I hear hon. gentlemen
opposite laugh. I say to them that for a long time they have claimed to be the leaders of this country. I say to them now that this country has been carrying the government on its back for a long time. Hon. members opposite may be thankful that this is a great country, and that as such it is capable of carrying even hon. members opposite on its back.
I should like to make another point about the amendment, lest it be thought that it should be allowed to go by default-like jobs
The Address-Mr. Merritt
and housing. The amendment is a criticism striking directly at the capacity of hon. members who form the government to lead the people of the country. I wish to say right now that, unlike my hon. friends to my left, who believe that w*e need a new social order, I have believed for many years-and there are a great number of people who agree with me, and who will always agree with me-that we need no new social order in order to have full employment in our country.
What we do need, and what we have not had in my adult life-and what I fear we can never have from this government-is "action" to give us full employment. The people of Canada are a reasonable people. I do not believe they expect very much, perhaps not as much as they have a right to expect, from the government of their country. I do not think that they call for utopia, or even that they mind being inconvenienced by lack of housing, or being laid off from jobs during a difficult period.
But what they do mind, what exasperates them and prompts them to talk among themselves, as they are talking across the country to-day, is complete inaction on the part of the government to face up to problems which, although they may not be of great concern to the government, concern the people deeply. If the government has no action to offer, as I suspect it has not, then the people might be satisfied if an explanation were offered to them, and I am suggesting that such explanation should be made in this debate, and that the matter ought not to go by default. The government should explain when people might expect to find those jobs, and when they might expect to see those houses.
When the amendment was offered by the leader of the opposition the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) sought to turn it off by expressing his satisfaction in the results of the general election held in June. The hon. member for Shelburne-Yarmouth-Clare (Mr. Baker), for whom I have very great respect indeed, and with whom I did not expect to take issue so early in the debate, talked about these matters of housing and jobs as if they were only small issues.
I wish to dispel any impression the Prime Minister may have sought to create to the effect that he is protected by the mandate he received from the people on June 11. I should like to recount a little history-even at this late hour-and it will not be ancient history. The history I shall offer will be very modern in the history of Canada, and although it is confined to the city of Vancouver, one of the 47696-8
constituencies of which I have the honour to represent, I am sure it is applicable throughout Canada.
Apparently some hon. members do not realize just what the situation is in Canada with respect to housing and jobs. So that they may do so, let me go on with my history. In May came V-E day, and in June the general election. I am not going to go at all into the history before the election; so that that excuse is not available to hon. members opposite. The people of Canada did not mind being badly housed before V-E day, because they had a war to fight. They did not even mind being badly housed after V-E day because there was still a war to fight. But they did expect-indeed, they have been promised by this government-that there would be action in respect of housing at once.
In the city of Vancouver there has been no action, and I shall recount to the house just what the situation is there. It now has in its population about 60,000 extra souls over its pre-war population. May I point out, in passing, that forty-eight per cent of the male population of service age in British Columbia volunteered for the armed forces. Those men are returning in ever-increasing numbers.
I have heard the over-all shortage of houses in Vancouver estimated as high as 20,000, but in my presentation this evening I shall settle :or a very much smaller number than that. Let us, for the sake of this discussion, say that the number is only 5,000 or 10,000. On a certain day in August there were 1,400 veterans of this war who had served overseas, whose names were recorded on the books of the emergency shelter administration as having been placed in housing so unsuitable that even that harassed authority thought it should try again, if it could, to get better accommodation for them.
Let me place before the house two illustrations of how those men are living. In the first place, they are living in basements and attics. In the second place, they are living in that new and great Canadian national institution, the chicken-house duplex. And when I say that I am not attempting to crack a joke, but rather, have reference to veterans living in chicken-houses.
Let me give another illustration, from another point of view. There was one case of twenty-five men, women and children who were sharing one bathroom. If hon. members will reflect for a while on that situation they will readily realize the inconvenience entailed.
I ask the house this question: Of what use to the country and to the veterans is a veterans charter? Of what use to them is a
The Address-Mr. Merritt
welcome home and a civic reception, if, when they reach their homes, they must live under conditions such as I have described? What we want from the government is not grandiose plans, white papers and legislation. By offering us those they perform only half their job. We must have executive action to translate those plans into benefits placed in the hands of the men, women and children of this country.
That is all that will satisfy the people of Canada, and it is not too much to ask from the ministers concerned. Let me deal in further detail with the subject of housing. I have said that people might not mind living in chicken-houses, or might not complain about it. But what has the government done? Despite the promises made, the only housing activity of which I know in Vancouver this past summer was an application, by advertisement, for the registration of construction workers, and the throwing of Wartime Housing Limited into the already too small market for supplies.
At the moment the difficulty with the housing situation is not that of low rental housing, or of any social aspect of the question. It is simply a question of shortage of supply. That is certainly the case in Vancouver. So far as I am aware there is no authority in this country which has the job of getting after the bottlenecks in supplies. I made a little pilgrimage in Vancouver just to find out what the situation might be in this respect. I visited the wartime prices and trade board; the controller of construction; the emergency shelter administration; the mayor of the city; the private contractors' association; and I visited other agencies around town. Every one was most helpful, particularly the civil servants. They were all working desperately to try to get around this shortage, but none of them had any power to do a thing, none of them had any full responsibility. I could not find a man in Vancouver who had authority, responsibility or full knowledge about the housing shortage. That is what is at the bottom of this shortage, and nothing else. There has been no action in getting after the bottlenecks and trying to get rid of them.
I go on with my history and I mention what happened in July. In July we had a large and important strike at the American Can Company in Vancouver which supplies all the cans for western Canada. The strike lasted for fourteen days, and by the end of that time almost all the primary producers who tinned their products were desperate because their goods were spoiling. They were losing money day after day. The strike [Mr. Merritt.)
was on that old familiar issue, the closed shop. Did the government take any action? Yes, after two weeks-just in the nick of time-and, after all the agony had been gone through by the people on the Pacific coast because of the fear that their merchandise would spoil; after all the loss they had suffered through having to shut off production-the government acted and called in someone to take over the plant and to arrange a compromise. Why could they not have acted first? Why could they not have taken over the plant as soon as the strike occurred and then adjudicated and thus saved from loss the consumers and producers of primary products who had no concern with the strike? How many times and in how many places are we to have strikes on this old familiar issue without government action?
I come now to August, to V-J day. They rang the air raid siren in Vancouver to signalize V-J day. I wondered why and I soon found out. There had been some small celebration, a natural blowing off of steam which did not last too long. We then noticed an ominous undercurrent of wonder and a little bit of fear on the part of some people that there were to be no jobs in the shipyards or in the aircraft factories. The workers in these factories in Vancouver have done a magnificent job in this war and they now amount to a considerable number.
I tell you what happened, and it came very soon too. Private notices were sent out by these companies laying off the workers. There was no word whatever from Ottawa as to what was to happen to the workers; they were simply laid off by means of a notice from the private companies. The government just ignored the fact that this was going to raise a serious situation immediately. I do not suggest that the Minister of Reconstruction (Mr. Howe) should have provided each of these men with a job. Under our system these men will find new jobs, but I do suggest that the minister should have laid some plans so that, even if V-J day took him slightly by surprise, he would have been able to make a public statement and give reassurance to the workers in Vancouver and other parts of the country. Perhaps he could have told them that he had been taken slightly by surprise, but to "hold on" because in a certain length of time the plans he had made to bring these plants back into production under other circumstances would bear fruit and jobs would be available. He could have said that in the meantime his advice was such and so. But there was no action; there was not even a statement of reassurance. I may say to the
The Address-Mr. Merritt
house that out there on the Pacific coast we notice that lack of advice from the fountain of all authority in the country. We would be interested in having a little bit of attention paid to our problems.
The public is looking for reassurance. It is looking for leadership at once in this postwar reconstruction period. The record of this government since the general election in providing leadership for the people of this country is a sorry one indeed. I would not say that the people of Vancouver are down about it at all. I do not think they expected very much more. They have maintained their spirit, but they and the people of Canada are high-spirited. They are exasperated; that is the only word for it. They do not want anything too wonderful; they want action, that is all.
I should like to point out one way in which the inaction and lack of leadership from this government has affected things out in that part of the country from which I come. The housing crisis and the job crisis have caused many public statements to be made at many public meetings. The mayor of the city and the provincial government have been badgered by organization after organization to do work that this government ought to be doing. I say to hon. gentlemen opposite that it is not fair that provincial and municipal governments should be badgered, and perhaps lose the confidence of the people, when they have not the power to act before this government has given them a lead. The situation is quite serious and I am sure it will bring unwise political repercussions out there.
What I want and what I say the country wants is action and leadership. And for this reason. I say to the house that laissez-faire is dead. I know the house will agree with me, but let us consider for a moment just what that means. In short, it means this. When the people of Canada gave the present government of this country a mandate on June 11 to form a government, they did not elect them negatively to maintain free enterprise in being as the economic system of this country. They gave them a mandate positively to get in there and to make free enterprise work to produce satisfactory conditions for all Canadians. I want to say to the government that they have made a bad start because what is wanted in order to make free enterprise work is leadership. Leadership in reforming and controlling private enterprise when it does not serve the interests of the public, but, above all, what is wanted is leadership which promotes public confidence in our joint ability to perform the great task ahead. I say to hon. gentlemen opposite that if they 47696-8J
have not that confidence or if they make the people of Canada doubt their joint ability for the tasks ahead, as has been done this summer, this government will not succeed in carrying out what the people of Canada want them to do. If we have not confidence in our ability to create full employment, then all fails.
The end of laissez-faire means another thing. It means that the government are no longer solely the administrators of the affairs of this country; that they can be content just to let things go. The government are ultimately responsible for every part of our national life, and there is no ill which befalls the people of this country which it is not the duty of the government to correct. If they are to correct all those ills, they must get a new outlook. They must give us that leadership and action which I have emphasized to-night. With that in mind I wish in the few minutes remaining to me to offer two concrete suggestions on leadership, and I ask all hon. members who have served in the armed forces to see if they do not go all the way with me.
First of all, I say that the time has passed when ministers of the crown can remain in Ottawa and property conduct the affairs of this country from the capital. The ministers must get out and get around the country, and they can do it now by aeroplane, which is very fortunate, now that we have come to the end of laissez-faire. They must get around the country to find out what the people want and to see how their legislation is working and whether or not the benefits are getting to the people. I liken a minister of the crown and his deputy minister to a general and his chief staff officer. All hon. members who have served in either war will go with me when I say that a general is not a good general if he is not out seeing his troops. After a general has made his decision and given his orders to his chief staff officer, he gets out on the ground and sees how that order is working out, and by personal reconnaissance he gathers the information that enables him to make his next decision. Such a course must be followed by ministers of the crown if they are to lead the people of this country successfully.
Topic: GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH
Subtopic: CONTINUATION OF DEBATE ON ADDRESS IN REPLY