specific purpose, namely, for relief. I just want to register the strongest kind of protest against the method by which the government are carrying on this work.

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CON

Charles-Philippe Beaubien

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BEAUBIEN:

In the statement which the minister has given to the ex-Minister of Public Works concerning item 10, $4,000,000, I find $235,000 additional for the public building in Winnipeg which was estimated under the 1934 act to cost $1,500,000, and $15,000 extra for addition to the post office in Winnipeg, which in the 1934 act was estimated to cost $250,000. May I ask the minister whether in the $4,000,000 item those are the only amounts that will be expended in Manitoba?

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May 23, 1935