May 27, 1935 (17th Parliament, 6th Session)


John Franklin White

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. WHITE (London):

As to the wisdom or otherwise of spending $15,000,000 at the present time in connection with railway equipment, I cannot say; I am prepared to accept the judgment of the Minister of Railways (Mr. Manion) in that regard. There is however one point which I wish to make and that is that we have a railway shop in London in connection with the national railways. A short time ago I was waited on by representatives of various trades working in the construction of these cars and also on repairs. I went to a good deal of trouble to get all the information I could. These men represented steel plate work, carpenters, millwrights and machinists, and they told me that up to August, 1929, they had worked five days a week and since then only sixteen days per month. They voluntarily reduced the working days per month in order that more men could be assisted to get a livelihood. These men advised me that the highest paid skilled workers .on the present basis of sixteen days a month received $87 a month. These, remember, are only the highest paid; others receive lower salaries. They also state that albout two hundred men in London are idle on account of reduction in activities. Their main fear was that in the event of all this new work being done, within a few months so much new equipment would be available that the railway companies would probably shorten up on the repairs which are now going through the shops in the ordinary way and that the work in the railway shops would be cut down further so far as these per month workers are concerned. I think, sir, you will agree with me that sixteen days a month is a very small amount for men to work. Those men have been very unselfish in the action they have taken and they should be commended for the way in which they have reduced their hours of labour or working days per month. They seem to be quite willing to carry on as they are, but they are fearful of any further reduction.
There is the other side of the picture which I have tried to present to them as a possible reason for a certain division of the $16,000,000. I know something about idle plants. It costs more by long odds, to keep a plant idle than to keep it running. There is the interest on the money invested; somebody has put the money in, perhaps borrowed it in order to do so, and there is no return. There is insurance to be maintained on the premises; there is the municipal tax bill which comes whether the industry is running or not, and there is also the care of the premises which
have to be kept up. Those expenditures cannot be maintained indefinitely by any company and if maintained too long, the result, as has been intimated to-night, is possible bankruptcy. In the event of bankruptcy of a company of that kind which has been idle for several years and has no prospect of getting work for some little time in the future, one can understand how no one would be willing to invest money in such a proposition, and the result would be that if bankruptcy takes place, the plant would be idle for many more years. The precaution taken by the government to avoid such a contingency is in my opinion a very wise one.
The matter of subsidy has been mentioned. I do not like the word; I do not think it is correctly used, but nearly every line of activity in this country has received during the life of this government benefit by some action the government has taken. We might for instance refer to the rail order that was given to the Sault mills and the mills at Sydney a few months or a year ago in order to help out employment in those centres. If all this construction were confined to the railway shops only, what with taking care of repairs and doing the work slowly as they would have to do, the work would be extended to an unreasonable length of time and I do not think that would be good business. The fact is that the Canadian National deficits are now being paid out of the public treasury and they have been for years. We do not call this a subsidy, but it is an expense on the taxpayers of Canada. Roughly speaking, it takes all the money collected in income tax throughout the length and breadth of this country to pay the deficits on the Canadian National Railways each year, and it seems to me that when this plan can be evolved and worked out in the interests of the companies which are undoubtedly in need, the government is taking a very wise precaution in saving a great many of these companies from disaster. The only thing that I could suggest to the minister is this-and I make the suggestion in all seriousness-that possibly the proportion given to the regular railway shops might be increased. Someone spoke of $3,000,000 out of the $15,000,000; a few minutes ago the minister said nearly $4,000,000. If that were divided perhaps a little more favourably for the railway shops, a great deal would be done along the line in which we all wish this money to be expended, that is to the effect of doing the greatest good to the greatest number of workmen.
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