July 3, 1919


Motion agreed to.


BOARD OF COMMERCE ACT, 1919.


The House resumed the adjourned debate on the motion of Hon. Arthur Meighen (Acting Minister of Justice) for the second reading of Bill No. 166, to constitute a Board of Commerce for Canada.


L LIB

Jacques Bureau

Laurier Liberal

Mr. JACQUES BUREAU (Three Rivers):

Mr. Speaker, I have only one word to add to what I said previously, but before I do so I want to re-affirm what I said before, namely, that it is rather late in the session to bring forward such an important measure as this one, and I for one do not want to assume any responsibility in the matter. I do not, however, want to be understood as objecting to the Bill; any measure which will tend to restrain combines, monopolies, trusts and mergers and the enhancement of the price of commodities, has my sympathy. But I do not believe that we ought to be called upon to make a pronouncement or

to assume any responsibility when such important legislation as this is brought down, to use a stereotyped phrase, in the dying hours of the session. I have looked over Bill No. 166, and I find matters to which exception can be taken and matters to be discussed in committee as the sections are read; but there is one thing in particular which affects the principle of the Bill and to which I desire to call the attention of the House. The Bill constitutes a tribunal to enforce the Combines and Fair Prices Act, 1919. In one of these two Bills-I do not know which one it is as they are. so closely interwoven-it is stated that the two Bills shall and ought to be read together of course, for otherwise you cannot have a fair or intelligent understanding of the Bill. In other words, Bill No. 166 creates the tool which is to be used in working out the object of Bill No. 167. Bill No. 166 creates a tribunal to try an offence which is not yet before the House, that offence being in Bill No. 167. I may be wrong, but, in my opinion, in this case the cart is before the horse; let that however, be as it may. The principle of the Bill is to invest a tribunal with powers similar to those of the Railway Commission as regards railway matters, but to deal with those matters which form part of Bill No. 167, namely, to investigate and restrain combines and monopolies. After this tribunal has been vested with wide powers to investigate all these matters and to pronounce upon them, and after the procedure under which the investigation shall be held is determined, clause 41 of the Bill states:

The Governor in Council may, in his discretion, either upon petition of any person interested, lodged within one month after the making of the order, decision, rule or regulation-

This is the making of the order, decision, rule or regulation by the .board which is to be created under this Bill. It goes on:

-or within such further time as the board, under special circumstances may allow, or of his own motion, at any time-

After all that has been done, after all these investigations have been held, and after all these rules and regulations and judgments have been made-

The Governor in Council may of

his own motion, at any time, and without any petition or application, vary or rescind any order, decision, rule or regulation of the board, Whether such order or decision is made inter partes or otherwise, and whether such regulation is general or limited in its scope and application.

This whole system-the court which is to be created and the procedure which it is to

follow-is subject to the whim, I might say, of the Governor in Council, who can upset it with a stroke of his pen. If the Government is in earnest, if they are not merely trying to throw dust in the eyes of the people, let the board have full power, and -if any wrong done by the board needs righting, let it be done by the judiciary of Canada; let it be done by the Supreme Court. That is one of my objections to this Bill. ,

There are other things in it which do not please me, but which are matters of opinion and can be discussed when the Bill is in Committee. Certain changes will have to be made undoubtedly, because I notice that some clauses conflict with others, but that we can discuss later. Now I do not want people to go out and say to-morrow that I am against the principle of this Bill. I am willing to support anything that will ease conditions and help reduce the cost of living, if that is possible. What I object to is that such important legislation as this should be brought down at this late hour of the session, when hon, members have not an opportunity to consider it thoroughly before passing judgment upon it.

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UNI L

William Stevens Fielding

Unionist (Liberal)

Hon. W. S. FIELDING (Shelburne and Queen's):

I do not rise for the purpose of discussing the merits of the Bill. I have no doubt the Bill has merits, and if we had time to give it the consideration which a measure of this character deserves, we might be able to mature a piece of legislation which would be of some value when placed upon the statute-books. This Bill is. to be read, as the hon. member for Three Rivers (Mr. Bureau) has stated, in conjunction with another Bill relating to combines. The two Bills are twins, Siamese twins in fact, because they are absolutely united, and must be considered together. I have no doubt, in view of the discussion we have had from time to time during several years [DOT] over combines, that there is a feeling that some sort of tribunal might be created that could, give us better administration of our commercial practices than we have at present. I can sympathize with that view, and at the present time, when the question of the high cost of living is engaging so much attention, I can understand the desire of some hon. gentlemen to have some such legislation placed on the statute-books. I am satisfied, however, that these Bills, whatever their merits may be, are not likely to give any immediate or early relief in this very important question of the high cost of living. I believe that if we are to look to these Bills to serve that purpose we shall be much

disappointed in their results. I quite understand that if these measures could be discussed with great deliberation and the attention that should be given to them, the Government might in the end be able to produce a piece of useful legislation. My observations are not by way of criticism of the Bill, but I should like to be able to persuade the Government if I could of the unwisdom of attempting to proceed with matters of this important character in the last hours of the session-for they are the last hours of the session. It is commonly understood-may I not say, almost officially understood-that Parliament is to prorogue on Saturday? And this is Thursday night. Is it seriously contemplated that two Bills so important as this, in addition to other legislation, can be got through this House, especially if they are to be opposed in any quarter, sent to the Senate and be considered with the deliberation to which they are entitled, before Saturday evening? If the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Borden) were in his place I would ask him to adopt the rule, which is sometimes a useful one, of putting one's self in the other fellow's place. If the Prime Minister instead of occupying his present high place was sitting as the leader of the Opposition, as he did before, I think he would have difficulty in finding adequate language in which to denounce a Government which could bring forward legislation of this character but a few hours before the close of the session. I do believe that if the Government attempts to get these Bills through they will fail. It is almost physically impossible to get them through if Parliament is to prorogue on Saturday, and even if they were to get them through I am sure they would be in a condition which probably at a later stage the Government would very much regret. I believe they are among the most important Bills presented this session, I believe there is no body which you could create as to which there would be more difficulty in defining its rights, powers and authority than the board provided for in this Bill. It is in a measure akin to the Bankruptcy Bill. Let us see how that was treated. There had been talk for twenty years about the desirability and importance of a bankruptcy law, and last year a Bankruptcy Bill was brought in by my hon. friend from George Etienne Cartier (Mr. Jacobs). The general character of that Bill was approved, but even then the feeling was that a measure of so much importance affecting the trade interests of the country ought not to be proceeded with in a hurry, and the

Bill was laid aside, printed and distributed among the trade organizations of the country. Then, this year, the Government took it up and carried it through; and I have no doubt it is a very good piece of legislation. If that process of delay and deliberation was necessary in connection with the enactment of a Bankruptcy law, should we not have as much deliberation in the creation of this new and very important and very difficult tribunal? I do not want to argue on the merits of the Bill at all, but I am persuaded that if the Government should succeed in getting the Bill through, of which I have grave doubt, they will have a piece of legislation which will be imperfect, and which I believe they will regret. I earnestly plead for them to let the matter stand over after this discussion to-night and give it further consideration, and at the next session, whenever it may be, bring down a more mature measure, and then they may place on the statute-books something which may be of value.

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UNION

George Brecken Nicholson

Unionist

Mr. G. B. NICHOLSON (East Algoma):

The importance of this measure seems to be the chief reason why hon. gentlemen who have spoken against it would have it held over until another session. In that connection it is well to ask ourselves, if the Bill is important why is it important? It is important chiefly for the reason that from one end of this country to the other there is a feeling that something must be done before this Parliament prorogues to grapple with the question of the high cost of living, and the undue profiteering which so many of our people believe is enchancing that cost.

If the committee that has been investigating this subject for the past four weeks had brought in a report recommending something that was not important, something that was meaningless and trivial, would the House have been ready to pass a resolution commending it for having done that -kind of work? In that connection I would like to refer briefly to what has been saicj of the manner in which the committee did its work. The hon. member for Shelburne and Queens (Mr. Fielding) said, two or three days iago, that the work of the committee had been more or less of a perfunctory character and that the evidence had been taken in such a way as to render it practically impossible to reach anything in the nature jof a definite conclusion.

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UNI L

William Stevens Fielding

Unionist (Liberal)

Mr. FIELDING:

I may say that I did not say that the work was of a perfunctory

character. I said that in so far as they were able to do it at all, it was done well.

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UNION
L LIB

Archibald Blake McCoig

Laurier Liberal

Mr. McCOIG:

I rise for the purpose of taking the stand in the House that I took in the committee, and in that regard I wish to say that the hon. gentleman (Mr. Fielding) has to a certain extent voiced my sentiments. The hon. member for Bed Deer (Mr. Michael Clark) in the excellent and forceful speech which he delivered this afternoon probably made his finest effort in this House. He took the stand that the great need at this time was to grant assistance to the people of Canada by reducing -the tariff on the necessaries of life, as a result of which he would have greater competition and do away with many of the combines which now exist. He stated that the high cost of shoes, articles so essential to the people of every community, is attributable to the fact that the duty is somewhere in the neighbourhood of thirty or forty per cent. If this duty were reduced it would result in greater competition among the shoe manufacturers, and the price of shoes would in consequence be reduced. We know that many people in the border cities of the province of Ontario are in the habit of

smuggling in shoes from the United States because they can get them so much cheaper in the country to the south than they can in the large centres of the province. Is it not evident that if the duty on footwear was reduced our people would be able to buy shoes at as low a rate as they can be purchased for in the United States?

The hon. gentleman who lhas just resumed his seat claims that the added cost of producing foodstuffs by reason of the tariff on agricultural implements, only represents a fraction of one per cent. Let me remind the hon. gentleman, who is Chairman of the Committee which conducted the inquiry into the high cost of living, that at that committee I asked for an investigation into the enormous profits that two of the largest corporations of the country are making out of the producers of foodstuffs, but he ruled my motion out of order, and it was voted down by a majority composed of supporters of the Government. Let the hon. gentleman deny that if he can. I proved to him that in one instance there was a spread of $800 between the value of tractors that are being brought into Canada and the price at which they were sold here, and what did the hon. gentleman say? He declared the matter to be one which should not be investigated, because it was not pertinent to the production of foodstuffs. I cited another instance where the spread amounted to $1,000, and1 still the hon. gentleman said the question was not pertinent to the inquiry.

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UNION

George Brecken Nicholson

Unionist

Mr. G. B. NICHOLSON:

Will the hon. gentleman allow me to make a correction?

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L LIB
UNION

George Brecken Nicholson

Unionist

Mr G. B. NICHOLSON:

The hon. gentleman has misstated what I said in the committee. I made no such statement as that the price of tractors did not enter into the cost of producing foodstuffs.

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L LIB

Archibald Blake McCoig

Laurier Liberal

Mr. McCOIG:

Did not the hon. gentleman rule my resolution out of order?

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UNION

George Brecken Nicholson

Unionist

Mr. G. B. NICHOLSON:

Yes, I ruled the resolution out of order, and if the time was opportune I would tell the House why I did so. *

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L LIB

Archibald Blake McCoig

Laurier Liberal

Mr. McCOIG:

I ask the Chairman of the Committee why he ruled out of order my resolution to investigate a spread such as I have stated between the cost of tractors brought into Canada and the price- at which they are* sold to the people of this country?

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UNION

George Brecken Nicholson

Unionist

Mr. G. B. NICHOLSON:

Does the hon. gentleman wish a reply to the question?

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UNION

Edgar Nelson Rhodes (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Unionist

Mr. SPEAKER:

The hon. member for Algoma (Mr G. B. Nicholson) has already spoken in reply to the hon. member for Kent, Ontario. It is very unusual for an hon. gentleman who has the floor to interrogate another hon. member.

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L LIB

Archibald Blake McCoig

Laurier Liberal

Mr. McOOIG:

The proposition I wished

to have investigated by the committee was why the food producers of Canada should be charged so much for the implements they so greatly need in their work, when the cry is going up on all sides for increased production. In my opinion, the committee did not carry its investigation far enough. As the hon, gentleman (Mr. Fielding) has said, the committee did not probe the matter to the extent that would enable them in ' bringing in an intelligent report at the present time. More than that, I maintain that the present Bill was submitted to the committee in draft form long before they had made any progress in their investigation, and even long before the committee had been appointed to take up that investigation. I challenge the hon. gentleman (Mr. G. B. Nicholson) to deny the statement. Under that draft Bill the chairman of the proposed commission or/ board was to be a judge or a lawyer who had practised at least ten years, and he was to receive a salary of $8,000 a year. Will the chairman of the committee deny that statment?

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UNION

George Brecken Nicholson

Unionist

Mr. G. B. NICHOLSON:

Yes, I will deny it.

Mr. MoOOIG: Not only did the Bill provide for a chairman, but he was to have high-salaried assistants. It seems to me, therefore, that the object of this investigation was not so much to ascertain whether the people were paying too much for the foodstuffs as it was to create another commission and give some friends of the Government a few fat jobs at great expense to the country. What we really want to see carried out is the proposition which Mr. W. F. O'Connor advocated-the appointment of a public prosecutor to inquire into the operations of these trusts, combines, and corporations, and, where they are found guilty of extorting exorbitant profits from the consumers, bring them before the courts of the country and mete out even-handed justice to them-mulct them heavily in fines and place the money in the treasury to assist in carrying on the public affairs of Canada.

This, Sir, is what I have advocated from the start. We have judges galore in every province not employed to any great extent,

and the Government has seen fit from time to time to place them on various commissions. Then why not establish a court of judges in each province and appoint public prosecutors to bring cases before them and so carry out this work at a much less expense than will be possible under this measure presented by the Government? Those prosecutors can bring profiteering individuals before these courts, and the latter will see that a fair deal is handed out at much less cost to the people than this commission to be appointed under this Bill.

Now, Mr. Speaker, let me go a step further. In this Bill we are to have these men appointed as a Board of Commerce. Would it not be better for the Government to remember that they appointed during the war that great commission known as the Food Board? That was an example the Government copied from the great United States, and in placing that commission over this little country of ours they did it at an expense equal to that of the Board established by the great nation to the south of us. Will the Government deny the fact that the Food Board has done more to place the present Administration in disfavour with the people than any other of the many commissions they have appointed? I predict that if the Government appoint this proposed commission, which will draw thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars out of the treasury, without giving any effective aid to the consumers, the Government will have a repetition of the Food Board,-a commission which will put them in still greater disfavour with the plain people, and will lead to their defeat whenever the time comes for an appeal to the great electors of the Dominion of Canada.

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UNION

Horatio Clarence Hocken

Unionist

Mr. H. C. HOCKEN (Toronto West):

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bear my testimony to the assiduity with which the Committee carried out its work from the day it was appointed until it presented its .report. I entirely agree that no body of men in this House could have worked harder than the members of the -Committee whose work we are discussing to-night. I quite concur with the views of the member for Shelburne and Queen's (Mr. Fielding) when he says, as I understand him to say, that the investigation by the Committee was inadequate. But it was inadequate because it was impossible to perform such a task in the short space of time left to the Committee.

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July 3, 1919