March 30, 1926

LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

Yes.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

I hope it is not true.

It will be a bright morning for me when I awaken and find it is not true. But I am afraid it is just about true, and the minister will have many cases where there is far more depreciation. I earnestly hope he is right. But my hopes are not very lively. I really think he will find that 40 per cent is just about the average reduction in the value of real estate. I mean since these lands were purchased in 1920, because undoubtedly they were then at the very acme, at the very height. So that the suggestion as to the tremendous amount involved is not an

exaggerated suggestion. It certainly is not exaggerated if this method of arriving at the amount is to be finally decided upon. Then the question comes, what should take its place? What would be a better plan? This is a much more difficult question to answer. Here is certainly one instance where criticism is much easier than constructive suggestion. Ordinarily when the funds of the nation are to be claimed by a private individual the method adopted is to have a court decide on the merits of the case and make the valuation. The Exchequer court is erected for that purpose. I know it is needless to suggest that the Exchequer court could be used so extensively as would be necessary here. It has not ramifications wide enough nor members numerous enough, but nevertheless it seems to me the principle should apply and we should try to make such variation as will suit the altered circumstances. Of course if the minister himself were the owner of the lands and suffered by the loss, there would be no need of any protection. Self-interest would take care of the situation. But just because the government is trustee, and self-interest is eliminated, then there must be something in the nature of a court established, and if something in the nature of a court is to be established, let it be as nearly as possible a court with all the safeguards of a court, a court where all selfinterest will be eliminated and all local prejudice will be removed from consideration of the court; in a word, with all those other qualities which have given the courts of the land the status they have among our people. Certainly the so-called tribunals which the minister suggests have none of those qualities at all; they have all the weaknesses and" none of the virtues.

The best suggestion I have heard-and I have passed it to the minister-is that the county court judge could be used for this purpose. The objection has been raised that county court judges were lawyers and I suppose in a sense they are lawyers still. I do not appreciate the objection on that ground; I cannot understand its being presented, as I believe it has been, chiefly by hon. gentlemen to the left. If this objection is to apply as against a county court judge, it would apply just the same against the whole structure of the Exchequer court. The business of the Exchequer court judge is mainly to decide land values, very frequently farm land values, often city land values, sometimes the value of chattels, personal property. As a judge he does not know anything about the value of the land whether

Soldier Settlement Act

it is a farm or city property, or of the value of personal property, but as a lawyer he knows how to weigh the evidence of others on the value of the land or property and that is because he is so appointed. His experience as well as his training gives him that quality. That reasoning applies equally well to this case. County court judges not only are qualified to weigh evidence but have considerable experience along that line. They have to weigh evidence as to land values in the pursuit of their duties week in and week out, year in and year out. They have to do so not only in civil suits but in relation to appeals from assessments and all such things as that. That is their work. On the score of qualification, speaking generally- there will be exceptions-I do not think any attack can be made upon them.

But there is the further fact and an important one, that they have the time. Those situated where they will be required for the purpose of this legislation undoubtedly have the time to devote themselves to the task. I have long contended that we have far too many county court judges in this country. We could get along with far fewer, but if we have them, why not utilize them for this purpose? I am sure the great majority of them would be glad to be of service, and I know many of them who, like the sword laid by, rust and eat into themselves ingloriously because they have not enough to do. They are qualified for the work; they have the leisure, the time, to devote themselves to it, and they are on the ground. You do not have to go far in order to reach them; they are right there. I make this suggestion to the minister: Let him revise this scheme along those lines; put it into his power to come to the terms of the soldier, but make the terms so come to reviewable by the county court judge under such conditions that anybody who would pay more for the land could come in and make the offer and then the judge would say: No, this is not fair to the public; this is an attempt to gain political advantage at the expense of the treasury and I will not permit the reduction. If that safeguard is established, I doubt if it would ever need to be exercised in the whole courts of revaluation. The very presence of it would help.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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IND

Alan Webster Neill

Independent

Mr. NEILL:

' If the right hon. member will allow me to say so, I think the objection which arose in the Progressive corner of the chamber to county court judges was not so much because they were lawyers or ex-lawyers, but because they were comparatively ignorant of agricultural conditions. Would the right hon. member in his scheme allow or suggest

the assistance to county court judges of agricultural experts, the same as is done in Admiralty court cases?

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

That is the province of the witness. The judge has to weigh the evidence adduced. As a matter of fact in the west the county court judges are pretty good judge* of land; they are engaged in that work all the time; but in case they are not, it is the evidence they weigh.

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IND
CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

That court deals with

other subjects altogether.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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IND

Alan Webster Neill

Independent

Mr. NEILL:

Admiralty court judges are always assisted by experts.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

But the experts have no judicial role to play.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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IND
CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

Very good. The witness is advisory. I do not think such assistance would add to the value of the result; I think it would add to the expense. That would be my view of the matter, although undoubtedly it would be an improvement on this. I do not think there will be any difficulty in having county court judges very fairly and thoroughly review these cases, and I should like to see a provision which would make it unnecessary for the soldier to have a lawyer at all. I do not think a lawyer should be necessary. If we are going to authorize the court to appoint a lawyer for the soldier in any case, I would be appalled at the size of the lawyer's bill the board would have to pay, high as my opinion is of the profession, especially when I witness the bills which this government paid last session and the standard they have set. I do not say that they are alone in this offence; the standard has been set for quite a while. I think the standard is an outrage and I do not care who hears my words.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

The right

hon. gentleman hinted at the procedure prior to going to the court. Does he agree with the provision in the bill that an attempt should be made to settle the case with the officers of the Soldier Settlement Board?

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

Yes, but the minister

did not catch the precaution I set. After this settlement is made it should be reviewed on proper notice before a county court judge for the protection of the treasury. If they cannot come to a decision at all, they should both be given an opportunity to appear before the

Soldier Settlement Act

county court judge upon due notice, and the proceedings should be so simple that there should be no necessity of a lawyer appearing on either side. Let the proceeding be summary and quick, but at the same time thorough. It might be possible to have some system afterwards of bringing an appeal before a court composed of all, but I hope that jrould not be necessary. That would be cumbersome and slow, and if such a board existed, I am afraid it would be always or nearly always resorted to.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

A review

would involve a stated case on the part of the board and on the part of the soldier. There would be a difficulty there.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

There would be no difficulty in stating the case. You would simply state the value; each side would append his reasons for that value, and the judge would probably want to hear some evidence in that case. But it is a precaution that is essential and I would think, if it existed, if each side knew that that precaution was there, there would be very few oases in wh.'ch there would be any variation of the reduction made by the judge.

This general outline of a constructive suggestion I advance and I advance it with some timidity because I know the whole problem is difficult of solution. If I were to face it in view of one or two individual criticisms, I would say this: There is no provision for this class of cases where a considerable amount has been paid by way of reduction of the advance and where the tribunal would find that the depreciation represented a larger total than the balance owing. I do not doubt there will be many cases, perhaps hundreds of that kind. Is the man then to be given something back by the board?

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

We did not insert any provisions; we are leaving that pretty largely to the discretion of the board simply to deal with the men who are on land.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

It is essential that there be such a provision. You cannot get away without it. You have either to make a provision that, in the event of the amount of the depreciation being greater than the amount owing, the man is to get that back from the board, or else that amount of depreciation shall in no case be found to be greater than the amount owing. The latter would seem to me to be the necessary, although in some senses an unfair, clause to put in the bill.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

Would that not lead on to another stage at which you would have to deal with a man who really is off the land?

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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CON

Arthur Meighen (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MEIGHEN:

I was just about to say

that this latter suggestion is to my mind necessary, namely, that no depreciation should ever be allowed greater than the balance owing. And it would be necessary, although unfair, because if you put it the other way then you would certainly be obliged to pursue the same principle further and restore the depreciation to those who have paid in full. There are in the proposals other minor defects which it seems to me it would be inappropriate to labour now.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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PRO

Robert Forke

Progressive

Mr. FORKE:

This is a very important

matter. I have been receiving a great many letters, as I have no doubt most hon. members have done, telling heartrending stories about the struggles in which soldier settlers have found themselves in the matter of payment upon their land. I trust that we shall give to this matter the very best consideration and make the most satisfactory arrangement which it is possible for parliament to arrive at. I have listened with a good deal of pleasure to the remarks of the leader of the opposition (Mr. Meighen) and with the exception of a few of the little thrusts which I suppose he could not help making at the government his speech on the whole has, I think, been beneficial and helpful in solving this most important question. I do not see why we should be tied down to anything in the resolution in relation to the board which will finally adjudicate upon the value of the land. The valuation of land is one of the most difficult problems to be encountered in connection with agriculture inasmuch as land values vary so much in different localities and according to the geographical situation of the land. The question is also affected by considerations of transportation facilities and other factors that enter into the value of lands.

As regards the final appeal, I listened with a good deal of interest to the remarks of the hon. member for Selkirk (Mr. Hannesson). I want to assure that hon. gentleman that, speaking for myself personally as a member of the Progressive party, I am not particularly wedded to any one method so long as it is the best method we can devise of finding out the proper valuation of the lands. A number of years ago it was my privilege, or rather my duty, to value lands in the province of Manitoba, and there was no appeal from the valuation which I made in conjunc-

Soldier Settlement Act

tion with another member of the board. I have always been impressed with the great difficulty of that position, for I used to feel that the task would have been much easier had I known that there might be an appeal from the decisions we gave. I have had a good deal of experience in Manitoba in the valuing of lands. I used to equalize all the assessments of land as between the various municipalities in the province, comparing one municipality with another, and as a result of the work 1 put in at that time I realize, perhaps as well as any one else can, just how difficult it is for one individual or a board to arrive at a fair and correct valuation of any given piece of land.

The hon. member for Yale (Mr. Stirling) referred to the valuation of land going down rapidly in British Columbia simultaneously with a fall in fruit prices. He said that the bottom fell out of the fruit market, so that fruit was practically of no value. It struck me as he made this statement that it was rather strange that the price of fruit did not vary very much in the prairie provinces at the time to which he referred. I mention this in passing to show that something is wrong with the economic system when the fruit growers in British Columbia must sell their fruit at very low prices while the consumers in the prairies never realize the fact that the value of this commodity to the growers in British Columbia is on the decline. Someone was evidently making far too big a profit out of the fruit growers.

Coming back to the question of valuing lands', I think we all realize that one of the great difficulties in connection with the matter is the fact that these lands were purchased during a time of inflation. As a matter of fact that is the trouble with the rural credit schemes in most of the prairie provinces. Eural credit was undertaken when land and stock were at peak prices, and when the security offered for loans seemed ample, although in a year or two it was not sufficient to cover the amount of the loan. When the soldiers came back from the war, an arrangement was made to have them settle on lands which unfortunately were being sold at very high prices. The soldier returned weary and worn from war service, and he was looking for a home immediately; he wanted a place in which to settle down and build a home for himself. I claim therefore that he was not then in the best condition to take care of himself. He was ready to take the first place that apparently suited him, and he entered into an arrangement which since he has found himself utterly unable to carry out. It is

therefore the duty of parliament and of the country to see that justice is done to these men who have gone on the land.

I hope that we shall get some really constructive criticism from every quarter of the House. The measure having been introduced by the government, I do hope that the leader of the opposition will lend his constructive ability to make the act as fair and satisfactory as possible. We do not want it to prove a failure; we do not want it made an instrument for the aggrandizement of either one party or the other: we want a bill that will work to the advantage of the soldier settlers themselves and do full justice by them.

As to the appraisal of land values, I do not think that it would be the best thing to leave it to the superintendent of the board to decide upon the values. I must admit that while the leader of the opposition was speaking I could see some room for criticism in this regard; it seems to me that probably this would not be the very best method to adopt to begin with. I do not see why we could not adopt some system similar to a board of arbitration. The local superintendent acting with someone appointed by the soldier settlers might comprise the first board of appraisal. I do not think that the soldier settler's representative ought to be a lawyer or a businessman-well, I would not say that he should not be a businessman, but I would insist upon his being well acquainted with land valuation. These two might not agree; and while I was at first opposed to the idea of carrying an appeal to the county court judge, I have come to the view that if the two appraisers forming the first board could not agree then the appeal might be made to a judge. I would not be entirely averse to such an arrangement. It has been argued of course that a county court judge might not be a judge of land; he might not know very much about land values. But I am inclined to agree that he could perhaps come to some satisfactory decision, after listening to the evidence submitted to him on appeal, and strike a reasonable balance between the differences of opinion upon which he might adjudicate. So that I am not standing firmly against a proposal of this kind. In fact, Mr. Chairman, before the bill is passed I would be willing to accept almost any proposal, no matter how I might have regarded it at the outset if I thought it was an improvement on my own idea. The great thing after all is to enact a really good piece of legislation that will do justice to our returned men on the land. I know that this will be very difficult to accomplish. I shall not at-

Soldier Settlement Act

tempt to estimate the amount of money it will involve, but we might as well make up our minds to do what is necessary. This is a war loss, there is no mistake about it, and it is not going to be lessened by ignoring it year after year while conditions are steadily growing worse. I would rather see mistakes made and the land undervalued than have the present condition continue indefinitely. This is one of our post-war mistakes, and we are doing neither ourselves nor the soldiers on the land justice wrhen we leave them unassisted to accomplish an impossible task.

One of the difficulties arose from the fact that at the outset a great many people would not believe what they were told about the unsatisfactory condition of our agriculture. Those of us who are farming our own unencumbered lands found during some of those lean years that the balance was on the wrong side of the ledger. I do not mind telling the committee that one year I went behind $2,000 although I did not owe one dollar upon my farm. How was a soldier settler to get through such a disastrous year when he was further handicapped by having to make payments on his land? It was an impossible task. The reason perhaps that we of the Progressive group were more sympathetic towards our -soldier settlers was that we were in a better position than most, other members to understand the actual difficulties which confronted those men.

I am sure the minister will be ready to adopt any suggestions to improve the bill which will be based on this resolution, and I appeal to every member of the committee to regard the proposed legislation as at least an attempt to do justice to our soldier settlers by helping to remedy what at the present time I believe is nothing less than a scandal.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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CON

James Arthurs

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. ARTHURS:

Mr. Chairman, I was for many years a member of the Pensions committee of this House which had this question in their charge, and I can readily understand the difficulty the minister has in framing a bill which will be satisfactory to all of our returned soldiers who have settled on the land. I would ask him at the next sitting -of the House to 'be prepared to give us a little information along these lines:

First, the total number of soldier settlers in each province.

Second, the number who have paid in full.

Third, the number who are in arrears.

Fourth, the total value of the land occupied at the present time by returned soldiers who will ostensibly come under this measure.

We should also like to know, as the right hon. leader of the opposition has suggested,

who will properly come under this legislation. The 'bill itself reads:

The settler. . . . who has not repaid his indebtedness to the board,-

I presume that would mean those who have not repaid it in full.

-and where there has been a decrease or depreciation in the market value of such land...

Also the settler apparently must be at present residing on the land. It appears to me that under this resolution a man who owed a few dollars to the board would find himself in the position of having some money coming to him from the government instead of having a further payment to make. Along that line the difficulty which we had in our committee in the past-and it is a difficulty that this or any other government must face -was to do justice to those men who by hard work-as contrasted with the carelessness of those who have failed to keep up their payments-have paid for their land in full. We have thousands of cases, I believe, in every province where two men on exactly similar land, which then and to-day would be valued at exactly the same figure, provide a striking contrast, one having paid in full and the other having paid practically nothing. Is it fair to the man who by his industry and by his thrift or by the assistance of his friends,-which ultimately he must repay-should receive no consideration while the other man, who simply through lack of industry and economy is in arrear with his payments, should be granted a reduction of from 30 to 40 per cent in his indebtedness? This is a question which the government must consider very seriously. It is a question that is receiving a great deal of attention among our returned soldiers.

I think this measure should 'be considered entirely upon its merits, not from the point of view, as expressed by the leader of our Progressive friends (Mr. Forke), that we should do everything we possibly can for the returned soldier, for in this case it would only lead to benefiting those who have not paid at the expense of those who have.

Topic:   SOLDIER SETTLEMENT ACT, 1919, AMENDMENT
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March 30, 1926