March 15, 1939 (18th Parliament, 4th Session)

LIB

Norman McLeod Rogers (Minister of Labour)

Liberal

Mr. ROGERS:

The figures for those in the camps, along with those who are registered under the farm employment plan, are kept separately inasmuch as they are regarded as being in employment. So much for the relief situation as it presents itself to us at this time.
I shall turn now to the various measures which have been adopted by this government under previous relief legislation to deal with unemployment. The relief act of last year and the acts of previous years conferred power upon the governor in council to enter into

1920 COMMONS
Unemployment and Agricultural Distress
agreements with the provinces for the alleviation of unemployment and agricultural distress. Somewhat more than a year ago a separation was made between agricultural aid as given in the drought areas and other forms of relief assistance. It was felt that agricultural aid in the drought areas should be combined closely with other forms of assistance being given in those areas by the Department of Agriculture, and that all forms of relief in those areas should be administered by that department. That has been done. Therefore, agreements with respect to relief in the drought areas are entered into by the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardiner) with the provinces concerned.
In so far as unemployment relief is concerned, the dominion government has entered into a number of agreements with the provinces designed to assist those provinces in the alleviation of distress, in the provision of work for the unemployed and in certain additional measures of rehabilitation. Let me deal first with the grants in aid to the provinces for the purposes of giving assistance by way of material aid. As is well known to members of the house, the system under which the dominion grants monthly sums of money to the provinces for this purpose was set in motion at the early stage of the depression. It was initiated as an emergency measure; it has been continued as an emergency measure, but as the years have passed, in the very nature of things, it has assumed more and more the aspect of a fixed policy.
There has always been a question whether this method of giving grants in aid to the provinces for the alleviation of distress was the best and most economical method by which the dominion could discharge its responsibilities in relation to this great problem. I am not going to discuss that question at great length this afternoon, nevertheless, I feel I should say this. It has been represented from time to time that the national employment commission had recommended specifically that the dominion government should take over the entire burden of unemployment relief. That is not the case. If one will examine the report of the national employment commission it will be found that this commission made two sets of recommendations with respect to the administration of relief. One set of recommendations had regard to what was described as the existing constitutional position; the other set of recommendations had regard to the situation which would arise if and when it was found possible for the dominion parliament to enact an unemployment insurance measure. I think
it is well that this position should be clarified at this time. So far as the existing constitutional position is concerned, the national employment commission approved in general the policy whereby the initial responsibility was placed upon the municipalities and provinces, with financial aid given by the dominion under conditions which would provide for efficient and economical administration. I have no desire to detain the house by reading any long extract upon this point; but it will be useful, in order to remove any misconception in this regard, if I quote from page 14 of the final report of the national employment commission. The quotation is as follows:
The recommendation of the commission for handling the existing situation whereby aid is accorded by the dominion for the relief of distress by means of grants-in-aid to the provinces was dealt with at some length on pages 15, 16 and 17 of the interim report.
At that time it was pointed out that the commission strongly recommends that, so long as the present constitutional basis exists, the method introduced in 1934 of granting aid on a temporary basis, without definite or adequate control, should be abandoned by the dominion and the following basic principles accepted:
1. That the primary responsibility for the relief of distress should remain with the municipal authority and/or the province;
2. That the dominion should contribute thereto only when in its view it is shown that a practical necessity exists because of the unusual nature or extent of the distress;
3. That the dominion should attach such conditions in the granting of such aid as it deems necessary and proper with due regard to (a) careful coordination of effort, and (b) supervision through the designation of a proper dominion authority.
That is the position which has been maintained up to this time. When I had occasion a year ago to refer to the recommendations of the national employment commission and state the position of the dominion government in relation thereto, I indicated that the government was prepared to give consideration to any such readjustment of responsibilities in relation to unemployment as might emerge from the royal commission on dominion-provincial relations. There may be some hon. members who will say that this is simply another evidence of the desire of the government to escape its responsibility in this matter. It may be urged that we are seeking shelter behind the constitution. On the contrary, instead of taking shelter behind the constitution in this matter, we are merely respecting that division of authority with respect to social welfare which has been laid down by the constitution; and I have little patience, if I may say so, with those who are continually saying to the government regarding these matters, "Do not

Unemployment and Agricultural Distress
allow the constitution to stand in the way." If that attitude is persisted in by those who hold responsible positions in political parties in this country, the result cannot be other than to discredit the constitution, and I should like to remind particularly the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Woodsworth) that it is by a gradual process of attrition of that kind that constitutions have been whittled away. By all means let us seek for amendments of the constitution, but let us do it by the open door and not by subterfuge and evasion.
Like my colleague the Minister of Finance (Mr. Dunning) I have had in these last few years some experience with the administration of social services on a basis of dual responsibility. I shall not conceal from the house that when I studied this question in the abstract, before I entered parliament, I was impressed with the possibilities of cooperation in this field of dual responsibility. I have not entirely rejected the possibility of cooperation, but I have found by experience that this indefinite area which applies particularly to social services in this country is not only susceptible of cooperation but is perhaps even more susceptible of conflict and friction. Therefore when it has been urged upon me from time to time as Minister of Labour that in the absence of any constitutional changes, before serious consideration of any constitutional changes and without such information as may proceed from the royal commission on dominion-provincial relations, we should fake over the entire burden of relief, I have said that we should not assume financial responsibility without securing administrative control. I submit that this is the only position with regard to this matter that can be taken by those whose attitude toward it must be based upon a sense of official responsibility.
It may be that from the point of view of efficiency and economy it will be preferable in due course for the dominion government to assume a large.r degree of control over certain social services. The Minister of Finance has already indicated his own conviction that this is so with respect to old age pensions. It may be desirable to extend that field. But I suggest seriously to hon. members that, when we do it, let us know what we are doing. Let us try to define our responsibilities. Because I know of nothing that has done more to impair confidence in our federal system than the impression which is being created time and again that this or that government is seeking to escape its responsibility. And it becomes possible to make those
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charges only to the extent that we maintain this indefinite area, this enlarging area of dual responsibility. I should like to see us ultimately come to a point where, with respect to the greater part of that area, it will be so divided as to leave no doubt in the mind of any man as to where the responsibility lies.
As the situation is now, under dual responsibility we may have provinces saying that the dominion is not taking its fair share of old age pensions-and is not taking its fair share of unemployment relief. We may have, on the eve of an election, a group of provinces emphasizing that unless the dominion takes a larger share of financial responsibility with respect to some of these services there will be such a protest as may be embarrassing to the government in power. I have not forgotten some of the undertakings that were given in the election campaign of 1930 with respect to old age pensions, when in certain provinces it was suggested that the dominion government might contribute as much as ninety-nine per cent of the cost of old age pensions and yet leave the administration with the provinces. Is it possible to imagine a greater violation of that principle of public finance which requires that those who spend public money should have the responsibility of imposing the taxation that produces the revenue?
I would suggest to my hon. friend from Winnipeg North Centre, who I know is keenly interested in the amendment of the British North America Act, because he has taken the part of a pioneer of that movement in this parliament, that nothing has done more to postpone the adoption of a reasonably flexible amendment procedure than the repeated surrender of the dominion government to provinces who have declined to discharge their own obligations unless they were financed by the dominion government in doing so.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT RELIEF
Subtopic:   UNEMPLOYMENT AND AGRICULTURAL DISTRESS- UNDERTAKINGS IN GENERAL INTEREST AND FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO PROVINCES
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