Charles Grant MACNEIL

MACNEIL, Charles Grant

Personal Data

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)
Vancouver North (British Columbia)
Birth Date
December 12, 1892
Deceased Date
March 31, 1976
businessman, sales manager, secretary

Parliamentary Career

October 14, 1935 - January 25, 1940
  Vancouver North (British Columbia)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 205 of 209)

April 3, 1936

Mr. MacNEIL:

Before the amendment

carries I offer this suggestion to the minister, that in such sections of bills that are now coming before the house provision be made to maintain the preference formerly extended to ex-service men under the Civil Service Act. I notice that in the wording of a similar section of the National Harbours Board bill and other bills before the house no attempt has been made to carry out the preference, although when certain post offices were removed from the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Act it was expressly stipulated in the legislation then enacted that the preference formerly enacted would be maintained in appointments to the staff, and I think that in appointments to a staff of this kind the same preference should be maintained as was formerly granted ex-service men under the Civil Service Act. May I have an opinion from the minister on that question?

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April 1, 1936

Mr. C. G. MacNEIL (Vancouver North):

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that all members of this house are indebted to the hon. Minister of Labour (Mr. Rogers) for his very clear and comprehensive presentation of this problem in all its dimensions. None of us would question the obvious sincerity of his desire to grapple with this problem and relieve in some degree the distress of those now suffering from unemployment. For that very reason it is to be regretted that, apparently in a desire to conform to the general policy of the government, he did not follow through, for in his presentation of this bill he did not disclose any reference to a plan that might adequately meet the pressing and immediate requirements of the situation. Many of us have been anxiously awaiting since the opening of parliament an announcement of the government's policy with reference to this great problem. We agree with the minister that it is of paramount importance, and I assume that in the legislation now before the house we have a more or less accurate outline of government policy; I refer to the present bill, the companion bill, and the

Employment Commission[DOT]-Mr. MacNeil

Canada-United States trade agreement. I submit that all these bills add up to exactly nothing in the way of definite and decisive action to relieve the present distress of those now unemployed and on relief.

The legislation of itself is commendable. It is necessary to have a scientific survey of the unemployment problem in Canada. There can be no doubt that it should be scientifically dealt with; it should be, as the minister has stated, resolved into its elements. We must have a continuation of certain measures, such as are proposed in the companion bill, designed to relieve people unemployed through no fault of their own. I could not possibly oppose the Canada-United States trade agreement, because in freer trade there may be some possibility of stimulus of our national industrial activity. But surely the most incurable optimist would not suggest that the trade recovery that may be accomplished as a result of our trade agreement will in any appreciable degree reduce unemployment. We know from experience that industrial recovery as accomplished under conditions today does not spell any effective decrease in unemployment, largely because of technological displacement of labour in industry. I say that all these bills-the entire policy-add up to exactly nothing in the way of relieving immediately the distress of those now unemployed.

The minister developed the scientific or engineering approach to this question. This is necessary at the present time. But he developed nothing but an approach, and it is clear to many of us that more than an approach is imperatively necessary now. I think the responsibility rests definitely upon the government at this time to take a bold and courageous course of action that will ease the burden resting upon so many of our people. The minister, in the position he has taken, resembles an engineer who proposes to deal with an emergency by means of a brand new engineering plan but who forgets that such a plan may be utterly useless at the same time immediate steps are taken to repair or stop the social dykes that are being carried away or threatened. Flood control engineers first repair the dykes and then proceed with the long-range plans that are necessary, and as matters stand to-day social dykes are being carried away or threatened because of the tragic consequences of unemployment in the proportions known in our country.

The minister proved, I think clearly and definitely, that past methods have failed. It is therefore all the more to be regretted

that he proposes to continue with these methods until a complete survey has been made. Such a survey will take time. I admit that it is necessary, but if it is done thoroughly it will take considerable time. He has proven also that unemployment has persistent characteristics; that in Canada it is now assuming a more or less permanent character. We have what might be described as residual unemployment, which will not readily yield to the methods that have hitherto been applied. The minister also asserted that in matters of public expenditure parliamentary control must be reasserted. All of these three features-the fact that a survey will take time; the fact that unemployment, as statistics will bear out, is persistent and is not decreasing in any appreciable degree, and the fact that the government intends that parliament shall exercise direct supervision over any major expenditure-inevitably spell delay. I submit that the pronouncement of policy as made by the minister the other day condemns those now on relief to the sentence of at least another year on relief, a sentence that I am sure will be received by the unemployed with bitter disappointment and black despair.

In his remarks the minister brushed aside the idea of any fundamental social change. I assume he meant by that that nothing should be done to molest private enterprise or unrestricted competition for profit. He said that no magic formula, no simple formula will work out a solution of this problem. I am inclined to agree. I would never argue that the problem may yield to any simple or magic formula. Carlyle was quoted in justification. I know his quotation has been referred to several times, but may I ask who was it that told in memorable language the fate of those who laughed at the man who wrote the Social Contract? He said that the second edition of that work was bound in the hides of those who laughed at its author. If I remember correctly, Carlyle also questioned the outcome of the industrial revolution in its early days unless we make the machine our servant instead of our master. And since he has referred us to the lessons of history, we may find many striking warnings as to the outlook that should be acquired with respect to our policies for problems of this kind.

Chesterfield said a generation before the French revolution:

I find here in the French nation all the symptoms that history has taught me precede great social upheavals.

And he was laughed to scorn in his day. Another eminent philosopher said, and his


Employment Commission-Mr. MacNeil

saying is apt, in the consideration of the minister's political philosophy:

Justice is a power, and if it cannot create it will destroy. So that the question for the future is not, shall there be a revolution, but shall it be beneficent or disastrous?

That applies, I think, definitely to the situation confronting us to-day. If any lesson is to be learned from history it is surely this, that we should learn to adapt our social and economic policies to meet the changing and imperative requirements of a changing material environment.

There is one test which, I think, should be applied to the unemployment policy as outlined by the minister. If we could assemble in one audience all those who are unemployed and on relief in Canada to-day, and arrange for that audience to hear the minister's remarks, I am quite certain that the unemployed would not be satisfied, and would not find any reassurance or comfort in the statement made by him the other day, for the reason that it does not indicate any immediate alleviation of their distress. They already know the gravity of the situation; they know that it ruins their lives, wrecks their homes, destroys their future; and they desire above everything else those conditions that will establish for them without delay independence and security, and the chance to maintain their homes and their health.

Some may argue: Why should any attempt be made to satisfy the unemployed? Some contend that the unemployed are merely the misfits, the weaklings, those who have been unable to survive the strenuous competition of our day. I repeat: the misfortunes of unemployment have overtaken people in all walks of life-those in the professions as well as those in the skilled trades, clerical as well as manual workers-and these misfortunes have overtaken them in spite of industry and thrift. Sometimes when these remarks are made I think of many instances with which I am personally acquainted of men whose record of industry and thrift cannot be questioned and who, in spite of their industry and thrift in the past, now find their all being swept away under present conditions.

A striking case was brought to my attention of a man who served in the Australian forces in the great war. He was encouraged to settle in Canada under the empire settlement scheme and he came with his family and the savings of a lifetime amounting to $5,000. Under the auspices of the land settlement board he attempted to .establish himself in British Columbia. Years went by and he was unable to retain his foothold and in a desperate effort he sent his family to relatives in Aus-

tralia and attempted to carry on alone, but finally he was compelled to abandon his holding, to return it to the board and to seek employment. His lifetime savings had been swept away. He was a man accustomed to pioneering conditions, anxious to work under pioneering conditions, a man of exemplary thrift and industry. He tried work in logging camps; he did chores for his board; he did everything possible, and finally the only answer given him when he sought aid from the authorities was that he must go to a relief camp. This is one of countless instances that demonstrate that the unemployed are not merely the misfits. The great majority are people with excellent work records; thousands of them have led exemplary lives of industry and thrift. They are not merely the misfits and the weaklings. As I say, misfortune has overtaken them through no fault of their own, and industry and thrift have been no protection in the circumstances of the present crisis. The unemployed on relief, though fenced off in a separate world, are definitely a cross-section of the working community, and this cross-section includes important and skilled labour power now scrapped though urgently required for necessary development work in the country.

The minister defined what in his opinion was the function of the state. He said that it is the function of the state to promote the welfare of all its members. I think he could have carried his definition a step further. The government is not the state but exercises the authority of the state within certain defined limits. The state is the sum of all those within it, and that includes the unemployed on relief; it includes all those who in their way of living conform to the rules of social behaviour, as defined, in order to achieve the purposes of the state. Men accept the state not merely because it is the state, but because of the satisfactions they hope to secure from life through common cooperation as expressed by the state. To its citizens the state is what it does. They are mainly concerned with the consequences or results of policies enforced by the state. They are not so much concerned with intentions. Good intentions alone will not make for good statesmanship; and largely because of this feature, the unemployed, assembled in that audience which I suggest, would not find any comfort in the policy outlined by the minister in introducing the bill. I suggest that the function of the state is to fulfil to the maximum possible the desires of all its citizens and to accomplish this with the greatest measure of equality attainable. If there is inequality, as we find there is to-day, or if any large section is

Employment Commission-Mr. MacNeil

denied the satisfactions it has a right to expect as a result of the processes of the state, such must be justified by rational argument. It is the accepted theory of government that such inequality must be justified on the ground that it is in the interests of the state as a whole, of the entire people ; otherwise the action of the state is biased; it operates in favour of one section and discriminates against another.

The unemployed, in conforming to the rules of behaviour prescribed by the state, are at present denied the satisfactions they have a right to expect from the way of living which we determine. They are now asked to continue enduring the miseries of unemployment, and this is done in the name of the state and presumably on the ground that it is for the stability of the state that they should acquiesce in this continuance of their misery. Otherwise, if they question this argument, if they protest, being unconvinced, we may expect that the coercive authority of the state may be exercised to repress their discontent or any disorder arising therefrom. Under the theory of government advanced by the minister, inasmuch as he expressed opposition to any fundamental change in the rules of social behaviour, the responsibility rests upon him to demonstrate that his policy is in the interests of the stability of our society as a whole. Failing this, he must either force acceptance of the dictum of the government or admit the inevitability of changes in the direction of a greater measure of equality.

In my opinion the action of the government on this occasion is biased and does not make for stability, because it deals with the security of some and not of all. It cannot be shown that failure to deal promptly and decisively with the problem of unemployment contributes in any degree to the general security. Temporary security of the few is of very little value in the face of the insecurity of the many.

In this connection, Mr. Speaker, I attach some significance to the fact that in the main estimates now before the house there is a definite increase in the appropriations for the Department of National Defence, an increase amounting to, I think, something like $1,700,000 including the cost of construction of armouries. A statement has been made by a former Minister of National Defence- and we have had no announcement from the present administration repudiating the view then expressed-to the effect that this military establishment is necessary in Canada to cope with the possibility of civil disturbance. This is confirmed by the remarks made recently, on frequent occasions, by one of the 12739-ill

district officers commanding, Brigadier-General Alexander. Since he has made similar statements frequently, I think we may assume that they are countenanced in some degree at least by the government. Speaking in Len-noxville on March 26, he said:

That communism constituted a menace to Canada and that it was spreading so rapidly and assuming such serious proportions that military assistance might be needed soon by civil authorities in many parts of Canada to cope with the situation was the contention of Brigadier-General R. O. Alexander, D.S.O., officer commanding M.D. No. i.

Again he said:

"We must not blind ourselves, however, to the serious situation arising in Canada where the insidious forces of communism are at work spreading their revolutionary propaganda and converting thousands to the gospel of Karl Marx." Concluding, he deplored the activity of pacifist organizations actively at work in universities and elsewhere. Many such organizations, he maintained, were directly or indirectly connected and affiliated with communism in order to weaken tile internal peace-time defense of constituted civil authority.

The government now says to the unemployed on relief: You can take it and like it; you must wait your turn, until other interests are served; if you do not like it; if you attempt to protest, we have the means of dealing sternly and effectively with such protests. Taking all these features into consideration as outlining the general policy of the government in dealing with these menacing features of the situation, I think it is only fair to say that this policy envisages the idea of sternly repressing discontent arising from conditions of unemployment, at the same time failing to deal with the causes of that discontent which might be expected to lead to disorder. That, I submit, is a policy which does not make for the stability of the existing framework of society, as described by the minister; it makes definitely for instability. It cannot be demonstrated that it is in the interests of Canada that we should wait patiently for the miseries of unemployment to dissolve themselves. I think past experience has proven that we are paying a higher price for inaction than we would pay for any decisive action or any definite remedial plan at this time. This price is set forth very clearly in a study recently published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, reviewing unemployment as an international problem. They have made a very careful analysis of the social cost of unemployment, suggesting that this may be considered from various angles. I quote:

There is loss in production and national wealth; there is deterioration in the skill,


Employment Commission-Mr. MacNeil

physique, and morale of the labour force itself; there are the evil consequences of poverty or, in countries where social services do no more than touch the fringe of the question, destitution; there is the charge on governments and local authorities for the provision of relief, and the strains placed on corporate and family life in impoverished communities.

It is suggested here that one of the grave losses is the loss of wealth which might have been produced, and a United States estimate puts the average, for 1930 and lO^l, in lost salaries and wages due to unemployment, not including wage cuts, at S10,000,000,000 a year. I quote again:

The existence of a large mass of unemployed persons tends to depress wages, and therefore employed persons also suffer reductions in income. An estimate of the total loss to the wage-earning classes should include cuts in the wages of those who remain in employment.

The minister has stated that some 332,000 employable persons are now receiving direct relief. It would be safe to assume that if these persons were placed in gainful occupations they might produce wealth to the exent of at least SI,000 per annum per man. Right there we have a loss in wealth production of something like $332,000,000 a year. There is also the further consideration of the loss to wage-earners and consumers. If these 332,000 people were receiving incomes only $500 in excess of the relief they are now receiving, that would certainly increase the consuming power of the masses by a very large amount.

Another feature of the price we are paying is the cost of services for the unemployed. It was stated in the house this afternoon that already the cost to this country has exceeded $700,000,000, and for that reason I think it is high time for us to consider steps to capitalize on anticipated payments in this regard and devise some effective plan that, as I say, would repair the social dyke that is being torn away. This report also deals with the loss of efficiency, a feature which, I think, is frequently overlooked in Canada. I quote again:

There is the damage done to the working force itself in those trades and areas where there is much long continued enforced idleness, accompanied by poverty even where unemployment benefits are reasonably adequate, and by want where they are not. In these cases there is physical and moral deterioration in the long run, except in the case of men and women endowed with exceptional strength of _ character and physique. The deterioration in the skill of the labour force is a national loss.

Again it points out the loss due to lack of apprentices or learners, which is common knowledge to many of us in contact with the trades in Canada to-day, particularly the closed trades, to which no apprentices have been admitted during this depression. The study

also speaks of the efficiency loss through hopelessness, and it quotes a statement of Doctor Temple, Archibishop of York, appearing in the London Times of February 5, 1935:

To an extent which is very hard to estimate but is certainly not negligible, the character and atmosphere of industrial life as at present ordered are affected by the fact and character of "unemployment." Over a great multitude of employed men hangs the menace of that hideous possibility. Through no fault of his own a man may, at a week's notice, be "out of work." Then, unless he is fortunate enough quickly to find work again, he loses his skill; he loses the activity which has become the stimulus to his mental processes; he loses his familiar social intercourse; he is cut off from his friends; he becomes desperate and discontented; even in his home perhaps an unwelcome intruder, outside it an unwanted idler.

Another important loss is the effect upon young people. This study goes on to state:

The effect of idleness or of intermittency of work on young people is universally recognized to be one of the most serious aspects of the unemployment problem. A considerable number of the youthful working population in industrial countries are growing up without acquiring the habits of regular work necessary if they are to become useful members of the community. In many cases unemployed young people suffer enduring physical damage on account of the lack of sufficient food, clothing and shelter at an age when these are of the greatest importance.

Here it speaks of the loss due to the effects on public health:

The fact that there is no rise in the mortality rates does not necessarily mean that the results of widespread unemployment on the national health are not serious. An unemployed man who spends much time in sleep requires less food than when he is fully employed. On the other hand, the wife is bound' to suffer. "The reduction in the family budget often means that she must work harder . .. and the woman probably suffers greater privation than the other members of the family, because she often stints herself for the sake of her husband and children."

These statements apply with considerable force to the conditions which we acknowledge in Canada.

Again we have the effect of malnutrition upon children. This report gives a vivid picture of these conditions throughout the world. Statistics produced in Canada to-day show that serious effects resulting from malnutrition are observed by school nurses and health officers throughout the country. It is definitely shown that the long term results on health and physique are very serious. Therefore we are paying a high price for unemployment. For these reasons we should not hesitate to acknowledge by some definite, decisive course of action whatever expenditure may be involved. The minister suggested that, many projects proposed during

Employment Commission-Mr. MacNeil

this present session would be prohibitive in cost. I suggest that no project yet suggested would be more costly than a continuation of the situation which I have outlined.

One disappointing feature of this bill is that it does not suggest the assumption of national responsibility, and therefore denies any possibility of a national plan. I fail to understand how this grave emergency can be dealt with effectively unless we have a national plan. The bill suggests increased efficiency and improved coordination with the provincial governments, but all efforts to achieve this efficiency and coordination in the past have failed because there has been no centralization of direction and authority. The bill does not propose any definite, central direction of measures to cope with a grave national emergency. The problem is of such magnitude that in my opinion it will not yield to any solution except that devised under a national or federal plan.

The minister places great reliance upon the possibility of cooperation by private enterprise. I think he is over-optimistic on that score. I have a distinct recollection of the activities launched under the Employment Offices Coordination Act of 1919. A council was established at that time for purposes similar to those set forth in this bill, a council, or commission if you like, representative of all the organized interests in the nation, organized agriculture, organized labour, organized ex-service men, organized women, organized manufacturers and so on. It was clearly the intention of the Minister of Labour of that day to achieve exactly the same coordination of effort that the minister proposes to achieve through the employment commission. That effort failed; it failed largely because too great reliance was placed upon the cooperation of private enterprise. I have a distinct recollection of attending sessions of that council and advocating measures, moderate measures, such as are now being considered by the minister, such as to dovetail seasonal unemployment, to take up the slack, as expressed then, to synchronize more closely the purchasing on the part of federal, provincial and municipal governments with our productive activities. That effort at cooperation failed because at that time private enterprise in this country was not willing to share responsibility. It also failed-and we find to-day the wreck of the employment service which was originally outlined-largely because of lack of cooperation by the provincial governments. It was intended at that time to set up in Canada an efficient labour exchange or 12739- mi

employment service similar to that of Great Britain. It failed, although the federal government of the day spent considerable money on the scheme, because the provincial offices were manned under the provincial patronage systems; no attempt was made to secure expert vocational placement in industry or to make a scientific analysis of the problem. It is one more demonstration that division of authority does not result in effective coordination in the face of a situation demanding decisive action.

I am surprised that the minister also expects this cooperation from private enterprise, when he is well aware of prevailing conditions in the business world. Business now can operate only on a profit basis. The desire of those in charge of our economic enterprises is to conduct business so as to make profits. To make profits under competition they must lower production costs, and they cannot successfully assume any share of this burden and forego profits; otherwise business as conducted at the present time would face disaster. Surely, in view of the evidence disclosed before the price spreads and mass buying commission, there is no reason to place any confidence in important business interests, which at that time were shown to have most cruelly and viciously exploited the working class of this dominion.

I also suggest that the results to be obtained from the survey may be largely useless unless they are accompanied at the same time by remedial measures. Conditions are changing very rapidly to-day. The rate of increase of unemployability accelerates as time goes on. Unemployment is rapidly cumulative in effect. By the time the results of the survey are compiled we may be facing an entirely new set of circumstances. We should proceed by a process of trial and error, and I suggest that unemployability cannot be properly determined unless at the same time employment placement is at least attempted. I hardly expect that the minister intends lo have medical examination for unemployed persons. I cannot conceive of the commission attempting to relate correctly each individual person to the employment for which he or she has definite aptitude. I cannot see how the survey will have any definite value unless at the same time the test of vocational placement is applied. There is in the bill no suggestion that simultaneously an effort will be made to open up opportunities of employment while this survey is under way. For this reason I fear that the results of the survey may be largely useless.

The progress made in Sweden was referred to this afternoon. I see no reason why wo


Employment Commission-Mr. MacKenzie

should be so reluctant to learn from the experience gained in other countries. Sweden is a country of similar characteristics to Canada, with about the same population and character of industry. Whatever may be said about Sweden, these three facts stand out clearly: that throughout the depression they maintained their living standards; that those standards were not lowered as they have been in Canada; that they have reduced unemployment to a negligible degree, and they are very definitely on the way to trade recovery. The index of production has reached a point not yet reached in Canada. In the report to which I have already referred, quoting a report of the international labour office, an important statement is made with regard to Sweden:

The reversal of the tendency towards cutting down public expenditure during the depression was especially noteworthy in Sweden, where capital expenditure was increased in 1933-4 and 1934-5 with the express intention of combating crisis conditions.

In the financial year 1933-4 the budget allocation for public works was doubled. The Prime Minister stated that the main preoccupation of the government was to find an effective way for dealing with unemployment, and that they were seeking it in the stimulating of private enterprise which an increase in government spending might be expected to give. Further extension of this policy continued in 1934-5. In January of that year the Prime Minister stated that government policy was to bring money into circulation, and by increasing the purchasing power of the people to effect a moderate rise in the level of prices. In January, 1935, however, the policy was discontinued, the financing of public works by loans ceased, having served its purpose. Borowing henceforward was only to be resorted to for jjroductive purposes.

I was glad to hear the minister state that he was definitely opposed to any exploitation of the unemployed by private interests. I sincerely hope he maintains that attitude. May I draw his attention to the fact that [DOT] an equally vicious exploitation-

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March 31, 1936

Mr. MacNEIL:

May I ask also whether it is the intention of the minister to recommend that this bill be referred to the special committee?

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March 31, 1936

Mr. MacNEIL:

Is it the intention to refer the details for consideration to the special committee?

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March 31, 1936

Mr. MacNEIL:

I believe the majority of ex-service men in Canada will applaud the action of the minister in introducing the legislation forecast in these three resolutions. They will be particularly pleased with the legislation forecast in the resolution now before the committee, since it deals with a large class of ex-service men whose needs hitherto have been more or less neglected.

There is just one point regarding which I desire an explanation from the minister. Should the proposed commission recommend to the minister a project involving some public expenditure, let us say dealing with sheltered employment, will it be possible for the government to initiate that project without furher reference to parliament? I have in mind, as the minister will understand, the necessity of instituting early action with reference to the needs of the physically handicapped ex-service men whose problems may not be considered now under the Pension Act or the War Veterans' Allowance Act.

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