Mr. VITAL MALLETTE (Jacques-Cartier):
Although I am the first member from Quebec to take the floor with regard to this resolution, you must not think, sir, that we are not interested in it. On the contrary, I am quite convinced that the entire population of the province is fully in accord with the principle of the resolution presented by the hon. member for Wood Mountain (Mr. Donnelly). According to the right hon. leader of the opposition there are legal difficulties in the way, but those legal difficulties could probably be overridden by a special act dealing with
blind people alone. On the other hand, if I correctly understood Mr. Taschereau in the last campaign, there was a promise that old age pensions would become effective in Quebec.
The sentiments of generosity and of social justice which animate the deputation from all over Canada could hardly find a more magnificent and practical expression than through the adoption of this resolution. Since the opening of the present session many legislative proposals have been submitted to this house, all tending to improve conditions in Canada, but I doubt if there is one that has more merit than the one now under consideration by this house. No doubt, in view of the sentiments, so well known, of this chamber, there is no reason for my making a very long address on this subject, but I feel that I should express my sincere sympathy with the cause, especially because the riding which I have the honour to represent in this parliament contains the only French Canadian Catholic institution devoted entirely to the cause of the blind. I am referring to the Institut Nazareth, which is undoubtedly very well known to members from the district of Montreal and from other parts of the province of Quebec, as well as, no doubt, to those people in Canada who are taking a national interest in the welfare of the blind. This institution, which is now located at No. 4565 Queen Mary Road in Montreal, was founded in the year 1861. thanks to the generosity of a Sulpician priest, l'abbe Rousselot, a member of the seminary of Montreal. This institution has been managed ever since its foundation by the Grey nuns, whose devotion I will not try to describe, because it would be impossible. There are at the institute about forty nuns and a staff whose devotion is extreme to help the blind- their blind, as they call them in a sort of maternal way. On December 31 last there were in the institute 232 blind people of divers ages and conditions, and when one wishes to know how the good nuns manage to make both ends meet in an institution of that kind-well, they simply do not make both ends meet; they are able to give help and comfort and everything that can be given to their blind boarders, but when it comes to balancing the budget that is an impossibility. For the year ended June 30, 1935, they were short almost $61,000, and for the year ended June 30, 1934, the shortage was almost $66,000, and this after very generous grants by the provincial government as well as help extended by the public at large, by different organizations of ladies and gentlemen who hold parties, banquets and so on to raise funds and who also give very generously from their private purses. Last year the total ex-
Pensions jor the Blind
penses were over $120,000, more than $10,000 per month. When I asked the lady treasurer yesterday what she proposed to do to meet these deficits and where she would get the funds, she said that for the time being she relied on providence and on pensions for the blind being introduced. No doubt to rely on providence is a very magnificent act of faith, but I should like to see something more practical, so I do hope pensions for the blind will be in effect before very long.
Of the blind themselves there is not very much I can say that this house does not know very well already. When a blind person is brought to this institution or any other, at first the board is paid regularly. That goes on for some months or perhaps some years. Then the payments begin to get smaller and more intermittent, until one day there is no payment forthcoming at all, and after that the poor blind person is left entirely to the resources of the institution, which means that he is more or less brought down to the level of a beggar. We can imagine the obstacles which must be overcome by the blind in instructing themselves, whether in school education or in learning a trade. In addition we must remember that the work that can be done by blind people is very limited. Generally they manufacture baskets and things of that kind, but they have to work much more slowly than other people who can use machines, and as a result the cost of the articles so produced is so high that they cannot be sold at a profit but must be sold at a loss. There is a store in Montreal kept open purposely for this business. I am told that it brings in a little revenue during the holiday trade but that during the rest of the year it might as well be closed. Blind people are quite successful in music, and it was suggested to me that perhaps an effort might be made by parish authorities all over the dominion to reserve for the blind the work of playing the organs and pianos in the churches. Perhaps the radio commission could help; possibly those business houses who put special programs on the air could employ the services of the blind, because they can put on some pretty good programs, and that would be something very practical indeed in the way of helping them.
These blind people, naturally, have their pride; they want to earn their living and they do not want to be reduced to the level of beggars. I have been told another very astounding thing, that many of them want to get married and establish homes. I think that proves conclusively, once and for all, that love is blind. The depression has affected everyone, of course, but none more than it has
affected the blind. They relied on the help of people with large incomes, but these large incomes have dwindled away to nothing and now they find themselves without help of any kind. I am told also that when a blind person reaches the age of forty there is usually no one of his family left to look after him. During his younger years his relatives will likely have lighter family burdens and therefore will be able to subscribe generously in order to help their blind brother. After these blind people reach the age of forty, however, generally their fathers and mothers are dead, their brothers and sisters have gone away, and they are left dependent upon public charity.
Yesterday, when discussing this question with the authorities of the Nazareth institute I was asked if there was any possibility of these pensions being granted this year. Not wishing to encourage false hopes I said I had strong doubts. I felt confident that the house would support the resolution brought in by the hon. member for Wood Mountain (Mr. Donnelly), but I did not know whether or not the government could put it into effect this year. The good sister said to me, "Well, Mr. Mallette, if we had gone to the government in 1930 we would have been told that they could not afford it, and since then we understand the country has gone into debt to the extent of about one billion dollars, so probably we will get the same reply now." When the provinces come to seek help from the federal government-and get it-why is it that a small minority of deserving people cannot get some financial assistance? Frankly I cannot understand it. To me it seems that in some way or other we should be able to adopt this resolution and put it into effect.
The discussion to-day has been of such a high order that, while I know it is impossible,
I wish it could be printed in Braille so that the blind might know that from the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) and the right hon. leader of the opposition (Mr. Bennett) down to the humblest member they have nothing but friends in the Canadian House of Commons.
Mr. CAMERON R. McINTOSH (Battle-ford North): Mr. Speaker, may I be permitted to make one or two observations in connection with the resolution now before the touse. Last year a similar resolution was moved in this chamber, reading as follows:
That, in the opinion of this house, the provisions of the Old Age Pension Act should apply to blind people over forty years of age.
Perhaps a word or two might be necessary in connection with the action taken on that
Pensions jor the Blind
resolution, which, after a brief debate, was passed on to the standing committee on industrial and international relations. Having been a member of that committee not only during last session but during the last ten years, I can tell hon. members that the resolution was considered quite fully and quite sincerely by that committee. Many submissions were made, and after they were analyzed a report was submitted to this house. Hon. members who were in the chamber at that time will remember that the committee reported favourably on the resolution. Every member of the committee was in favour of it, but it was pointed out that if the resolution was adopted and legislation introduced based on that resolution, such legislation would apply to only seven provinces out of the nine. Two provinces, Quebec and New Brunswick, would be excluded from the operations of the legislation, and as a result practically one thousand blind people in those provinces would not receive any benefit. Because of that limitation a difference of opinion arose in the house during the debate. The division of opinion was along this line, that because of the limitation of the resolution some hon. members were for bringing down a special bill. In fact a special bill sponsored by the government was strongly supported by the house. In that way the resolution, although supported by the committee, was not referred to the committee again. The debate was adjourned, the matter left to the government, and no action was taken.
This afternoon we have before us a resolution presented by the hon. member for Wood Mountain (Mr. Donnelly), practically the same resolution as last year. The resolution means we are back at the same place as a year ago. Here we have another case of history repeating itself. From the debate this afternoon I am convinced that practically all hon. members, new and otherwise, are in favour of this resolution. The work of last year has thus gone on, public opinion has been forming, and to-day we have this house almost unanimous for action. This year's resolution reads:
That, in the opinion of this house, the government should consider the advisability of extending the provisions of the Old Age Pension Act to blind people over forty years of age.
If the government adopted that resolution it would only partly meet the need. It would meet the need of those over seventy; it would meet the need of those between forty and seventy, but it would not meet the need of blind people under forty years of age. Consequently the government are faced with
this situation: they know that if legislation were enacted in accordance with this resolution the cost involved would be only part of what will be required to meet the problem of the blind in the next few years in Canada. I believe that actuarially for this year $150,000 would be required, the next year about $350,000, and the next year practically half a million. So that half a million dollars will be required to meet the needs of the blind between the ages of forty and seventy, and then we have over two thousand blind people under forty. So, as I said, we have arrived at the stage we were at last year.
I do not think it is necessary to have this resolution referred again to the committee on industrial and international relations. The committee thoroughly analyzed the situation last year and reported in favour of the resolution, and it is not necessary to have that same work done again. What does that mean? It means that the resolution is before the house and the government, and we shall have to leave it with the government knowing that the government is sympathetic, that the finance minister is sympathetic, and that the situation will be dealt with by legislation as soon as possible. Nothing more can be done, because the government is the only power that can deal with this resolution and get the money to meet the problem that confronts this chamber in regard to the blind in Canada. The best we can do is commend the matter to the initiative and action of the government and to the good will of the finance minister, and knowing that the government is wholly favourable, we can look for action as soon as it is possible financially- at the earliest possible moment. More than that I would not say. It is not necessary to tell the government that they can get the money if they adopt new and fanciful financial policies. That is not our business as members of the house; that is for the initiative and vision of the government. After the government fully consider the resolution I believe we shall find in a short time that pensions for the blind will be operative in Canada.
Topic: PENSIONS FOR THE BLIND
Subtopic: PROPOSED EXTENSION OF BENEFITS OF OLD AGE