Newton Wesley Rowell (Minister presiding over the Department of Health; President of the Privy Council)
No, that will be reached later.
No, that will be reached later.
I would like to get an answer from my hon. friend.
I am sure my hon. friend will appreciate that where a staff is in existence and is entitled to certain salaries, those salaries must be voted and paid. If, as the result of investigation of the department, it is found that the staff should' be reduced, then, of course, those men who are relieved of service will not get paid. In the meantime the money must be provided to carry on the service with the present staff.
But in the report which was laid on the table of the House the other day you have the admission on the part of the Government that this department is overburdened with a large number of civil servants, and the reason given for the appointment of the firm I have referred to is that their investigation of the department will enable them to recommend the dismissal of a large number of employees. It is further stated that this investigation will be carried out within a reasonably short time. Therefore, I do not see why you increase the figures this year.
I am sorry that I cannot add to the answer I have already given ' to my hon. friend.
Am I to understand
then that this report is a sham, and that the Government does not believe the expenditure in the department will be decreased as suggested? Has my hon. friend read the report?
Yes, I have.
Well what does the report say?
I may say to my hon.
friend that this will be a proper matter for consideration when the item in connection
with the reorganization of the Civil Service comes before the committee. Then the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Sir George Foster), who is responsible for the item, will be able to deal with my hon. friend's question. I submit that this is not the occasion to enter into such a general discussion as my hon. friend has referred to. Let me repeat: this item covers only the salaries of the existing staff of the inside service, plus the ordinary statutory increases to which they are entitled. The vote is necessary if the service is to be carried on. An Act, which has already passed this House provides that retiring allowances shall be paid out of salaries, the salary vote; so that it is necessary to have this vote, even if some employees are retired. No one can say what the reduction will be. We would not be justified in reducing the vote at this stage.
It is understood that there will be a general unloading of the staff of the Post Office Department, yet we are asked to vote a larger amount for salaries this year than we voted last year.
Some time ago I directed the attention of the Government to the fact that when a holiday falls on Monday and the mails are not delivered in the cities on that day, the result is that for two days there is no delivery of mail. I am informed that this is a handicap to trade throughout the country, and I have been asked to make this representation to the Government with a view to their remedying the situation.
Item agreed to. Post Office-outside service-salaries and allowances, etc., $22,423,143.50.
There is a good deal of agitation among the rural mail carriers with regard to their remuneration; in fact, they have asked that they be put on a salary allowance. I do not know that I am in sympathy with that suggestion, but in their complaint they say that when they are allowed to resign from their positions and their routes are opened up again, the department sends inspectors around who practically coerce them into submitting a lower tender. than will pay them to carry out the work. Does the minister know, that this system or theory is carried out by the department? If so, in my judgment it should not be. These men should have a fair opportunity of tendering in the open market and of getting reasonable remuneration for the work they do. If any of them
are forced to carry on under the agreements which they made three or four years ago, they will be out of pocket. We should treat these men fairly, just as we would treat any other human beings.
I should like to add just
a word to what the two previous speakers have said with regard to rural mail drivers. As I understand the matter, they have two chief grievances, both of which seem to be very fairly argued. One is that the pay which is accorded to them is entirely too low, and the other is that they have to wait for an unusually long time, something like three or four months, for their pay.
The conditions under which rural mail drivers are suffering are, of course, the result of what we call the high cost of living, and they have not had the' relief that has (been given to others in the postal service who are known as civil servants. The rural mail drivers are not, I understand, strictly speaking, civil servants, but they obtain their employment under the contract system. As everyone knows, in the last four years conditions have changed very materially for the worse for all of us as regards living costs. I well remember, two years ago, I think it was, 'when the Minister of Justice (Mr. Doherty) was acting Postmaster General, when a similar complaint was made on behalf of the rural carriers, he stated that where it could be shown that conditions had become very much worse since the contracts were signed, if proper representations were made, the men could be relieved of their contracts and new contracts could be entered into. I believe something of that kind has been done, but I do not believe it has been altogether general. I understand there are still a good many cases of men who are receiving utterly inadequate remuneration and who have not been relieved of their contracts, in some cases, possibly because they have not had sufficient assurance to go to the Government or, perhaps, to go to the hon. member representing their constituency and ask him to help them out. It has been only those who have had sufficient assurance to try to help themselves who have received relief. I can say from my experience, without casting any criticism upon any official, that where applications have been made on behalf of those who have a grievance, relief has not always been given. A serious condition certainly exists. For example, in the riding which I represent, one rural
driver was obliged to keep two horses, and he gave all his time to the work for a salary of $1,000 a year or a little more. As a matter of fact, when he figured this out carefully, he found that he had for himself something like $1.50 a day. It may be stated that he tendered for his contract, and that is true, but I do not believe that in case of contracts with private employers, such employers would, under the new conditions of living, insist in all cases upon their employees living up to the terms of the contract. The Government of Canada might very well grant to these people reconsideration of their contracts. In fact, the condition is such now that the whole subject of rural mail contracts ought to be reviewed, and they ought to be placed on some definite, fair basis. The drivers, I believe, asked for $60 a mile, and while I am not prepared to say whether that is fair or not, I believe it is not very far from a just figure. In the case which I have just mentioned where the man was receiving a little over $1,000 a year, he had a route of something over thirty miles. That contract was finally cancelled and new tenders were called for. The lowest of the first tenders that came in was for $1,800, and the department would not accept that, because they said it was altogether too high. New tenders were accordingly called for, and the result was that the department had to give a contract at $1,800, which, under the circumstances, I thought was not too high. The Government should review the whole case and make some definite, fair arrangement under which all the men and not only a few will receive remuneration in accordance with their services and in accordance with the self-respect of 'Canada. Moreover, some change ought to be made in regard to the manner in which the men are paid. Men ought not to be called upon to wait for three or even four months before receiving their cheques.
I should like to commend the action of the Government in connection with their work as regards the rural mail. Whilst I do not altogether agree with the petition of the rural mail carriers, I think many of the points in their petition are in the right direction. My object in rising is principally to point out-and I say this from my knowledge and experience in my calling-that when these men complete their outfit, it is impossible for them at present prices to exist. In my county, I know some of them, serving, perhaps, two routes, have been losing from $1 to $2 a day. It might be possible to meet part of their peti-
tion by giving a certain amount per mile to the present mail carriers. I do not say whether $60 a mile would be right or not, but from my present knowledge, it would not be very much out of the way. I am, however, satisfied on this point, that while the present system of tendering was all right in the old days, it is not right to-day, and the unfortunate part of the matter is that a great deal of work is done, not by young men, but by men up in years who, perhaps, have small families, and it is quite impossible for the work to be done at present prices. In the near future, some new course may possibly be adopted which may be in the interest, not only of the department, but of the rural mail carriers.
Mr. MACKIE (North Renfrew):
From information which I have gathered, I should draw the conclusion that each and every member of this House has approached the Postmaster General or someone in authority asking for an increase in the indemnity paid to the rural route delivery people. They have done so at the request of the drivers and probably at the request of many of their constituents, and I doubt if there is a rural constituent who is not in favour of an increase. When the rural constituents and the members approach the Government, what conclusion are we to form as to the obstinacy of the Government ot the department in not meeting the wishes of the members?
I should like to support the contention put forward by the hon. member for Maisonneuve (Mr. Lemieux), the hon. member for Waterloo North (Mr. Euler) and some hon. members on 'the other side. The claim of the rural mail carriers is well founded. I do not believe there is a (member of this House who has been at liberty to consider the claims of the rural mail carriers who is not convinced that their demands should be supported by every member, and be granted by Parliament. The mail carriers serve their country throughout the whole year practically without a single day's rest, with the possible exception of Sunday. Nothing but force majeure deters them from carrying out the conditions of their contract. In a blinding snowstorm and the worst possible weather they carry the mail and distribute it to the boxes along their route. They ask for $60 per mile per year. In other words, they ask that the mail carrier who carries the mail, say, ten rriiles from the post office and back again tVie
same day, should receive $1,200 a year, that is, twenty .miles at $60 per mile. The man who has such a task to perform has to keep two horses. Is there any man in this House who would consider that too much to pay a man who has to keep two horses and rigs, winter and summer, and give almost his whole time to the work? I do not believe it is too much. It is claimed by the Government that if a contractor is not satisfied with the price he is receiving he may ask the Postmaster General to cancel his contract and new tenders will be called for. But in many cases the mail carrier has been at that job ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years. He has practically abandoned all hope of engaging in any other occupation, and should he ask for the cancellation of his contract, the possibility exists that someone else not in full possession of all the circumstances and requirements may submit a lower tender and get the contract. The new man afterwards finds himself in a very serious and very precarious position because he has tendered too low. I think the Government should enter into a conference with representatives of the mail carriers from all over the country, and discuss this question with a view to an agreement whereby, without the treasury of the country being robbed, the hardships of these people will be relieved. I agree with all that has been said by hon. members who have spoken on this subject as to the hardships which the mail carriers are enduring patiently in the public service. The only answer that is given bv the department is: " They decided to accent the price they are now being paid, so they cannot complain. They can have their contract cancelled if they wish, and new tenders will be called for."
For the reasons I have given I do not think it is fair to expose these men to the risk of losing a contract with the conditions of which they have complied, in some cases, for a quarter of a century.
As there will probably be no vote, I just want to stand up and say that in my judgment I think something ought to be done for the men engaged in rural mail delivery. In my constituency, where the routes are long and the roads bad, the present terms are a great 'hardship. I would also like to put in a word for the country postmasters, who I think are perhaps the poorest paid officials of the Government.