BERWICK, N.S., WEDNESDAY EVENING, APRIL 15, 1925
MISS AGNES MACPHAIL, M.P. TELLS COMMONS OF HER EXPERIENCE IN NOVA SCOTIA
Miss Agnes Macphail (Progressive Southeast Grey) gripped the House of Commons with her story of what she had seen in the mine fields of Cape Breton. By both sides of the House she was accorded a close attention rarely accorded to any but party leaders.
"I met the moderate and the Reds," said Miss Macphail, "and by the time I had spent two days in Glace Bay nobody looked Red to me. I think if I lived there long I should be a lot redder than anything I saw."
She talked of the distress she had found, of how, in one dilapidated house, she found two families sleeping half a dozen to the room, half starved and thinly clad. She spoke of the tragedy of womanhood there a brief youth, many children, poverty, early age, dependency and death.
Besco, charged Miss Macphail, had brought in immigrants even during the worst times, dumped them down where there was no work for them, and done absolutely nothing for them after getting them here. "It did not seem difficult for the company to get protection on coal," Miss Macphail added, "but the Government gives no assurance that that protection is to go down to the worker.
It was, she went on, hard to explain the attitude of the Nova Scotia Government unless they were afraid of this "industrial monster," more anxious to "court its smile," than to save to happiness and good citizenship many thousands of our fellow-Canadians. The dominion Government claimed that a technical difficulty prevented them from doing anything. But if they were really anxious to do something, they would find a way round the technical snag. Was it to be wondered at, Miss Macphail questioned, that miners had come to regard industry as heartless, courts as unjust, and politicians as rascals?
Miss Macphails speech, while made in continuance of the budget debate, departed from the usual line of budget argument.
Miss Macphail offered her congratulations to Hon. George P. Graham, Minister of Railways and Canals, at the opening of her speech. "I believe he is the most loved member in the House," she said, while members on both sides applauded. She proposed to deal with one subject, the situation in the collery districts of Nova Scotia. The British Empire Steel Corporation, as everyone knew, was a huge merger of 14 companies, who went into the combination with a capital of $83,000,000, and came out with one of $102,000,000. "It is an excellent example of the pampering of industry and the neglect of humanity which forms part of the great machine," Miss Macphail said.
The company was not a Nova Scotia concern, said Miss Macphail. A number of the directors were abroad. "Three of the directors sit in the Senate, which is tremendously hard on the company," she remarked. She enumerated the places which she had visited, mentioning a meeting of 2,000 miners which she attended in the Savoy Theatre at Glace Bay.
She has found very little evidence of "Red" tendencies, said Miss Macphail, adding: "If I lived there, I would be a lot redder than anything I saw." There was a good deal of propaganda all over the country to convey the impression that there was not much real distress. "People who say there is no hardship in Cape Breton are at a comfortable distance. Let them go there if they want to spend an Easter holiday in the Interests of humanity."
STORY OF PILGRIMAGE.
In simple, blunt language, Miss Macphail proceeded to describe her pilgrimage day by day through the poorer residential quarters. Through mud which penetrated the broken footwear the poor people wore, she had gone from house to house at random and found in most of them the same tale of poverty. In a dilapidated house which "could not have been home for twenty years," she found two families, sleeping half a dozen to the room, half starved and thinly clad. Children of school age were given all the available clothes to enable them to continue their studies while the rest of the family stayed indoors because they had not enough clothes to protect them from the chilly wind. A tubercular woman occupied one room and one bed with her husband and two children. There was no available hospital accommodation for tubercular patients. This woman was charged 10 cents a pint for milk. Miss Macphail described case after case of this nature, giving names and details lest, she said, the House might think she was exaggerating.
Miss Macphail described Glace Bay, stating that where the miners and their families resided, there were no electric lights, no sewers, and no sanitary conditions. She had heard of J. B. McLachlin, the editor of the labor paper, and when she had asked a resident of Glace Bay what were the strongest words Mr. McLachlin had ever used, she was told they were: "To hell with them"; with this she agreed.
"Do you know who McLachlin reminded me of? Asked Miss Macphail. "J. J. Morrison." Mr. McLachlin was "a man who stands for good citizenship," and whose home life was splendid.
Miss Macphail said that one woman had informed her that she had never been out of Glace Bay for 12 years. We "should strive to make the miners help themselves, not to try to break their unions, but rather to try to encourage these men to get themselves on such a basis that their standard of living will be equal to that of other Canadians. If the union were broken, a much more radical organization there might take its place."