Mr. Chairman, I regret that I was not in the committee when the post office estimates were first called, to have the opportunity of hearing the opening remarks of the Postmaster General. However, I shall read them in Hansard, as I know they will indicate an enthusiasm for his new position.
I always have taken a great interest in post office affairs. I can remember looking over the estimates and noting where this department showed a surplus of $6 million, $8 million some years, $9 million and as high as $13 million. I used to think that this was a wonderful department of the government when it could pay all its expenses and still show these enormous surpluses. All of a sudden, without any warning, they faded away; not only that, there is a deficit. I am not condemning the Postmaster General, but it would be most interesting to have a committee of this House of Commons find out how that money disappeared so quickly. Surely there must have been some easy sliding in connection with it. Otherwise how could a surplus of $11 million disappear and the following year have a deficit of many millions of dollars?
As I say, I am not placing any blame on the Postmaster General, but it would be most interesting to find out those facts. Were there fewer postage stamps sold? We know it is pretty hard to tell the cost of a four cent postage stamp. I suppose it would be a very small fraction of a cent. Anyway, I would like to see this brought before the house so we might learn how it is that the Post Office Department does not show a revenue. It is said, of course, that there is a revenue; but at the same time we are asked to vote $110,881,988. If the old method of accounting had been followed in this department we would have some idea of the revenue it produced. Instead of that, however, we are confronted with this vote of more than $110 million, and I am sure hon. members would be interested to learn what the earning capacity of the Post Office Department actually is.
I was surprised to hear the hon. member for Wellington South suggest a few moments ago that there should be a five-day week for mail carriers, or couriers; I am not sure which term he used. He had better not suggest that to the people in the community in which I live. They would not want to go back to a five-day week service. In fact, they are asking for something more than a six-day week. Some communities are asking for double delivery, if the mail routes are not too long
Then there is another matter I would bring to the attention of the minister, one which I
have discussed on several other occasions. We hear a good deal of talk about urban mail carriers. These men are on contract and are civil servants. They know what their salary is to be from year to year, as their increases are granted under the act. I suggest, however, that we cannot begin to compare the urban mail carriers with the rural mail couriers, because two different types of employment are involved, and there are twc kinds of work to be done.
The city mail carriers know what their work is each day. They know the ground they will have to cover. They are by no means overpaid, because their work is strenuous, day in and day out. In my city we have an excellent staff of mail carriers. But when we consider the rural mail couriers we find that they work on contract. The courier has to fulfil his contract, and must deliver the mail six days a week. At the end of four years, when his contract is up for renewal, he is no longer anything more than a private individual, because he must go to work again to find out whether he can continue in his job. Someone comes along and underbids him to the tune of $5 a month, or $5 a year, or even less than that; $2.50 a year. He loses his job.
I was greatly disappointed in what was done recently by a committee set up to investigate the problems of the rural mail couriers. If one reads the report of the committee he finds that it does not give the Postmaster General anything to work on by way of suggestions as to what should be done for these men. However, when Bill 197 was passed there was one thing it did do; it gave him almost absolute power, and put a great deal of patronage into his hands, something no one in the public service should have.
Be that as it may, we must take things as they come. I have considered carefully the salaries of rural mail couriers in my constituency. While I have not complete information from all of them so far as expenses incurred are concerned, I And that on the average they make as wages for themselves from $1.25 to $3.69 a day. Very few of them can say they get a wage amounting to this latter sum. There is no difficulty in figuring out these amounts. For instance, I have before me the information concerning one man who is on a contract at $2,000. His expenses for the year amounted to $933. One needs only to divide the balance by 310 days of labour to find out at once that this mail courier does not have a very large daily
wage. The same man could work an eight-hour day on the highway and get three times as much pay.
I shall not say much more about the mail couriers, because it is now up to the Postmaster General to take action. He has authority to deal with the contracts that come before him. I know that two or three couriers from my constituency have written to him, and I am waiting to see how he will deal with them. I have in mind particularly one man who has been in the service for seven or eight years, and for five years before that had given war service. I find now, however, that there are four or five tenders in competition with this man. Some of the tenderers are no good at all, but that will have to be investigated by the Postmaster General. But because the other tenders are just a little lower than the amount this man is asking, his contract is held up. As I say, I am not going to interfere at all, but I am going to watch carefully how cases like that are handled. And if I do not like it, the department will hear about it later on.
I should like to say a word about our post office at Charlottetown, and I am not referring particularly to the post office building. We have there an excellent staff. I have said before that we are not recognized as a postal zone, notwithstanding the fact that we are a province of Canada. According to the agreement on which we went into union we should be recognized as such, and our post office should be a separate unit by itself. As I said here a year ago, we have no right to be tacked on to the province of New Brunswick, and I am going to repeat what I said before.
Suppose some country post office in my constituency wants some little matter adjusted. They come into the city post office at Charlottetown, where the men are quite able to adjust the matter. It may be only the moving of a box out in one of the communities, but they have no authority to move it and what do they do? They have to get in touch with New Brunswick and after that with the superior officer in Moncton, and about a week after that again they get in touch with Ottawa. What confusion. Why in the Sam Hill don't they make this a postal zone of their own? We are a province, and I am going to demand that again.
Subtopic: POST OFFICE DEPARTMENT