April 13, 1923

LIB
PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

I was stimulated to rise by the remarks of the right hon. leader of the Opposition (Mr. Meighen). I think his attitude of mind is to be commended, although the process of his reasoning is open to criticism. I think the spirit he has shown is what we want to see manifested to a greater extent in this House, where there should be a serious effort to settle the problem that confronts our agriculturists. However, we have had the experience of seeing the subject treated more or less lightly, and consequently the note of seriousness voiced by the leader of the Opposition is very welcome to my ears. I am one of those who admires the rare quality of the right hon. gentleman's mind, but listening to him to-night I regretted that it was not engaged in a better cause. Circumstances have placed him in a position where he has to main-

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tain a dead issue; but I think if Providence had dealt with him differently we would have found him addressing his mind, as he did tonight, effectively to living problems, much to our satisfaction.

Now, he referred to the comparative conditions prevailing throughout the countries of the world with regard to agriculture, and he specified Great Britain in particular. I do not think that agricultural conditions in that country are commensurable with agricultural conditions in Canada. Farming is altogether a different proposition in the two countries. But there is,one relevant point; the farmer in Great Britain believes he is the victim of fiscal conditions; the farmer in Canada believes the same. It makes no difference that in Great Britain the complaint is based upon the operation of free trade, while in Canada it is based upon the operation of protection, the principle is the same. Agriculture whether in Canada or Great Britain is suffering from the social policy of the respective countries. The social policy in Great Britain is free trade, and with all due deference to the member for Brome (Mr. McMaster) I must say that the British farmer has suffered from that policy.

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LIB

Andrew Ross McMaster

Liberal

Mr. McMASTER:

If the British farmer

suffered from the introduction of free trade, how was it that rents went up from 1846 until about 1870, when vast quantities of cheap cereals coming from the newly opened lands of the western part of the United States brought rents down?

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

I think the hon. gentleman

will admit that rents in Great Britain are not closely related to the prosperity of the farmer.

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LIB

Andrew Ross McMaster

Liberal

Mr. McMASTER:

The British farmers

have to make a certain amount of money before they can pay rent to their landlords.

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

I think the hon. gentleman

must admit that the present attitude of the British farmer is sufficient evidence that he believes the fiscal policy of Great Britain is detrimental'to his interest.

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LIB

Andrew Ross McMaster

Liberal

Mr. McMASTER:

Some British farmers

want to keep our cattle out, others want to let them in so they can finish them. There is a difference of opinion.

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

I do 'not want to delve into

history, but I know that the British farmer since the abolition of protection has been a consistent supporter of the protectionist party. No matter where his labourer stood, the British farmer has always stood for protection. But that is not the point. I am trying to show that in Great Britain the farmer has

'Mr. Bird.l

been the victim of a social policy, and I contend that he was rightly asked to suffer because he was in the minority. The social prosperity of Great Britain depended at the time upon the acceptance of free trade; the social prosperity of Great Britain to-day depends upon the maintenance of free trade, and the British government has had to turn down the request of the farmers for protection on that very account. The present British government is a Conservative government, predisposed to protection, and yet it has- said to the farmer: We cannot grant you protection

because it would be against the social interests of this country. So the British farmer at the present time, no matter what he has been asked to do in the past, has for the moment been called upon to sacrifice himself for the social prosperity of his country.

Has not that been the case in Canada? Has not the farmer here in the last generation or two .sacrificed himself for the social prosperity of the country? From the beginning this has been a social policy. The agriculturists of Canada have been asked and are being asked to sacrifice themselves for the social prosperity of the nation. I contend that whether in Great Britain or here what is wrong socially cannot be economically sound. That is the position the British government is taking now, and I suppose that the protectionist in this country takes the same attitude.

We ask ourselves, in the condition we are now in, in a preponderatingly agricultural * country; can we afford to take that attitude ? Can we afford in the interests of Canada as a whole to ask agriculture to sacrifice itself? When the farmers of England approached their government they said: Now, farming is either an economic or a social proposition. You have .either got to let it rest on an economic basis and accept the results, or you have to treat it socially; and if you treat it socially you have to grant it either protection or a subsidy. Those are the two propositions that the British farmers put before their government. But the present British government, which is a protectionist government, said: "We cannot give you either a subsidy or protection, because we believe it would be against the best interests of the country to do so." In Canada we have to face the question of the social welfare of all the people. If it is the desire or if it is thought right that Canada should sacrifice the farmer for the rest of the people, well, we have nothing to say. The farmers in England have nothing to say. They have accepted the decision of the government and they have to govern themselves accordingly-to go out of

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business, if necessary, in order to save the country socially. Are you going to sacrifice the farmer of Canada economically in order that Canada socially may prosper? That is the position you are up against. You cannot laugh this thing out of court; it will come up recurrently and will have to be faced.

I shall not go into the argument of the right hon. leader of the Opposition in regard to the diminution of the proportion of the population engaged in farming. I think that in that respect he got beyond his depth. It was all very well for him to argue that agriculture had diminished relatively with respect to numbers, with respect to its size. That is to say, the more shoes you put on the people's feet the less food you have to put into their stomachs, or the more you amuse their minds the less you will have to satisfy their appetites, and so on. You can argue along these lines, but you do not touch the point we are dealing with to-night. It may be true that agriculture is diminishing proportionately, but why should that be the basis of a contention that agriculture should at the same time diminish relatively with respect to its economic standing. Why should the farmers be worse off than they are to-day, even though they are less in number? According to the usual methods of reasoning, if the farmer belongs to a more exclusive set and ministers to a larger body of people, he ought to be better off than he was before; but that is a point that the right hon. gentleman altogether shelved.

Let me say a word in conclusion in respect to the right hon. gentleman's remarks concerning organization. We all know on this side that organization is of great value to the farmer, as it is to any other class in the community. The right hon. gentleman is not here but I would like to ask him what his definition of economics is, and what his definition of politics is-where he draws the line between the two. He received a great deal of applause from his own followers when he deprecated the entry of the farmers of Canada into politics, and yet he wanted the farmers to organize in their own interests. Where, in his opinion, do economics end and politics begin? What is the theory of government and the functions of government? What does he expect the government to do for the people or for any class of the people? What is the duty of the government toward the farmers or the manufacturers or other classes of the community? Is it simply to prevent individuals in each class from picking the pockets of individuals in the other classes, or see that the individuals in one class do not brutally knock down members of the other

class? I do not think so. The duty of this government is to adjust the relationship that exists between the different classes of this country, to see that one class is not unduly profiting at the expense of another.

The Farmers' party is here to-day because it has come to the point where it fails to see any dividing line between politics and economics. We are here as an economic group and not as a political group. We do not want political power; the aspirants to political power are opposite and to our right, not here. We are here as the exponents of certain economic principles, and that is what we stand for. We are not here in any narrow group sense; we are here with varied interests, but those interests all converge on the one principle of a proper adjustment' as between the different classes that make up this Canada of ours. I would like to meet the right hon. gentleman on his own ground and ask him whether the manufacturers have not profited by going into politics. Why, have other classes entered politics? Because they do not see any difference between their economic and their political interests. I suggest that there be a little more consistentcy in the definition of terms. We are living in the past when we think of politics as some sacred arena into which the ordinary people may not enter unless they take off their shoes at the gate. That belongs to the past-that policeman theory of government, that idea that the government has nothing to do with the real problems of the people.

It ill becomes the leader of the Conservative party to try to keep economics out of politics, because if any party were responsible for desecrating the sacred realm of politics by the introduction of economics, it was the Conservative party. When the Liberal government in England of the last century stood with arms upraised in horror at the invasion of economics into English public life it was the Conservative party that ruthlessly tried to bring it in, that tried to get rid of that theory of laissez faire and of the devil take the hindmost. The Conservative party in England tried to do that, while the Liberals were endeavouring to apply the policeman theory of government. We are not politicians in this group; you have noticed that many times. But we do pretend in a small way to be economists in a practical sense; that is, we know where the shoe pinches. You remember Kipling's story of the butterfly and the poor toad under the harrow. We have instances in this House of the butterfly giving good advice to the poor toad that feels every spike in the harrow. We do not pretend to be introducing radical notions into this House but we do

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pretend to be bringing the actual conditions to the notice of hon. members and of the government. You experienced politicians, you statesmen, you people who have been walled up here for years living in a false atmosphere *-we are trying to let daylight into you. We are accused of preaching blue ruin in this quarter of the House. Why, in the last century every man who tried to get a square deal for the public was called a blue ruin preacher. Some hon. members say they think it is a pity that we should preach blue ruin: I say it is a pity we should have to preach it. I was back home for a few days last week, and I called my executive together. A man of long experience stood up and said: "I can tell you from my experience that more than fifty per cent of my neighbours are hopelessly insolvent, and mind you, I come from a place that is called one of the gardens of the West, where farmers might be expected to prosper." The galleries of this House have ears, the reporters' gallery, has ears, and I hope that the benches on the floor have ears, but there should be a difference in the way our plea is heard when we come with our tale of woe. It should not be received critically on the floor of the House here. It should be received rather sympathetically and with some insight into the motive with which it is given, because we do not speak these things to the public. We forget the galleries when we speak; we do not know they are there. We do not know the reporters' gallery is there. We are speaking to you, and we do not expect you to blurt these things out all over the world. We are reasoning with you because you are the people with power in your hands to remedy these things. Who else can we go to for remedy? You cannot expect us to let these things ferment in our minds in silence. This is the place where complaints should be made, and this is the place where complaints should be heard, and heard sympathetically, with a statesmanlike breadth of mind and spirit.

I am sorry to have detained the House. I know a lot of this might have been said at another time, but it will not now be said at another time, so there is no time lost.

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Item agreed to.


LIB

James Alexander Robb (Minister of Trade and Commerce)

Liberal

Mr. ROBB:

There is an item in the Supplementary Estimates we might take up.

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CON

Henry Herbert Stevens

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEVENS:

I think the minister will agree that we have had a long and perhaps more or less profitable discussion to-night not very closely related to his estimates, but we have passed a couple of items and as the hour is late, I think it would be a gracious act for

him to move that the committee rise and report progress.

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LIB

James Alexander Robb (Minister of Trade and Commerce)

Liberal

Mr. ROBB:

We will agree to that.

Progress reported.

On motion of Mr. Fielding, the House adjourned at 11.45 p.m.

Monday, April 16, 1923

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April 13, 1923