March 21, 1938 (18th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Abraham Albert Heaps

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


The Prime Minister is quite right, I should have said the management of the railways. It is a serious step for the management to take, and reduce the personnel by approximately fifteen per cent. I am not entirely blaming the management of the railway for the drastic step they are taking, probably by reason of falling revenues and the falling business barometer. Nevertheless we have a responsibility in this house when we find that employment conditions are becoming worse and that the management of the government railway propose to discharge a large number of employees at a time when there is very little opportunity for the men to find employment in any other part of the dominion.

C.N.R.-Shop Employees
I maintain that the government have a responsibility for two reasons: first, because the railways are a government owned institution; and second, because large orders have been placed by the railways with private concerns for the manufacture of railway equipment which, I have been told by employees of the railways, could have been produced in the railway shops themselves. That may not be a very important factor if we discuss the unemployment situation from the dominion standpoint, but in so far as the government shops are concerned it is indeed a most important consideration.
I wish to draw the attention of the government also to the fact that if numbers of men are laid off, as stated, it is going to throw upon the municipalities a burden which it is almost impossible for them to bear. We have been told time and time again in this house that unemployment is in part a municipal as well as a federal responsibility, but in a matter of this kind I do not think that any member of this house would care to suggest that the municipalities ought to be burdened with the additional cost that would no doubt be thrown upon them if this large number of men were without employment.
I have received, as no doubt other hon. members have, communications from the municipalities showing how apprehensive they are of the existing situation with regard to this proposed lay-off. I will not do more than quote a part of one communication from the Winnipeg Suburban Municipal Association. Under date of March 12, they have written a letter-I have no doubt the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) and other members have received a similar communication-which reads in part as follows:
The Winnipeg Suburban Municipal Association view with very serious alarm the announced policy of the Canadian National Railways to lay off a large number of their employees^ in the Transcona and Fort Rouge shops which would result in increasing considerably the relief burden of municipalities already taxed beyond their limit, and which measure would also constitute an incentive to other large employers of labour to follow suit.
This is signed by Ernest Gagnon, secretary of the Winnipeg Suburban Municipal Association.
Perhaps it would not be out of place for me to indicate what it means to the municipalities when a large number of men are thrown upon public relief. I will give the figures for the city of Winnipeg covering the seven year period from 1931 to 1937 inclusive. During that period the total cost of relief in Winnipeg was 824,162.191. Of that amount the share which the city of Winnipeg had to carry was $9,944,083. The peak of this load
was in the year 1935, when Winnipeg had a burden on its own account of $1,886,504. The estimate for 1937-the fiscal year and the calendar year in Winnipeg being identical- was SI.520,000 for unemployment relief. While it is true that unemployment has decreased by a small percentage, about ten per cent as regards relief, the burden is practically the same as it was in the peak years, for the reason, as I am informed by those who administer relief in Winnipeg, that owing to the increased cost of living the reduction in the number of unemployed makes little difference, and the burden is therefore more or less the same from the standpoint of the municipalities.
The city of Winnipeg had to provide this amount by borrowings; it could not do it out of taxation. I am further informed by an alderman who was here last week to interview the government that Winnipeg has now to provide annual interest charges to the extent of over half a million dollars as a result of capital expenditures incurred for unemployment relief during the past seven years.
At this time, when unemployment relief expenditures are breaking the back, not only of Winnipeg, but of many another municipality in Canada, it becomes a very serious matter to have a further load placed on municipalities in consequence of any large lay-off in the railway shops, whether they belong to the government or are privately controlled; and the government should either see that the thousands of men laid off obtain employment, or, if it is said that this cannot be done, see to it that they shall not be thrown upon the municipalities, thus adding to the cost of relief.
I do not want to go further into the question at this time. We have been hearing a good deal in this chamber about the more prosperous conditions that prevail in Canada, but I am inclined to think that the proposed lay-off in the railway shops is indicative of conditions that are beginning to manifest themselves in various parts of the country. I understand that in other large industrial establishments employing considerable numbers of men the same conditions are becoming apparent. This ought to act as a warning to the government of what may happen in the immediate future. We as the elected representatives of the people cannot allow a condition of this kind to prevail without taking definite steps to meet it.- My only object in bringing this matter to the attention of the government and of the house is to ask that definite steps be taken to meet the conditions that have arisen and are likely to
C.N.R.-Shop Employees

arise in other industries, to the end that the men involved will not become a public charge. These men do not want to be the recipients of public relief; they ask for an opportunity to work and to earn their own living.
Without going into the greater question of unemployment at large, which no doubt will be taken up later in the session, I should like to see the government take definite action to avert the threatened catastrophe so far as thousands of men on government railways are concerned.

Full View