June 19, 1923

CON

Henry Herbert Stevens

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEVENS:

With the permission of the hon. member I may straighten this little dispute because it is really of importance. The document I quoted from was the Federal

Bank Act

Reserve report for April of this year; if I remember rightly it was dated April 15th. It gave the rates of interest charged in some 12 or 15 leading American cities, ranging from (5 per cent to 10 per cent. These were the . rates charged by the commercial banks of the country throughout the United States for prime commercial paper.

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PRO

George Gibson Coote

Progressive

Mr. COOTE:

Is the hon. member stating that 10 per cent was charged by the Federal Reserve Bank?

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CON

Henry Herbert Stevens

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. STEVENS:

I thought I had made it plain. I said that these were, the rates charged by the commercial banks of the United States for prime commercial paper.

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PRO

George Gibson Coote

Progressive

Mr. COOTE:

Possibly we have it straight now. I move in amendment that subsection l of section 91 be struck out and the following Mibstituted therefor:

(1) The bank may stipulate for, take, reserve, or exact any rate of interest or discount but not exceeding 8 per cent per annum and may receive and take in advance any set rate.

(2) The rate of interest or discount charged by the bank shall appear on the face of the note, bill or other evidence of debt.

(3) In the event that a greater rate than 8 per *cent per annum has been paid to the Bank, then the person by whom it has been paid or his legal representative, may recover in any court the excess interest thus paid, provided such action is commenced within two years from the time such excess interest was paid.

(4) In any suit, action or other proceeding concerning a bank loan wherein it is alleged that the amount [DOT]of interest paid or claimed exceeds the rate of eight per centum per annum, the court may reopen the transaction and take an account between the parties, and may, notwithstanding any statement of settlement of account, or any contract purporting to close previous dealings and create a new obligation, reopen any account already taken between the parties, and relieve the person under obligation to pay from payment of any sum in excess of the legal rate of interest and if any such excess has been paid, or allowed in account, by the debtor, may order the bank to repay it, and may set aside either wholly or in part, or revise, or alter, any security given in respect of the transaction.

The latter part of the amendment is the same as that moved by the hon. member for Calgary West (Mr. Shaw). I hope this amendment will receive the support of the committee. Surely we have met any-reasonable objections which hon. members might have to the amendment which was moved previously. I think most hon. members will admit that 8 per cent is the limit which any man should pay if he has security to entitle him to a loan. If he is not entitled to a loan on account of the security which he has to offer unless he is willing to pay 12 or 13 per cent, I feel exactly like Professor McGibbon who said in his report that it would be better

for that man if he did not get a loan. I hope that this amendment will meet a better fate than the one moved by the hon. member for Calgary West.

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LAB

William Irvine

Labour

Mr. IRVINE:

Before we enter upon a discussion of the new amendment, I would like to ask the Minister of Finance if it is his intention that we should sit as late as we did last night. It is now nearly midnight, and I should like to ask if the intention is to keep the committee in session for an indefinite time?

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LIB

William Stevens Fielding (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. FIELDING:

My hon. friend is mistaken. We have not been keeping the House in session.

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LAB
LIB

William Stevens Fielding (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. FIELDING:

All right. That motion is always in order.

Motion (Mr. Irvine) negatived.

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PRO

Edward Joseph Garland

Progressive

Mr. GARLAND (Bow River):

Possibly the hon. member for Macleod (Mr. Coote) was under the impression that if we raised the ante one point, the committee might consider his amendment more favourably, and I have no doubt in the world that if someone would move that the rate of interest should be raised to 25 per cent, everybody on the opposite side of the House

12 m. would vote in favour of that. May I, however, before opening my remarks on the amendment, express my regret that the Minister of Finance cannot see his way to accede to the request of the hon. member for Calgary East (Mr. Irvine) to allow this debate to continue to-morrow? You will have noted that to-day every facility has been given on this side of the House, until this very important clause came up, to the passage of amendments as well as clauses. We have progressed very well, as well as we have done on any other important bill, and again I say that it is with regret that I find myself compelled to continue debating this clause at this late hour. As far as observation can show me, it is practically futile for any hon. member in this corner of the House to try to present arguments, good, bad or indifferent, that will have any influence whatever on hon. members, both opposite and to my right. To some extent their position may be governed-I do not say that it is, but it is a probability-by the extraordinary attitude of a part of the press. For example I find in the Standard of Montreal a long editorial, rather scurrilous in character, dealing with the Bank Act. It is headed: "Put the Bank Act through." And it ends up with this

Bank Act

paragraph. Hon. members are entitled to know this if they have not already read it, and I am surprised that some of the hon. members in either of the two historic parties have not taken exception to it.

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LIB

Charles Marcil

Liberal

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Marcil, Bonaven-ture):

I do not think the hon. member

would be in order to read a newspaper extract discrediting or written in a manner to discredit the proceedings of this House.

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PRO

Edward Joseph Garland

Progressive

Mr. GARLAND (Bow River):

It is not discrediting to those who adhere to partisanship. The editorial-and I need not read it; I can give the important part very briefly to you-ends up with a paragraph somewhat to this effect, that now is the time for the two historic parties to bury the hatchet and to unite in order to force through the Bank Act at this session. It is sad to say that there are only too many of such editorials and such articles appearing in the free press of Canada at this time.

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PRO
PRO

Edward Joseph Garland

Progressive

Mr. GARLAND (Bow River):

Hopeless.

This question of interest rates is, without doubt, the most vital one facing western Canada to-day. Because of a series of bad years in places, because of low prices for the crops that were raised in other places, because of a general process of deflation involving live stock, grain and other produce of all kinds, because, to a large extent, of the Fordney tariff practically prohibiting the entry of cattle from Canada into the United States, because of the tariff which this country has imposed and which bears heavily upon the people of western Canada, because of the high transportation rates and combines, but especially because of high interest rates, the condition of the farmers of western Canada is reduced to a state of almost insolvency. You find to-day by far the greater majority of the farmers of western Canada carrying great accumulated amounts of debt, upon which they are paying interest rates that have been increasing during the last two years and that are now at a point that the farmers cannot continue to pay them and stay in the farming business. AVhat is the use of filling up that country with immigrants if they cannot live when they come there? We cannot contend that this is not a national question, and it is a sad sight to me to see hon. members opposite dealing with the matter in the most perfunctory manner, disregarding every argument brought to bear on it from this side. It seems utterly useless to endeavour to influence their minds in this matter, and we

have no hope of being able to. Hon. members have no proposals before the committee for a rural credit scheme, and I venture to say that it is impossible that they will have one at this session. Therefore, there is no hope. We will come back next year-at least some may; we cannot tell what may happen -and there may be another discussion, but we have no guarantee that there will be a discussion of this question.

May I for a moment endeavour to intimate to hon. members who will listen- and some ought to listen-the manner m which loans are taken out in western Canada? A farmer may happen to require a loan in the spring to carry on the year's farming operations. He goes to the bank manager, and he makes out a statement. He states to him every asset he has, the amount of the stock and its value, the amount of the improvements and their value, the amount of his land and its value, and if he does not own it all, his equity in the land, the number of buildings he has and so on. In short he gives him a regular bank statement of all his assets. The bank manager will then say to him: "I will refer this matter to the office at Calgary"-or Saskatoon or Winnipeg, as the case may be-"and I will let you know the result in a week or ten days." At the end of that time the fanner goes in, and if he. is very fortunate, the manager extends the loan at a rate of eight per cent. That is the general procedure until, as I say, recent years. With the rate of eight per cent the farmer is about to leave satisfied, but on reading the note he discovers that it is made out for three months and he tells the manager that he cannot pay it in three months; that that will be in the midst of his summer operations, *and he will have nothing to sell at that time of the year. The reply is that that is a mere formality, and that the farmer can come in at the end of the three months and renew the note. At the end of three months the farmer goes back to have that note renewed, and the bank manager generally informs him that unfortunately, conditions are not as good as they were when he issued the note, or he gives some other excuse. He may say that money is tightening. He has got to call in the loan. If the farmer cannot pay now he is told, "Well, we will renew the loan all right, but you will have to give us additional security and perhaps an increased rate of interest or both." However, it has not been the general practice of the banks to increase the rate of interest until the end of the year. At that time, if it has been impossible for the farmer to pay his full indebtedness-and I may say that owing to present conditions

Bank Act

there have been very few who have been able to pay their debts in full in western Canada-the procedure is to increase the rate of interest and, whenever possible, obtain all additional security.

The banks go further. If the farmer has any liquid assets, such as live stock, then, disregarding entirely market conditions, he is absolutely obliged to put them up for sale. My constituency is about 12,000 square miles in area and is situated in the most densely populated portion of Alberta. My hon. friend from Battle River (Mr. Spencer) represents a constituency which runs into the north country and is entirely a mixed farming district. The southern half of my constituency happens to be devoted to grain growing entirely, but the northern portion is like that of my friend from Battle River a mixed farming district. We sent out a questionnaire to our constituents some time ago, and the answers we received indicate that wherever stock-raising was engaged in a few years ago the banks encouraged the farmers to purchase more stock. I can give the committee my own practical experience in this respect. I happened to attend a stock sale at the Pat Burns Imperial ranch at Rumsey a few years ago and the manager of the local bank was also present. As a matter of fact he was sitting on the top rail of the corral beside me. I happened to have plenty of feed that year and I said to him, "Do you think this stock would be a safe investment?" He said, "You cannot make any mistake in such an investment." I asked him, "Will you advance me the necessary money to purchase some of this stock if you think it is all right?" "Certainly," he said, "you can have as much credit as is necessary to stock your farm." I accepted the offer and was encouraged to purchase stock at $75 to $85 a head. I admit that I should not have been so foolish, but I took it for granted that the bank manager knew conditions, and so I followed his advice. That kind of advice has been followed unfortunately by all too many farmers in western Canada. Credit has also been urged upon them by a system of propaganda something like this: Do not put

all your eggs into one basket-go in for mixed farming-if you want to go in for hogs come and see your branch manager-if you want to go in for cattle come and see your branch manager-we advise you to go into dairying, see your bank manager. We were encouraged, we went to see our bank manager, and as a result we invested in these things-many of us to our great regret. After having held that live stock for two or three years the market, as you know, fell to pieces when the Fordney tariff was put into effect. But no mercy was

shown by the banks. Our stock was there, our productive capacity was there, but owing to causes over which we had no control the price of cattle broke badly. Did the banks of western Canada help the farmers to tide over that period? Did they say to us, "We will not press you, we will help you to carry on until conditions improve and you can find a market for your stock?" I mentioned to one bank manager the possibility of the removal of the British embargo on cattle. He laughed at me and said, "That is simply a political football; it will never be removed." And the farmers were forced to sell their cattle. I use the word "forced" advisedly. A farmer who had a poor crop and could get little or nothing for it was compelled to sell his other liquid assets to meet his bank loan. In many cases after such forced sales the farmers still owed money to the banks. Many of these farmers had to give additional mortgages at 9 per cent. At the present time I am paying 9 per cent on a ten-year mortgage.

We cannot any longer pay that rate either to the mortgage companies or to the banks, and if this committee does not take some steps to restrict the profiteering banks I cannot without hesitation tell hon. members what will happen. Certainly I hate to think of the future condition of western Canada. After all, this is a national question. Our prosperity out there will influence conditions in the East. If we ever get out of this morass of debt, not only will the country generally be improved immensely through productive development by hopeful farmers, but this prosperity will have a reflex effect on the business of eastern Canda. If hon. members will discuss the present situation with any business men in this city, they will be answered as I was answered the other day. I asked one business man what he thought were the prospects for the fall trade, and he replied, "They do not look good." But I said, "We are going to have a good crop in western Canada this year." He said, "Yes, but I am afraid you cannot pay your debts." And it was only too true.

Now, Mr. Chairman, I wish to place on record one or two examples, not at great length, of the oppressive character of banking practice in western Canada. This is a letter concluding answers to the questionnaire received from Mr. C- A. Wynn of Carmangay, Alberta, and is typical. He writes:

This particular district was settled up by people from eastern Canada and the States some eighteen years ago. They have built up comfortable homes here only to find themselves faced with the situation where it will take practically all their crop to pay the interest on their loans. So for this reason quite a num-

Bank Act

ber are contemplating leaving the country almost at once, crop or no crop, unless there is some relief in sight.

Here are a few of the questions set out on the questionnaire with the answers received :

14. Has your bank requested payment of their clients' liabilities in full with the promise of extension of credit?

A. Yes.

15. Has your bank ever broken its promise to reissue credit as per previous question?

A. Yes.

16. If so, in about what percentage of cases?

A. Could not say definitely, but perhaps 25 per cent.

1 think, Mr. Chairman, that those bankers who may read some part of these proceedings would be well advised to take to heart this admonition: Do not encourage or permit local branch managers to urge a farmer to liquidate a debt regardless of cost at the end of the year on the promise of a renewal of credit for the coming years' operations unless the bank is willing to extend the line of credit. Only too many cases have arisen where the banker has encouraged liquidation at all costs and promised a renewal of credit, but has afterward broken his pledge. That is not going to improve conditions in western Canada, nor is it going to increase the confidence of our farmers in the banking system.

Touching briefly on the answers to the questionnaire I sent out, I would say that the term of a note to the farmer in western Canada is three months. Hon. members can well undestand that that is altogether too short. The interest charge in all districts is never lower than 8 per cent, and in most of the 12,000 square miles-and my hon. friend from Battle River has exactly similar answers covering another 12,000 square miles corroborating in every degree the answers I have received from the southern part of the province-it is 8 per cent compounded, or over. Now, that situation cannot continue. In by far the great majority of cases, all notes are discounted, at time of issue. But it is not a constant practice; there are a few cases reported where a farmer, observing that the hanker is discounting the note at the time of issue protests so vigorously that the banker has been known not to insist on the discount. But too few farmers have the courage to insist, and I do not know whether they would be successful if they insisted as a whole.

Every one of these reports-and I have roughly one hundred of them-indicates that it is impossible under present conditions in western Canada to carry on at 8 per cent or over. A large number of these reports deal with caveats filed by the bank against grain, f.Mr. E. J. Garland.]

so that as soon as a farmer has hauled his grain to the elevator the elevator company makes the cash ticket out to the bank instead of to the farmer. I do not know whether in most of these oases there was collusion with the elevator companies, but I had a letter from Mr. H. W. Leonard, secretary of the Constituency Association at Tudor, Alberta, near Rockyford, in which he stated that an attempt had been made by the bank manager there-I believe it was the Bank of Commerce-to get the elevators to act as collectors for the banks last year at harvest time when the grain was coming in; but fortunately the elevators refused to act. The depletion of the population due to the condition out there is so appalling that I hesitate to give the facts to the committee. But reverting for a moment to the question of interest rates, may I say that in respect to those 12,000 square miles I have received reports from twenty-seven large districts in which the interest is 8 per cent compounded, 9 per cent, 10 per cent, and, in some eases 12 per cent. For example, in the district ol Morrin notes are issued compounded every three months at 8 per cent. In the district of Craigmyle, the rate is 9 per cent, Royal Bank; Big Valley, 9 per cent, Royal Bank and Imperial Bank; Delia, 9 per cent, Bank of Montreal and Bank of Commerce; Hanna, from 8 to 10 per cent and in some cases 12 per cent, Bank of Toronto, Bank of Commerce, Union Bank. In the district of Pa'T the average is 9 per cenh-and by the way, in case a question may be asked me, I would inform the hon. senior member for Halifax that these are averages; they are not isolated instances. The average at Parr is 9 per cent; that is the average for the whole district. At Richdale, it is 10 per cent, Bank of Toronto; at Gleichen, 8 per cent, Bank of Commerce and Royal Bank; at Sunnynook, 8 per cent, Union Bank and Bank of Toronto; at Pandora, 9 per cent, Bank of Toronto; Lonebutte, 9 per cent, Union Bank and Bank of Commerce; Carolside, 9 per cent, Union Bank and Bank of Toronto; Cessford, 10 per cent, Bank of Toronto; Clivale, 8 and 9 per cent, Bank of Commerce and Union Bank; Halb'-day, 9 per cent, Union Bank; Carmangay, 8 per cent, Bank of Commerce; Vulcan, 9 per cent, Bank of Hamilton, and so on. That will give hon. members a fairly accurate idea of the situation there and the rates of interest we have been charged. The hon. senior member for Halifax refers to the costs of operating branch banks, of the expansion of operations of the banks, as one of the causes for the higher rates of interest in the West.

Bank Act

May I remind him in that connection that efforts were made in the committee on Banking and Commerce to recall the bankers in order to ask them specifically for that information. We had no evidence before the committee on Banking and Commerce that would justify the hon. member for Halifax in making that statement-not one tittle of evidence to that effect was adduced. We had simply the bald statements of two bankers, but no evidence. We made an effort to secure that evidence, but the request was refused by the committee; we who asked for it were voted down.

I need not deal further with the question of competition; it has been gone into ver. fully by the hon. member for Macleod (Mr. Coote). But I would like to touch on the other aspect of the western Canadian banking conditions that have led to high interest rates, and ask the question, is it our fault, or is it the banks' fault? I wish to quote from page 88 of a book bj' Mr. William Long Baker entitled "Money Monopoly vs. the Community Dollar." Mr. Baker was formerly supervisor of branches for the Standard Bank of Canada, but he left that position to endeavour to form and secure a charter for a commonwealth bank in this country. He says:

It was remarked at the beginning of the preceding chapter that while the banks act in concert in matters furthering their own interests, such as interest rate, legislation and all subjects and phases likely to culminate in organized opposition, yet they are engaged with one another in a struggle for supremacy in business and we have seen a contest between two banks for leading place as Canada's greatest bank. Every bank is trying to show larger totals, larger business than its class competitor. This has led to one of the most insane practices imaginable, that of opening branches where they are not required.

Now, that is only too true, I will not delay the committee in going into the aspect of the question, Mr. Chairman, but you have heard the statements of hon. members around me. The hon. member for Kindersley (Mr. Carmichael) dealt with that point; he mentioned High River as an example, as well as some other towns. I could mention dozens of places where two or more banks are operating but where there is not business enough for one. I quote further from Mr. Baker's work:

It seems hardly possible that men who preach economy, efficiency and avoidance of unnecessary expansion-

And that is the advice we have from bankers.

-would themselves practise the very reverse. Two banks have been known to open their offices in a village on the same day, in fact this may be said to be a common occurrence. Bank A and Bank B may

each have a branch at X. A few miles away is a small fanning locality where Bank A has deposits of $100,000 lodged at their X office. Bank B conceives the idea of opening a branch at the smaller locality and Bank A jumps in immediately to protect its business. There is not enough business to warrant one branch but the fight for business, no, for deposits, goes on, at the expense of the public, and at the expense of derks who eke out a bare existence on half pay. An analysis of Canada's branches made some time ago, showed the following:

I would ask hon. members of the committee to listen to this statement of fact:

970 places with

515 " " . 115 a

3 "42 " a

4 "18 " "

5 "16 "

6 "6 II "

7 "8 II "

8 "3 " " .

9 "5 " .

10 "1 " " .

11 "2 "

12 "3 "

13 "2

14 "1 "

17 "1 "

18 "1 " " 2 " "

24 "1 " " .

26 "1

39 "1

43 "1 " "

45 "1 " .

55 "1 " .

82 "1 " " .

87 "1 " "

220 "Of the branches located in points where there

is only one bank, there are probably 300 which could be closed with profit to the bank and without serious inconvenience to the people.

I wish to support that statement.

Five hundred and fifteen offices at two-branch points-

" Two-branch points "-points where there are two branch banks.

-could be closed, as there are no towns with only two banks where one could not do the work. It is not necessary to deal with each class, but anyone may estimate that 1,600 branches could be closed releasing probably $7,000,000 or $8,000,000 of capital- and making an annual saving of $12,000,000. This would be allowing an average of less than $8,000 for salaries of manager and staff, rents and all incidental expenses. Additional staff might be required at many points to handle the increased business and there would naturally be some additional expense, but in the majority of cases it would be found that no extra staff would be required. Think of it! Wasting, we shall say, eight or ten million dollars each year in a race for supremacy, in a mad scramble for deposits while bank clerks live or try to live on starvation salaries.

That alone is not the whole story. Not only did they expand into these places where they are not needed, not only did they double and treble the number of branches at places where the business would justify but one, but they built as one hon. gentleman has said, the most expensive buildings in the town. They

Bank Act

fitted them with the most expensive furnishings, and filled them with the most luxurious flowers and ferns and creeping plants so that you enter a most gorgeous palace when you go into the bank, hat in hand, and go down on your knees to borrow money. When I came a homesteader to my present town nearly eighteen years ago, there was no bank, but there came to it two years later an assistant bank manager from a town in that district. He came up by train twice a week to a little shack about twelve by sixteen with a counter in it, and he performed all the functions of a bank in that district admirably. But that was not good enough. Just as soon as the bank could get around to it a contract for a store-shaped building was made and a large frame structure secured. Into it were placed most expensive fittings, with elaborate counters, swivel chairs and costly furniture of all kinds. But still that was not enough. Within eighteen years they had jumped from a shack to a one-storey frame shack, to a two-storey frame building with solid oak partitions *jetween the offices and the outer public hall and with a specially built floor, and as I said, the inside was festooned with green creeping things in order to harmonize with the green things that came in there to borrow money.

That is not an isolated case by any means, Mr. Chairman. It is a common everyday sight in the West. Sixteen miles to the south of that town there are two large banks, one of them a large two-storey brick building and the other an expensively-built frame building. One of these banks of half the size could accommodate all the business that is to be done in that town, but there you have two immense banks with all these expensive fittings. That is one of the reasons possibly why the rate of interest is so high. The other reason may be because it is necessary to pay the large and persistent dividends. That deals with the waste and extravagance, and that may be the answer to the manager of the Weyburn Security Bank and to Sir John Aird and all the others who told us they could not carry on in western Canada if the rate of interest was reduced to 7 or 8 per cent. Their argument holds no water. No evidence has been adduced by them in support of it. We asked for someone to come before the committee and give evidence as to the average cost of managing a bank in western Canada, and we did not get them before that committee.

I have one last suggestion to make. If the hon. members of this House do not see fit to pass the amendment offered now by the hon. member for Macleod I would ask them to be logical and strike out something that is useless. If you will not pass the amendment to

this section, strike the section out. It is a camouflage, or worse, a futile falsehood. It does not guarantee anything to anybody, but the section is in the act in order to give confidence to the people. "There is a rate of interest fixed in Canada, and the banks cannot charge any more than the legal rate," is the false message conveyed. That is an utter farce, Mr. Chairman. Why perpetuate it? Cut it out, and let us be honest with ourselves and with the people who borrow money from the banks of Canada.

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LAB
IND

William Charles Good

Independent Progressive

Mr. GOOD:

I had expected yesterday to

speak at considerable length on this question of the interest rate, but I do not want to speak to-night and I do not think anybody here wants me to speak. I would think the Minister of Finance would be courteous to the House if he would permit it to adjourn the debate until to-morrow. If not, it simply means that he is exercising the power which he has to suppress discussion.

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?

Some hon. MEMBERS:

Order.

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?

Some hon. MEMBERS:

Go on.

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IND

William Charles Good

Independent Progressive

Mr. GOOD:

I do not propose, Mr. Chairman, to speak to-night under the circumstances. I simply give expression to this view that we ought after last night's experience to have a little chance of debating this matter to-morrow.

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LIB

William Stevens Fielding (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. FIELDING:

It is always possible for

a minority to insist that they are right and that everybody else is wrong. May I suggest to my hon. friend there is just a possibility that those who differ from him may be right. That is all.

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IND

William Charles Good

Independent Progressive

Mr. GOOD:

I am not questioning that at

all. I simply say that under the circumstances I do not feel justified in saying what I would under ordinary circumstances feel obligated to say.

Amendment negatived: Yeas 24, Nays SO.

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June 19, 1923