Hon. E. D. Fulton (Minister of Justice):
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to inform the house that an arrangement has been worked out under which the directors of the Howe Sound Mining Company have agreed to keep the Britannia mine open on a reduced operating basis for a further period, which it is hoped will be at least six months. The parties to the arrangement are the dominion government, the government of British Columbia, the company and the mine workers. I am informed that a telegram has accordingly been sent from New York this morning to the mine management at Britannia.
As the house knows, for some weeks we have been holding discussions with the company, the men and the provincial government to see what could be done to avoid a shutdown of the mine with the disastrous consequence which would follow for the 700 men and their families who would have been thrown out of work as a result. It should be emphasized in fairness to the company that at no time have they ever either directly or indirectly sought governmental assistance or intervention. They have, however, shown throughout a highly commendable readiness to postpone a shut-down which their own experts urged them to make in order to carry on discussions in an effort to arrive at a solution which will keep the men at work notwithstanding that they were and still are incurring substantial losses.
At the time these discussions commenced the hope was to keep all the men at work. However, on December 3 the company advised that a further recommendation had been received from their consultants, as a result of which their directors had no option but to decide that it would be in effect an abuse of their property and a breach of their responsibility as directors to continue full scale mining operations under present conditions. We were, therefore, faced with a decision of the company that, effective today, these operations would be discontinued.
They were prepared, however, to consider an arrangement to continue operating on a
reduced scale if some assistance were forthcoming. This arrangement involves a complete reorganization of their operations, but will provide for the continued employment of between 350 and 400 personnel.
Although we were naturally disappointed that it was no longer possible to keep all the men at work, it was still most desirable to do everything possible to keep something over half of them in employment. I am very happy to be able to say that this has now been achieved.
The company has agreed, on the assurance that the assistance detailed later will be forthcoming, that it will reorganize its operations and continue work on the property in order to provide employment for between 350 and 400 personnel, thus avoiding a lay-off of the whole working force at a time of year when it would be virtually impossible for them to secure alternative work.
A substantial part of the company's operating cost is incurred in the expense of operation and maintenance of their townsite and the provision of services to the houses occupied by their employees, all of which are owned by the company. It is our thought, therefore, that the contribution of government should be founded on the basis of assistance in meeting these costs of supplying and servicing accommodation. On this basis, it has been agreed that if the two governments will provide a total of $20,000 per month for up to six months the company will continue its operations on the reduced scale referred to, and will continue to provide accommodation for the 350 to 400 personnel employed for such period as may be practicable.
As regards the amount of assistance to be provided by each government, it has been agreed that, if parliament approves, 80 per cent will be paid by the dominion government and 20 per cent by the government of British Columbia. I should say that the exact figure of percentage is subject to confirmation which we expect to receive very shortly, but it will be very close to the figure I have just mentioned. The men have already made, and will continue to make, a substantial contribution toward helping to solve this problem. The company will continue to incur substantial losses in the immediate future.
The government recognizes that what is proposed is unusual, but this is an unusual situation. Here is an industry in an isolated
locality, all of whose workers live in a company-operated and company-owned town. If the mine were to close now, not only would the employees be unable at this time of year to secure alternative employment but they and their families would be without accommodation. It is true that the plan which is proposed to keep the mine open for a few months involves only about one-half the workers, but it may nevertheless be possible -and this has yet to be worked out-to find some method of providing winter accommodation during the remainder of these winter months for those who unfortunately will have to be released from work.
This plan will thus not only maintain men and their families in employment and accommodation over the winter months when there would otherwise be no hope of finding alternatives for either, but also marks a unique co-operative effort to find a solution to a pressing problem, with contributions being made from four sources; the two governments, the men and the company.
With regard to the company, I should like to emphasize that for the last several months the mine has been operating at a loss of between $60,000 and $80,000 a month. Even with the assistance now to be provided and work being continued on a reduced scale, losses will continue to be substantial. It seems to me that the board of directors and the management are due a sincere expression of gratitude for their contribution in agreeing to keep the mine open under these conditions.
Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, the government will in the very near future be submitting a specific proposal to parliament to authorize the payment of $16,000 a month, or such other proportionate amount as will finally be agreed to with the province of British Columbia, toward defraying a portion of the costs of keeping the Britannia mine open for a period of up to six months.
Subtopic: BRITISH COLUMBIA-ANNOUNCEMENT OF CONTINUED OPERATION OF HOWE SOUND COMPANY