Mr. E. J. Broome (Vancouver South):
hon. member who introduced this measure stated that it is a simple bill. It is not too simple. It contains 19 clauses and some 50 subclauses. However, the principle of the bill is simple. It is to set a realistic minimum wage and I think that is a principle of which most members of this house will approve.
I thank the hon. member for having given credit to a former Conservative prime minister, the Right Hon. R. B. Bennett, for having introduced in his new deal legislation in 1935 the principle of a minimum wage. This was referred to when this bill was first introduced in this house, I believe on November 28, 1957, by Mr. Stanley Knowles. As far as I can make out, the only difference between this bill and the bill introduced by Mr. Knowles is that Mr. Knowles' bill set one dollar an hour as the minimum wage whereas this bill sets a rate of $1.25.
In the debate on the bill in 1957 as reported at page 1619 of Hansard, Mr. Knowles went on to point out that the Bennett proposal had
been ruled ultra vires in that it had been established by the courts by that time that labour-management matters came in part under federal jurisdiction and in part under provincial jurisdiction and therefore it was not competent for the federal parliament to pass a minimum wage act applicable to all wage earners in Canada. As reported at page 1619 of Hansard of November 28, 1957, Mr. Knowles went on to say:
I think it is fair to say that Mr. Bennett, the eminent lawyer that he was, knew of this difficulty and he tried to meet it by a rather lengthy and interesting preamble which can be found in chapter 44 of the statutes of 1935. The gist of that preamble was that Canada, having agreed to an international convention regarding the establishment of certain labour standards, including minimum wages, was obligated by that treaty arrangement to put such legislation on the statute books of the country.
Nevertheless that was not supported by the courts. This bill, dealing only with labour coming under federal jurisdiction, certainly is one with which parliament can deal. In previous debates the objection was raised that bills of this nature are money bills representing increased costs to the federal government. That argument cannot be sustained. I refer again to Mr. Knowles' statement on this question as reported at page 1623 of the date to which I have referred:
A bill, which does not involve a direct expenditure but merely confers upon the government a power for the exercise of which public money will have to be voted by parliament, is not a money bill and no resolution is necessary as a condition precedent to its introduction.
Those are not the words of Mr. Knowles. He was citing the headnote of a decision which appears at page 457 of Beauchesne's third edition.
In other words, if parliament passes this bill the costs, if there are any increased costs as a result of its passage, would still have to be approved by parliament when the estimates are considered.
As the sponsor of this bill said in his opening remarks the rate established by the bill of $1.25 an hour is much less than the rate set through collective bargaining negotiations with the various labour bodies who speak for practically all federal government workers in regard to wages. If this bill passes I am concerned that in some areas the minimum might become the maximum, which certainly would not be a very good thing.
There is a minimum wage law in the United States. I believe a proposal is currently being discussed to establish there a minimum wage of $1.25, which seems to be a reasonable figure although it is considerably above what Mr. Knowles in 1957 thought was reasonable.
I was interested in checking the rates specified in similar acts in the various provinces.
I cannot resist pointing out that in Saskatchewan, where one would think the thinking would be akin to that of the hon. member, the minimum wage is $30 a week for cities and the 15 larger towns within a five mile radius and $29 a week for the rest of the province. This applies to workers over 18 years of age. For those under age 18 the minimum is $2 less; that is, $28 in the larger towns and $27 in the rest of the province. This works out to something in the neighbourhood of 75 cents an hour, or if you wish to take the lower figure of $28 for someone under age 18 who is not employed in the 15 larger towns and cities it is 70 cents an hour. I am wondering why it is that that minimum wage level has been adopted by a province that has a government which is supposed to be a leader in social legislation.
As I said, the minimum wage was first introduced in parliament by a Conservative government, just as a Conservative government introduced hospital insurance, unemployment insurance and other legislation of benefit to the people of Canada. Therefore, there is nothing in the philosophy of this bill that a member on the government side would not consider worthy of consideration.
When we reach a clause by clause consideration of the bill various questions may arise. In some clauses of the bill the hon. member has gone a little far afield. I do not wish to discuss in detail the clauses of the bill but the hon. gentleman set specific limits on board and lodging. I am wondering whether those limits are the same in cases where the employer pays more than the minimum wage. I wonder whether the hon. member intends to set a rate of 50 cents for a meal and 75 cents for lodging in cases where the employer is paying as high as $2.50 an hour for labour. The provisions of the bill are vague in some respects and unrealistic in the light of present day costs, and these matters would have to be discussed when we reach detailed consideration of the bill.
The bill covers all federal employees. As I have said, most of these are fully covered by union agreements arranged through collective bargaining between the employer and the employee. I think of employees such as those engaged on railways, air lines and in communications. In paragraph (g) of clause 3 of the bill reference is made to employment in banks and banking. I am wondering whether employees in this field should be included in a measure of this kind. Questions of this sort would have to be examined by any committee considering the bill.
The hon. member proposes that records must be kept. I do not know the background
of this recommendation but the records proposed appear rather elaborate and would, I fear, become onerous. Perhaps modification is required here.
The hon. member has said this is a simple bill to provide a minimum wage of $1.25 an hour. I agree it is simple in its basic philosophy but not in any other respect. Before this bill was passed by parliament it would have to be thoroughly examined in committee. I am wondering, on the basis of indications in the last week, whether there would be sufficient time for the bill to receive the intensive checking in committee that would be necessary. I am in general agreement with the concept behind the bill but feel it requires thorough examination. I suppose the banking and commerce committee would be the appropriate place to which to refer the bill so that representatives of industry and labour could appear before the committee and state their views.
Topic: INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS
Subtopic: PROVISION OF MINIMUM RATE OF WAGES FOR EMPLOYEES