December 9, 1909 (11th Parliament, 2nd Session)


William Lyon Mackenzie King (Minister of Labour)


Hon. MACKENZIE KING (Minister of Labour).

I am sure that the. workingma i of this country owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. member (Mr. Verville) for having brought, to the attention of this House a Bill which has occasioned such an interesting discussion on this important subject. The Bill is entitled ' An Act respecting hours of labour on public works,' but the discussion has been almost entirely on the broad question of the hours of labour generally. And so far as that broad question is concerned I have no doubt we all feel that anything that can be done towards shortening the hours of toil for the great masses who
labour, will be of advantage not only to the working classes themselves but to the whole community. I cannot agree with the hon. member for Frontenac in his contention that men cannot produce such effective work by working shorter hours as they can by working excessive hours. The hon. gentleman carried his argument to an extreme when he said that if the reduction of the hours of labour were carried down to the last point it would mean that there would be no work done at all. Well, you can take the reverse of that argument and you can as well contend that if you extend the hours of labour beyond the endurance point, the workingman could not accomplish anything at all because of bodily fatigue. In these days when industrial processes are carried on by great natural powers, by electricity, by water, by steam, the intensity of labour has become tremendously heightened. And, in considering the question of shortening the hours of labour we must bear in mind not only the duration of labour but the intensity of labour as well. One hour's work on a machine that is going at high speed may take more out of a man thani six hours at an occupation where his energies are not taxed to the same strenuous extent. I think I may safely say that the whole history of labour legislation in respect to shortening the hours of labofur bears out the view that on the whole the shortening of the hours has been of immense benefit not only to the working people but to the industries themselves.
This, question of shortening the hours of labour is primarily for the consideration of the provincial legislatures which have within their jurisdiction the enactment of laws respecting the hours of labour, the factory laws, the laws respecting mines, and cognate subjects; but, the discussion of the subject in this parliament is bound to be reflected in future legislation by the provinces and the general expression of opinion in this chamber that the shortening of the hours of labour is a good thing in itself will, we may hope, bear fruit. It has been pointed out that this Bill purports to do one thing, when in fact it does another. That is entitled 'An Act respecting the hours of labour on public works,' but that it goes further and deals with every conceivable kind of contract in which the government of
Canada can be concerned. It is well that the House should understand that clearly before it pronounces on the measure. I believe myself that while the measure is intended by the hon. member (Mr. Verville) to relate only to public works, as a matter of fact it goes very much further than he intended. So faT as this question has a bearing upon ameliorating the ordinary everyday life of the working people I submit that we should

in this parliament, so far as we have the power-and we have certain powers in regard to contracts let by the government- we should do all that we can to further that end. I believe in the principle that the machine should be the slave of man and not man the slave of the machine; I believe that a man should have not merely an opportunity to live but that he should have an opportunity to live happily; and that he cannot have if he is oppressed by excessive hours of labour. We were told by the hon. member for Cumberland (Mr. Rhodes) that even if this measure had the effect which the hon. member for Toronto (Mr. Macdonell) said it had, he was prepared to vote for it. Now, the hon. member for Toronto (Mr. Macdonell) said that the measure was altogether impossible and therefore the position of the hon. member for Cumberland amounts to this, that he is prepared to vote for a measure which is altogether impossible. Well, Sir, I am not prepared to vote for any measure of that kind. I do not believe in trying to humbug the working people of this country.

Full View