May 26, 1925

LAB

William Irvine

Labour

Mr. IRVINE:

May we take it as the final decision of the government that nothing more will be done with regard to the revaluation of the soldiers' lands?

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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LIB

James Alexander Robb (Minister of Immigration and Colonization)

Liberal

Mr. ROBB:

That is a fair question: There is on record a report of the Ralston commission. The Ralston commission, and they were soldiers, say that the time has not yet arrived when revaluation can be fair'y made, and there are twenty-five years to run from the date of purchase. It will be time enough for a future government to consider this.

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PRO

Harry Leader

Progressive

Mr. LEADER:

I think the minister lacks considerable information when he states that not so many soldier settlers are leaving after all. I know parts of Manitoba where 60 per cent of the settlers in certain municipalities have already abandoned their farms. Bankers and other reputable men in the district, some of them having been engaged in farming operations there for years, say that much of this land was purchased at 30 or 50 per cent in excess of its actual value and that the soldiers have not an earthly chance to make good under the present conditions. The soldiers have not got one possible chance in the world of making good under the conditions under which they are labouring now.

I will not take up any more time, but I think the minister should be seized of the fact that a great many of these men have already left their farms, and it seems to me a pitiable shame that no attempt was made in the last three or four years to maintain some of these men on the land on which they had settled, and some of them are the finest you cou'd possibly get. I know some of the settlers who possibly did not understand the business of farming, but who meant well. I know two young Englishmen who came over from the Old Country persuaded

to take up land. These lands were appraised and recommended by some official of the board, and upon that recommendation these two Englishmen took up the land. The result was that they have not only lost their land and all the improvements they had made in two or three years, but $1,200 of their own money as well. I took this case up with the Minister of Justice, and he was kind enough to reply to my letter, and to state that he would like to know some way of retaining these men who are already on the land if we could do something to keep them there, instead of bringing in new settlers.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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LAB

William Irvine

Labour

Mr. IRVINE:

Is the hon. member sure

they did not leave for the reason the minister mentioned a few moments ago?

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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PRO

Harry Leader

Progressive

Mr. LEADER:

I believe they were

bachelors. That is all I have to say at the present time.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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LIB

Charles Gavan Power

Liberal

Mr. POWER:

Just before this resolution

passes, I wish to say a few words with regard to the principle. I agree with some of my hon. friends opposite that perhaps this revaluation has been made too low. If you are going to admit the principle of any revaluation at all, perhaps it is, but I do not believe we should admit that principle. I may say that so far as this whole legislation is concerned, my hands are fairly clean in that I opposed it from the very beginning. Those members who were in the last parliament may remember that on every occasion on which there was any question of soldier land settlement or advances to soldiers for the purpose of land settlement, I opposed it every time as energetically as I possibly could. I do not wish to pose as a prophet; I leave that to my hon. friend from George Etienne Cartier (Mr. Jacobs), but at the time this legislation was brought down I pointed out that the loans were too high, that the settlers were putting a halter around their own necks, that the legislation was discriminatory in that you were loaning money only to a certain class of the soldiers and not advancing it to other classes of the soldiers. I pointed out that it was useless because these men would not remain on the 'land, and that for years to come the soldiers would be coming before this parliament asking us to remit their interest or principal. Each and every one of these prophecies has come true. I simply [DOT] wish to call the minister's attention to that fact.

As to this legislation itself, may I say that it makes discrimination still more discriminatory in that the poor devil who has paid for his land, who has worked 'hard enough

Soldier Settlement Act

to pay for it, will now be penalized, whereas the man who has been too lazy to do the work he should have done is now allowed to obtain two or three or four or five thousand dollars, as the case may be, from the government. The man who has worked hard and has been obliged to abandon his land owing to circumstances is also being penalized. I think the whole legislation was bad from the start, and that we are not making it any better by what is proposed now.

At six o'clock the Speaker resumed the chair and the House took recess.

After Recess

The House resumed at eight o'clock.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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PRIVATE BILL

SECOND READING


Bill No. 141, for the relief of James Hooper Robins.-Mr. Clifford.


SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT


The House resumed consideration of the resolution of Hon. Mr. Robb to amend the Soldier Settlement Act, 1919 and amending acts, Mr. Gordon in the chair.


PRO

Alan Webster Neill

Progressive

Mr. NEILL:

I have already spoken on the percentage of reduction on stock, and I wish to say a few words with regard to the revaluation of land. The general principle governing that question has been so well stated by hon. members who have preceded me, notably the hon. member for Bow River (Mr. Garland) and the hon. member for Red Deer (Mr. Speakman) that I will not go into that phase of it, except to give a general support to their views. I wish, however, to deal with a matter which they did not cover, and that is a phase of this land question as it arises in British Columbia. As we know, the prairie is comparatively easy farming. In British Columbia, with very few exceptions, it is a question of going into the bush, and as the expression goes, hewing out a home. It sounds very nice and romantic, but it really should be interpreted, grubbing up stumps. The district I more particularly wish to allude to is the settlement in the neighbourhood of Courtenay and Merville. The provincial government undertook to make a settlement there very soon after the return of the men. They undertook to clear so many acres for each man, and the cost ran from $400 to $450 an acre, exclusive of the price of the land, and it was not very well cleared even then. The situation became so acute that the provincial government were compelled, by the force of circumstances and by the fact that the men were utterly incapable of carrying on under the burden which that high cost of clearing imposed upon them, to make a revaluation of the land by which they cut the value down substantially. The Dominion farms lie right alongside that district, and the land and stumps are similar. When the Prime Minister and his party were in British Columbia last summer they gave us the honour of a visit in the Courtenay district, and the Prime Minister was kind enough to receive a deputation of soldier settlers, and also went out and I think the Minister without portfolio, from Ottawa, went with him to see the land. We showed them land with stumps which would run from two and a half to four feet in diameter, and some even five feet. They were so close together in places that you could very nearly walk across the land without treading on the soil. This land was adjacent to Merville. It will take nearly a box of powder to blow out one stump, and the powder will cost about nine dollars and the labour in addition. It will occupy a space of from ten to fifteen square yards. When you have got it out you have a large hole in the ground, and when you have filled it in, then you have a piece of land that will not grow anything for from two to five years, because the sub-soil has been brought to the surface. Until it has the aeration of the air and sun on it, it will not grow anything. That is the sort of land we showed the Prime Minister. If you estimate the stumps from thirty to forty to an acre on the basis I have suggested, it wall cost from $300 to' $400 an acre to clear this land after you have bought it. It is not like prairie land that you can put a plough right into.

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PRO

Edward Joseph Garland

Progressive

Mr. GARLAND (Bow River):

Is this land within the district that was so eloquently described yesterday by the Minister of Public Works (Mr. King) as being highly productive?

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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

That is worse still.

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PRO

Alan Webster Neill

Progressive

Mr. NEILL:

The district which the minister was describing yesterday has no connection with this. But if my hon. friend wishes to go into that side line, I may say that the Comox valley is known as the garden of British Columbia, delta lands formed many years ago by rivers and they are covered with a deep loam. What I am describing is bush lands covered by heavy timber, and all British Columbians know that this land is second class land even after it has been ex-

Soldier Settlement Act

pensively cleared in the way I have indicated. This delegation that waited on the Prime Minister showed that they paid $45 an acre for that land in its uncleared state. They also showed that the present price of land in a similar condition right alongside was $7.50 an acre. Further than that, they showed that the value of that wild land at the time they bought it was only $7.50 an acre and they are prepared to produce evidence to that effect. It is frankly admitted there was bad management in the purchase of it.

I think the late government and the present government are to be congratulated on the almost entire freedom from any suggestion of graft in the purchase of all these lands. That was a wonderful achievement. It was a big order. There was no experience to guide those who handled the matter, and yet there have been few suggestions of any impropriety in the purchase. The trouble has occurred more in the shape of bad judgment. Men not fit for their jobs got appointed as supervisors and they lent themselves to the purchase of land at too high a price. There was also what I might almost call an . hysterical condition prevailing at the time. There was a great condition of emergency. These men were coming home by the thousands and something had to be done for them. They were exigent in their demands, and that attitude was more or less reflected in the action of the government. Be that as it may, these lands were bought at $45 an acre when they were never worth even at that time more than $7.50 an acre, according to the public Valuation. I have an intimate acquaintance with this class of land, because many yearn ago I took up a quarter section of land of the same character, though not nearly as heavily wooded. I paid $3 an acre for it, just three hundred times too much, because anyone who clears land of that description ought to get it for nothing and be given a bonus for clearing it. I speak from painful and practical experience in the matter.

The minister tells us that there is no need to revalue this land; that where they have salvaged1 lands, they have resold them at a better price. Naturally, if you have a lot of stuff on your hands, whether it is farms or horses or anything else, you sell the best first, because the public will always buy the best first and you cannot make a comparison by taking the picked pieces1 which are sold first. When it is all sold-and it will, be difficult to sell a great deal of it-they will have an idea whether they can salvage it at a better price than they paid for it, and I am satisfied that that will not be the case.

*

I have looked up the minister's remarks in Hansard, and he said that while he did not admit there was any need for revaluation and he was not prepared to admit that the value of lands had fallen since these men bought their farms, he did admit that in certain cases they had been, I think he said, overpurchased. If that is the case, we will accept it for the moment for the sake of argument, although I cannot accept it from my own experience. We will say it is true that in the great majority of cases the land has not gone down in value. If that is the case, how much easier it is to pass this legislation for which we are asking? In the cases where he does admit there was overpurchase or impropriety or graft, how much more necessary and easier it will be for us to remedy those particular and, as he suggests, more or less isolated) cases. This will make it easy to put the matter right at a comparatively low expenditure. Another suggestion is made that if we go into this it will be too costly. The reasons I have already given would operate against that. If there are not many cases, it will not be costly. But another reason is that it cannot be costing you anything if it is already lost. The value of these properties disappeared six years ago, or whatever the period was when the government supervisors recommended) 'the purchase of the '.land at $45 an acre when it was worth then only $7.50 and is worth only that now. To legislate out a bad debt will not make you any poorer. It is simply a question of paper bookkeeping and of not throwing out men who are now on the land. The hon. member for Quebec South (Mr. Power) said: Is it not right and proper that the Soldier Settlement Board should deal with this matter as a business enterprise? By all means, and if you have an insolvent debtor on your hands, is it not good business methods to make the best you can out of your loss, not to increase it, not to stand by and say: We will demand our pound of flesh, when you know perfectly well it is unobtainable? Nothing can be gained by that. Is it not better to help the debtor if possible so as to retrieve as much as you can reasonably, and let the rest go rather than insist on your pound of flesh and, perhaps, in the long run get a great deal less? There is additional encouragement in this case in that we would be keeping the soldier on the land. Surely that is desirable. He has put his money and so on into dt. If we salvage him, which is a polite way of throwing him out, and sell the land to someone else who is not a soldier, who may be a British subject, but

Soldier Settlement Act

who was not a soldier for us, that man will not pay more than the standard value. He will take care to see that he does not pay any more than the actual cash value to-day. What is to be gained by throwing out this soldier who, after all, has some claims, because when he came back from the war he was not familiar with real estate values and with the locality. We sat at home; we knew the values and how to sell to the best advantage. But these men were, perhaps, not locally informed as much as they might be. They came at any rate and located, and it is in our interest, apart from any sentimental regard at all, to see that they stay on the land if that is reasonably possible, vhich will involve no real loss to the general public funds, because you are not going to get the full price out of them in any case. You can force them out if you like and that is all you will do.

As regards the forty per cent and the twenty per cent on stock, I have already dealt with that. While I regret very much to see it, possibly that will be regarded by the men as a half measure that is better than nothing. But this is such a far more important issue that I would beseech the government to reconsider it. I do not think there was an absolute note of finality in the minister's remarks, and I believe if this committee showed a full expression of its views on the matter, he might yet be led to reconsider the question of revaluation. It is of no use to talk about revaluing the land twenty-five years from now. You might as well talk about revaluing it in, the next world. These men will be gone. They cannot wait for twenty-five years paying interest on an absurd valuation with some vague, nebulous hope that twenty-five years from now they may have the land revalued. That is not business. If you are going to give the man relief, give it to him now and let him know exactly what he has to face. In that event he will be encouraged to go ahead. Men who are now hanging fire will say: This is something we can overtake, and they will make an endeavour to meet their obligations if they are brought down to a reasonable basis. I hope the minister will be induced to reconsider this phase of the subject.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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LIB

Charles A. Stewart (Minister of Mines; Minister of the Interior; Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs)

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Argenteuil):

Is that the

only case in the hon. member's constituency or on the island in which there has been an overvaluation? A valuation of $45 would seem to be enormous when the actual value of the land was $7.50. Surely there are not many cases of that kind.

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PRO

Alan Webster Neill

Progressive

Mr. NEILL:

The deputation that met the Prime Minister and his party consisted of only three or four, but if I remember rightly their association numbered something like forty, although I am speaking only from memory. I have no doubt there were other cases, but this particular settlement would be somewhere about that number.

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart (Minister of Mines; Minister of the Interior; Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs)

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Argenteuil):

That is not generally true of the soldier settlers.

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PRO

Alan Webster Neill

Progressive

Mr. NEILL:

I speak only of that particular place but I know other places in my district where the same thing is moTe or less true, such as down in the lower portion, in the neighbourhood of Errington and Parks-ville; and in a general way the same thing is true of every section of land where these men were put on what is known as high bush-lands, where the removal of the stumps would cost anywhere from $200 to $400 an acre. And it is well known that after this has been done the land is only what we would call second class; you could not grow roots with any great success. The land is dry and you have to put your crop in early in the season, hoping to take it out before the dTy weather comes. The crop would be limited to oats hay, timothy and produce of that kind.

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LAB

Joseph Tweed Shaw

Labour

Mr. SHAW:

I had not the advantage of hearing the discussion this afternoon of this important and long anticipated resolution. I must express regret that the government in the resolution which they have proposed have not adopted the percentage revaluation of live stock which, if I remember rightly, was agreed to by the special parliamentary committee of last year. The percentages had been worked out by that committee with great care, after hearing all the officials from the department, and the proposal was that 60 per cent and 40 per cent would afford reasonable reductions. I join with others who have spoken in regretting that the government has not provided for this 60 per cent and 40 per cent revaluation; and I agree with the hon. member (Mr. Neill) that a far more important matter than the one we have under consideration is the matter which the government has apparently omitted, namely, revaluation of soldier land.

I have not been able in the limited time at my disposal to place my finger on the exact spot in the evidence of last year, but I know that that evidence indicated that some 4,500 soldiers had become adjustment cases, having abandoned the land, and the department was left with the live stock as well as the land of these abandoning settlers. In addition to that, as I believe the evidence will show,

Soldier Settlement Act

about 5,000 more soldiers are as it were shivering on the brink. A favourable turn in the tide of fortune would give these men an opportunity to prosper, whereas a recurrence of the conditions' which have persisted through all these latter years will simply result in their cases also passing into the adjustment class. Their farms will be salvaged while those that are not salvaged will perhaps be abandoned because of failure or inability on the part of the soldiers to caTry on successfully.

It is with regard to these 5,000 soldiers that parliament must take some effective action. These men must if possible be preserved on the land, because if these farms revert to the government there can be no question that the government will lose a very large amount of money, a larger amount than would be lost by any revaluation that might be made. It is suggested that a system of revaluation would be altogether too . costly, but it is my view that failure to undertake a revaluation will be much more costly. This was a tremendous colonization scheme which the Dominion adopted, and it seems to me that the government can very well take every possible step to ensure its success. If they do not then they will have more abandoned land on their hands and the soldiers will have to go to other countries to find more favourable opportunities to achieve success. And apart from all that the country will be burdened with a tremendous loss.

Last year this situation was thoroughly considered and the committee had before it two possible steps that might be taken. In the first place there was suggested what might be called mass action; it was proposed to give a remission of interest to every soldier irrespective of whether or not he was successful. It was suggested that the benefits of such interest remission should be shared alike by the deserving and the undeserving. Frankly, I do not approve of that method of handling the situation; it would be only a temporary measure at best and could not be successful. In 1922 the system of interest remission was tried and at that time, although I am not a farmer, I expressed the fear that such a plan would not succeed; and certainly the intervening years have amply demonstrated the correctness of the view I then took. I would point out that this scheme of interest remission is not fair either to the soldiers or to the public at large. It is not fair that the soldier who does not need it should get it, nor is it fair that the public should be called upon to bear the burden of a reduction in interest which is unnecessary

and which advantages many of the undeserving as well as the deserving. The other method of handling the matter is by a system of revaluation of the land-individual action with respect to every parcel of land, having in mind the applicant himself, his efforts in the past, the possibilities of his success in the future, and the probable conditions for the future. Taking all these things into consideration, somebody could determine whether or not a revaluation in any particular case should be undertaken. I believe that a revaluation of the land should be carried out by a competent organized arbitration board in each land settlement district. I do not for a moment suggest any cumbersome machinery; but if the Soldier Settlement Board cannot make an effective and final arrangement with the soldiers themselves, then a simple arbitration board should be constituted *which would make a final award so far as reduction in the capital value of the land is concerned.

I regret that the minister proposes no action in this regard, for I certainly think that action is called for. I had understood all along that something was to be done, and I am quite sure that a large number of soldiers are vitally interested in the proposition. When therefore they hear the minister's decree in this matter they will regard it as to some extent the death knell of their hopes, and a great many of them will join the long list of those who have already abandoned the land. In conclusion, I say that Canada cannot afford now to fail to undertake this task. If we do not undertake it to-day we are bound to undertake it to-morrow; and before we have further tremendous losses on our hands why should we not discharge today the duty which lies before us? I have no doubt that if the government will reconsider this matter carefully they will find that in instituting some system of land revaluation at this session they would merit the confidence and esteem of returned soldiers generally.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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May 26, 1925