April 26, 1926

PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

I thought I had the data under my hand, but I am sorry I have not. I will go so far with my hon. friend as to agree that in certain seasons the United States farmer who grows spring wheat derives an increase of price by reason of the Fordney-McCumber tariff; but that increase is microscopic compared with the increase in the cost of living and of transportation in the United States. My friend from Qu'Appelle (Mr. Millar) the other night quoted from the United States Farm Bureau of Statistics that in a single year after the imposition of the Fordney-McCumber tariff the farmers of the United States had made a net loss of $301,000,000- even after allowing for the gain on spring wheat and some other commodities. Now, I wonder what our protectionist friends in Toronto, Montreal and Hamilton will think, of the western farmers when they come here and ask those protectionists to take over at $20,000,000 or more their surplus product to dispose of in the world's markets as they think best and leave the farmers at home to sell their wheat to the domestic consumer at a price that will give them a living on a parity with their friends in the cities. I wonder what parliament will say when the farmers of Canada come to that state. They have come to it already in the United States.

I listened to some of our British Columbia friends talking about the necessity for a tariff on eggs. This is just by the way. One gentleman said: We in British Columbia have carried the poultry industry to quite a high stage of scientific development, and we feed the poultry on grain that we get from the prairies; we are very glad we can get it at world prices, for it helps us considerably. But what would my hon. friend think if the farmer of the prairies, carrying out his own logic, came to this House to ask for permission to put up the price of that grain to a point where it would bring to them a decent Canadian standard of living? Where would the poultry business be then? That shows the absurdity of the protectionist argument through and through.

There is one argument still more absurd, and it was put forward by my hon. friend from New Westminster (Mr. McQuarrie). He grew very sad about the declining birth rate, but at the same time he read a letter from a friend of his, which he approved of, asking for an increase in the price of furniture. He wants an increase in the birth rate, and yet he wants to put an embargo on the home.

These protectionists want to swell the population,, but they would put a tariff on the cradle, the cot and the high chair-on all the paraphernalia that make an increase in the population possible, I listened to a very eloquent sermon last night deprecating the economic impossibility of our young people to set up homes; and yet our protectionist friends want to put a tax on the homes!

But we are getting away from Great Britain. We might have asked: What has protection done for Germany? I read in a paper the other day-I am sorry I did not take a note of it-that a representative of German agriculture was in AVinnipeg the other day consulting the wheat pool, and he told his interviewer that agriculture in Germany was in a very bad way and that there was not much profit in it. That is in protectionist Germany. Now let us come to Great Britain. I will admit, Mr. Speaker, that agricultural conditions in Great Britain have been bad for some years, the same as they have been in Canada. But those conditions are not due to free trade, as my hon. friend would leave the impression on this House; they are due to the aftermath of the war. Farmers in Great Britain, like farmers in Canada and the United States, were encouraged to branch out into new productive lines, and when the slump came they were caught, and there has been depression ever since. I know there are a number of British agriculturists-a very restricted number, though-who would like protection. For instance the wheat growers, I think, would like a certain degree of protection. But I want to remind my hon. friend and this House that not all British farmers by a long way want protection. They would be very unpatriotic people if they did. I am reading this from a paper that comes to me every week from the north of England, quoting a speech of Lord Ernie, a recent Minister of Agriculture in the British government, which shows beyond peradventure that the agriculturists of Great Britain are not looking to protection for a solution of their problems. He says:

If prices could be stabilized on a higher scale by the action of the government, -the level of farming could be maintained. To many arable farmers, and indeed to the National Farmers' Union, this is the obvious remedy. By means of a subsidy or a duty, British corn-growers should be assisted to meet the brunt of foreign competition. It as, however, a mistake to suppose that all farmers want a duty on corn. Agriculture is not one industry but several industries, and the interests of agriculturists are not always identical, but are sometimes antagonistic. A pasture farmer wants cheap feeding stuffs and does not care, so long as they are cheap, whether they are home grown or imported. But even if it is

The Budget-Mr. Bird

assumed that British farmers are unanimously agreed in asking for some form of protection, is such a remedy politically practicable? The answer, in my opinion, must be an unhesitating no.

Continuing Lord Ernie states:

If any such assistance were given the cost would fall on the taxpayers and consumers, and for one voter whose direct interest is that wheat should fetch better prices, there are a hundred voters to whom a cheap loaf and a reduction in taxation are necessities.

Lord Ernie, not only a former Minister of Agriculture but a practical farmer and an authority on this subject, in this place and in others has disabused the minds of British farmers as to protection.

Now, Mr. Speaker, going back to the eighties and nineties of last century, I agree with my hon. friend that the British agriculturist suffered some depression because of the opening up of the prairies of America. It was not only the British farmer who suffered, but also every farmer east of the prairies, because it is impossible for any farmer in the world to compete against free land and virgin soil.

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CON

Robert James Manion

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MANION:

As a matter of information might I ask my hon. friend: How does

he explain the fact that there are fewer farmers per thousand of population in Great Britain than in any other country in Europe, or perhaps in the world for that matter?

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

There has been a decline in

the population of rural England in recent years, as there has been in all agricultural countries, owing to the enormous advance in invention, and also to a certain extent in the adjustment as between grain farming and cattle farming. It is no doubt true that there has been a great exodus from rural England to the cities; but it is equally true of the United States.

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CON

Robert James Manion

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MANION:

But is it not the fact that in England there is a markedly lower percentage of agriculturists than there is in any other European country or the United States either? That is my reason for arguing that free trade put English agricultural land out of business.

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

I think it is to be frankly

admitted that England is behind the European countries . in establishing her rural industries. Due to something inherent in the character of the British farmer, he has not been able to adapt himself to modem demands in agricultural production; but he is doing it now, and doing it very speedily.

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An hon. MEMBER:

He went in for

quantity rather than quality.

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

Not only that, but he will

have to become a co-operator just as the Danish fanner has. With a little political assistance such as Lloyd George has been offering, or something similar, I have no doubt that rural England will be again a hive of industry as it was in former times.

I think I may very generously concede that in the eighties and nineties the English farmer suffered, as farmers all over the world including those in Ontario and the eastern states of the United States, suffered, due to the opening up of our virgin prairies. But that was only a temporary phase in the development of world agriculture. I always feel sorry and sad to think that the economics of the world should necessitate an adjustment in any industry entailing harm to any individual. I think it is a sign that we are more backward in our civilization than we sometimes think we are when the necessary progressive changes in industry cause suffering to any class or any individual. And I speak very feelingly of the eighties and nineties because of the bitterness of the time which entered into my own soul.

Now we go back to the wonderful period of the abolition of the com laws, to the seventies, to the period I have been speaking of. According to the logic of my hon. friend, that ought to have been the blackest period in the history of English agriculture; on the contrary, it has been called the "golden age" of British agriculture. The abolition of protection to the farmer, with other factors it is true, stimulated his latent ability and turned his energies into new and more profitable directions. I think all will concede that the glorious boast of the British character is just that spirit of self-dependence and self-help which when seemingly obstructed in one direction will forge forward in another to greater and greater success. That was true of British agriculture in these wonderful years of advancement which brought the British farmer to the very peak of his profession. I do not want to take the necessary time, but I could prove that the same spirit has operated in the manufacturing industries as well as in farming in the Old Land. The history of the tin plate industry, which my hon. friend mentioned the other day, during the latter part of the nineteenth century proves that the innate independence and ability of the Anglo-iSaxon can surmount even artificial restrictions to his industry; even when put out of business by. the McKinley tariff he came back stronger than ever and sent his products into all the neutral markets of the world.

The Budget-Mr. Bird

Now let us come to the period just before the abolition of the corn laws. According to the logic of my hon. friends that should have been a paradise to the British farmer.

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CON

Duncan Sinclair

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SINCLAIR:

May I ask my hon. friend a question? What established the tin plate industry in the United States, a country with none of the natural product?

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

I will be quite frank and admit that the industry in the United States dates from the McKinley tariff. I think we are willing to admit that if we protect an industry, before it becomes spoiled it is given an opportunity to meet its competitors.

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Some hon. MEMBERS:

Hear, hear.

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

Yes, but at the expense of

every other industry in the country. The consumers and producers of the United States paid the bill when the tin plate industry got on its feet there. It was only a year or two until the tariff was lowered again, which showed the inherent vitality of that form of industry in the United States.

Let us come to the pre-corn law period in England. I have a book here which is well known as an English classic of the nineteenth century, Rural Rides, by William Cobbett. This was written just before the abolition of the corn laws; in fact the part I am quoting from was written on January 3, 1822. He gives here the notes of a speech made by himself to a group of farmers in Battle, in which he says:

I am decidedly of opinion, gentlemen, that a com bill o*f no description, no matter what its principles or provisions, can do either tenant or landlord any good; and I am not less decidedly of opinion, that though prices are now low, they must, all the present train of public measures continuing, be yet lower, and continue lower upon an average of years and of seasons*-As to a corn bill; a law to prohibit or check the importation of human food is a perfect novelty in our history,-

They did not have it before; it was only a short period before the abolition that England had the corn laws.

-and ought, therefore, independent of the reason, and the recent experience of the case, to be received and entertained with great suspicion.

I will not trouble the House by reading more of this very interesting account of a ride on horseback through rural England in 1822. I will guarantee that neither my hon. friend nor any of his associates, who dream their dreams of a protectionist paradise to come, have either read or heard of such an account of human misery as is contained in these documents which come from corn law England in the early quarter of the last

century. About ten years later the author was travelling in the county of Lincoln, and he tells of the abject misery into which farmers, farm labourers and artisans had sunk in that period, and how, in disgust with protectionist England, they had gone in hundreds and thousands to the United States.

I do not think I need adduce any more proof, Mr. Speaker; I feel sure everyone knows that the years prior to free trade in England were among the blackest in all her annals; when the standard of living had sunk to its very lowest ebb; when the Merrie England of over a cenltury before had absolutely vanished and a miserable, industry-ridden England had taken its place.

Now let me read an excerpt from Labour and Protection, by George Jacob Holyoake, who actually saw these things with his own eyes. Holyoake, one of the apostles of co-operation, says:

In .the days of protection, as I knew them, the industrial would was a dead world. There was neither animation nor hope in it. As in the inquisition the intervals between the times of torture were days of "alarmed repose," so with workmen under protection. Few knew one week what their wages would be the next. Precariousness, privation, and depression were the characteristics of industry in those times. They live in iny memory like an evil thing, and - I should nott recall the experience o.f that malign period did not the editor of this series ask me to do so.

I would not have gone to the trouble of surveying the history of the British farmer to such an extent had not my hon. friend in a moment of forgetfulness, attempted to travesty the facts of history in order to bolster up the mistaken policies of his party in this respect.

The hon. member also referred to the Safeguarding of Industries Act, and said that act was a sign that protection is coming in England. A protectionist looking for such a sign reminds me of a group of picnickers on a cloudy morning trying to persuade themselves that it will be a fine day. They are willing to let their optimism get out of bounds at the least favourable indication. I want to tell my hon. friend that Premier Baldwin and Winston Churchill would not thank him for that remark, because they have sworn to the public of England by all that is holy that there is no such thing about it. You know, Mr. Speaker, that Mr. Baldwin fought the last election on no such issue; he had no mandate whatsoever, and he told the people that that was the one thing he was going to avoid. The last election was not fought on the fiscal question at all, but on the question of respectability versus-

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An hon. MEMBER:

Blackguardism.

The Budget-Mr. Bird

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

Yes, blackguardism, or Philistinism versus barbarianism, and all the Philistines and all the respectable people-it did not matter whether they were protectionists or free traders, churchmen or non-conformists, brewers or prohibitionists-were huddled into the same fold by Mr. Baldwin. He had no sooner got this flock of sheep into his fold than the powerful lobby of necessitous British industries came along and persuaded him that they had a scheme by which they could be protected, and by which he at the same time could retain the integrity of his conscience, and the outcome was this wonderful Safeguarding of Industries Act, one of the slickest bits of political trickery that was ever put over a confiding public. They dare not bring it in by the front door, they dare not bring it in by the back door, and so they dug a tunnel and brought it in.

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CON
PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

I will admit that it does not. It only needs a very superficial examination of this act to show how easy it was for Mr. Baldwin, with his genial and able mind, to persuade himself that he was not doing any wrong. The industry concerned has to make out a preliminary case before the president of the board of trade, who happens to be a protectionist; then it has to come before a committee whom he appoints, a committee of protectionists; and when the industry has been asked a few superficial questions by the committee it goes before the cabinet, and there is no difficulty there, of course, because they originated the whole scheme. That is the scheme. It reminds me of a fish net with meshes just so big that the little fish can get through, but not the big ones; but in this case the meshes are so constructed that they can be enlarged according to the taste of the political fisherman who happens to be manipulating the net. It reminds me, Mr. Speaker, of what we may expect from a tariff commission.

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CON

George Brecken Nicholson

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. NICHOLSON:

Just what effect has

the Safeguarding of Industries Act had on the labour situation in every industry to which it has been applied?

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

I would answer, like the proverbial Scotchman, by asking another question: What effect has it had on all the other industries? You cannot bolster up one industry by a bonus without hurting every other industry that has to stand on its own feet.

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CON

George Brecken Nicholson

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. NICHOLSON:

It has reduced unemployment in the industries concerned by 350,000.

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PRO

Thomas William Bird

Progressive

Mr. BIRD:

Yes, and I will guarantee that it has created just as much, and more, unemployment in the other industries. I understand the first industry that came before this committee was the lace and embroidery in* dustry. It appears that the ladies of England have quit wearing lace and embroidery, and the industry has got depressed. Lace and embroidery apparently is not used any more except by young members of parliament when they are making their first speeches. But this industry is not abashed at all by the fact that nobody wants lace. They are convinced that they ought to make lace whether anybody wants it or not, and therefore they have found a rich aunt in Mr. Baldwin who has very conveniently provided a shelter for all the lame and mangy dogs in British industry where they can come and be fed and find shelter and escape the lethal chamber just a little longer.

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April 26, 1926