Right Hon. R. B. BENNETT (Prime Minister) moved:
That a select standing committee of eleven members of the house be appointed to inquire into and investigate the causes of the large spread between the prices received for commodities by the producer thereof, and the price paid by the consumers therefor; the system of distribution in Canada of farm and other natural products, as well as manufactured products, and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, more particularly to inquire into and investigate,
(a) the effect of mass buying by department and chain store organizations upon the regular retail trade of the country, as well as upon the business of manufacturers and producers;
(b) the labour conditions prevailing in industries supplying the requirements of such department and chain store organizations, and the extent, if any, to which existing conditions have been brought about by the purchasing practices of such organizations, and the effect thereof upon the standard of living amongst those employed in such industries and organizations;
(c) the relation between the flour milling industry and the bakeries of the country, and the effect of such relations upon the baking industry of Canada;
(d) the methods and system prevailing in the marketing of live stock and animal products for domestic consumption and export, and the extent to which the present system affords or restricts opportunity for fair returns to producers.
That the committee shall have power to send for persons, papers, and records, and the further power to request the appointment of a commission or commissioners under the Inquiries Act, to secure evidence to be presented to the committee by such commission or commissioners.
That the committee shall report to the house from time to time its findings, together with recommendations of such measures as in the opinion of the committee may be considered necessary to secure as far as possible, fair and just practices in the distribution and marketing systems of Canada, with fair and just returns to producers, employees, and employers, not inconsistent with the rights of consumers.
He said: The purposes to be served by the committee are, I think, amply indicated in the motion which I now move. I should not think it desirable at this time to enter into any discussion as to the correctness or otherwise of representations that have been made with respect to the causes for the great spread between the cost of commodities to the consumer and the price received by the producer. I think that might be regarded as an effort to pre-judge the case, and I
Price Spreads-Mr. Bennett
prefer to leave it without making any observations as to specific instances. Suffice it to say that I think it is probably well known to most of us that there is a wide spread between the prices received by the producers and the prices paid by the consumers of most commodities, natural and otherwise, with which we have to deal in the country.
The question of the retail trade in the country has received much attention during recent months. One of the trade journals has made very strong observations as to the necessity of having the business of mass buying by large organizatinos in some way regulated, but whether or not that is possible I am not expressing an opinion. I only indicate that the matter has been very forcibly presented to the public in recent months, and it is desirable that the whole subject should be investigated.
It will be recalled by this house that after the war a conference was held, in accordance with the terms of the treaty of Peace, looking towards more equitable provision being made for compensation for labour, better hours, less onerous, shall I say, hours of service, and better compensation. In this country the acute division of legislative powers between the Dominion parliament and the provincial legislatures has occasioned much diseussion, but most of the provinces did pass minimum wage acts and regulations were made under the provisions of those statutes. It is alleged, and very strongly, that there has been practically a disregard of the provisions of those statutes in many of the provinces and that industries and factories have been placed upon the exempt list with very evil consequences to those who are emplo3'ed in them. Without in any sense indicating the correctness or otherwise of the statements that have been made, the government has thought it desirable that there should be a close and careful consideration of all these matters as they affect the standard of living, compliance with the general principles of the law and the conclusions which were reached at the end of the war and embodied in the treaty of Peace and which in'fact brought about the maintenance at Geneva of an international labour bureau to which we have made notable contributions.
With respect to one particular industry in this country to which I observe reference was made yesterday by an hon. member from Saskatchewan regarding the relation between the bakeries and the milling industry, it is necessary for me at this moment only to remark that many of our milling industries own bakeries as subsidiaries and that the effect that such ownership has had upon the
price paid for bread or other products of the bakeries is a matter that will be considered by the committee.
The other problem to be dealt with is one that is almost a perennial, that is, how the marketing of live stock and animal products in this country may be improved. The other evening I pointed out that an effort had been made many years ago to improve conditions in Canada and that successive governments, federal and provincial, had endeavoured to graipplle with the question. The committee will investigate the method and system prevailing and ascertain to what extent the present system affords the largest possible opportunity or restricts the largest possible return being given to the producers. After consideration I thought it was not desirable to enter into a discussion of specific instances, because that might be regarded as a tendency to prejudge the matter, but I realize that to set up a committee of this kind it is necessary that witnesses should be called, that papers and documents should be examined, and that the committee should have before it evidence as to hours of labour, wages paid, and conditions. That is very difficult for any committee to secure by the mere calling of witnesses and it has been thought that the committee might direct that a commission be issued to some competent person to make inquiries in factories A, B, C and D and report such conditions to the committee. I believe that would serve the purpose without undue expense, and at the same time give first-hand evidence to the committee of the conditions about which complaints have been made. I know hon. members are all familiar with the use of the word "sweatshop" and recently representations have been made to me, and, I fancy, to hon. members opposite as to conditions in some of the factories of the country. It is proposed by this method, if it meets with the approval of the chamber, to deal with the situation, that is, that the committee shall determine that a given individual who has the qualifications necessary shall be appointed to make investigations into factories in Ontario, Quebec or elsewhere and then come back to the committee and report conditions as they are found. I do not think there is anything I desire to add beyond what is stated in the motion itself and these few preliminary observations which are made in explanation of the reasons for the motion being moved.
Subtopic: SPREAD BETWEEN PRICE PAID PRODUCER AND COST TO CONSUMER