December 18, 1957

PC

Charles Edward Rea

Progressive Conservative

The Acting Chairman (Mr. Rea):

I think the hon. member for Essex East knows we have already passed that legislation concerning excise tax. I do not believe that should be discussed again.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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LIB

Paul Joseph James Martin

Liberal

Mr. Martin (Essex East):

With great respect to you, Mr. Chairman, what I have indicated tonight is that we have this unemployment problem. I am indicating too that the administration of the day, when sitting in opposition, argued that the government should take stronger steps than the mere provision of social measures in order to find some way of providing employment for the unemployed population of our country. I am examining now the steps the government has taken in attempting to reach its objective of providing employment. What I am arguing is that these policies of this government are not following along lines which were clearly implied in the positions they took about the provision of employment when they were in opposition.

What national development schemes has the government in mind for relieving this problem? We were told by the present Prime Minister, at least on two occasions and on one occasion I recall by the former leader of the opposition speaking for those of the treasury bench party when they were on this side, about schemes which if pursued by this government could provide employment for many thousands of our workmen. We were told about a special highway scheme in addition to the national scheme that was envisaged by the previous administration. In other words, the positions taken by hon. gentlemen opposite on former occasions, and the suggestions made by them for the relief of unemployment are now applicable and open to them for adoption and certainly for consideration as as to whether or not those are the methods which if adopted, might somewhat mitigate this problem of unemployment.

There were proposals made by the hon. member for Vancouver-Burrard. We were reminded of them today. He wrote to the prime minister pointing out that in the city of Vancouver there was much unemployment.

He had gone out to see that situation himself, and as a result of his investigations he put forward a program of development. It was embodied in the letter which he addressed to the prime minister. We have a right to know, in discussing unemployment, what the government's attitude is with regard to that particular proposal. Does the government regard it as a means by which unemployment in that particular section of the country could be reduced? It will not be enough for this administration to say tonight that they are taking another step in improving legislation brought down by the previous government because that legislation, as we were reminded then, is not a means by which men and women out of work can be provided with gainful employment.

I suggest to the Minister of National Health and Welfare, who is charged with the responsibility of this particular relief or social measure, that the government as a whole is responsible for providing, in accordance with the stand it has taken on previous occasions, measures by which unemployment can be reduced in this country. It will not be open to suggestion that this is a difficult problem. We all recognize it is a difficult problem. It will not be open to them to say they are pursuing the same kind of course which the previous administration pursued. The fact is that they took a position when in opposition; and if those positions were sincere then, we have every right to ask them to implement those suggestions or now to admit that criticisms which they made on those occasions did not have the validity which they argued at that time and that these various proposals put forward by them did possess the merit they were said to possess. Have we the assurance of the Minister of National Health and Welfare that there will be agreement now by all of the provinces with regard to the measure that he is now suggesting for amendment?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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PC

Charles Edward Rea

Progressive Conservative

The Acting Chairman (Mr. Rea):

Order. I must advise the hon. member for Essex East that his time has expired.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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CCF

Colin Cameron

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

Mr. Cameron:

This resolution takes me back a great many years-20 years to be precise-when I was sitting, as it were, at the other end of the country as a member of the legislature of British Columbia. It takes me back 20 years because that was the date upon which the federal government of the day decided to appoint a royal commission to examine dominion-provincial relations; and included in their terms of reference was an examination of the respective responsibilities for the relief of unemployment.

I recall very clearly, Mr. Chairman, those rather grim years when those of us who sat

Unemployment Assistance Act in the legislature of British Columbia used to watch the flood of misery that poured into our province from the whole of Canada because the unfortunate people who came there came on the very understandable thesis that it was more comfortable to starve in a mild climate than in subzero temperatures. That flood, added to our sea of misery, presented an almost impossible burden to the legislature and the government of British Columbia. If my memory serves me rightly, the total cost to the taxpayers of British Columbia during those tragic years was in the neighbourhood of $96 million, a staggering sum for a population which at that time was very little in excess of half a million and whose provincial revenues were in the neighbourhood of $18 or $19 million a year. That was a very different proposition from the present British Columbia with a population of, I believe, If million and provincial revenues running into the neighbourhood of, I believe, $300 million.

The lapse of time since then has wiped out from my memory the strict chronology of all the various shifts and turns that were taken in the policies between the provincial government and the federal government, the various schemes that were promoted for grants in aid, for loans from the federal authorities and so on. Finally, of course, in 1937 there was the establishment of the Rowell-Sirois commission. It will be readily understandable that those of us who were dealing with those frightful problems on the coast at that time should have been keenly interested in the establishment of that royal commission and keenly interested in what would be their findings with regard to what was then the major problem of public administration in Canada.

I think it might be of interest, Mr. Chairman, if we were to recall just what were the recommendations of that commission with regard to the responsibility it suggested should be assumed by the federal government. On page 25 of the second volume of the Rowell-Sirois report we find this in their recommendations under the heading "Prevention and Relief of Unemployment". I am rather interested to find now-I had forgotten it-the use of the word "prevention" there as well. The commission says:

The assumption of responsibility by the dominion for relief or aid of unemployed employables would entail (1) complete financial responsibility; (2) full control of administration.

Then it goes on to outline the various things it considered would be necessary for efficient administration. The point I want to emphasize is that at that time the Rowell-Sirois commission recommended that the federal government should assume 100 per

2570 HOUSE OF

Unemployment Assistance Act cent responsibility for aid to the employable unemployed. At that time, the time of the establishment of the Rowell-Sirois commission, the unemployment figure stood at 411,000 or 9.08 per cent of the labour force of that date. I believe it is useful for us to consider those figures.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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LIB

John Whitney Pickersgill

Liberal

Mr. Pickersgill:

What was the date?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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CCF

Colin Cameron

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

Mr. Cameron:

The year 1937 was the year in which the commission was established. I believe it is useful for us to consider that point now, namely that that was the unemployment situation at that time when, in the opinion of this royal commission, it was no longer possible for the provinces to assume even part of the financial responsibility for the care of the employable unemployed.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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LIB

John Whitney Pickersgill

Liberal

Mr. Pickersgill:

Would the hon. gentleman permit a purely factual question?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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CCF

Colin Cameron

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

Mr. Cameron:

Yes.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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LIB

John Whitney Pickersgill

Liberal

Mr. Pickersgill:

Is it not true that the report was made in 1941, not in 1937?

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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CCF

Colin Cameron

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

Mr. Cameron:

Yes; it was made in 1940, as a matter of fact.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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LIB

John Whitney Pickersgill

Liberal

Mr. Pickersgill:

I should say 1940.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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CCF

Colin Cameron

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

Mr. Cameron:

Yes. I am not pretending that it was not made in 1940. The report was made in 1940. I merely wanted to emphasize the conditions that obtained when the commission first began its hearing. In fact, I think one might say that by the time the report was made the findings with regard to unemployment assistance were largely academic because we had moved out of that situation; and it is not until the last 18 months that we have gone back to something approximating those conditions. I think that is the point which we should consider now, namely that if at that time it was considered that unemployment of 9.08 per cent of our labour force warranted a recommendation that the federal government should assume 100 per cent responsibility, we should examine our present situation to discover just what level of unemployment would have to be reached today to approximate those conditions of 1937, with this additional point, that the Rowell-Sirois commission came to the conclusion that the province was unable to assume that responsibility at that time. It is fair to admit, of course, that they were recommending changes in the distribution of tax fields but at that time the income tax and the corporation tax were still in the hands of the provincial authorities.

To reproduce the unemployment situation of 1937 today would require unemployment figures to rise to some 578,000 in order to be

9.08 per cent of the present labour force of some 5,900,000; that is the figure if my arithmetic is correct. I note that the hon. member for Bonavista-Twillingate is doing some figuring. If I have done the calculation wrongly, I hope he will tell me. However, that is what I figure it to be, that about

578.000 will reproduce those conditions that obtained in 1937 when it was considered impossible for the provinces to bear any of the load of unemployment assistance for the employable unemployed.

What .are the figures today? The latest figures I have seen are these. I agree with the hon. member for Essex East that it is extremely difficult to know what figures one accepts as there are conflicting figures produced on different bases by different government agencies. But one figure I have seen for November 15, a month ago, was

352.000 out of work. Like the hon. member for Essex East, I have seen estimates from responsible trade union officials-research men-that the figure may very well reach

800.000 before this winter is out. However, even if we discount that estimate to a great extent and even if we suggest that the figure of 800,000 is an exaggeration, I think we can hardly avoid the conclusion that a figure approximating 600,000 is certainly within the realm of possibility for the future months. That would bring the situation in 1957 not really on a level with that in 1937, it would even be slightly worse than the situation was then. This bill to amend the Unemployed Assistance Act is proposing in 1957, 20 years after the Rowell-Sirois commission was set up, to go just 50 per cent of the way along the road recommended by that commission.

I would suggest, Mr. Chairman, that the government should seriously consider what the situation may be a few months' time. I am in receipt almost every day of letters from my own and neighbouring constituencies pointing out to me the very serious and increasingly bad unemployment situation in British Columbia. I am not in a position to know whether it is worse there than it is in other parts of the country, but I do know it is extremely bad and I can very well foresee that if we do reach unemployment figures such as have been suggested by research officials of various bodies in the country, the province of British Columbia is going to find it as impossible to carry this load as was formerly the case 20 years ago, namely in 1937.

If on the other hand unemployment figures show no rise and begin to decline and they remain within manageable proportions, then I would suggest to the government that the

payment of 100 per cent as proposed by the Rowell-Sirois commission would not be a crushing burden on the federal government. If, however, they do rise to that figure then this government is going to have to do it and they are going to have to completely re-cast their whole fiscal policy in order to be able to do it.

Of even more importance is the fact that if they are going to have to do the sort of thing the hon. member for Essex East was challenging them to do just now, that is to put into practical effect the rather ambiguous suggestions made when they were in opposition, then there will be even more necessity for a complete re-casting of the fiscal policy of the federal government. I say this because, as was said earlier today, we are facing a very difficult financial problem with regard to another social need and it is perfectly obvious that if that social need is to be looked after the fiscal policies of this government are going to have to be changed.

I therefore suggest to the government that it should take the bull by the horns now and go on the assumption that before very many months are out it is going to have to assume 100 per cent of the cost of assistance to employable unemployed, and I urge it to make the necessary arrangements now and make the necessary plans for fulfilling that task which is going to be laid on their shoulders, I think, within the next six months. I can think of no better authority for making that suggestion than the highly responsible commission of 20 years ago which, in circumstances not very different from those which lie before us today, made that as their first recommendation with regard to social services and the division of the cost of such social services between the two levels of government. I would hope that the government would not rest content merely with this rather pointless and not very effective amendment to an existing and inadequate piece of legislation brought in by my friends of the Liberal administration which preceded the present Conservative government.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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SC

George William McLeod

Social Credit

Mr. McLeod:

I would like to get in a few words in order to state our policies and our views with respect to this resolution. So far as we are concerned, we understand that in this resolution of a very few and concise words we are asked to consider an important matter and I can quite well appreciate the fact that there is room to open up the whole unemployment problem. I do not think, however, that this is the time or the place for such a debate.

It seems to me from the two speakers we have just heard that there has been no commitment as to whether or not they are

Unemployment Assistance Act in favour of this legislation. We know, just as well as they do, that it is not a cure-all for the serious problems facing this government but we do believe it is legislation which is necessary and, in accord with our policy ever since this session opened, we assess each resolution or each piece of legislation which is presented to us on its merits. We then plan our action accordingly and it is therefore our position in respect to this legislation that it is timely and it should be welcomed by this house.

Now having said that, of course, I am not admitting that we have no serious unemployment problem but, in face of the rising numbers of unemployment and in face of the financial problems and burdens which this is placing on the various provinces, I do believe it is necessary that we should take very prompt action to rid the provinces of all that portion of the burden which can possibly be taken off their shoulders at this time.

We are well aware that unemployment should be strictly a federal problem, because unemployment in large measure-especially at the present time-is due to the financial policies not only of this government but of the past government. We are therefore fully conscious that this legislation is not perfect; it is not placing the full responsibility where it should be placed, but even on the understanding that it is a step in the right direction and that it is going to take some of the burden off the provinces, where it should not at any time be placed, I say we welcome it and we are going to support it. We will do our best to speed it through the house and will do nothing to delay its passing.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
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LIB

Lionel Chevrier (Official Opposition House Leader; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Chevrier:

Mr. Chairman, I would like to approach this resolution from a somewhat different angle than that discussed by the three hon. members who have preceded me. If I rise at this time to take part in the discussion it is not so much to deal with the unemployment situation, as has been dealt with so ably by my colleague the hon. member for Essex East, as to deal with another aspect of the subject.

It seems to me that while on the face of it the resolution seems innocent enough, nonetheless it is subject to interpretation which in my opinion makes it perhaps complex and confusing. I thought the Prime Minister stated in his letter of October 31 when he invited the provincial premiers to the dominion-provincial conference in Ottawa that at that time there would be taken up the question of financial arrangements and fiscal accords with the provinces; such was not the case.

Unemployment Assistance Act

In his speech at the conference the Prime Minister devoted but one paragraph and that paragraph was vague enough-to the subject of fiscal arrangements. In his letter he had suggested that other aspects of the dominion-provincial relations could be considered, but only incidentally. In his speech it was these special subjects which were brought to the attention of the premiers, notably the hospitalization plan, the unemployment assistance which is now before the house by way of resolution, and assistance to the Atlantic provinces.

It seems to me that the resolution which we have before us must be considered in its historical aspect, its historical perspective, to understand its nature and its implications.

It seems necessary to me, Mr. Chairman, to view this measure in its historical perspective in order to understand its nature and implications.

Traditionally, the whole field of assistance to the unemployed was considered to be a provincial responsibility. In 1941, when it was felt that a national unemployment insurance scheme, to be financed mainly through direct taxes, had become necessary in Canada the constitution was amended so as to give to the federal government complete authority in this matter. The amendment, however, applied only to the restricted sector of unemployment insurance and did not affect the constitutional responsibilities of the provinces with respect to assistance to the unemployed.

Up until recently, those responsibilities were left largely to the municipalities, which did their best, within their own limited financial ability, to meet the most evident cases of hardship and indigence through various schemes of public assistance.

Since the federal-provincial conferences of 1945 and 1946 it has become customary to make a distinction between employable and unemployable unemployed, and in recent years the federal government has offered to participate with the provinces in the cost of assistance to employable unemployed not receiving unemployment insurance benefits.

However, the previous federal government was of the view that assistance to unemployable unemployed was, and should remain, a responsibility of the provinces and the municipalities, because the nature and the forms of such assistance depended very largely on local conditions and customs.

While it was relatively easy to make a distinction in principle between employable and unemployable unemployed, it was found that it was quite impossible to apply this distinction in practice and to define clearly these two categories in legislative terms. That is

why in the present legislation a statistical device was used to maintain that distinction and to assert provincial responsibility in the field of public assistance to needy people not really belonging to the labour market.

The provincial statistics of public assistance cases showed that even during recent periods of intense prosperity and acute labour shortages, there was always a certain small proportion of the Canadian population which was unemployed, although of working age, so that it could safely be assumed that these unemployed people were, in fact, unemployable.

In discussions with provincial governments it was found that Ontario had the lowest proportion of such people and it was decided to accept its figures as a national basis to define the category of unemployable unemployed. This explains why the present legislation does not provide for federal participation in the assistance of unemployed people if the number of such people not receiving unemployment insurance benefits or mothers' allowances exceeds 0.45 per cent of the Canadian population.

In proposing to drop this threshold the present federal government is, therefore, asserting that it has a responsibility equal to that of the provinces in the field of assistance to unemployable unemployed or, more precisely, in the field of general public assistance which up to now had been considered, for good and sound reasons, as belonging exclusively to the provinces and the municipalities.

With the measure now before the committee, Mr. Chairman, the present government is thus invading one of the last sectors of social assistance which had been left, mainly, in certain provinces, to private charitable organizations and which is determined so largely by local conditions and customs. I merely want to point out, at this stage, that such a measure is quite inconsistent with the definite undertaking made by the Conservative party during the last electoral campaign to decentralize government responsibilities in our country. The provision embodied in the present resolution is a definite and important step in the direction of centralization, since the federal government assumes a new financial responsibility clearly belonging to the provinces, in the field of public assistance.

I should like also to recall briefly the amazing position taken by the Quebec government in this respect. It is reported-and I am sure that the minister will be able to confirm these reports-that when the federal government made the proposal included in this

resolution at the last federal-provincial conference this modification of the federal legislation did not appear to the Quebec premier to go far enough. In fact, the attitude taken by Mr. Duplessis was that the whole field of unemployment assistance as defined in the legislation belonged exclusively to the federal government, which should assume complete financial responsibility and, therefore, also administrative responsibility. I must confess that I am really surprised to see the Quebec government taking such an attitude, because it is evident that unemployment assistance, as defined in the federal legislation, covers the whole field of public assistance, with the exception of mothers' allowances.

It is the first time, to my knowledge that the Quebec premier criticized a measure favouring centralization by saying that it does not go far enough in that direction. Moreover, I am sure that most members in this house would be strongly opposed to the federal government taking over complete financial and administrative responsibility for unemployment assistance, as the scope of such assistance is usually defined. It would be most inappropriate and undesirable for the federal government to assume such responsibility.

There must be some confusion and misunderstanding somewhere. This is, Mr. Chairman, a very important matter, indeed, and we on this side of the house need some clarification on this issue. We want to know what is the position of the federal government in this respect. More precisely, we want to know from the minister what is his reaction to the contention of the premier of Quebec that the field of unemployment assistance, as presently defined, is an exclusive federal responsibility.

Business of the House

I see, Mr. Chairman, that it is ten o'clock.

Progress reported.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic:   AMENDMENTS TO REMOVE THRESHOLD PROVISION FROM AGREEMENTS, ETC.
Permalink

BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

LIB

Lionel Chevrier (Official Opposition House Leader; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Chevrier:

Mr. Speaker, may I ask the

leader of the house if he will tell us the business for tomorrow?

Topic:   BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
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PC

Howard Charles Green (Minister of Defence Production; Minister of Public Works; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Green:

Tomorrow, we will begin with item No. 1 on the day's order paper, house in committee on a bill dealing with branch lines of the Canadian National Railways; then item No. 2, an act respecting the Hamilton harbour commissioners; item No. 3, an act to amend the Canadian Vessel Construction Assistance Act; afterwards we will take item No. 17 which has just been under discussion, the resolution preceding an amendment to the Unemployment Assistance Act; item No. 7, second reading of an act to amend the Pension Act; followed by item No. 5, second reading of an act to provide for annual vacations with pay. The house would then consider the estimates of the Department of Justice.

Topic:   BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
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LIB

Lionel Chevrier (Official Opposition House Leader; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Chevrier:

Mr. Speaker, may I ask the leader of the house if he is able to indicate at this time-it is now Wednesday, and there are three days left-what the business is likely to be for the remaining days of the session.

Topic:   BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
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PC

Howard Charles Green (Minister of Defence Production; Minister of Public Works; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Green:

I think that on Friday we will be taking item No. 9, second reading of an act to provide for the stabilization of the prices of agricultural commodities. I am not yet able to say what the business will be on Saturday.

Topic:   BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
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At ten o'clock the house adjourned, without question put, pursuant to the order of the house passed on December 2, 1957. 96698-163$


December 18, 1957