THE PROVINCIAL LEGISLATURE – Mr. Hawthornwaite Moves A Resolution Asking The Government To look Into The Matter – Hon. McBride’s View Of The Question.
Victoria, Feb. 17 – The attorney-general presented a return of copies of correspondence and documents, showing the contentions and claims of the province against the Dominion or vice versa, in regards to fisheries, whether sea or inland; hatcheries, foreshores, from June 1st, 1901, to February 12th, 1908.
COAL MINING LAWS.
Mr. Hawthornwaite moved the following resolution:
Whereas this legislature enabled in 1895 an Act to amend the Coal Mines Regulation Act, providing that _______ person should be employed underground in any coal mine for a longer period than eight hours from bank to bank (surface entrance to the mine); and
Whereas this legislature further enacted in 1903-4 an Act to further amend the Coal Mines Regulation Act, which provides “coal miner” shall mean a person employed underground in any coal mine to cut, shear, break or loosen coal, from the ______, whether by hand or machinery, and, after coming into force of this act possessed of a certificate of competency as such, and further, _______. “No certificate of competency shall be granted to any coal miner who does not satisfy the majority of the Board of examiners that he is sufficiently conversant with the English language, and with the provisions of the acts relating to coal mining, and rules and regulations made thereunder, to render his employment as such safe, and ______ that he has been employed in a coal mine for at least twelve months previous to the date of his application for such certificate and has sufficient knowledge of coal mining to render him competent to perform the duties appertaining to his employment”: and
Whereas it is well known that these and other laws for the protection of underground workers in coal mines on Vancouver Island, more especially the mines operated by the Union Colliery Company; and
Whereas it is also well known that a horde of illiterate Orientals are employed underground in the mines at Cumberland;
Therefore be it resolved, that the government take prompt measures to inquire into the foregoing matters and enforce the laws in question.
He contended that incorrect statements had been made as to the conditions obtaining in the island collieries. While not charging that the government had wilfully deceived the House, he argued that the government had itself been deceived [sic.] in regard to that matter. In support of this, contention he cited the information given to the House in reply to questions, that a certain number of Orientals were employed at $1.50 to $1.90 per day, and recalled the previous statement that Orientals were receiving the wages of white men, which was apparently not the case from these figures. In the Wellington colliery, according to his advice there were 1,750 Orientals employed as miners. Owing to the attitude of the mine owners, the miners were prohibited from uniting in their own protection, and he claimed that it was necessary that something should be done, as serious accidents might be occasioned any day owing to the employment of these incompetent men.
Hon. Mr. McBride said if he had been deceived [sic.] the inspectors were responsible and personally he had full confidence in these officials. Complaints had been previously made, having relation to this subject, had been investigated and found to be groundless. According to his information, there were 405 Chinese employed in the Union Collieries, and not 1,750 as stated by the member for Nanaimo. Of this number 204 were paid by the miners and contractors, and 201 were paid by the colliery company. The inspectors, he said, were instructed to spare no effort to see that the laws were enforced. And the appointment of three additional inspectors, to further assist the administration of the department, over the growing area of mining operations, was contemplated in the future.
Mr. Hawthornwaite asked if the premier would contend that these Orientals were paid $3 to $5 per day, the wage obtaining to white miners.
Hon. Mr. McBride said he was advised that their earnings were governed by the same principles as applied in the cases of miners generally.
He repudiates the idea that no miner dare make a complaint if he felt impelled to do so, as stated by Mr. Hawthornwaite. If there were conditions demanded improvement, it was easily competent for the member for Nanaimo to invite investigation. But he could not accept a resolution of this kind.
J.A. MacDonald thought there was something more in the case presented by the member for Nanaimo that the premier appeared willing to admit. And in any event he did not think the government should decline the opportunity offered to have the public mind thoroughly satisfied that there was nothing wrong in connection with the mines administration.
Parker Williams remarked that if opportunity were given to have this question ventilated, the House would find that Mr. Hawthornwaite’s figures as to the number of Mongolians employed in the mines would be found correct. To-day he stated it to be 405.
Hon. Mr. McBride said the data given the other day was for the year 1906 only. At that time he was unable to give the figures for 1907, as he did not have them before him at that time. Parker Williams declared that the Mongolians did not receive the same wages as white miners, and said he was prepared to make this statement good. As to the inquiry referred to by the premier, he argued that it was a farce, the government having invited the mine owners to say as to the truth of the allegations, which should have been subject to investigation in the proper way. He was not prepared to speak as to conditions obtaining at Cumberland, but if this company was to be permitted to operate their mines with a large proportion of oriental labor, other companies would naturally seek to do the same thing. It was unfair, he argued, that the complainants in this case should be asked to do police duty, as it were, to secure evidence against the mine owners. It should be sufficient that they brought the matter to the attention of the government. Nor was it fair that the working miner should be expected to sacrifice his safety as an employee, by pressing the case against the company.