We recently had a special day for workers at Allardville, New Brunswick. It is twelve miles from Bathurst in Gloucester county. Gloucester is, without doubt, the most heavily taxed and the poorest county in the whole of Canada. And the situation is not much better in the neighboring counties of Kent, Northumberland and Westmoreland.
We arrived at Allardville, Holy Saturday, March 28. We had no sooner set foot in the place than we were deluged from all sides by requests for help. There is literally nothing down there which will afford a living. The land has long been abandoned. Allardville was founded during the depression years of 1929-39 by homesteaders who hadn't a cent. Somehow or other they managed to build cabins for themselves, more or less comfortable. But it is a rare house where one will find a toilet with running water. Rarer still are baths. And it's like that in all three counties. The few families that might be able to afford the installation of an ordinary bathroom are wary about doing so. They know that they would have to pay out the cost of the bathroom itself each year in taxes!.
So in Allardville, as in the neighboring counties, there is no way of making a living. The land will not yield a livelihood. There remains only the forest, and wood simply will not sell. So the fathers of families and the young men are obliged to go into exile to Bersimis or Sudbury in order to earn their bread. When they work so far from their homes for these big companies, a part of their salary is held back in income tax without any regard for their debts or for the insecurity of their future, and without any regard for the fact that these workers, if they wish to see their wives and children, must undertake an expensive trip. And the taxes are so heavy in Allardville, as they are in the rest of the county and in the neighboring counties, that the original homesteaders of 1939 are drifting away one after the other, abandoning their homes to our modern "publicans".
All that is left to support those who remain in this forsaken land are family allowances, oldage pensions, veterans' pensions, invalids' pensions and the allowances accorded to needy mothers. These poor Acadians cling desperately to their pensions. They are all that keep them from going under. When they have the opportunity to work a few weeks a year they are able to get the small allotments from unemployment insurance. But the injustices wrought by this federal department are almost beyond number. For just the merest hint of an excuse these functionaries will refuse to grant the insurance payments to those requesting them. Oh, you have the right number of stamps, but then these stamps are not the right kind! Why not? The poor devil doesn't know. How can a mere layman understand the laws governing the issuance of unemployment insurance when the bureaucrats in charge never apply them twice in the same manner! It is said that in Bathurst the employees in the unemployment insurance office are so frightened of losing their places in this particular Federal pork barrel (there are twice the number of employees as are required by the amount of work involved) that they will go to any lengths to keep the payments as low as possible in order that they may be favorably reported to their employers. Somewhat like certain policemen who invent crimes and criminals in order to get decorations!
Families which receive pensions or allowances can always buy a bit of bread, and some wood for heating. The rest live in the blackest misery. Only by going deeply into debt to the merchants can they manage to exist.
But in New Brunswick, debts can be very dangerous things. They lead directly to prison, to prison where the prisoner is obliged to pay board, and room at the rate of $1.50 a day! Which is to say that the poor wretch who had the misfortune to run afoul of a creditor without pity could spend the rest of his days in prison. And no doubt, his heirs would get the bill for his keep while in jail.
Adelard LeBreton, living on Tilley Road, is the father of ten children, all very young. He owed a debt of between $50 and $60 to Omer Blanchard, a grocer in Tracadie. LeBreton had promised to pay off the debt at the rate of $5.00 a month. But since he was working only 3 or 4 days a week in the woods at the laughable salary of $2.00 a day, and paying for his keep, it was impossible to feed his ten children and his wife and pay off his debt to Blanchard at the same time. One month he missed his payment of $5.00. On the 12th of March the bailiff arrived at the LeBreton's and without any ceremony led LeBreton off to the jail at Bathurst where he was condemned to spend 50 days.
Marcel LeBreton, the brother of Adelard, learned that his brother had not received any official summons to present himself in court and that consequently, he had not been condemned for contempt of court.
In order to have LeBreton thrown in jail, Omer Blanchard had been obliged to deposit $75.00 for board and keep of LeBreton during his stay in that institution. Thus, LeBreton, on leaving jail, owed to Blanchard the $50.00 plus the $75.00 for board and room in the county jail. A term in prison doesn't wipe out debts in New Brunswick. It increases them. One might very well ask if at any time in any place during the period of our so-called civilized era, there is any other like example of barbarity. The martyrdom of these Acadians which began 200 years ago has been continued right down to modern times. But then it was the English newcomer or the New England loyalists who persecuted them. Today, they are being betrayed by their own brothers; pure Acadians like themselves!
But then, on what count was Adelard LeBreton arrested and thrown into jail? For contempt of court? Or simply for an unpaid debt?
I got in touch that day with a New Brunswick lawyer. I asked him: "Can one be put into jail for non-payment of debt in New Brunswick?" He answered: "Why of course. It's done every day. Each week I get out two or three who were in for debts. I get them out by paying their debt and their expenses out of my own pocket. And included in the expenses is the cost of board and room in prison which the prisoner himself must pay. That's the law in New Brunswick.". These are the exact words of a New Brunswick lawyer. Could you imagine that New Brunswick could be so uncivilized?
And the police who go from door to door gathering debts and taxes — when is this ulcer going to be removed from society in New Brunswick?
So you can't pay your taxes? Very well! to help you along the local constable comes to pay you a visit. He comes into your house without the slightest sign of embarrasment or shyness. And he presents you with a brand new additional bill; the expense he incurs in visiting you. This is added on to your taxes, and each time he calls around it means a new, additional bill. But this is not the limit of these Dark-Age laws which prevail in New Brunswick. The police terrorize the people. They stop at nothing. They'll snatch from the very hands of mothers of families their family allowance cheques — which cheques are not liable to seizure. And here they overstep themselves. For all such allowances — veteran's pensions, old-age pensions, family allowances — are beyond seizure. And that by law! Everyone, except these tax-gatherers in New Brunswick, recognize that. These pensions guarantee the bare necessities of life; and the bare necessities of life no one has a right to take from another. Everywhere else in the civilized world there are laws to protect people in such circumstances — except in the province of New Brunswick. And a house which shelters a family from the elements, — it too is one of the bare necessities of life; it too cannot be liable to seizure by any humane law.
In New Brunswick the municipal counsellor is charged by law and is paid to look into cases of misery and want in his parish and to bring aid to such cases. For that reason he is called, father of the poor.
Madame Adelard LeBreton and her ten children had absolutely nothing to eat on Good Friday evening, March 27th; not so much as a cup of flour to make some bread. A neighbour finally brought them a small quantity of flour.
I placed a telephone call with Edgar Hachez who happened to be the particular "father of the poor" for Tilley Road where the LeBreton family lived. I informed him of their pitiful plight.
Here, in two short sentences is his reply:
1). If the LeBreton family need help, let them come themselves to me and ask for it.
2) You, lady, are from Quebec. Go and mind your own business!
I do not know if Edgar Hachez brought any aid to the LeBreton family following my telephone call. But let me make this much clear to him and others who may happen to be of his ilk:
1) The poor are not ordinarily, very eloquent in pleading their cause, and if the good God gave more to some than to others it was precisely so that the rich could come to the aid of the poor. That, Mr. Hachez, is charity. And without charity, sir, there is no getting into Heaven,
2) Charity and truth know no boundary lines.
The people of Quebec have every right to come to the aid of the poor Acadians, oppressed by their own brothers, just as Mr. Hachez ancestors had the right to come out from France to aid the savages in North America. And if bumptious little village roosters are unwilling that Quebec Crediters should come in to their territory it is simply because they want to go on lording it over and riding rough-shod over their own brethren. However, Quebec Crediters, with twenty five years of experience in the work they are carrying on, have had to face the anger and threats of individuals and groups vastly more powerful and dangerous than these ostentatious little bureaucrats. The Social Credit movement of the Union of Electors has survived with the help of heaven. And it will continue to go on with Crediters never ceasing to work and pray for the uplifting of the people who have been downtrodden and oppressed.