Negotiations are going on among various governments to complete arrangements for an air mail service across the Atlantic, but it is not expected that that will commence this year. I think the expectation last year was that it would commence in 1938.
Have any requests been received from small towns and rural districts to have the post offices remain open for four hours on holidays? In small towns where there are only two mails per week, it does not seem reasonable to have the post office kept open for four hours on holidays when the elevators and stores and everything else in the town are closed. There seems to be some objection to this in the section of the country from which I come, and I was wondering whether any requests had been made along these lines or whether it is just the general policy of the department. Generally, when the mail comes in, the people are there to receive it and the mail is handed out almost immediately. There is absolutely nothing for a postmaster or his helper to stay in t'he post office for and it seems to be a penalty placed on rural and small town post offices that is not at all necessary.
The rule with regard to the small post office is that it must be opened on holidays as well as other days to receive the incoming and to dispatch the outgoing mails. As for the rest of the day, in some of the offices there is a wicket service. If my hon. friend will give me the names of the particular place or places he has in mind, I can probably tell him fairly accurately just what the position is.
Why is it that there is an increase of $2,400 in the expenditure this year over last for the Fort William post office? Is it because Fort William is a growing city, or because of having to staff the new post office?
The increase of $2,400 is made up as follows: two statutory increases of $120 each, two statutory increases of $60 each, and $2,200 to provide for the reestablishment of an assistant postmastership, making a total of $2,580, from which there is a deduction of $180, being the difference between the salary of an employee who left the service and the salary of the employee who replaced him.
Various members of the official opposition have indicated very strongly to-night that during the last administration
contracts were always awarded to the lowest tenderer. I should like to refer to sessional paper No. 126 of the first session of this parliament, which was brought down as a return to an order of the house, and in which the first question asked was this:
According to the records of the Post Office Department, from August 7, 1930, to October 29, 1935, how many times the Postmaster
General exercised the discretionary powers vested in him under section 67 of the Post Office Act, whereby mail contracts are not always awarded to the lowest tenderer.
And the answer to that was 829, so that hon. members who are contending that the last administration always awarded the contract to the lowest tenderer were out just 829 times. The next question was this:
According to the records of the Post Office Department, from August 7, 1930, to October 29, 1935, how many mail contracts were awarded to persons who, not being originally the lowest tenderers, were allowed to reconsider their tender and reduce the figure thereof.
I venture to say that hon. members will be surprised that the number of cases where people were permitted to get the contract under those circumstances was 323. In view of these figures, I would ask the Postmaster General if he has been able to find out from his investigation of the records of the last administration, upon what basis they awarded mail contracts; further, if he thinks this system of allowing people who did not submit the lowest tender to re-tender at the amount of the lowest tender and take the contract away from the lowest tenderer was in accord with the Post Office Act, and whether, in accordance with the Post Office Act, when the lowest tenderer did not get the contract, a return was made to parliament by the Postmaster General indicating why the lowest tenderer in each case did not receive the contract.
During the time I have been in the department I have found my time fairly well occupied with matters that arise from day to day, and I have not the information which my hon. friend asks for, but I suppose it could be obtained. I would suggest to him, however, that I doubt if it would facilitate the passing of the estimates which we have been considering now for some time for us to enter into such a discussion at the moment. I should be glad to obtain any information which the hon. gentleman desires, although he already seems to have provided himself with a considerable amount. I do not think, however, it properly comes under the item under discussion.
If the hon. gentleman who has just spoken on this subject (Mr. Tucker) wished to complete the record, I think he ought to ask the minister how many contracts since he came into office have not gone to the lowest tenderer, and how many instances there have been similar to those mentioned in the return. The explanation in regard to some of these within my own knowledge is perfectly simple. Occasionally the man who has submitted the lowest tender reconsiders it and refuses to enter into the contract when it is offered to him. I am sure the minister has had experiences of that kind. I know I have in the constituency I represent. When the man was asked to take the contract at the amount of his tender, he refused because he had reconsidered the matter and found out that it was not profitable to him to complete the contract. That occurs from time to time.
Now that- we have returned to the subject, I should like to place before the minister one or two representations in connection with rural mail contracts. These contracts contain a clause which permits cancellation of the contract upon, I think, two months' notice. Still, I think a contract ought to be a contract. I know of cases where representations have been made to rearrange routes with a view, upon some pretext or another, to terminating the contract and having new tenders called for. I have called one or two such instances to the attention of the minister and he has looked into them. All I ask is that in other instances of this kind where the contract has been entered into in good faith, where good service is being rendered, and where petitions are presented for a continuance of the service on the lines that have been established, these contracts shall not lightly be set aside simply on a patronage basis or because it is the desire to put up the contract for tender in order to give some other person a chance to tender upon the route. That is all I wish to bring to the minister's attention in connection with these contracts in the constituency which I represent.
As to the other class of cases, where a man was allowed to reduce his tender to the amount of the lowest tender, I do not know of anything of that kind in my constituency. I do not know what the reason might be, but there must be some. Possibly it might occur where a man has a contract and has been giving good service, and somebody has underbid him. Petitions come in asking for the service to be continued under the former contractor at the lower rate. I am sure the minister, if he investigated, would find some special circumstances in these instances. There
is a danger, as the minister knows, in accepting statements of this kind of a rough and general nature, without going into the details. I am sure the hon. gentleman would find out before very long that there are instances where an action of this kind is justified.
First of all, with regard to the notice, there is a clause providing for notice. I recall no instance, in recent years at any rate, where a contract that was being performed well was terminated by exercising the notice in the contract, unless there was a change to be made in the route or the system of routes of which that route was a part. Then, as to contracts not going to the lowest tenderer, the act is imperative that they shall go to the lowest tenderer unless the Postmaster General knows of some reason why it is not in the public interest that they should go to him. The Department of Justice has given a ruling defining what are the instances when the authority under that clause should be exercised. Unsatisfactory service is one.