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


Alan Webster Neill



But the final disruption took place in one day, on the 30th of April, and then the men congregated in Vancouver, where they produced the situation which is now before us. If the matter had been handled in the manner I have suggested the minister would have found, as he will still find, that a certain proportion of the men-and they are probably the men most open to suggestion from agitators and others of that sort-have no homes to go to. They have been travelling around as transients so long that neither Regina nor the province of Saskatchewan will recognize them and they will be repudiated there, so that they will certainly have to be taken care of in the province of British Columbia. However, we are faced with the situation and something must be done about it, and I am going to make a suggestion which I think might be considered.
These men have been excellently trained in bush work, logging and so on, a training that is of no use to them in the prairies. But there is plenty of work of that kind under government auspices that could be initiated at this moment, and I would mention one in particular. A number of years ago a lighthouse and wireless station was established at a place called Estevan Point. The coast is rocky and it is difficult to land supplies, so
Unemployed, Men in Vancouver

that lighthouse tenders were delayed on many occasions. It was decided to establish a better landing at a greater distance. The suggestion was made that, naturally, they would need communication in order to get oil, coal and other supplies, and against my strong recommendation it was decided not to 'build a light steel railway as had been already done for a shorter distance, but to make a road. I do not think it is unfair to say that this work was carried out in the worst possible manner. The road was carelessly located in the wrong place where it was foredoomed to failure and liable to be washed out. The result was that after a while we had to patch it up, and we are now patching up road that we first put down. As a matter of fact, we have not yet done the whole road. I drove over it in a Ford truck some time ago and covered the five miles in an hour and a quarter in low gear. That will give you an idea of the sort of road it is. I took the matter up with the department and in the course of time they recognized the mistake they had made. They had their engineers report on it and it was agreed to locate the road over a new site on a higher level; where for an expenditure of $30,000 originally a real road could have been made, a road that would cost almost nothing to maintain. As a matter of fact, we spent $15,000 to begin with and have been spending $3,000 every year for ten or fifteen years, and have nothing to show for that expenditure except a very bad road, indeed the burlesque of a road. The department concerned put an item of $30,000 in the estimates, but it does not appear in the supplementaries so I presume it fell by the wayside in that mysterious place known as the treasury board. That is money that could have been spent, not just to make work, but to make money for the government because once spent they would not have had to meet this annual maintenance charge. This is the season of the year that the work should be done, early summer coming on and the best of labour conditions. It is no good doing the work in the winter, with the perpetual wet that prevails there. You have these men idle in Vancouver, and probably half of them would be willing to go back to their homes, Those who have no homes but have this technical training in such work could be put to road building, which is exactly the work they have been trained for, and that would meet the emergent situation.
As the members from Vancouver have said, the situation is there and you have to deal with it now; it is no good theorizing about it. If that $30,000 had been set aside, or to

use the minister's words that amount of unallocated funds had been used to go on with the building of this road, the province of British Columbia has road-building machinery available and the money would have been spent with the best posible benefit, and with a very big return from the $30,000 expenditure, and it would meet the situation in Vancouver today. But if you go on simply talking about it and passing resolutions and saying what ought to have been done, what is going to be the situation in Vancouver? What damages will be collected from some government for the damage done to the hotel owing to its occupation by these men? I understand that the member for Kamloops (Mr. O'Neill) said that the aldermen united and gave $500 to get these men out. Who is going to pay the damages to the hotel? And who is going to get the men out of the post office? These questions are urgent and are here to-day. There is that road waiting to be built. It is not a political thing at all; it is intended to be done, and there are the men able and willing to do it and urgently needing the work. I suggest that the minister should consider it. It need be only a matter of hours before the work could be started. There is a report in the department by a competent engineer laying out where the route should be and its advantages over the present site.

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