June 6, 1940 (19th Parliament, 1st Session)

LIB

Alan Chambers

Liberal

Mr. ALAN CHAMBERS (Nanaimo):

I
have listened to what some hon. members have said with regard to non-compliance by this government with the recommendations of the national employment commission, headed by Mr. Purvis of Montreal. Hon members have before them a copy of the report made in January, 1938. Hon. members will remember that at the first session of the new parliament elected in October, 1935, in pursuance of a statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) there was set up by this house through the National Employment Commission Bill a national employment commission which was intended to consist of representatives of labour, capital, youth, women's organizations, economic experts and so forth. The commission functioned and made reports from time to time. Several hon. members have stated categorically that none of the recommendations of this commission have been carried out. I propose to show that this statement is not quite in consonance with the facts.
The first work of the national employment commission was to find out what was the problem of unemployment in Canada, what it amounted to, how it was distributed geographically, and what form it took in the various sections of Canada. The first thing that was done, therefore-and I was glad to hear one hon. member refer to it a day or two ago-was to take a complete registration of persons on relief throughout Canada. That registration has been maintained from the time the commission ceased its work up to the present. The government, therefore, have been in a position to know continuously

Unemployment Relief-Mr. Chambers
since this first registration, what the unemployment situation has been, especially in regard to relief, in the various sections of Canada. Consequently it has been possible for the government and the Minister of Labour to formulate policies from time to time along the lines recommended by the commission to meet the varying conditions in the different parts of Canada.
Hon. members might like to have some comparison between the situation when the first registration was made and the situation at the present time. When the attack of the government on unemployment began in February, 1937, when the first registration was taken, some 260,000 fully employable persons of both sexes were receiving public assistance in Canada. In February, 1939- prior of course to the outbreak of the war, and two years after the government had begun their attack-this figure, by the application of the principles recommended by the national employment commission, had been reduced by some twenty-five per cent. The latest figure, that of January, 1940, shows a further reduction since the war began of about fifteen per cent for all Canada. These figures are from the director of unemployment relief, Department of Labour. This is in spite of a fifty per cent increase in registered unemployed persons on relief in the province of Quebec. I think you will agree with me, Mr. Chairman, that that makes a very big difference in the total figure for Canada.
In the report of the commission dated January 26, 1938, a national registration was recommended. I have dealt with that. They also recommended a nationally coordinated, directed and operated employment service. It is true that this recommendation has not been carried out; and I doubt very much if the employment commission expected it to be carried out when they made it, for this reason. I refer to the second section of the letter of transmission which accompanied the report, directed to the then minister of labour, the present Minister of National Defence:
As requested by you, the commission lias given consideration to the fact that the royal commission on dominion-provincial relations is investigating certain questions which have also come within the purview of the national employment commission. For this reason the commission has indicated in its report where certain action would, in its view, be contingent upon such financial adjustments as may emerge from the report of the royal commission on dominion-provincial relations.
It is unnecessary to remind hon. members that the report on dominion-provincial relations was tabled only at the opening of this session. I am not endeavouring in any sense
to beg the question. The remarks of the hon. member for St. Paul's (Mr. Ross) are much to the point as to the necessity for a national employment service, but he and other hon. members of this committee will recognize immediately that such a matter is an integral part of a national unemployment insurance measure, and that to have introduced it while the Sirois or Rowell commission was sitting would not have furthered any real planned attack upon unemployment.
The next recommendation of the employment commission was the setting up of a national advisory committee, and that recommendation was carried out. I know it was carried out, because I was a member of that committee. In addition to the general committee there were two committees set up to further advise the employment commission, and since the national employment commission resigned the minister has kept the members of those two committees in touch with the plans for the reconditioning and rehabilitation of both younger and older workers. They have done this work in a purely honorary capacity, not by visits to Ottawa or anything like that.
The next recommendation is one of the greatest importance, dealing with the question of the administration of assistance in connection with the reconditioning, reemployment or employment of homeless adults. These are the transients to whom the hon. member for St. Paul's referred a few moments ago. Let us see what the government have done since 1937-38 to carry out that recommendation. First of all they recommended to the provinces a farm employment plan. It was felt that if men who had worked on farms or who knew something of that work could be shown how to obtain farm employment and assisted into that employment, at least by being on the farm they would have an opportunity to take stock of their situation. I agree that it was a temporary measure, but action was taken and the recommendation of the employment commission was carried out. The recommendation was adopted by the provinces of Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. In 1936-37, forty-eight thousand men were placed on farms in those provinces, of whom 22,000 remained on the farms after the period of government assistance expired. In 1937-38 some 43,000 men were placed on the farms, of whom about 15,000 remained. In 1938-39 some 32,000 were placed, of whom about 10,000 stayed on the farms. Just here I should like to interpolate that the situation described by the hon. member for St. Paul's would not exist if the government of the premier of Ontario had cooperated with
562 COMMONS
Unemployment Reliej-Mr. Chambers
this national government in its endeavour to take care of the transient problem in Ontario. And I should like to go further and say that if the plan for the relief of homeless, transient men in Ontario, as put forward by the Minister of Labour to the premier of Ontario, had been accepted by that province, the western provinces would not have found many hundreds of young Ontario men drifting out there, as was the case between 1936 and 1938.
In addition to the main farm employment plan there were other, supplementary plans for the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, under which in 1936 some
7,000 men were placed; in 1937 some 4,500 men and approximately the same number in 1938. These supplementary plans were also open to the other provinces if they desired to take advantage of them. In addition the youth training section of the work of the Department of Labour has been open to homeless transients though they had no domicile and therefore technically were unable to take advantage of that plan. I quote from the Youth Training Act, of which paragraph (ii) of the interpretation clause states:
. . . deserving transients certified as eligible by an appropriate provincial authority. . . .
So much, then, for action along the lines of meeting the problem of homeless transient men. I would not want members of this committee to think for a moment that I consider the action taken to be completely adequate; but if I may I should like to set forth more or less exhaustively what the record indicates as having been done.
The next recommendation of the employment commission deals with the question of housing. Those who have perused the report will realize that when the employment commission began their work they found a heavy carry-over of unemployed persons from the depression and were faced with an annual increment of about 300,000 unemployed young people coming out of our places of education. On the other hand they found that with trade figures going up, employment was expanding. But they found one section of Canadian economic life in which that expansion was not taking place; that was in the construction industry. Therefore, naturally, they made several recommendations to give the building and construction industry a shot in the arm, if I may use that expression, knowing as they did and as we all know that as long as an industry of that magnitude lagged behind, a great deal of unemployment slack would remain not taken up. The government accepted that recommendation and implemented it by extending the operation of the act placed upon the statute book by the administration of
rMr. Chambers.]
Right Hon. R. B. Bennett. I am able to give the house some of the figures with regard to the implementation of that recommendation of the employment commission.
Up to May 31 of this year, 16,550 family housing units have been financed under the national housing measure, the amount of the loans being $56,000,000 and the estimated amount of construction financed about $70,000,000. The estimated expenditure for direct labour in this connection, which of course is most important since this is an unemployment relief measure, is some $27,000,000. I submit to members of the committee that this is a definite achievement.
Again, on the question of housing, I believe it was the present Minister of Labour (Mr. McLarty) who made the original suggestion at the session of 1936 that a plan such as was later introduced, namely the home improvement plan, should be instituted and put into operation. Under that plan the credit of the Dominion of Canada would be placed behind any citizen who could meet the specified regulations, and under it that citizen would be able to carry out repairs or necessary alterations to his home or to the buildings adjacent thereunto which on account of the depression he had been prevented from making.
The minister at the time accepted the recommendation and proceeded to carry out what came to be known as the home improvement plan. Up to May 31, 1940-and I am attempting to bring my figures as nearly as possible up to date-some $42,000,000 has been guaranteed on loans. The estimated direct labour cost of work done under this scheme, the assistance to tradesmen who had been either employed or unemployed, as the case may have been, amounted to $18,000,000, and the estimated man-hours of work stands at about 27,000,000.
I do not think any hon. member will disagree with me when I say that the government has implemented the recommendations of the national employment commission so far as housing is concerned. In addition to that the National Housing Act was amended by the present administration in 1938 by the addition of a section permitting municipalities to set up schemes whereby block or mass housing, commonly known as low-rental housing, might be undertaken. I agree with hon. members who say that full advantage of this opportunity has not been taken, but I believe we should continue to give credit to the government for having provided the necessary statutory authority, and I sincerely hope that hon. members may be in a position to give such advice to the government as will enable this section of the statute to become more

Unemployment Relief-Mr. Chambers
operative so as to provide better housing conditions in the slum sections of our Canadian cities.
The sixth recommendation of the national employment commission had to do with training and reconditioning. From the outset that was intended to operate in the field of youth. It was felt that among the 450,000 young unemployed men and women the depression had left as a legacy to the government which assumed office in 1935 there were many who were in need of reconditioning, whose weakened moral fibre and desire to struggle to obtain employment and whose lack of experience were tremendous factors in preventing them from gaining employment in what was then a rising or expanding employment market.
The government therefore accepted the recommendations of the national employment commission to proceed to carry out training and reconditioning. I should like to place before the committee some facts in this connection. Hon. members are no doubt aware that in the first instance training and reconditioning were carried out by virtue of the yearly legislation, similar to that which will be founded on the resolution we are now discussing. In 1939 owing to the success of those plans, a measure, upon which the Youth Training Act was founded, was introduced. May I tell hon. members that from 1937, when the first work of this kind was undertaken, until March 31, 1940, a total of 165,000 young men and women of Canada who had been unemployed received reconditioning training and rehabilitation.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT RELIEF
Subtopic:   ALLEVIATION OF UNEMPLOYMENT AND AGRICULTURAL DISTRESS-UNDERTAKINGS IN GENERAL INTEREST AND FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO PROVINCES
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