May 13, 1932

UFA

William Irvine

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. IRVINE:

At this late hour, Mr. Chairman, I will not attempt to cover the field of discussion with regard to agricultural conditions with which I otherwise would have dealt. If the government required to be impressed by the conditions existing in the agricultural industry I am sure this prolonged discussion will have impressed them. From all sections of the house, wherever there are members representing agricultural people, we have heard the stoiy of the economic plight of the farmers. The hon. member for Bow River presented a picture which, -while sad, is only too true. In his usual graphic and impressive style the hon. member gave the actual economic condition of the country so far as agriculture is concerned, and he presented authentic figures to show the comparative prices of agricultural and other prod-ducts. These show that for a number of years the prices of agricultural products have been gradually dropping until now they have reached the point where it is practically impossible for the farmers to keep going.

The Minister of Agriculture is a practical farmer himself; he has first hand information, and it is not necessary for me to attempt to

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instruct him with regard to these conditions. He knows them perhaps a great deal better than I do, so I need not reiterate what he already knows and what has been said so well by other hon. members. The question for us to consider now is what the government can do to assist agriculture at the present time. Perhaps it cannot do very much. I have noticed that the governments of the past have all lacked an agricultural policy. We have been told by some that the proper policy for a country in which agriculture is the basic industry should be low tariff or free trade, but Canada has never had an opportunity to experiment along that line, though many times and for many years we have had governments in power which believed in low tariffs and preached that policy as the salvation of the agricultural industry. I say despite that fact Canada has never known a low tariff policy, and we have never been able to find out whether or not it would work.

To-day we have a government in power which believes in high tariffs, and we must-look to them for some compensating policy in connection with agriculture. The plight of the farmers, of course, is due to an economic situation not confined to Canada but universal in its scope. That fact has been well emphasized in this debate. I doubt very much whether agriculture can be restored to a prosperous condition by any act of this parliament which does not make fundamental changes in our economic system. I believe that the present impoverished condition of agriculture is due primarily to defects in the economic sj^stem itself. The greatest defect of that system is to be found in its objective; the next greatest defect is in its technique, and I do not know to what extent a parliamentary enactment can make much impression on conditions of the sort. Nor do I think the present government is disposed to take that great step which would be necessary to make the experiment. However, I believe the day is coming-when it will have to take that step whether it wishes to or not, and of course that is the only time when any government does take such a step-when economic circumstances kick it into position. And we are not very far from that now.

The chief task of the Minister of Agriculture in Canada has been for some years past to assist in every way possible the development of the industry, to increase output. I want to point out-I do not think it is necessary to do so, because the Minister of Agriculture, I .am sure, knows it-that the task of the minister to-day is a very different one from what it was twenty years ago. In ad-

dition to the necessity of maintaining the educational effort of the department in respect to agriculture, there has developed an entirely new problem which until the present time has scarcely ever been recognized. The work of the department now is not so much to help to produce more wheat or to produce more vegetables or more of anything else, although education in regard to these matters must be maintained. The great question is: how are we going to get rid of the surplus of products which are practically worthless in Canada? Now that is the problem, the chief problem of the Minister of Agriculture at the present time, and I will say also in that connection that the expenditure in that department should be very largely in connection with schemes of some sort which would enable us to get rid of that surplus in some way. I would go so far as to say that it might be better for the farmers of Canada if the entire seven million dollars expended in this department were expended in buying wheat which was dumped in the middle of the Atlantic; if we could not find a better use for it, that would be better than stimulating further production without making any attempt whatever to get rid of our surplus products.

Two suggestions have been made in the course of this discussion. One was put forward by the hon. member for Macleod and the other was put forward and emphasized, I believe, since then by other speakers, but first introduced to-day by the hon. member for North Huron. The suggestion made by the hon. member for Macleod I will not labour at this time because for many years I have advocated similar policies and pointed out that if they were followed they would result in great benefit to agriculture. As hon. members will recall, however, the hon. member for Macleod advocated that the Canadian dollar should be on a parity with the pound sterling, and he argued that this would be equivalent to increasing the prices of our exports by the amount of the exchange now against us. And, of course, to the extent that prices would then rise, debts would be reduced; for debts must always be regarded in their relation to the. prices of the commodities which must pay them, and while our commodity prices go down, our debts correspondingly rise, plus interest charges that have not been paid- and compound interest. So that our debts are growing enormously and increasing in proportion to the rate at which our prices go down. I believe that if the government find it possible to follow the suggestion of the hon. member for Macleod, it would be at least in this regard advantageous. Presumably

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there are other reasons, more potent, why this cannot be done, but so far they have not been disclosed to the house.

I turn next to the suggestion made by the hon. member for North Huron, and, I believe, adumbrated by the minister himself, with regard to the marketing board. I am glad to know that the minister has at least given some thought to this. He indicated in his remarks the other day that while it had not been fully decided upon, the government had entertained the idea with some favour, and that is hopeful. But it is disappointing if that is all that is going to be done; it is very disappointing. We do not feel satisfied with the mere appointment of a commission, as was suggested by the minister, to investigate agricultural conditions and find out how this marketing board has worked in other countries, and so forth and so on. I do not believe that would be money well spent. Besides, by the time the commission was ready to report, the marketing board, if immediately set up, could have done a good stroke of business for the farmers of Canada. The minister and the government would be well advised to give this matter further consideration, and I wish to advance some reasons rvhy, in my opinion, it would be wise for them to do so.

Certainly a marketing board, apart from any advantage which might come to the basic industries of Canada, is necessary if there is to be any intelligent handling of the export trade. It is necessary for the maintenance of standards which must be kept up if the export trade is to be sustained. Tom, Dick and Harry selling how, when and where they please cannot build up a stable foreign market, and so from the point of view of our national interests, such a board will ultimately become indispensable. It is necessary now. It will be of assistance also if intelligently handled, as I have no doubt it would be if it were set up, in assisting us in matters of exchange. As it is nearly eleven o'clock, I do not wish to go into that phase of the argument but rather to discuss some points with respect to agricultural conditions at the moment which would indicate the advisability of such a board. Everyone knows that Canada consumes a very large percentage of all her farm products in the live stock and dairy lines. I do not recall the exact figure, but I think it is somewhere around five per cent of our live stock that is exported; and I do not know whether the percentage of dairy products, eggs and so forth, is any greater than that. Everyone knows also that that five per cent fixes the price of the other ninety-five per cent

in Canada. In other words, the market into which the five per cent goes is equivalent to a dump market, and the entire price of the Canadian product in Canada is fixed by that dump market in some other country. Now the government, very properly, I think, since tariffs are the order of the day, attempted to assist agriculture two years ago by increasing the tariff slightly on eggs, butter and other farm products. But this condition defeats the object of the government in that respect. If the government wishes to make that tariff effective I do not know of any other way under the sun by which it can be done but by the establishment of a marketing board. I do not wish to go into the details of its workings. Those hon. members who have studied the Patterson scheme in Australia know the technique of the thing without any elaboration from me. But the point is that a small levy be made on the farmers who are selling their products, this levy to be only to the extent necessary to make the export price equal the price at home. But it requires legislation and the setting up of a board to give the farmers an opportunity to try out the scheme. That is practically all we are urging the government to do in this respect. I should like to go further and ask the government to provide an amount of money, similar to that which was given to the wheat growers last year, to operate this marketing board for one year, at least until the thing got a fair trial and was thoroughly established. That is only my idea. The farmers of the west who are asking for this board have not gone that far. All they ask is that legislation be provided to make this marketing board possible.

That, I think, is not too much to ask the government to do, especially since I presume the wheat bonus has been discontinued. I do not know whether I may be going too far in that presumption, but at any rate so far as I know no provision has been made for it. I hope provision will be made if the price of wheat does not rise. Since, despite all the advice that comes to this house and to the government from all sources on matters of national policy, no other policy has so far been evolved that rvould be calculated to assist agriculture, I hope the minister and the government will give the farmers a chance to try out this marketing scheme. We do not expect it will bring the millennium, we do not expect that it will make farming prosperous, nor do wre think it will pay the national debt; but we do entertain hopes that it will give at least some slight assistance to that very oppressed section of the community.

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May I say in conclusion that so far as I heard the minister while he was speaking about such a board, he did not disclose the real reasons-if there are any-why it has not been decided to establish such a board at once. There may be some good reasons for delay, but so far they have not been disclosed. I question whether the reasons are sufficient to warrant delay, and I urge once more that the minister listen to the views of the representatives of agriculture all over the house- hon. gentlemen on his own side, all those in this corner, and numbers of hon. gentlemen to my right-all of whom have spoken favourably about this board. I hope he will give the matter another thought and decide to act at once. We have done enough talking. The time has come to act, and the Minister ol Agriculture is the only one in a position to act.

_ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bury): Shall the item carry?

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
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IND
LIB

William Richard Motherwell

Liberal

Mr. MOTHERWELL:

I think in order to make progress, Mr. Chairman, we might let the first two votes pass, if the minister will undertake that anybody who wants further to discuss dairying may do so another day under the heading of live stock. Can the minister give that undertaking?

Topic:   DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
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CON

Item agreed to. Progress reported. At eleven o'clock the house adjourned without question put, pursuant to standing order. Monday, May 16, 1932.


May 13, 1932