February 25, 1938

LIB

Charles Gavan Power (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

I have not the faintest idea. Unless a man is a pensioner we have no trace of him. There were 600,000 soldiers who enlisted and I should say that probably three or four hundred thousand of them were married. Most of these men will leave widows when they die.

To continue my argument: If this means that the widows of men who were not pensioned during their lifetime are to be looked after, then it is asking parliament to take a long step in the setting up of a new class of state pensioner. If it means that it shall apply only to the widows of those who received pensions, then perhaps there is more logic in the position. I believe Australia grants to the widow the same pension as that enjoyed by her husband during his lifetime.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

In some cases it is half.

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LIB

Charles Gavan Power (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

In some cases it is half. Does any hon. member believe that if we granted to the widow of a man who had been in receipt of a pension of $3.50 or $7.50 or $10 just the amount her husband received, she would not ask us to bring her allowance up to a reasonable maintenance rate? I do not think any hon. member will suggest that we should continue a pension if it is lower than a decent living rate.

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CON

John Ritchie MacNicol

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MacNICOL:

Did the minister not say, and is it not a fact, that the widows of soldiers who received less than an eighty per cent pension- receive nothing?

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LIB

Charles Gavan Power (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

Not at all. I do not think my hon. friend has understood the principles of the Pension Act. I believe the house will agree that it is not reasonable to award to the widow of a pensioner more than the man received himself during his lifetime. After all, he is the one who suffered, he is the one who went overseas and he is the one who put up with life in the trenches.

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CON

Alfred Johnson Brooks

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BROOKS:

Does he not receive a pension for the protection of his family? Is that not the idea?

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LIB

Charles Gavan Power (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

No, and I shall come to that in a moment. A pension is granted on the basis of disability incurred on service and not on the basis of need. We would be changing the whole principle if we awarded pensions on the basis of need. My right hon. friend recognizes that fact when he states quite positively that this is a pension on the basis of means test. Am I right in making that statement?

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

That was the view I was putting forward. It has been submitted to me that some of these unfortunates find themselves in absolute want. Because of their want they ask that they should 'be treated in the same way as soldiers are treated in connection with the veterans' allowance. Have I made myself clear?

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LIB

Charles Gavan Power (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

I will not go as far as my right hon. friend and say that the veterans' allowance is awarded entirely on the basis of need; it is awarded on the assumption that a man's service hastened his unemployability.

I do not know of any proposal that has come before this department or parliament in the last few years that appeals more to the ordinary man on the street or to anyone connected with the whole soldier problem. However, I think we should understand just where we are going with a proposal such as this. My right hon. friend the leader of the opposition is the only one who has referred to the means test. If this proposal is accepted it will mean that no matter what is the cause of death, whether due to a pensionable disability or otherwise, irrespective of the financial circumstances of the widow, irrespective of the date of marriage, irrespective of the financial condition of the person who died, we will be granting a pension and making a ward of the state of the widow of every man who served overseas.

It has never been suggested in any special committee of the house that has sat in the last few years that we should carry out such a principle, but it has been suggested that the widows of men who were in receipt of pensions of fifty per cent and over should receive a pension. It was contended that it was sometimes difficult to prove that a man had died as a result of his war disability *and that the presumption should be that if he died, it was as a result of his disability. Our legislation provides that the widow of a man in receipt of eighty per cent pension shall receive a pension, no matter from what cause the man died. The principle there is

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S18 COMMONS


Supply-Pensions-European War that the man was so badly disabled that there was a possibility that his physical condition must have been a very important factor in his decease, even though he might have died as a result of an accident. It was not considered right to place the widow in the position of having to prove that death was due to his disability. I cannot recall any representations having been made until this year that the widow of every pensioner should be pensioned. I have no doubt that there are many widows, in the soldier group as well as in the civilian group, who are left without adequate means of support. However, when it is considered seriously, I doubt if anyone will lay down the proposition that the widow of a war veteran should be pensioned simply because he served in the army. This is going far beyond any suggestion of a service pension for those who served overseas. There are many pathetic cases, and I think I could recite just as many, if not more than any hon. member of the house. A widow will write to me and say that her husband has died recently, that he was a soldier with good service overseas. She says she is sixty years of age, too young for an old age pension and too old to take a job. She wants to know what we are going to do. There is no answer I can give her except that her case should be looked after in the same way as that of any ordinary civilian Much as I sympathize with her, that is the only answer I can make. I shall be glad to get an expression of opinion from hon. members after they have been fully seized of all the implications of this proposal. If parliament decides that these widows should be placed on the pension roll of the state, then I think we will have great difficulty in refusing any demand whatsoever made by soldiers who served overseas. I do not see how we could refuse the man who served overseas anything at all in the way of a living wage, maintenance allowance, revenue, pension or bonus, whatever you want to call it. We have been asked to allow the rate laid down in the Labour Gazette, while other suggestions have been that we should pay a bonus of $2,000 or S4.000. We could not refuse anything to the man who served overseas once we carry out the recommendations of this association of widows.


SC

John Charles Landeryou

Social Credit

Mr. LANDERYOU:

Does the minister

suggest that we should refuse to meet the legitimate needs of people who are suffering?

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LIB

Charles Gavan Power (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

I am not talking about

legitimate needs. I am saying you cannot refuse him anything he asks for, because he will always be able to show some need for it,

if you begin to give it to those who have less claim than he has. I have every sympathy for the widows, but I consider it my first duty to look after the soldiers who went overseas, and their dependents. After that is done I have no objection to looking into any further questions. I repeat, the department and the pension commission can do nothing to meet this claim, but if parliament in its wisdom decides that there must be legislation, parliament should say so, and then we shall know just what it means.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

I think parliament has,

time after time, declared against the awarding of a mere service pension, and I have not suggested that a service pension should be awarded to the widow and dependents of any soldier merely because he did see service. That was not the point as I understood it. But these widows and children, the one class desiring sustenance and the other education, have submitted that rather than take relief from communities, many of which cannot provide it for them, there is a duty resting upon the state to provide for them at least sustenance and support for themselves and their children because it was the war that deprived them not only of the company and consort of a husband but also of the earning power of the head of the house. That is the position as I understand it, as it was put to me.

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LIB

Charles Gavan Power (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

Of course my right hon.

friend understands that if that were so, if it were the war that deprived them of the sustenance provided by the person upon whom they depended, they would be entitled to pension.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Then I must add this rider: They are unable to establish that death was the direct result of service in the war. Otherwise the husband would have been pensionable in his lifetime and they would be entitled in any event to receive a pension. But it is because they are satisfied, as the community is, in common with all others, that what the soldier went through brought about premature death, which premature death imposed upon them a responsibility with respect to the support of themselves and the sustenance and education of their children which they cannot discharge, that they now make this claim. If they had any means with which to discharge their responsibilities I certainly would not make the claim that I suggest, but inasmuch as we have taken steps to provide, through the war veterans' allowance, sustenance for the soldier who is burnt out and unable to care for himself, the contention is that as the soldier is no longer here and is unable to provide for his wife and family, a

Supply-Pensions-European War

similar principle should be applied with respect to them rather than that they should be compelled to go upon relief, which they think is not consonant with the ideas put forward at the time their husbands enlisted. That is the story, as I understand it.

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LIB

Charles Gavan Power (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

I think my right hon. friend has stated the case absolutely fairly. That is the story, but as I said a moment ago I am not sure just how far it goes or just what the demands are because I have not as yet received officially any demand. I hope that will not be considered an invitation to send me any. I have not, at all events, received any definite request.

Perhaps these figures may be of some value to the committee. As of September 30, 1937, there are disability pensioners to the number of 79.882; disability pensioners' wives, who receive some assistance, 57,316, and these, of course, would all be eligible under any legislation which might be passed to look after war widows because they would be such if the husband died a pensioner.

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CON

Norman James Macdonald Lockhart

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LOCKHART:

Does that figure of 79,000 represent eighty per cent?

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LIB

Charles Gavan Power (Minister of Pensions and National Health)

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

No, all of them. Then there are disability pensioners' children to the number of 83,061, and these also would be entitled to something, I presume, under the suggestions which have been made this afternoon. There are disability pensioners' other relatives to the number of 1,382; and widowers' allowances, 513. Those make up a total of 222,154 people who are being looked after in one form or another at the present time. There are also dependent pensioners' widows, parents and orphan children to the number of 18,076; dependent pensioners' children, 3,275; and other relatives in addition to the main dependents, 1,461; making a total of 22,812, or a grand total of 244,966 people being looked after at the present time; and with supplementary British and allied pensions the number would be 245,309. I would say that that number would be almost doubled if the suggestions that have been made were carried out in a way to meet the wishes of those who are at present urging them upon the government.

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CCF

Charles Grant MacNeil

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. MacNEIL:

I think it would be a great pity if the impression got abroad from the remarks of the minister that the sentiments expressed this afternoon were entirely due to agitation by any particular organization. It is true that representations have been made by different organizations, but I think every hon. gentleman has been faced with the distressing experience in his own community of attempting to explain to the widow of an ex-

51352- 52*

service man why she cannot secure any form of further assistance from the federal government. The pathetic need in this regard has been apparent on every hand, and in my opinion it is a problem for which we cannot disclaim responsibility.

I am sorry that the minister brought up the old bogey of deathbed marriages because, as far as I am aware, no hon. member has proposed any change in the deadline from January 1, 1930.

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February 25, 1938