May 13, 1931

UFA

Henry Elvins Spencer

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPENCER:

Topic:   NATIONAL CENTRAL BANK
Subtopic:   PROPOSAL TO ESTABLISH NATIONAL SYSTEM OF BANKING AND CREDIT CONTROL
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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

The treasury board is

composed of members of the cabinet.

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UFA

Henry Elvins Spencer

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPENCER:

Yes, I understand that.

Here again, without being in the least critical of cabinet ministers, I question whether any of them have ever made a study of this problem, and they certainly cannot do so after they become ministers, because then they are far too busy. As the hon. member for Macleod said, under the Finance Act the treasury board is authorized to ask the advice of the trustees of the gold reserves as to what value it shall put on certain securities. Now, of the trustees of the gold reserve a majority are representatives of the chartered banks, and as the hon. member who introduced this subject said, the banks with members on that board at the time he mentioned were the largest borrowers under the act. Therefore they were in many cases putting a value on their own securities. That being so, it seems to me the treasury board is relegated to second place more or less in relation to the bankers association, and I for one object to this. No matter what party is in power, the government represents the whole country, and I object to the government taking second place to any private institution, even though it be the Bankers' Association of Canada.

National Bank-Mr. Spencer

Topic:   NATIONAL CENTRAL BANK
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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

Perhaps my hon. friend

would not mind saying just what he means by that.

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UFA

Henry Elvins Spencer

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPENCER:

Section 3 of the Finance

Act makes it possible for the minister to request-

-the trustees of the central gold reserves to make a valuation of and recommendation as to the amount which in the judgment of the trustees may properly be advanced on any securities offered in pledge under this act.

I understand-I shall be glad to be corrected if I am wrong-that a majority of the men now acting as trustees of the gold reserves are representatives of the chartered banks. That being so, when they put a value on securities they are in effect valuing securities that they themselves are pledging to the treasury board.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

My hon. friend from

Battle River has hardly done justice to himself. That is only in the event of any difficulty arising, because the transaction has long been completed before that. The minister may ask the trustees to value the securities, but the rules and regulations fix the margin to 'be maintained before the advances are made. That is only an additional assistance to the minister if he desires to use it. I am taking up a little of the hon. member's time.

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UFA

Henry Elvins Spencer

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPENCER:

It is all right.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

It is just as though the

banks sent an inspector to see a lot of cattle to determine whether or not they are really worth what has been suggested by their owner. So in this case where we have fixed rules as to market values, we also have the expert opinion of those who know these securities as to whether or not the minister's judgment is right. That is all.

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UFA

Henry Elvins Spencer

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPENCER:

1 am glad to get the information from the Prime Minister, but I hardly imagine that any of the banks whose securities were brought to the treasury board would put the value of those securities any lower than the value that had been placed upon them by the treasury board.

It does seem to me-and I am supporting the hon. member for Macleod entirely in this -that the government of Canada might well have a monopoly of all note issues. First of all, because it is a government prerogative; secondly, the issue of private bank currency is unfair against the savings bank depositors. I say this because in the case of the failure of a bank the notes are a first call on the assets of the bank, and the depositors rank about fourth or fifth with respect to their

claims. Now, there is a clause in the Bank Act as to double liability of the shareholders, and this is supposed to provide ample protection to depositors; but that double liability does not always sufficiently protect 'them, as hon. members will find by referring to an answer that appeared in Hansard a few days ago in reply to a question of mine respecting the Home bank. The shareholders of that bank did not come through by a long way with their double liability. There is also a note circulation redemption fund which is supposed to take care of such an emergency. But the note circulation redemption fund, which I believe sometime ago amounted to over $6,000,000, can be drawn upon by a bank only to the extent of the money put into it by the individual bank. I believe I am correct in that statement.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

No, the whole fund is

available for the redemption of those notes. I am glad my hon. friend brought up this matter; I may say to him that in fifty years not a single dollar has been lost in this way. It does not matter if the bank fails; the bank note is payable at one hundred cents on the dollar.

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UFA

Henry Elvins Spencer

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPENCER:

Then I understand that

the whole note circulation fund may be drawn upon, if need be, to redeem the notes of a bank which has failed. I am very glad to get that information, because in the commitee of 1923 we were led to believe that was not so.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

That is my understanding of it. The point arose only in the case of one bank, and my hon. friend will remember that its capital stock was something over $6,000,000 and the circulation at that time about the same. The notes were taken out of circulation without regard to the redemption fund. It never has been called upon to any extent, as a matter of fact. My appreciation of the language of the statute is that the whole fund is available to make good any deficiency in the bank notes.

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UFA

Henry Elvins Spencer

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. SPENCER:

I am very glad to hear

that statement. Now, Mr. Speaker, I should like to say a few words in regard to loans,_ and their effect on the price level. This angle of the subject is by far the most important we have to face. In my opinion the control of credit means very largely the control of prices; if money is increased or decreased to any great extent without taking into consideration the alteration in the production or consumption of goods, naturally you will have

National Bank-Mr. Spencer

an alteration in prices. Here is an absolute necessity for something to be done. I agree entirely with the hon. member for Macleod in his reference to certain statements made before the banking and commerce committee in 1923, and also in 1928. The bankers oame before us and admitted that there was no concerted action at all in regard to the extension of credit or the making of loans in an effort to prevent either inflation or deflation. In both years they said, "Oh, we do this as individual banks, as well as we can and as far as we are able." The result, of course, is absolute chaos at times. If hon. members think for a moment that control of currency and credit has nothing to do with the extraordinary upsetting of the price level at the present time, with the troubles which have resulted, I should like some suggestion as to [DOT] what they think is the reason. I quote again from Mr. H. D. MacLeod, who said:

They (the banks) issue credit payable on demand, and this credit may be put in circulation and serve as money.

There is the statement again that the banks have the power to create credit, and he says nothing about lending savings deposits.

I was glad to hear the hon. member for Macleod refer to the most excellent statement made by Mr. C. E. Neill, of the Royal Bank.

I am not going to take up the time of the house in repeating what he said, but I should like to quote this time a statement by Mr. T. B. Macaulay, president of the Sun Life, taken from the Montreal Gazette of November 15, 1930. Referring to monetary control Mr. Macaulay said:

Finally, we have those whose outlook is that "We always have had periodical depressions and they have passed away; we need not worry unduly, for this one will also pass away in time." May I suggest that we are not content to allow epidemics slowly to burn themselves out. We rejoice over every medical discovery which can prevent or cut short such scourges. Economists have now discovered a remedy for depressions as effective as a vaccine. Why should we not endeavour to cut short financial epidemics?

If this central bank were established there is no reason why one of its duties should not be to take over the funds of the post office savings bank. I should like to direct attention to the fact that under the act the rate of interest that can be allowed on these small deposits is four per cent, but under pressure brought to bear on a former minister of finance the rate was cut down to three per cent. On the one hand we give the private banking corporations four per cent, as we did in 1928 against treasury bills, but we give

these very small depositors who put money in our post office saving banks only three per cent. The result is that the business has lagged very badly and it is not developing. I think it is something to which we might give more attention.

In conclusion I wish to place on record a resolution passed by the United Farmers of Alberta at their convention last January. I do this because, wherever we sit in this house, we each represent a particular part of the country, and I think it is our duty to put forward the expressed views of the people whom we represent. The resolution reads as follows:

That we as delegates assembled, recognizing the inadequacy of the existent credit system in meeting present economic stringency, and believing that adequate distribution of credit is absolutely essential to the carrying on of the agricultural industry, recommend:

(1) That this organization continue to advocate at all times the complete nationalization of our credit system.

(2) That as an intermediate measure the federal government take steps to organize a federal reserve bank of issue and discount which bank shall be entirely under government control and shall provide credit at a reasonable rate of interest for all necessary productive and comercial enterprises.

We are convinced that the above proposal is imperative in order to get away from the present intolerable position in which the credit requirements of the public in general are sacrificed to the professed necessity of the charter banks to protect to the utmost their savings deposits.

(3) We specifically recommend that the directors of the wheat pool should thoroughly canvass the possibility of their financing the marketing of their grain through utilization and extension of our present Finance Act.

In putting that on record I wish to refer for a moment to the fact that under the Finance Act one of the various securities which our private banks can take to the treasury board and get discounted is provincial bonds, yet the provincial governments are not given the same privilege. The provincial governments have not the same chance to take these same bonds to the same treasury board, and get the same service that is given to private banking interests.

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UFA

Edward Joseph Garland

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. E. J. GARLAND (Bow River):

Mr. Speaker, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but I am encouraged to do so because of the attitude taken by the house in the matter. I observe that the hon. member for Macleod (Mr. Coote) has aroused the interest of all sides on a question which undoubtedly to-day is one of the most important, if not the most important, facing all countries.

In his closing remarks the Prime Minister (Mr. Bennett) emphatically asked us to try

National Bank-Mr. Garland (Bow River)

the system, as in court of law, in the light of known facts. I am afraid that if we were to do that there would be nothing but general condemnation for the system which is largely responsible for the condition in which the people find themselves, not only in Canada but throughout the entire world. Using one of those glittering generalities to which the right hon. gentleman took exception, may I quote the words of the Right Hon. Ramsay MacDonald, as given in the New Age of January 8, 1931. Mr. MacDonald on that occasion said:

A few financiers in New York, in London, or in Paris, pursuing their own ends and looking after their own fortunes, are able to destroy the fruits of good harvests and the productive accomplishments of human energy.

That is the fruit of an uncontrolled monetary system left in the hands of private individuals, whether it be in Canada or in any other country, operated by private interests for private profit. And that is the case throughout the world to-day.

There is no truly nationally-owned system anywhere, and in this regard I take exception to the suggestion of the hon. member for Macleod. I do not think he has made out a strong case for a central bank on the ground that other countries have central banks; because in other countries, we find, the central banks created there have not only failed to remedy the condition and prevent a recurrence of periods of financial and business depression, but have actually been a party to them. I remember not so long ago seeing one of the most effective cartoons I have ever come across in my life. It appeared in that well known international London publication, Punch, and was by a famous cartoonist. It depicted a dear old lady crossing the street, very much to the . obstruction of traffic, while the policeman shouted, "Hurry up, ma'am!" The woman was the Bank of England. That was an accurate picture. Punch was right. And economic authorities in England were equally right in the view that the Bank of England, in precipitately restoring the gold standard, thus curtailing credits and making for deflation, was responsible for a condition of depression which has not lifted since the day that standard was re-established.

The other day there occurred a revolution in Spain; and one of the first rumours I have heard in connection with that occurrence is that a primary cause of the upheaval, apart from distrust of and dislike for the monarchy, was the attempt on the part of that country to restore the gold standard and, so bring about deflation, with all the horrible effects that 22110-1005

follow that unwise policy. Let me not be misunderstood: I regard an unwise policy of inflation as an evil second only to deflation in its effects. But here you have this system we are asked to try upon its merits. In the spring of 1929 in this very city I was watbhing the call money issues as daily reported and I found call money quoted day after day at li, If and 2 per cent-an encouragement to speculation. First, there was a borrowing of money at this rate, the lowest possible rate of interest commensurate with business dealings, enormously facilitating speculation. Then suddenly we find the policy reversed: almost over night-according to the federal reserve board in the United States and other authorities the call money rate begins to advance rapidly, going to 5, 6, 8 and 10 per cent. Before the peak is reached there is a pause, and presently more money is forthcoming.

Mitchell, of the National City Bank of New York, broke away from the federal reserve board and rejecting its policy, threw tens of millions of dollars into the call money market. Then more cash money was forthcoming. The high rate of interest encouraged other cash reserves to make their appearance upon the market. What hapened was this. The cash reserves of great corporations were used-probably most illegally, but nevertheless effectively-to bolster up a market which it was the bankers' policy to deflate. That there was self-interest behind the action, there is no doubt; because, through that flood of new money coming into the call money market, in spite of curtailment of bank loans, and in spite of the persistent advance of money rates, from 15 to 18 and finally 20 per cent for call money, the price level of many stocks was raised above the price level of 1928, reaching in some instances new highs. And it was not until the fall of 1929, when these cash reserves were just as suddenly withdrawn, that the whole bottom fell out of the market and the cataclysm was upon us.

Hon. gentlemen opposite, and indeed to my right, have in times past contended that the bankers could not affect price levels and that they did not bring about deflation. To-day we have witnesses, fortunately among the bankers themselves, to the fact that our allegations back in 1923 and 1924 were correct, and that it is the banking policy that brings about periods of deflation. All you need do is turn to the report of Mr. Neill as quoted to-day. You have only to turn to the report of the president, Sir Herbert Holt, and a dozen other reports of bankers not only in this country but in the United States, to find that they charge now that it was a deliberate policy of

1568 COMMONS

National Bank-Mr. Garland (Bow River)

deflation, emphasized by high interest rates, that was primarily responsible for t'he present depression. That is the policy of private bankers. Let me give a quotation to buttress this statement. Sir Herbert Holt says:

There can he no doubt that the abnormal credit conditions during 1928 and 1929 must be held primarily responsible for initiating the present world-wide depression. High money rates had their inevitable effect of depressing business and paralysing development.

These are very effective words. I turn now to Mr. Neill:

This year the primary difficulties with which this country is confronted- .

Not some other country, but this.

-are world-wide in character and find their origin in disruption of the international

financial structure It would seem that

the outstanding cause of the present worldwide depression was high interest rates.

Not long ago I had the great privilege of having a conference with one of the eminent bankers in this country, and in the course of the discussion I asked him what was the outlook for the future. He astonished me by admitting at once that the first thing we might expect would be an all-round, general reduction in the wage level. But, I said, that means, inevitably, smaller purchasing power, a lessening demand for goods. He said, yes; but it is inevitable. I said that that would be followed by a lower price level. He said, yes. How long will it continue-I asked. He said, "I cannot say; it may be for a generation." That, Mr. Speaker, is the fruit of this much boasted banking system-the possibility of a generation of low price levels, a lower standard of living, and a reduction in wages. Proceeding, I asked him: Is there nothing we can do in this country? Cannot your banks do something? He said, "No. As ordinary commercial institutions, we have neither voice nor effect in regard to general money policies throughout the world. And as this depression that visits us is in part due to world depression, we are ineffective in bringing about any modification in the conditions." I asked, further: What about trying to adjust matters in this country? How about a little inflation? Would it not be possible to reduce the rates to your own borrowers in Canada and thus let out more money? He said, "That would mean going off the gold standard." And so the dear old fetish, the gold standard, was once more appealed to- that piece of superstition which is more evil in its effects, more effete to-day, than the most time-worn and despised medieval superstition. That fetish of a gold standard is brought in to rescue an eminent banker who is unable to offer any other solution for the

[Mr. E. J. Garland.1

present- problem, than the drift to lower living and wage standards, and which calls urgently for some intelligent international action to regulate the monetary system. Consider his position, that failing international action we drift in depression; for there is jonfronting us our inability to take any action as private commercial banking interests in Canada. It is alleged then that our own banks cannot affect or remedy the situation in Canada. I disagree with this position and I agree with the hon. member for Macleod that an intelligent application in this country of an inflation policy carefully regulated and controlled would improve our present condition and tide us over the period of adjustment of the world depressions. However, he says that we must not do this because it would mean going off the gold standard. Most people, except the hon. members in this corner of the house, say that we must not go off the gold standard. The other proposition is that we must have international regulation of money. As Mr. Neill indicates in his report, the best way to overcome deflation is by an antideflation policy, and an anti-deflation policy can mean only one thing-an inflation policy, carefully regulated and intelligently adjusted. At the bottom of the second page of his report, Mr. Neill says:

When all financial centres feel that business does not require more money, then is the time to increase the supply, just as truly as it is time to reduce supply at the moment when inflation begins to appear. If on the collapse of the stock market boom the principal central banks of the world had decided that drastic contraction of currency and credit was not to be permitted, a drastic fall in the price level could not have occurred.

It must be remembered that this is a banker who is speaking, not a theorist, a crank, a faddist or any of those things which we in this corner of the house are sometimes called. I wish to emphasize these words:

Thus the countries with fiat currencies, such as Argentina, Uruguay and Spain,-[DOT]

He might have included Australia.

-are not suffering anything like as acutely as the gold countries.

That is only too true. I am not urging at this stage that we should not have some basis of currency; we must have some basis of regulation of currency, but the gold basis has become altogether too narrow-as was pointed out by the hon member for Macleod -especially when we find that the volume of gold is not only diminishing but is being concentrated to a greater extent every year in two countries. The two countries controlling the gold situation are France and the United

National Bank-Mr. Garland (Bow River)

States, with England still retaining a measure of control but not nearly as effective as the two mentioned. Of all the countries of the world, the United States is the one to which we should be able to look for intelligent action because of the position she occupies and because of the vast reservoir of gold held by her. However, I do not think that is possible because, although they have a national bank of a kind, the federal reserve bank, I do not think there is any doubt but that the policy of that bank is dictated not by the best policy for the industries of the country but by the political interests of the party which may at the time have jurisdiction over the board. I agree with the hon. member for Lincoln that any national bank to be created in this country should not have the slightest taint of politics about it if it is at all possible to avoid it. One great curse in connection with the federal reserve board of the United States is the fact that the secretary of the treasury is the ex-officio chairman of the board and as such can exercise-I do not say that he always does, but he has the power-a tremendous influence upon the policies of that board.

We find the bankers of this country agreeing almost unanimously that the present depression could have been avoided and should have been avoided by the federal reserve board taking intelligent action in 1927 to prevent further inflation. It is claimed that that action was not taken because of political reasons. The whole machine got out of hand and when the time to deflate had come, the crisis had been reached and the calamity followed. That is not intelligent action, and yet that is the system, or one equally ill-controlled, prevailing in all countries I know of on a gold basis or that have central banks. Therefore, a resolution moved for the purpose of simply setting up a central bank does not appeal to me. If. however, by the setting up of a central bank is meant the creation of an intelligently organized and controlled machine which could be used for the purpose of adjusting the volume of currency in a country to meet the requirements of business both in and out of that country, to cooperate with similar central banks in other countries for the regulation of the monetary standard and volume throughout the world, then I say that that thing is only too sadly needed; we have needed it for many years and we have never needed it so much before. We have bankers, economists and politicians stating that this depression is due to deflation. Others say it is due to the demonetization of silver; that we must remonetize silver. Others say it is due to a mistaken federal reserve policy, while

others say it is due to this, that and the other thing. If the world is in such chaos as a result of an unintelligently operated private banking system in every country, surely the time has come when in the national interest it is the duty of the government to study the problem and find out if it is possible to create, first, a national banking system which will before everything else take recognition of the necessity for keeping the volume of currency always in proportion to the value of goods to be consumed; second, to see that neither inflation nor deflation occurs; and, third, to undertake cooperation with other national banks throughout the world in order to retain the stability of money and price levels.

We are making an intelligent request. May I say to the hon. member for Lincoln that I have discussed this matter with the hon. member for Macleod. He is not dogmatic on the question, he does not insist on any particular form of national bank, but what we really seek at this time is a discussion of the problem in an endeavour to find out if some system can be evolved by which the present wrong conditions may be adjusted.

I hope the hon. members of the Liberal party caught the significance of the generous remark of the leader of the government (Mr. Bennett) when he said that under the present banking system, the country has been carried on to periods of greater prosperity than had been enjoyed by any other country in the world.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

The hon. gentleman

knows perfectly well I did not say that.

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UFA

Edward Joseph Garland

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. GARLAND (Bow River):

I am very sorry because I would be the last to do any injustice to the right hon. gentleman. I happened to take a note as the words were uttered because they interested me considerably. I noticed that shortly afterwards the hon. gentleman suggested something to the effect that we could not get rid of debt by continuing to borrow. That was a most significant statement.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

I was quoting President

Hoover's observation.

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UFA

Edward Joseph Garland

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. GARLAND (Bow River):

Quite right, but I presume the hon. gentleman made the quotation his own.

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CON

Richard Bedford Bennett (Prime Minister; Minister of Finance and Receiver General; President of the Privy Council; Secretary of State for External Affairs)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BENNETT:

I am not in the habit

of making quotations my own; the hon. gentleman is a past master at that.

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UFA

Edward Joseph Garland

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. GARLAND (Bow River):

Then I

cannot understand the purpose of making quotations in a speech unless it be for the purpose either of accepting or rejecting the

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National Bank-Mr. Garland (Bow River)

philosophy or argument contained therein. In this instance, the quotation was uttered as though the right hon. gentleman completely approved of it.

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May 13, 1931