May 23, 1938 (18th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Henry Herbert Stevens

Conservative (1867-1942)


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,

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