When the committee rose
at six o'clock I was about to speak on the subject of the control of building construction. I see in the statement of the minister at page 750 of Hansard that conditions have-
-made it imperative that we continue strict control of the licensing of construction projects. In determining the priorities for building permits, we have tried to take account of urgent housing needs.
To this I have absolutely no objection. It is a sane approach to the solution of the problem of distributing fairly the construction materials and the labour available for the construction industry, the building trades. But there, again, I have another objection to the method1 of applying the control, similar to the one I made this afternoon to the motor vehicle control. I think the application of the rules which have been set up in the department, if we take the statement of the minister as the exact meaning of his words, has been followed in a very queer way. I see here the expression "urgent housing needs". We have seen projects being built in the city of Quebec the need of which is hardly justified for housing or other purposes, while at the same time in many of the adjoining districts permits for purposes which were fair and just, which should have been granted because of the need for housing and for accommodation, have been rejected1, although they involved the use of much less in the way of needed materials than did some of the constructions which have been permitted in the city of Quebec.
May I be permitted to refer to one case? It always seems to me undesirable to stop being objective and to depict a problem or a question by some particular instance, but I think it is the only way to illustrate the argument. I have here a case where the conversion of a school was badly needed. A
permit was asked for in July, and was rejected. The intention was to convert a school building into a convent in order to have better teaching, with more teachers, and to accommodate the teachers in the building. Because there was not in the department anybody acquainted with conditions in Quebec, they kindly suggested that the nuns should find rooms in different houses in the community. Maybe the nuns would have liked it, but it was, I think, against the rules of their order. The letter received from Ottawa was to the effect that it would be much more economical if they could find rooms for the teachers in the village. The permit required was of the amount of only 84,500, for the purpose of converting a large school building which was not equipped for winter accommodation and was divided into two large halls, in each of which were held three different classes. The application was to divide the ground floor into four different rooms, in each of which a different grade could be taught, while the second floor would house the teachers. It took three months of correspondence before we could get one of the assistant commissioners to see the point. I will frankly admit that I probably did the wrong thing: I told them that they were so far away from any controller that they might go ahead with the project. In fact, the permit came on the day the nuns entered the building at the end of October. The school term could not have been started had they waited for the permit. Another queer thing was that at one time, when they needed a plumbing outjit, they asked for a permit for that purpose and got it. They could not get the permit to make alterations but they got a permit to install the plumbing. Finally, on October 21, it dawned on the department that they might ask the superintendent of education of Quebec whether it was advisable to grant the permit; and the answer, contrary to all the department had maintained, was that instead of reducing the housing accommodation it would provide better schooling and everybody in the village would be much better off, that the department would lose no essential war materials, and that the workers employed there were local farmers who did the work in their spare time. If I had not been bold enough to tell these people to go ahead with their construction the school term could not have begun in October, because the permit was not received until the end of that month. If at that time there bad been in the department an architect or an engineer who knew conditions there or who had been careful enough to inquire what the superintendent of education of Quebec had to
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say on the matter, that delay would not have occurred and I would not have been forced to do something which was not strictly proper.
Here is another case. A large institution, accommodating 2,500 people, needed a barn to house 120 head of cattle and various farm products in the winter. A request was made in 1943. They wanted a steel structure, but they were told that that was impossible, so that early in the spring of 1944 they changed the plans. The only thing they then needed was reinforced concrete for the lower floor, the balance of the building to be in wood. Yet they never got the permit. The correspondence has been carried on, and it was insisted that they should get along with the accommodation they had at the time. I have copies of letters which have been sent to the department stating that part of their production last fall could not be housed; they had no convenient place in which to put their vegetables; they had to sell part of their cattle because proper accommodation could not be had, and the old bam was falling to pieces. Again, I say that if there had been in the department somebody who wanted to deal fairly with the situation, a condition like that would not exist.
At the same time the government of the province of Quebec applied to Ottawa for permission to erect a huge 'building to house the workmen's compensation administration. These people were located in other government buildings, but they wanted to spread out a little and have a nicer place. At first, I am told, Ottawa refused the permit. The Quebec government then bought an adjoining building, a former Church of England convent-one of the only two, I am told, in existence in Canada-and then a request was made for an addition or an extension to the existing building. As it then stood, the building was two floors high and probably sixty feet long. The extension has eight floors, is 175 feet long and, compared with the first building, is a huge structure. They needed steel and reinforced concrete. The place was not required for housing accommodation, and it did not improve in any way housing conditions in the city of Quebec. As I have said, the permit was refused at first to a certain party, but when presented to the department by another engineer it was finally approved as repairs and additions to the existing building.
These are just illustrations. To some they may seem of small account. Yet how can the people have confidence in the administration of a control when such examples are known to them? I am far from pleased to have to say this, but in all justice and equity,
and even if it is of no use because we are at the end of a session, I thought I should bring this matter before the committee.
I repeat that I dislike, and have never brought up in this house, the question of the racial origin of employees in departments, but if in each of the sections of the Department of Munitions and Supply there were a fair proportion of French-speaking employees they could avoid delays in the translation of correspondence, which at times takes weeks and months; and if there were a French Canadian employee connected with the head of the branch in any capacity who could look into these matters and give his opinion right away, these delays would be avoided.
That applies as well to construction control. There we might have had bilingual people who knew the local conditions better. The minister has found as his parliamentary assistant one of the brightest young men in the other racial group. Why could he not have tried the same experiment in the different branches of his department? In reply to. a question asked bv a member from the province of Quebec in 1940, as to why there were not more bilingual people from that province in the different departments, the statement was made that there was no accommodation for them. Since then, however, buildings have mushroomed in the city; there is a great deal more accommodation than at that time, and the number of French-speaking employees has not increased. Why does he not apply the same principle as in the case of his parliamentary assistant and look for able young assistants in the ranks of the other racial group? Let him apply that principle to his own department. As regards the higher-ups in the department, the only man who answered to the minister's requirements was a charming gentleman from Montreal who happens to be a friend of the minister, as he is a friend of mine. I refer to Mr. Wilfrid Gagnon. If the minister would only widen the scope of his friends in Quebec we might get a few more able young men in the department, and if the hon. gentleman comes in after the next election I hope he will act on this suggestion. Whether by that time the minister has succeeded in bringing Mr. Gagnon into, a higher sphere, as some rumours have it, or whether for another reason the services of Mr. Gagnon could no more be secured, I hope the minister might widen the scope of his acquaintances in Quebec so as t-o bring in his department some more bright men of French-Canadian origin.
Mr. GRAYDON; What does my hon. friend mean by the "'higher sphere"?
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