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 208 of 209)

February 27, 1936

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

Unemployment-Mr. MacNeil

tion to unemployment they seem to suggest that the government has squandered millions of dollars to keep these people in idleness; that those on relief could get jobs if they wanted to, and that relief satisfies the majority of them anyway, so why worry? They suggest tha t the unemployed might be returned to pioneer conditions and left to "rustle" a living somehow.

This policy was suggested to me in a very blunt and pointed way at a conference not *o long ago by a prominent representative of business interests in this country. He remonstrated with me for advocating measures that were not at all radical or revolutionary but were designed to spread more equitably the available opportunities of employment. He said, "The sooner we get back to the good old days of 'root, hog or die,' the better." That was a very blunt restatement of the doctrine of rugged, or if you like, of ragged individualism and the survival of the fittest. Nevertheless there are many who still hold this view and urge that we put the brakes on all manner of social legislation at this time. I feel that those who would condone this policy of drift or of rugged individualism as applied to the unemployed have surely overlooked the changes that have occurred in the Canadian social and economic structure and the manner in which these changes have affected the great majority of wage earners in Canada.

It was only a few decades ago that the great majority of Canadian workers were farmers, lumbermen, shoemakers, blacksmiths, or were engaged in other trades where they worked on their own account with their own tools and with a greater degree of self-reliance than is possible today. Many individuals in those days scorned to work for hire. Those who did work for wages consisted mainly of lumberjacks, seamen, a few farm labourers and domestic servants, and probably those who were em-* ployed by the fur-trading companies. When one contrasts this with the situation that exists in Canada in 1935 and 1936 one will find that the wage earning class or the working class, including those who receive what are politely called salaries, amounts to over three-fifths of the working population of this country.

In the early stages of Canadian development the workers lived mainly in small towns and villages and usually had a small piece of land or a wood-lot on which they could gain a living, so that seasonal unemployment was a misfortune but not actually a calamity. There was not the modern form of specialized production. They were not confined, as

present workers are, to specialized labour. They usually could do anything or go anywhere as demanded by the rough work of a pioneer community. These conditions developed in them an adaptability and a dependence on their own resources in marked contrast to the capabilities of the modem wage earner who has been forced to specialize perhaps with the same kind of tool or machine for half a lifetime.

This process of modem industrialism with its mass production technique has had on Canadian life an impact which has been condensed into a short period as compared with similar developments in European countries. As machines displaced labour, only those in the wealthier class could afford to own and control the tools, the machinery of production. As these developments took place, Canadian workers were alienated from all access to the sources of wealth production. Hence we have ownership of the vital instruments of production in the hands of a comparatively small owning class, and the great majority of our people have been obliged to hire themselves out by the day or week to work in those enterprises controlled by a few. This means that a comparatively large proportion of the Canadian people have nothing to exchange for the commodities required to satisfy their material wants except their own labour power, and they must market this on the labour market. They can secure a livelihood only as they are engaged in coordinated groups as and when required by the owners of the machines, and because of the trend of events over which they have no control they are left more and more helpless and without opportunity to apply individual initiative or resourcefulness during this period of economic instability.

A century ago not more than one out of five of the occupied population in this country worked for hire or received a salary. To-day the wage earning group has changed from twenty in a hundred to sixty or seventy in a hundred. In this as well as in other countries the wage earners have risen from this comparatively small minority of twenty per cent to become a powerful and unorganized majority consisting of seventy per cent of the whole population that might be gainfully employed. At the same time the percentage of our population engaged in farming has fallen proportionately from fifty to about twenty-five per cent. The percentage of our population living in towns of 5,000 or over has risen from twelve and a half per cent to approximately forty-five per cent.

Also, according to the latest statistics, seventy-eight per cent of dwellings in rural

Unemployment-Mr. MacNeil

districts are occupied by owners, but in urban centres only forty-five per cent are shown to be dwelling in homes for which they may claim ownership. It should be noted that many of these homes are so heavily mortgaged, as witness the evidence presented in the debate on the previous resolution, that ownership confers upon these people merely the doubtful privilege of paying taxes and repair bills. At the same time we are aware that the average wage in Canada has never risen above $1,000 per annum. Nearly half the population over seventy years of age are eligible for old age pensions. It is quite accurate therefore to say that there is in Canada a large propertyless working class numbering perhaps over two millions, or sixty per cent of our working population. In the United States statistics give the proportion as seventy-three per cent, and it is reasonable to assume that developments in Canada follow the same trend. This is a natural development under capitalism.

More and more the workers are being alienated from access to the means of work. So I ask some previous speakers: What are our unemployed to do? Why should they be exhorted to "rustle," as these hon. gentlemen suggest? To live they must eat; to eat they must work; to work they must secure employment. They can secure work only from those who own the means of work. To-day the supply of labour is greater than the demand. This leads us in this group to the conclusion that security for the worker will not be established until the nation owns and controls the means of work. I mention this point at this stage, however, to emphasize the fact that to-day the workers are in a greater degree than before dependent upon private enterprise. The worker is helpless unless he can gain access to the land or tools through which he may employ his labour power and gain a livelihood, and for this reason I feel that the house cannot escape responsibility for widening the opportunities for the worker who finds himself in this plight.

Another feature of the situation that cannot be overlooked is that we are rapidly tending towards a condition of chronic or permanent unemployment, and that whatever may be done to bring about a revival of export trade and thereby stimulate our productive activity, these measures will not and cannot possibly provide for the re-absorption into industry of all our unemployed in Canada. Due to technical advances in industry there is little hope that we can substantially reduce our unemployment simply by the methods to which I have referred. To get a proper understanding of the situation I think we should

study very carefully the statistics of unemployment prior to the beginning of this depression, namely, during the period from 1920 to 1929. It was interesting to note an editorial appearing in the Ottawa Citizen only the other day as to the manner in which employment in the United States is keeping pace with the recovery that is evident there. The editorial states;

The singular fact regarding "recovery" in the United States is that the gain in production is not being accompanied by a corresponding gain in employment. While the nation is three-quarters of the way towards bringing production to its pre-depression level it has gone only a little more than a third of the way towards bringing employment to its 1929 level.

No one knows for sure how many unemployed there are in the United States, but the generally accepted total to-day is ten million. This represents a drop of some four millions from the depression's worst, or a gain in employment of forty per cent as compared with a gain in production of seventy-five per cent.

Unless progress through the remaining twenty-five per cent cuts down unemployment at an infinitely greater rate than did progress through the first seventy-five per cent, it follows that even when the United States is producing on the old pre-depression scale again, the unemployed will still number in the neighbourhood of five million.

The official report, Recent Economic Changes, shows a decline in the number of persons employed in the United States from

25.105.000 in the period from 1918 to 1920 to

23.420.000 in the period from 1924 to 1926. This was accompanied by an eighteen per cent increase in total output. In other words our peak of employment on this continent was reached in 1918; the peak of production was reached in 1929. Prior to 1929 we have adequate evidence as to unemployment caused by technological advance in industry, and while it is true that a large percentage of those now unemployed in Canada have been brought to their present plight because of general economic conditions it is also true that included in that percentage is an increasing number of workers displaced by technological progress in industry. It is interesting to note that an official report further states:

The elimination-or the release-of human labour as a result of technical progress is by no means peculiar to very recent times. It is, indeed, one of the essential processes in the course of economic and social development. But for the spread of machinery it would scarcely have been possible to raise the standard of living of the world'. The nineteenth century was truly an age of miracles in the realm of technical progress. But so long as the liberation of workers from certain branches of production is more than balanced by the creation of new branches and the expansion of production as a whole, there is no such thing as a problem of technological unemployment

Unemployment-Mr. MacNeil

Even if the balance is temporarily disturbed the results may be considered as part of the price nations have to pay if they^ wish to progress. The novel feature in the industrial development of the United States after the war was that the counter-balancing mechanism broke down right in the middle of a boom period, and the expansion of production created no extra demand for labour.

It is clearly shown that the annual increase in output per head of wage earners in industry during the period 1923 to 1929 developed at the rate of 4-8 per cent. It is also shown that any increase in production was not serving to absorb the workers released by technological progress. It is also interesting to note that in four years the oil refineries increased output eighty-four per cent, and laid off five per cent of their men while doing so. The tobacco manufacturing output climbed fifty-three per cent during the same period while thirteen per cent fewer men were used in the process. In Iron Age we find this interesting statement, which is confirmed by the findings of Stuart Chase:

If the productivity of industry through mechanization continues to increase in the next twenty-five years in the same way and at the same rate as during the last twenty-five, only 45 men will be needed for the work which to-day requires 70 and that formerly required 100. In the automobile industry 30 workers were doing in 1925 as much work as 100 workers in 1914. What are we going to do with the 25 men out of 70 that are displaced in the next twenty-five years? And there may be far more than 25 displaced, as the curve of technology is an accelerating one.

I think that is a question for which we should endeavour to discover an answer in Canada to-day. There are other factors to consider, such as unemployment resulting from mergers. It is well said that under every merger you find a human bargain basement. As a result of the mergers that have taken place in Canada more men than ever in the S3,000, S4.000 and $5,000 a year class are seeking employment at lower rates of pay.

Another factor to which I think we should give earnest consideration is the fact that efficiency experts, undertaking what is sometimes called the rationalization of industry, are steadily eliminating men. This happens whether men are swinging picks in the coal mines, sorting potatoes, picking fruit or doing many other things. The time-study brigade are eliminating motions, and with the motions they are eliminating men. Not only in motions but also in shop arrangement, routing, lighting, ventilating and management generally is this process being carried on. It is true that this brings about better conditions but almost always it results in fewer men being employed. The statement is made by

prominent economists that even if we could restore our trade and industrial conditions to the productive level of 1929 there still would be no work in Canada for approximately fifty per cent of those now unemployed. I submit, Mr. Speaker, that the trend now developing in the growth of our productive forces indicates that we are fastening upon Canada a condition of permanent or chronic unemployment, and in my opinion it is intolerable that we should even contemplate a condition of permanent unemployment in a country so richly endowed with natural resources as Canada.

The first suggestion I have to make is that the federal government should assume full responsibility for dealing with unemployment and unemployment measures. I feel that this step is essential if we are to achieve a national and properly coordinated plan to deal with the problem. There must be not only federal responsibility but also federal direction and control. I feel that to all intents and purposes the federal government is now assuming almost entirely the financial responsibility for this problem. Why should not the present administration go but a step further and assume a larger measure of management? I understand that as a result of the conference with the provincial governments the way has been cleared of constitutional difficulties, and I submit that the situation is of sufficient gravity to demand the mobilization of all our national resources. We would attempt such measures if a similar number of Canadian citizens were threatened with death through war conditions. To-day they are threatened with conditions equally dire, that may be termed famine conditions. They are forced into slums. The statistics of juvenile crime are mounting year by year. Our educational institutions are turning out thousands of young people every year to waste their trained faculties in a hopeless search for employment. Many of those on relief are at the peak of their physical and mental powers but know they will never work again, while many of our young men have not yet learned what work is. It has been aptly said that unemployment is doing to the bodies and souls of the present generation what the war did to the bodies and souls of those of another generation. It is not only the increase in the burden of relief costs but the demoralization, the pauperization of men that demands some change in our relief policy, a more enlightened and humane procedure than the mere payment of relief.

There is a woeful lack of uniformity in the present scheme. In British Columbia I find from personal observation that the monthly

Unemployment-Mr. MacNeil

payments to the average family of five range from $16 a month in some districts to from S35 to $38 in others. Some work for the relief, many do not; policies differ in different municipalities. Some receive a degree of medical attention and care; in other districts this need is absolutely disregarded. In some districts definite provision is made for rent, fuel and clothing; in others, particularly the unorganized districts, no provision whatever is made for these needs. All through we find the supplementary activities of social welfare agencies related to the general relief scheme in a haphazard and ineffective way. This spells waste and inefficiency and not only tends to breed distress in many quarters but produces a very unwholesome atmosphere. Any effectiveness of unemployment relief as now operating is largely lost because of this general mismanagement, which I contend is due to lack of coordination on a national basis.

The need for national coordination is shown very clearly in the operation of the Employment Service of Canada. In 1919 parliament passed the Employment Offices Coordination Act, the purpose of which was to establish in Canada an employment service patterned after the system of labour exchanges which was then operating in Great Britain, and which has operated with a reasonable degree of success there since that time. The federal government defrays I think fifty per cent of the cost of the maintenance of this service. The personnel is largely furnished by the provincial governments. The results however have been in my opinion wholly unsatisfactory, largely by reason of the loss of confidence that has developed, among employing interests as well as among the unemployed, in the efficiency of this service.

I have some knowledge of the purpose of this legislation, and it was clearly in mind at that time that this service should become a genuine placement service; that it should be manned by people expert in determining vocational aptitudes and in the scientific placement of workers. It was also intended that this service should bring about definite cooperation between organized interests throughout the country and the government. Provision was made for the establishment of an employment service council to act in an advisory capacity to the Minister of Labour. This council was to be representative of all organized interests; agriculture, labour, exservice men, the national council of women, manufacturing interests and so on. I understand that the last time this council was summoned was in 1930, prior to which date it met infrequently. Provision was made

also for the establishment of local employment service councils affiliated with the local offices of the employment service. There seems to have been some disinclination on the part of officials to accept the cooperation of the organized interests in the various communities, with the result that the service has largely failed to command general cooperation in these communities. To a large extent the offices serve merely for the mechanical registration of those who may apply for work and the occasional inquiry for workers by employers.

Because of lack of coordination in this and other respects we are far behind Great Britain and other countries in our technique. I have not time to make any detailed comparison with the United Kingdom except to say that there the wage earner to-day is assisted and guided by the government practically throughout his whole life by the following methods: Maternity grants to workers; free medical treatment and hospitalization, not only to the worker but to his dependents; illness allowances;' financial assistance to parents whose children, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen years, are continuing school; unemployment insurance benefits for those workers coming under the act and unemployment assistance to those who do not; free juvenile and other courses of training and instruction; the payment of pensions to widows of insured workers and allowances to their children; and finally old age pensions to any non-contributory persons arriving at the age of seventy years, and old age pensions to contributors upon reaching the age of sixty-five years. In many respects they are in advance of the methods employed in Canada. I realize that it. may not be possible to do in this country all that has been done in Great Britain; neverhteless we should profit by the excellent results achieved in the mother country.

I suggest that we should now institute socially useful public projects, and in this way provide employment for those now unemployed. In discussing this matter in a previous debate the minister quoted a statement issued by the imperial ministry to the effect that public works have not been found effective. I would refer him to the reports of the International Labour Office in which a very careful study has been made in this regard, and the conclusion reached that in many respects public works have served to stimulate employment. One conclusion reached was stated in these terms:

Even when the problem is examined in very great detail the old truth is confirmed that

Unemployment-Mr. MacNeil

to give employment on schemes in which wages form a high proportion of the total cost is the best way to provide more employment.

Much has been done by the housing measures in Great Britain. I need not remind the minister of all that has been accomplished under the housing scheme in Great Britain; the Labour Gazette for January, 1936, gives a complete report.

It is interesting also to note what has been accomplished in Sweden. It is stated there by reliable authorities that the big loan expenditure largely devoted to this purpose and incurred during the financial years 1933 and 1934 appears to have met with success, since production is greater than in 1928 and unemployment is less than at any time since the early months of 1932. The index of production has gone up mainly in consumers' goods.

It goes without saying that in public works projects the workers engaged should be paid the going rates of wages. To do otherwise would have a most deplorable effect on wage levels and would react disastrously on the success of any such scheme. The "work for relief" policy which has been in force in many sections of the country has been most pernicious in its effects. It has created a wrong attitude on the part of those affected and has actually worked a hardship on men who, without any increase over and above the relief payments, have been put to the expense of buying protective work clothing and food necessary for the satisfactory performance of manual work. I suggest that housing, reforestation and development of health services would provide employment on the basis that I have suggested without any undue outlay for material or equipment or any undue capital outlay in relation to the total cost of the projects. These projects are at least to a degree self-liquidating, and they would at the same time meet a serious social need. I suggest that they could be financed by opening up fields of taxation not yet developed, but I shall not deal with that at length except to say that in principle it seems to me just that those who have been able to secure large profits during a period of depression should now be called upon to make some further contribution to the welfare of those who have suffered the most during this period of depression.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Rogers) suggested in a previous debate that we should exercise prudence in determining the limits of government expenditure and government borrowing in regard to these projects. I am not suggesting in this resolution that we should spend our way into prosperity, but I am inr\Tr, MacNeil.]

dicating to the minister, who is well versed in sociological and political problems, that if prudence should dictate the limits of public expenditure, then prudence should also determine the limits beyond which we should not require our unemployed, those now in distress, to endure their present misery. The minister is well aware as are other members of the house that conditions developing in Canada to-day because of unemployment are largely destructive of our democracy. We must consider matters of public expenditure sanely and rationally. It is the wiser part to anticipate the demands of the future than to attempt tn devise policy when we are confronted with the clamorous cry of those who are experiencing the pangs of hunger. I suggest that the government may accept this resolution in principle at least because it is well within the range of government policy as already outlined.

Many will suggest that we must go very carefully lest we court or bring about a major disaster. I often wonder, Mr. Speaker, what such persons would consider as a major disaster. We have over one million people so destitute of this world's goods that they must apply for relief. If we had over one million people in an army we would consider it a very large army, or if we had one million people sick, suffering from some epidemic, we w'ould turn almost the whole country into a hospital. I say that our unemployment to-day is in every sense of the word a major disaster and should be dealt with on that basis as a great national emergency, requiring a definite course of action and a complete and unified mobilization of all our national resources. I would earnestly appeal to the Minister of Labour and the members of the government generally to accept the resolution as indicating steps which may safely be taken at this time towards at least the amelioration of the evident distress, and which will lead more definitely than our policy of the past towards the restoration of at any rate some of our people to a larger measure of independence, freedom and comfort.

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February 20, 1936

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

I desire to ask a question of the Minister of Pensions and National Health (Mr. Power) with reference to order in council, P.C. 91, which was tabled by him last Friday. Is it the intention of the minister to bring this order in council under review by the house or a select committee of the house before it becomes operative, inasmuch as it appears that benefits previously awarded to former members of the forces are seriously restricted?

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February 14, 1936

Mr. MacNEIL:

Will the contract in connection with this building contain a fair wage clause?

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February 14, 1936

Mr. MacNEIL:

Will the minister be in

a position to exercise such supervision as will ensure local labour being used as far as possible? I ask this question because of a communication I have received to-day.

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February 14, 1936

Mr. MacNEIL:

Would it be possible to consider the matter in the preparation of the supplementary estimates?

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