Hon. W. S. FIELDING (Minister of Finance) :
I do not indulge the hope that I shall be able to add a single new thought to the discussion, but I should like to concentrate the attention of the House upon what I believe to be the really vital point of the whole matter; and what I have to say is very much in line with what my hon. friend from Marquette (Mr. Crerar) has said. Most of my knowledge of this matter came from my presence at the interview with the gentlemen who waited upon the Government yesterday, the four mayors from Spring'hill and the three towns in Cape Breton. I had a general knowledge before, but the precise information that I have on the subject I have derived from these gentlemen.
Now, listening to the discussion in the early part of the debate, one would have thought that there had been no machinery for dealing with matters of this kind. My hon. friend from Calgary (Mr. Irvine) pictured the scene of the miners coming to the Dominion Government and finding (that nothing could be done, and going to the local government and meeting with the same experience. He then asked what in the world was there for the miners to do but something which he did not suggest but left us to guess at. Is that a fair statement of the case? That would imply that we had no machinery whatever for dealing with such a situation, and if that were the case it would be deplorable indeed. But that is not a fair statement of the matter. We have machinery for dealing with these things, and too little attention has been given to the fact that such machinery has been employed. As a matter of fact it has been set in motion.
Let us see what was done. Under the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act the miners named as their representative a Mr. Ling, a very intelligent, earnest and respected member of the mining community, who has the honour to occupy the position of mayor of his town. The British Empire Steel Corporation, for reasons of their own, did not nominate a man. The late government, exercising the power they had, nominated a gentleman in Halifax, Colonel Thompson. I have the pleasure of knowing Colonel Thompson, who is a most respected citizen, and who, I am perfectly sure, approached his duties with a sincere desire to act fairly to every one. The parties not being able to agree, the present
Nova Scotia Miners
Minister of Labour (Mr. Murdock) appointed a Mr. Gillen, from Toronto. I do not know Mr. Gillen, but I understand that he is a man of large experience and is much respected all round. I spoke to Mr. Ling yesterday, who was a member of the board and one of the four mayors that came to see us. I said: " The burden of your difficulty appears to be that the tribunal met at Halifax and did not meet at Cape Breton or Springhill?" He answered, "Yes." "Well," I said, "you were a member of the board. Did you move that it should go to Cape Breton?" " No," he said, " I asked the question and I was told that it would sit at Halifax." I have no doubt he meant well, but it would seem that, had he attached much importance to a meeting at Cape Breton, he would have done more than merely ask a question as to whether the board would meet there. He would have appealed to the Minister of Labour. I turned to the Minister of Labour sitting-next to me and said, " Were you ever asked to direct the commission as to where they would meet?" "No," he said; "had I been asked I would have gladly given such direction."
The picture they presented of the situation with regard to the schools and the children, and the general condition in those towns, is so deplorable that it has moved all of us to sympathy. But I do not think the right steps were taken, and I think Mr. Ling would admit now that he should have requested a meeting of the commission at Sydney. He did not do so. I suggested to him, "Would not that be now the best way? I am not sure," I said, "speaking from memory, whether the Minister of Labour would have power to revive the commission, but if that could be done would it meet the case?" Well, he was not prepared to answer for other people, he was not representing the labour men; as has been said, he was representing the community generally. I said, "Won't you admit, Mr. Ling, that if the commission could be revived and go down to Cape Breton and discuss the question on the ground, it might lead to satisfactory results?" He answered, "Perhaps it would." "I do not understand," I said, "that you are questioning either the integrity or the competency of the commission?" "No," he answered. I then put this further question to him, "You think Mr. Gillen was trying to do right?" "Yes," he replied. Then I added, "You have confidence in Mr. Gillen, and Colonel Thompson has the confidence of everybody. Why in the world cannot you
get together and have the matter adjusted in that way?"
That is exactly what my hon. friend from Marquette (Mr. Crerar) has suggested. I think that can be done. Let us get the commission together again, if the machinery of the law will permit, and let them see with their own eyes the unhappy conditions which prevail-let them as good citizens and honoured members of that tribunal make an effort to bring about a settlement of this unfortunate misunderstanding. But I think the workmen and the company ought to be both asked: If we give you this investigation by the tribunal, and you bring before them all the evidence you wish, will you give us an assurance that you will accept whatever decision may be then reached?