December 17, 1957

LABOUR CONDITIONS

BRITISH COLUMBIA-ANNOUNCEMENT OF CONTINUED OPERATION OF HOWE SOUND COMPANY

PC

Edmund Davie Fulton (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Progressive Conservative

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

Labour Conditions

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.

Topic:   LABOUR CONDITIONS
Subtopic:   BRITISH COLUMBIA-ANNOUNCEMENT OF CONTINUED OPERATION OF HOWE SOUND COMPANY
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CCF

Colin Cameron

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Colin Cameron (Nanaimo):

May I ask

the minister a supplementary question. Are these payments contingent on the price of copper remaining at the same level, or will there be a provision that if the world price of copper rises then these payments from public funds will cease?

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PC

Edmund Davie Fulton (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fulton:

The payments are not contingent on the price of copper remaining at a fixed level. The government has indicated its willingness to enter into a commitment for up to six months. The company has entered into a commitment to keep operating for as long as may be practicable. If the price of copper should fall I would assume the company would have another look at the situation.

If the price of copper should rise, then I would assume that the need for assistance will be proportionately lessened, but that would be a matter for further negotiation.

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LIB

Donald Ferguson Brown

Liberal

Mr. D. F. Brown (Essex West):

May I ask a

supplementary question. I note that the minister said that assistance will be given by the government particularly with respect to housing the workers of Britannia mine. Will the government give similar assistance to the workers in the automobile factories of Windsor, who as of last week numbered about 16,000?

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PC

Daniel Roland Michener (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Speaker:

That is hardly a supplementary question. If the hon. member would like to have it answered I will call orders of the day and we will take the question as having been repeated. Does the minister wish to deal with it?

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PC

Edmund Davie Fulton (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fulton:

Of course I cannot speak for the government on a general proposition of that nature. I was entrusted by my colleagues with the responsibility of negotiating some arrangement whereby we might enable these men to continue in employment for the winter. As I have pointed out, the situation here was that if there was closure of the mine not only would there be discontinuance of employment but there would be men thrown out of accommodation in an isolated community a week before Christmas. It was with that unique situation in mind that we have been able to find a solution to that particular problem.

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LIB

Donald Ferguson Brown

Liberal

Mr. Brown (Essex West):

Will the minister then give assurance that Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation will not dispossess a great many of our automobile workers?

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CCF

Thomas Speakman Barnett

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. T. S. Barnett (Comox-Alberni):

I should like to ask the minister a question related to the statement he just made. Does the minister expect to be able to make an early announcement regarding what will be done about ensuring that those who are not remaining in the employ of the company for the time being will be able to continue to reside in the houses they now occupy?

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PC

Edmund Davie Fulton (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fulton:

As I have indicated, Mr. Speaker, that is a matter which is still under consideration, and as soon as any solution of that problem has been found we will be glad to announce it right away.

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CCF

Thomas Speakman Barnett

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Barnett:

Does the minister anticipate that something will be settled soon with regard to that matter?

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PC

Edmund Davie Fulton (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fulton:

I can only say in answer to that question that we are quite aware of the emergent nature of the situation and will treat it as such to the best of our ability.

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PC

Edmund Davie Fulton (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fulton:

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to advise the house that I have just been handed a copy of a telegram received in my office, which advises me that the provincial government of British Columbia confirm that they are prepared to share in the cost of keeping the Britannia mine open on a temporary basis to the extent of 20 per cent up to a maximum of $30,000. On the basis of the figures so far available to me I am satisfied that the maximum would not be reached and that therefore we can expect a 20 per cent contribution from the province of British Columbia.

On the orders of the day:

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LIB

Donald Ferguson Brown

Liberal

Mr. Brown (Essex West):

May I direct a question to the Minister of Justice and another to the Minister of Public Works. First of all may I direct a question to the Minister of Justice. Can he tell us whether the operations of the Britannia mine are carried on in his constituency?

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PC

Edmund Davie Fulton (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fulton:

Mr. Speaker, acting in my capacity as a member of the government, I regard myself as having a responsibility to the whole dominion.

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PC

Daniel Roland Michener (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Speaker:

The hon. member for St. John's East.

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LIB

Donald Ferguson Brown

Liberal

Mr. Brown (Essex West):

May I direct a supplementary question to the Minister of Public Works.

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PC

Daniel Roland Michener (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Speaker:

Afterwards; I have recognized the hon. member for St. John's East.

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LIB

Hédard-J. Robichaud

Liberal

Mr. H. J. Robichaud (Gloucester):

In view of the announcement made earlier by the Minister of Justice, will the minister advise the house whether a similar policy will be adopted by the government for other minerals such as zinc and lead, which are facing a problem similar to that of the Britannia mine and which today affect very seriously my own constituency of Gloucester and other areas in northern New Brunswick?

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December 17, 1957