March 15, 1926 (15th Parliament, 1st Session)


Peter Heenan


Mr. PETER HEENAN (Kenora-Rainy River):

In rising to say a few words in
support of this resolution, I observe that it calls for a wage sufficient to provide for a reasonable standard of living to be adopted as the legal minimum wage. That seems to me to be getting into the field of provincial rights. It would be difficult, I am sure, to find either in any of the provincial Houses or in this House any man who would say that a fair and reasonable wage should not prevail, and it is not difficult to get resolutions along that line passed1, but very little in the way of results follows from the passing of these resolutions unless they are backed up by legislation, such as we have in Ontario, and a minimum wage board is appointed. Like my good friend from Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Woodsworth), I moved a resolution on the floor of the Ontario legislature in 1924, which read as follows:
Resolved that it is the opinion of this House a clause shall be inserted in all contracts made by the government for the sale of timber or puLpwood, or for the development of water-powers, providing that the wages to be paid by the concessionaire shall be not less than the wages as are generally accepted as current in each trade for competent workmen in the district where the work is carried out. And when renewals or transfers are made or where the terms embodied in contracts now in existence are not fulfilled, the government shall avail ilself of the opportunity to insert such a clause.
To that resolution an amendment was moved by the premier of the province, adding the words:
-in so far as due regard to vested rights and justice may permit.
As we had no desire to do anything to hurt vested rights or justice, we let the resolution go through with that amendment, but notwithstanding that the resolution was carried
Legal Minimum Wage

by the Ontario legislature and thereby became an order of the House, although there have been some timber contracts and water power leases made since then, I am informed that this clause has not been included in any of them, I mention that just as an illustration of how resolutions of this kind passing the House promiscuously will accomplish little unless they are backed up by legislation, except, of course, that they do serve to express the opinion of the House. .
I shall not take up the time of the House further, because I think my hon. friend from Winnipeg North Centre has covered the ground very fully. In order to get somewhere -because there is a question here of disputed jurisdiction and authority-I think ithe government should accept the suggestion made by my hon. friend and refer this matter to the committee on Industrial Relations. I realize, of course, it is difficult to refer a matter to a committee which is not yet in existence, but probably the leader of the government can find some way of deferring the discussion or adjourning the debate until after the committee has been constituted, and then this question could be referred to that committee.
Hon. J H. ICING (East Kootenay): I do not think any of us will take exception to the wording of the resolution proposed by my hon. friend from Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Woodsworth):
That in the opinion of this House a wage sufficient to provide for a reasonable standard of living should constitute a legal minimum wage.
As my hon. friend has outlined to-day to the House, during the negotiations preceding the Versailles treaty, when the representatives of the different nations assembled in solemn conference were trying to arrive at resolutions or formulae that would improve conditions in the - world, much time was given in trying to realize the desire and hope that out of that great conflict there would come better conditions for Labour. That conference did express the firm desire that in the different countries concerned this principle should prevail:
The payment to the employed of a wage adequate to maintain a reasonable standard of life as this is understood in their time and country.
That is from article 427 of the treaty. My hon. friend to-day has kept his wording pretty much within the limits of the principle there laid down. It is true that in the Dominion of Canada this question is not a new one. In seven of the provinces we have the principle accepted and a minimum wage law applied to certain classes of female workers. Among those provinces we find both the older and the [Mr. Heenan.l
new provinces-Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. British Columbia has gone probably a little further than the other provinces, for not only have we a minimum wage for certain classes of female workers, but we have also gone into the field of male workers, particularly in the lumber industry.
But the question is, how shall we arrive at our object, and what are our powers? A reference was made to our courts and in June last a decision was given which set out the powers relative to hours of labour in industrial employment. The judgment set out that the legislative authority on this subject belonged to the provinces, that if the power to legislate for an eight-hour day is vested in the provinces, presumably the latter are wage matters. That having been decided by our courts and the provinces having already moved in the matter, and having set up minimum wage boards dealing with certain classes of labour, the field is cleared to some extent. It is, I think, conceded on all sides that this is a provincial problem. Personally I do not think there would be any harm-in fact much good might come from the suggestion of the mover of the resolution in this respect-in an adjournment of the debate, and later, when the committees are formed, a reference of the resolution to the committee on Industrial and International Relations. It is a subject that would stand inquiry and investigation by a committee of this House, although this parliament would not necessarily be committed to legislation along those lines. Our committees are not yet constituted, but they will be within a few hours, and I would suggest that that course be followed. I now move the adjournment of the debate.
Motion agreed to and debate adjourned.

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