March 2, 1911 (11th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Arthur Meighen

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. ARTHUR MEIGHEN (Portage la Prairie).

Not having had any notice that the subject introduced by the hon. member for St. Hyacinthe (Mr. Beauparlant) was to be discussed this afternoon, I come before the House without any preparation for the present debate. Nor would I have risen had not the Minister of Justice (Sir Allen Aylesworth) in his treatment of the case, in my judgment, departed from those principles of common sense which usually distinguish him in the application of legal formulas to the practical affairs of life. I listened very carefully to the defence of the present system which the Minister of Justice brought forward, and I must say that I fail to recognize any objection offered by him to the change which would not apply with equal force to many if not all the classes of cases in which salaries are gar-nishable at the present time. The Minister of Justice states that the present rule is based on the doctrine laid down by Baron Parke, that the salary of the civil servant is in the nature of a gratuity and that it is made for the purpose of enabling that servant to render to the public the greatest possible service in the capacity in which
he acts, and to prevent him from being harassed by creditors or others to the detriment of the public service. To that statement of the doctrine, I have no exception to take. That doubtless is correct. But wherein does it apply? Does not the same doctrine, in so far as it affects this argument, apply to the servant of the railway companies, the servant of the provincial government-both of whose salaries are garnishable at the present time. The salary paid to any one may very well be put on the same basis as that laid down by Baron Parke as a matter of legal doctrine. But the whole question before the House is: What is the interest of common honesty and of equal rights among not only civil servants but all servants throughout the country. It may be that the civil servant is in a better position to offer free and unhampered service to the public if he is hedged about by the wall-the artificial wall-which now protects him from the ordinary process of garnishment. But I cannot see why the public as a corporate body has any higher rights than the ordinary citizen in this regard. It seems to me that the public as a body politic is in the same position as the Canadian Pacific railway, or any other company, or any private employer. Why should it be otherwise? Is not the Canadian Pacific Railway Company entitled to the very best possible service from the employees whom it pays? They are entitled to that just in the same sense as is the government of Canada. Is not a farmer on the plains entitled to the best possible service which the body and brain of his hired servant is able to give him? Certainly he is. The same rule applies throughout our commercial life. Why should we single out the government and say that, because it is stronger or represents more people that it is, in any higher or loftier sense, entitled to the unhampered efforts of its servants than any other employers in the community? I see no distinction so far as the interests of the country are concerned.
And why is the civil servant entitled to protection? The minister says he has no sympathy with the civil servant who runs into debt. That, doubtless, is just as true of the civil servant as of any other servant. But the minister says also: I have no
sympathy with the creditor who allows the civil servant to run into his debt. The minister also said-let me do him ample justice-the creditor who permits the civil servant to run an account knows the position of that civil servant, knows his income, and consequently is warned beforehand, and incurs the credit at his own 'eril. That is equally true throughout the whole Tange of our commercial life. It is true of the employees of the great companies; it is true of the labouring man.

But what is the difference? These men do not incur the debt all with one creditor; if they did there would be some force in the argument of the Minister of Justice. But they go from one man to another; they concurrently run bills here and there, the Same as other classes of servants all over the country. There are the same exceptions in the matter of frugality in the civil service as anywhere else. _
How is one creditor to know that he is the only one, and even if he permits the civil servant to incur only a modest expenditure, he knows not, but what that man at some other store, or with some other creditor is doing the same thing as with him. Consequently there is absolutely no distinction, the creditor is no more on his guard in this case than in any other and he is liable to be innocently mulcted. The law has never denied to the creditor in any other case where he permits a man to live beyond his means, the right of recourse, that man has all the weapons for the collection of his debts he would have had, if he had acted paternally with reference to that debtor and told him he was not .to be permitted to buy what he could not pay for. He has all the redress possible in that case, and why should he be denied it in this? It seems to me that when the minister comes thoroughly to consider all the aspects of the case, he will not permit his mind to be warped by legal doctrines which are after all, only a relic of days gone by, and which are being one by one overruled at this time in behalf of the broader principles of common sense and equal Tights. The minister referred to the civil servant in another aspect. He said it was quite true that in so far as garnishment is concerned, we protect him, we say that his salary is not to be garnisheed. We also say he is not to be allowed to assign it. In both of these regards, I say he should have the same rights and should be restricted by the same methods as any other servant. In our .provinces certain rights to assign not only of civil servants, but of all servants, have been very seriously restricted. That has been done in what was believed to be the public interest, but no distinction was drawn between the civil servant and any other servant, the restriction applying to all, and was intended to guard the improvident and particularly those who who have wives and families, from 'anticipation of their means. The minister said we should protect the civil servant in the matter of garnishment, excuse in other regards he is restricted, he is not permitted to strike. A moment's reflection will surely convince the very clear mind of the Minister of Justice, that that is not a strong argument. Surely the right of striking is not a right which the civil servant can complain of being deprived of. It seems to me noth-Mr. MEIGHEN.
ing but the use of words to say that the civil servant suffers anything by the provision of our law, which forbids him to strike. The civil servant now has in his possession all the weapons that would be of any use to him in securing .an advance of his salary, and the weapon of striking would be absolutely worthless to him. I think the civil servant is better equipped in this way than the ordinary employee. I say, let the civil servant of Canada suffer garnishment if he goes behind in the same way as any other man, and then we shall have advanced at least one step further in the progress of democracy in Canada.

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