May 23, 1938

LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

Will the hon. member permit a question?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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CON

Henry Herbert Stevens

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEVENS:

Yes.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
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LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

Does he believe that to create a preferred condition for transients with respect to works in British Columbia

Unemployed Men in Vancouver

would help the transients problem in that province? I should like to have an answer to the question.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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CON

Henry Herbert Stevens

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEVENS:

I will answer it, very readily and without hesitancy. The first thing that must be done is to see that these men do not go hungry and are not deprived of the ordinary shelter required by human beings. That is the first thing. I recognize the fact that behind all this there are great economic problems facing this and other countries. My complaint and my quarrel, if I may say so, with the government-with parliament, if you like-is that we of the parliament are not tackling the underlying problem. Until we attack the underlying problem and move steadily towards a permanent solution, then obviously we must take the responsibility for the emergencies which face us while we delay doing so. That is the position I take. I say to the minister that we cannot and we dare not in this instance, and in similar instances which first thing we know will arise elsewhere, disregard these things. I deplore leaving the matter until men get desperate and see fit to occupy a hotel. I was shocked when I learned what had happened. It seemed to me that even at desperate local cost an effort should have been made to head off action of that kind. But it has occurred.

I remember a couple of winters ago many of these men used to walk into restaurants, eat their food and then say, "We have no money; what are you going to do about it?" Of course arrests were made, men were sent to prison, and all that sort of thing. But, Mr. Speaker, that is neither allaying the trouble and lessening the discord and bitterness nor finding a solution. I would urge upon the government that it should not try too much the patience of these unfortunate men.

I know what will be said. Some will say that this is really stirring them up. But frankly we have to face the facts in the house. We must be realistic. Where it is known and admitted that there is a body of men who have no just domicile in the city, those men should not be left on the doorstep of the city for maintenance and care. It is not inconsistent with what parliament has done for eight years, namely, to recognize that there is a national emergency in connection with the unemployment problem, and to take up the slack. We have done it, but, as I said a moment ago, the trouble is that we have usually waited until an emergency arose and some violence was shown before stepping in.

That is only encouraging men to indulge in these things. While I am all with the minister that we should not be dragooned into action, if we precipitate action by our negligence and refusal to recognize a situation, then we as the parliament of Canada must take more responsibility than the men themselves.

As one of the hon. members who spoke before me said, the minister should notify the local authorities in British Columbia at once that the federal government will take up the slack in this case immediately and that they have in mind some solution of the problem. It has to be done. These men cannot starve. I can remember in the old days men used to drift off and scatter around the country and get something to do. But those days have passed; men cannot go out now and pick up a job here or there. Our whole economic structure has changed, and these conditions that some people treat somewhat lightly are really more severe than seems to be realized. The great bulk of these men are unable to get work, but they are willing to work and I do not think parliament can sit here and quietly pass over the matter with a disclaimer of constitutional authority.

Hon. NORMAN McL. ROGERS (Minister of Labour): Mr. Speaker, I should like to say at once that there has been no disclaimer on the ground of constitutional authority. That phrase has never been used by me in relation to this matter. As I have stated before to the house, the men who are the subject of this discussion were given employment during the winter months in dominion-provincial forestry conservation projects. They were not paid merely a sustenance allowance; they received thirty cents an hour during t he time they were in the camp,

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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CON

James Earl Lawson

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LAWSON:

How many months would they be there?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

The camps were opened about the middle of October and were closed on April 30. This has been the practice followed in previous years. This project was designed rather as a winter relief project for single homeless men. Some portion of the pay of these men was deferred and made payable to them in the form of post office vouchers after their employment in the camps had ended. Some 4,700 men were sheltered in the camps during the past winter months, which is somewhat less than the number sheltered in similar camps during the previous year. While the hon. member for Kootenay East (Mr. Stevens) was speaking I indicated that the Department of Labour in British Columbia had kept an accurate record of the

Unemployed, Men in Vancouver

men who had passed through these forestry camps. It is a matter of some significance that 2,500 of the men who were in the camps in the previous year did not return this year. Clearly they have either found employment in British Columbia or returned to their homes in other parts of Canada.

I should like to make this point clear. Nothing has been said here this afternoon which would suggest in any way that this government has been indifferent to this special problem. As a matter of fact I am quite sure that I can convince hon. members on all sides of this house that we have dealt with this special problem in a sound and constructive wray. Some time ago we had these large concentrations of single unemployed men in all the cities across this country. You do not find that to-day. During the past year it was only necessary to establish special projects to deal with this problem in the prairie provinces and in British Columbia. In the prairie provinces we used a farm employment plan under which some 45,000 men were placed during the winter months. I have not the actual figures before me, but I want to say that a gratifying proportion of these men have been enabled to remain in farm employment after the government bonus was withdrawn. Some little while ago the mayor of Regina stated that it was apparent that many of these men were remaining with the farmers who had employed them upon the basis of their receiving wages from the crop expected this autumn. The special payments to these men and to the farmers ceased on April 30. Only the other day I received a statement from the Minister of Labour of Manitoba to the effect that just under 3,000 of the young men who had been placed with farmers during the winter months had made wage contracts with those farmers and are to remain in their employ. Our information, which is based upon authoritative grounds, is that the problem of the single unemployed men in the cities of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta is less acute this year than it has been for many years.

Under the plan which gave single men employment in forestry conservation camps in British Columbia we created what might be termed preferred conditions in that province. I am not quarrelling with what was done, but the fact is that we paid the prevailing rates of wages, which was much more than was received by the men working under the farm employment plan in the prairie provinces. In the very nature of things this became known throughout the

I Mr. Rogers.]

prairie provinces and we had a certain movement, particularly from the drought areas and the cities of western Canada, to British Columbia in order that the higher wages might be received in the forestry camps. As I have said, we closed the camps this year in substantially the same manner as they had been closed in other years. They were not continued through the summer months in other years. When the camps were closed the men had deferred vouchers coming to them for a period of weeks.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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CON

James Earl Lawson

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LAWSON:

Approximately what percentage of the wages was deferred?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

I have not the actual

percentage. A man paid seventy-five cents a day for board, and I believe about half of what was coming to him was held back in the form of post office vouchers.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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CON

James Earl Lawson

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LAWSON:

Surely it would not have

been possible for a man to spend half of what he earned between May 1 and May 23.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

The men were not all

continuously employed during the entire period the camps were operated. There was a rotation of the men, but when they left the camps they had some resources in the form of these post office vouchers. We have found from previous experience that this was the best method of dealing with this particular situation. The same thing was done in connection with the closing of the relief camps and the special maintenance work on the railways. I do not think there is any doubt that these men were induced to remain in Vancouver in order that through the strength of numbers and the influence which numbers might bring to bear upon governments, either the forestry camps would be reopened or some special project would be created for their employment. That suggestion is supported by circumstantial evidence. I am not implying that there is anything criminal in that action, in so far as it merely expresses the desire of those men that they should have these special projects provided for them.

As to the question whether or not this government has sought in any way to escape its responsibility for dealing with this question, I should like to make it clear that from the beginning of this month we have been keping closely in touch with the situation. But I am sure it must appeal to the reason of everyone here that those who are actually face to face with the situation- the provincial government, for example, and its officials-who have to deal with this transiency problem from year to year in that

Unemployed Men in Vancouver

province, are in a better position to advise as to the course of policy than we who are three thousand miles away. Mr. Pearson, the Minister of Labour of British Columbia, made a public statement on Tuesday, May 17, with respect to this question. I propose to place this statement on Hansard. It is brief; on the other hand, it is put in very definite, unequivocal terms:

During the winter season of 1937-38 the provincial government in cooperation with the dominion government, have provided relief through our forest development plan to 1,800 single homeless men who were recent arrivals from other provinces and in the province before November 1, 1937.

We believe that during the summer months it is possible for these single men who are our own residents to find sufficient work to provide for themselves during the summer and in many cases also during the winter, but the added burden of the accumulation from other provinces makes it difficult for our own residents to get the work that is available.

The province of British Columbia does not intend to make provincial forest development projects available to those from outside the province next winter, nor to provide any other form of assistance for them.

We feel that it is desirable that the 1,800 men who have been supported in this province during the past winter in forest development projects should return to the province from which they came as rapidly as possible.

In order to make this possible the provincial government will assist those men to return to the province of previous residence, and it is requested that these men make application to 581 Homer street, Vancouver, for such assistance.

That was the statement made by the Minister of Labour of British Columbia. There is nothing in it that is provocative; there is nothing in it that is callous; there is merely the statement that in the view of the government of British Columbia the most sensible way to deal with this situation was to afford transportation to their homes to the former members of the forest conservation camps who had come from other provinces.

I had occasion some time after that statement was made to say that it appeared to be a reasonable way of dealing with the camp situation and that it had my full support as Minister of Labour of the dominion government. I believe that upon reflection one must acknowledge that what we have here to deal with is the problem of transiency. Do you want to take action which is going to increase transiency, or do you want to take action which is going to decrease transiency? If you adopt a certain policy with relation to this matter, if you put transients in a preferred position, or if you place the province of British Columbia with reference

to these men in a preferred position, can anyone urge reasonably that this is going to correct the transiency situation in British Columbia? On the contrary, is it not obvious that to create preferred conditions of that kind in British Columbia will attract transients to that province from other provinces and in the long run you will have an aggravation and not an improvement of the situation? That is why in the opinion of the province of British Columbia the best way to deal with this situation was to afford these men the opportunity to return to their homes so that British Columbia could deal with its own residents, even as other provinces are dealing with their own residents.

I should like to express satisfaction that in the discussion of this question so far there has been no evidence of bitterness or of undue indignation. We have discussed it in a temperate and moderate way. Surely that is the manner in which these questions ought to be discussed. But may I suggest that one does not solve these problems by sudden concessions to immediate demands. You may by such concessions create more difficult problems than those you seek to solve. And if one follows this whole question through, I believe it cannot but be admitted that the proposal made by the Minister of Labour of British Columbia was a sensible proposal in the circumstances, and I feel that those who have urged these men from other provinces to remain in Vancouver under existing conditions have not given good advice.

Before I close I should like to remove any doubt in the mind of any hon. member, particularly of those from the city of Vancouver who have spoken, that there is any lack of sympathetic understanding of this problem upon the part of this government. What I said with reference to our not being influenced with respect to the apportionment of estimates in this or that area or to this or that project because of mass demonstrations or intimidation is a statement which no one can question. A government that surrenders to threats what it cannot concede to reason has already abdicated. That is abundantly clear. We will at all times seek to deal with this question upon a basis of consultation and cooperation with the provincial governments. And we believe that up to this time the measures proposed by the provincial government have been measures which deserve the support of those immediately affected.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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CCF

Charles Grant MacNeil

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

Mr. MacNEIL:

Will the minister permit a question before he completes his statement? In the first place, do his reports indicate

Unemployed. Men in Vancouver

whether or not a large percentage of these men are without relief vouchers which would supply them with food and shelter? Secondly, is it not true that a large number of them cannot designate any home; that they are actually without homes and cannot return to any particular area where they will receive aid in the way either of employment or of relief?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

On that point I have the assurance of the provincial government that when these men entered forestry camps a record was taken of the place from which each one came, and there is every reason to believe that on the basis of those records their transportation can be effected in a way which will safeguard them and the communities concerned. As to the other question, that of relief to be afforded to them in the meantime, that is a question in the nature of things which has to be decided at the instance of the provincial government. As I understand it, the provincial government have made it clear that they are able to deal with those transients, former members of these forestry conservation camps, who were resident within the province, but they have stated at the same time that the non-residents ought to accept the offer of transportation to their homes. When that is done and these men do return to their homes the provinces concerned will be in a position to decide the manner in which they will deal with individual cases.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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CON

James Earl Lawson

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. LAWSON:

Would the minister permit another question? I have to ask it now because it may be that under the rules the minister will not have an opportunity to speak again if someone else gets the floor. There must be data available in the minister's department which would indicate to hon. members who are sincerely seeking information in connection with this situation the average amount of money in deferred pay which these

1,500 men would receive or should have received or have received between the first and the twenty-third of May, if the camps closed on April 30. I would ask the minister to make available to the house any information that his department has of that kind. One factor in our consideration of the degree of sympathy which should be extended to these men would be some indication as to whether their being without food and shelter by the twenty-third of May was justified by circumstances beyond their control.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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IND

Alan Webster Neill

Independent

Mr. A. W. NEILL (Comox-Alberni):

While the treatment I have received from the departments of immigration and fisheries would make me feel like taking advantage of any opportunity to throw bricks at the govern-

ment, yet a saving sense of fairness leads me to say a few words in support of the attitude of the Minister of Labour (Mr. Rogers) although he appears to be abundantly able to take care of himself. It is easy for us here to find fault with the Minister of Labour. He is here, he is before us, and he is at one end of a 3,000 mile string; and we are not in as good a position to know what is going on at the other end as we might be. But I ask myself this question: Does no blame attach to the officials in British Columbia? The minister has been kept informed of what has happened, yes. We can all do that; the newspapers will inform us. But was he not entitled to what I might call "advance information"? People who are paid to be in the position of the Minister of Labour and those under him are supposed to keep their fingers on the pulse of public sentiment whether it be on the street or in labour camps.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

I would certainly not wish to do any injustice to the officials of the Department of Labour in British Columbia. I did inform the house that I had been kept advised of developments in Vancouver through the Minister of Labour of British Columbia. I have been in communication with him by telephone on several occasions and I was aware of the statement he made on Tuesday, May 17, which I have placed on the records of the house.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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IND

Alan Webster Neill

Independent

Mr. NEILL:

Yes. That was made on the eve of a provincial by-election. I was not referring to a statement of what was happening but rather to what was going to happen. Was the minister advised that action of the kind indicated was anticipated?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

The action set forth in this statement? Yes.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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IND

Alan Webster Neill

Independent

Mr. NEILL:

I beg your pardon?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

I say, I was advised that action of the kind set forth in this statement was anticipated. I had no preknowledge of later events that have occurred in the last three days.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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IND

Alan Webster Neill

Independent

Mr. NEILL:

I am not talking about what action the minister would take, but what the men were likely to do.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT
Subtopic:   CONCENTRATION OP SINGLE
Sub-subtopic:   UNEMPLOYED MEN IN VANCOUVER-STATEMENT OF MR. MACINNIS
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May 23, 1938