May 24, 1939

LIB

Stephen Joseph Furniss

Liberal

Mr. FURNISS:

I took the trouble to look up Hansard for these years, and I did not find a single occasion during those five years when he ever suggested anything to the Postmaster General on behalf of the rural mail carriers, or any denunciation by him of the contract system, notwithstanding, as 1 understood from an hon. member this winter, that it was a pre-election promise of the Conservative party that something would be done on behalf of the rural mail carriers if that party were returned to power. I think it was Erastus Wiman who said once that if a man were fooled once it was the other man's fault, but if he were fooled twice it was 'his own fault. I do not think the rural mail carriers are going to be fooled again by election propaganda such as that.

Coming back to the question of rural mail carriers, I have had some experience both in extensions and having routes established, and in some instances where routes were put up for tender. The hon. member for Grey-Bruce said that in many instances the route was under-bidden by someone who knew little or nothing about the cost. That may be so but I have in mind one or two routes in my riding that were put up for tender for good cause, and the lowest bidder in both instances was the man who had held the route for years before. In one instance he held it at, I believe, $94S and bid it in at 1480. In another instance he had held the contract for years at $781, and he bid it in at 8400 and in both cases the next lowest tender was for $700. Those men knew what it cost to run that route. I do not say that they did not take it too cheaply, but if they did, it was their own fault.

I have in mind, as well as the plight of the rural mail carriers who are in many instances underpaid, the condition of the farmers along the route who are served by the carriers and who are also underpaid, by no choice of their own.

I believe if the system were changed and put on a $40 per mile basis, as suggested, that a great many people will never enjoy rural delivery where as under the contract system new routes would be established, and further that many routes now being operated must of necessity be abandoned because the service would not warrant the increased cost of delivery.

[Mr. Furniss.l

I have assisted in having several routes established in my riding. Each time an application was made an inspector was sent in, who went over the route and ascertained the number of patrons per mile. If the number were not up to the required standard he would ask the sponsors of the route to guarantee a price at which the route could be carried on, and if that price were within reason the route was advertised for tender. I have in mind two particular routes, one of which went at $20 a mile and the other at $25. If a price of $40 a mile had been set, neither of these routes would have been established, nor would any of the routes in the thinly settled parts of my riding. Whatever the minister has in mind concerning this matter, I hope he will not set a price so high that it will be prohibitive so far as the more thinly settled portions of my riding and others in the northern part of Ontario are concerned.

Most of these routes are only part-time jobs. I have in mind the route that serves my home. It was operated for some twenty-four years at $800 a year, and is about a twenty-five mile route. The man operating it was a farmer, a building contractor, an agent for builders' supplies and so on, and there were in the village other men, practically on the verge of relief, who wanted a chance to tender on the contract. So, in justice to those who wanted a chance to bid on it, I asked that the route be put up for tender. The contract was let at $600 a year, and it has been operated at that price for two years. On different occasions I have asked the contractor if he was satisfied, and he said he was perfectly satisfied with what he was getting. So I think in connection with many of these routes that were let twenty-four or twenty-five years ago, when wrork was plentiful, there can be no complaint if other people, who find themselves up against it, want a chance to bid. I believe they should be given a chance to tender on the route.

That is all I desire to say at the present time. I think it would be a mistake to change the present system. So far as patronage goes, I do not think the rural mail delivery system will ever be further from patronage than it is at the present time. In each instance the contract goes to the lowest tenderer. It has been stated to-night that this is not so in all instances, but this has happened on every occasion in my riding, and there has been no interference whatever on my part with departmental routine.

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CON

Alfred Johnson Brooks

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BROOKS:

I desire to endorse much

of what has been said with regard to rural mail carriers. I come from a distinctly rural constituency in which there are a great many of these public servants. I do not endorse what has been said in a political partisan manner to-night, nor do I intend to enter into any controversy along that line. I am sure every member of this house could rise in his place and give personal experiences with regard to patronage, taking up a great deal of the time of this committee. As I understand, however, that is not the purpose' of this discussion, which is to see if any assistance can be given the rural mail carriers, having regard to those whom they serve.

The first consideration in the carrying of his majesty's mail should be the service that is given the public. I know that in many instances, although a rural mail carrier may be popular on his route and give splendid service, when the contract expires the route is put up for tender and he loses the position to someone else who does not always give such good service. I do not consider this to be in the best interests of the public. When we have good rural mail carriers, there should be some system under which these better men might be retained. We speak of the system under which these men carry on. The mail carriers in the cities are civil servants. I am satisfied that if their positions were put up for tender every four years we would have the same vicious practice in the cities that we have in the country districts. If it is fair that the city mail carriers should be under the civil service commission; if the public is given better service under this system, it seems to me some system which would be just as satisfactory could be worked out for the country districts. As the hon. member for Grey-Bruce said a moment ago, the time will come when we shall have to work out in connection with the rural mail delivery some system that will be more satisfactory not only to the carriers but also to the public whom they serve.

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LIB

Thomas Reid

Liberal

Mr. REID:

Would the hon. gentleman be in favour of putting under the civil service commission the 12,000 men who are doing this work at present?

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CON

Alfred Johnson Brooks

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BROOKS:

I am not suggesting any particular system; I am saying that the present system is not satisfactory to the rural mail carriers themselves. It is not fair, and I do not think it is in the best interests of the public. Whether they should be put under the civil service commission; whether the rate should be set at so much a mile or whether a commission should be appointed to look into the matter and work out a better system is

something that will have to be decided. Some years ago I was a rural school inspector, and I know something of the hardships which these men endure during the winter. I used to admire the tenacity with which they stuck at their work and served the public in all kinds of weather, and I believe this government and the country should give careful consideration to this question. The matter is brought up every year; hon. members on one side twit hon. members on the other about not having done anything when they were in power, but that is not going to solve the problem. This must be a problem, judging by the fact that year after year members of all political complexions bring up this question; and if it is a problem, it is our duty as a parliament to try to solve it in some way that will be satisfactory to the people concerned and to the general public.

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Robert McKenzie

Mr. McKENZIE (Lambton):

I have no desire to delay the passing of this item, but I want to commend the Postmaster General for having extended to the rural mail carriers the holidays of which they were deprived. I think that was coming to them, because they do their work satisfactorily and give good service in all kinds of weather and over all kinds of roads.

I am inclined to think the hon. member for Lanark and the hon. member for Leeds, in speaking about the patronage system, must have had in mind some previous administration, because my experience has been that when a route is advertised it goes to the lowest tenderer. Any member who would willingly want to have a tender opened under those conditions is just asking for trouble; that is all. I cannot think of any man who would want to do it. I was also surprised at the devious routes through which the hon. member for Leeds weaved round. I never thought of those ideas at all.

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CON

Hugh Alexander Stewart

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEWART:

The hon. member has not had the experience I have had.

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Robert McKenzie

Mr. McKENZIE (Lambton):

My experience is that the Post Office Department has insisted on giving contracts to the lowest tenderer, if he is capable and efficient.

I believe, however, that the tender system is not satisfactory. In many ways it is not fair. Some mail carriers going out of the same postal stations and doing the same work do not receive the same rates per mile. It may be urged that this is the fault of the carrier. That may be so, in some respects, but we must not forget that some mail carriers have been carrying mail since the inception of the service, and that contracts have been renewed every four years without

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variation. The carriers who have been operating for some time have satisfactory contracts. Then, through sickness, death or for some other cause-political, if you like-vacancies occur and, through advertisement, cheap contracts are obtained. There should be some method of standardizing rates throughout Canada. I am sure the officials of the Post Office Department are aware of the circumstances, and that they have been giving the matter serious consideration. I have heard this question threshed out before by rural mail carriers' associations, who had no thought of political affiliation at all. I know the department has been giving the matter consideration. I am inclined to favour the suggestion of the hon. member for Grey-Bruce to the effect that a committee of some kind should study the matter impartially and submit a report. Perhaps action of that kind would go a long way towards arriving at a satisfactory solution of this problem.

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CON

George James Tustin

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. TUSTIN:

Mr. Chairman, I do not wish to take up the time of the committee at length but desire merely to join with hon. members who have spoken on behalf of rural mail carriers, and to urge upon the minister the necessity of endeavouring to do something to rectify conditions as they are to-day.

One point, however, that I should like to bring to the attention of the minister, is that I believe in Canada many persons are being discriminated against. In the cities the mail carriers bring mail to the homes two or three times a day. In the rural parts of the country the rural mail carriers bring mail once a day to the homes. But there are many people located in the small towns who are discriminated against, inasmuch as they have to go to the post office to get their mail. In many instances they have to walk a mile or a mile and a 'half to the post office, and back. Not only that, but in those offices boxes are rented to persons residing in the community.

As I see it, the discrimination is that those people have to walk great distances for their mail and, in addition, have to pay box rental. It may be urged that they are given a service, in that they may enter the office at any time and take their mail from the box. I would point out to the minister, however, that the post office staffs in those communities benefit greatly by that system. If those boxes were not used by the general public, there can be no doubt that in all post offices in towns the staffs would have to be considerably increased. I would suggest that the minister consider doing away with charging fees for boxes in small towns.

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CON

Gordon Graydon

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GRAYDON:

I know the minister wishes to make a statement before the committee rises, and for that reason anything I shall say will 'be brief. It is obvious from the discussion that 'has taken place to-night and that which has taken place on previous occasions in committee, that all is not well so far as the rural mail couriers in Canada are concerned. It has 'been suggested in some quarters that the low pay received by rural mail couriers in many instances amounts to a national disgrace, and I believe that is a suggestion to which some hon. members in the committee would readily subscribe.

I have some confidence in the new Postmaster General who, for the first time, is piloting his estimates through the committee. I think he might be able to put a very fine feather in his cap if he firmly rejects the advice of people to appoint a commission to deal with this urgent problem. Already we have had too many commissions in Canada. There is too much delegation of authority to other people. I should like to see the Postmaster General the first one in this government-and he would be almost the first-to tackle and solve an important problem in our Canadian affairs. May I suggest that he tackle at once the problem of the compensation of rural mail couriers? A successful solution* of this problem would bring to him the thanks and gratitude of the people of Canada.

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

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

Mr. COLDWELL:

Representing a rural constituency, I should like to endorse the sentiments expressed by some other hon. members. I believe the contract system of letting mail contracts often works a great hardship on the man who gets one. On many occasions people take those contracts for less than the amount for which the work could be decently done, and I should like to see the Postmaster General devise a new way of appointing the carriers.

While I am on my feet I should like to endorse the sentiment expressed earlier by the hon. member for Grey-Bruce. Sometimes dismissals and replacements work hardships on people established in communities. I have in mind two instances in my own constituency, one at Delisle and the other at Tessier.

I know that in each instance a hardship was worked on people who had given some favourable service to the government of Canada. In a reply he brought down, the Postmaster General was frank enough to say that there had -been no complaint, but that the change had been made on the recommendation of the defeated candidate in the constituency.

I would suggest that the whole matter of the

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appointment of rural mail carriers 'be looked into, with a view to devising a system which would give them fairer remuneration.

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LIB

Gordon Timlin Purdy

Liberal

Mr. PURDY:

From the number of hon. members to my left who have spoken to-night it would seem that history is going to repeat itself. Perhaps I might draw the attention of hon. members to a little bit of ancient history.

I have in my hand a publication of August, 1930, entitled, The Rural Mail Carrier. It starts off very nicely in these words:

The King government has refused to deal fairly with the rural mail carrier.

And then at a later point, in bold type:

King and Veniot oppose relief. The King government, including both Mr. King and Mr. Veniot, voted down Mr. Guthrie's amendment for fair pay to rural mail carriers, the vote being 160 to 70.

Every Liberal voted against the amendment; every Conservative voted for it.

The rural mail carrier must look to the Conservative party for relief.

And then there is this peculiar note at the bottom:

Printed by the Runge Press Limited, 126 Queen street, Ottawa, for Confederation Publishing Company Limited, 140 Wellington street, Ottawa, in the interests of the Liberal-Conservative party.

Then, I have before me figures showing the amounts paid by the government for rural mail carriers in 1930. On December 31, 1930, the average rate per mile was $39.93. It will be remembered that the Conservative party took office in August, 1930.

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An hon. MEMBER:

The Liberal-Conservative party.

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LIB

Gordon Timlin Purdy

Liberal

Mr. PURDY:

They smell the same, anyway. Let us see how the rural mail carriers had to look to the Conservative party for relief. By December 31, 1935, one would naturally expect the figures to be greatly increased, but what do we find? Instead of there being an increase, it was down to $33.99. It. looks as though history was trying to repeat itself. However, while you may be able to fool our people once, you cannot fool them the second time.

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CON

Thomas Langton Church

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. CHURCH:

The post office is a public utility, and the complaints made by various hon. gentlemen are not new by any means. Down to 1896 this department had a deficit every year, and it has been varying since. It is a public utility, and as such it should provide service for the public. This service should be run from the commercial aspect. Other public utilities like the telephone and express companies and others have regulatory bodies. In the early days of the cheap light and power movement in Ontario the same 71492-2841

principle was proposed, namely, to give more service at less cost. I know the minister is not unmindful of the hard lot of these rural mail carriers. The city of Toronto took steps to improve conditions along this line. They undertook the improvement of roads in the counties of York, Ontario, Peel, Halton and Simcoe, as well as the Hamilton-Toronto highway which enabled the post office to motorize part of their service.

I believe a system of bonuses, subventions or subsidies could be applied to some extent to these rural mail delivery contracts. The minister has been a most courteous and painstaking minister, and I think he should consider a means of raising some revenue to provide these additional services. For example, newspapers are carried as second-class mail, and this service has been given at a loss for many years past. Many of these papers are merely trade journals. Something should be done to increase revenues so that a fund would be available from which some of these contracts might be taken care of, with the cooperation of the municipalities. I can remember when rural mail delivery was first put into effect by the late Postmaster General, Mr. Lemieux. At that time $4 a year was charged for the boxes. I can remember the first service at St. Thomas.

This service should be administered from the commercial aspect. The postmen in the city are not working under proper labour conditions. I can see little improvement in the lot of the rural mail deliverers since the days of Cowper in 1647 where he describes one of these unfortunate workers who deliver the mail over rural England as one who comes as the herald of a noisy world, whistling as he goes, light-hearted messenger of joy to some and messenger of grief to others. Perhaps something can be done by way of improving the roads with the cooperation of the provinces. Some of the provinces are spending a great deal of money on economical and uneconomical roads. Some effort should be made by the post office to get some relief for these rural mail carriers who are suffering such untold hardships.

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LIB

Norman Alexander McLarty (Postmaster General)

Liberal

Mr. McLARTY:

Perhaps I may say a word or two in connection with the discussion that has taken place with reference to rural mail delivery. I do not think it is necessary for me to repeat what has been said by so many hon. members about the unquestionably unsatisfactory conditions that have arisen out of the competitive system during the last decade. Since my appointment as Postmaster General I have given more consideration to this problem than to any other. On two occasions I received representations from the

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executive of the rural mail carriers' association. The claims they presented were reasonably and ably presented, and I only regret that I cannot give to-night a definite solution of the problem. Several hon. members, the hon. member for Leeds (Mr. Stewart) in particular, have referred to the difficulties that meet one at every step when an effort is made to get away from the tender system to establish some measure of permanency and to try to stabilize the length of routes under conditions existing in Canada. They are many and numerous, and I do not think it would be of any advantage to the committee if I went into the details of the particular objections to this or that solution. All I can do is assure the committee that I shall endeavour in every possible way to arrive at the most satisfactory solution.

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CON

Howard Charles Green

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GREEN:

Could the minister give us the figures relating to the different air mail routes in Canada for the last fiscal year?

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LIB

Norman Alexander McLarty (Postmaster General)

Liberal

Mr. McLARTY:

The number of air mail routes is thirty-eight, covering a distance of 14,180 miles.

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CON

Howard Charles Green

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GREEN:

During other sessions the Postmaster General has placed on Hansard detailed statements of each of the routes. I should like to know the rates paid per mile per pound on the different routes.

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LIB
CON

Howard Charles Green

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GREEN:

It would be satisfactory if a statement could be placed on Hansard.

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May 24, 1939