We are keeping in close communication with our trade agents in these markets. Last year we explored the possibilities. We know the conditions; we know the traders, and we are keeping in touch with the agents of the Canadian government. Our trade agents see that the interests of the Canadian industry are well protected. Our sales are increasing in these markets. The salt-fish export industry is limited to a small number of dealers and we have a good system of checking. We can also judge fairly well by the price factor. When prices increase it is a sure sign of an increased demand in foreign markets. When the dealers are active it is an indication that demand and prices are increasing.
Mr. Chairman, may I ask the Minister of Fisheries (Mr. Michaud) what steps he intends taking to cope with the serious situation existing in the Magdalen islands and to assist the fishermen in marketing their cured mackerel and canned lobster? I was deeply moved on hearing the minister refer a few moments ago to the dire poverty of the fishermen who never see any cash, but receive only a few bags of flour, a few gallons of molasses, some lard, once in a while a little butter, and just enough clothing to keep their bodies covered. But even this does not tell the full story of the distressful condition of the Magdalen islands' fishermen. The Minister of Fisheries, possibly out of consideration for the feelings of the house-and I do not blame him-has merely scratched the surface of the hardships endured by these poor people. For the past year they have not always managed to obtain enough flour, fuel and other indispensable articles for the bare maintenance of their families. Whatever fish they caught they had to sell at a loss. Their first activity in the spring is lobster fishing. The minimum price of $17 a case for No. 2 and SIS for No. 1, fixed by the government or the salt-fish board, represents only 5 or 5-| cents a pound for lobster delivered alive to the canneries. This price of 5 or cents a pound, I found following an inquiry which I conducted during a fortnight last year among the inspectors and the interested parties, is not sufficient to cover operating costs. At 5i cents a pound, the fisherman who catches less than 6,000 pounds of lobsters does not cover his costs which average $300 a year for the maintenance of the necessary equipment. A catch of over 6,000 pounds yields a small income, but as very few reach or exceed this amount, the great majority of fishermen find themselves in debt. Not only do they not see any money, but many of them are reduced to starvation.
Recently, the minister pointed out the advantages which we have enjoyed on the United States market for the disposal of frozen live lobster. He said that the price obtained for lobster thus sold had been more remunerative. The mainland fishermen have been able to take advantage of this new market, but not those of the Magdalen islands, because of lack of organization and difficulties of transportation.
If the fishermen who have been the most successful in the sale of their lobster have not obtained any money, but only a small quantity of flour, etc., those who were less successful must have suffered terribly.
After lobster comes mackerel fishing, the next in importance of the fisheries. I learned
recently from reliable persons, one from Pictou and the other, Mr. Labrie, the deputy minister of fisheries in the Quebec government, that mackerel had sold a short time ago at Pictou and Halifax at $6.50 and $7 a barrel and that this would put an end to the distress of the Magdalen islands' fishermen. Well, it is not the fishermen who received the benefit of these prices, but, as I already stated in this house, an outside dealer who, as the minister is aware, bought up this fish in the autumn at $3.50 and $4 a barrel. As a consequence, the merchants have not been paid for the goods they supplied to the fishermen and the latter are deeply in debt.
I therefore ask the government what they intend doing to relieve the distress of the fishermen of the Magdalen islands. These people should get as much for their catch as the fishermen of other parts of Canada who are better situated and enjoy more profitable markets. The Magdalen islands' fishermen should enjoy the same treatment as the mainland fishermen. Measures should be taken to guarantee them a minimum price for their mackerel. Last summer they asked for $7 a barrel, which would permit them to meet their obligations. That is all they ask of the government. Give them that price and they will no longer complain. Their request for $7 a barrel is quite reasonable. We should not allow these fishermen to be exploited by outside dealers as they have been last autumn and last spring, when the price they obtained was insufficient to cover their operating expenses. Otherwise they will continue to suffer as they have suffered physically and morally last winter, and it is wrong to allow such a state of affairs to persist. I ask the government whether these people have not the same rights as other categories of producers and other classes of society. Parliament has voted all the money requested by the people of western Canada to help them in their difficulties. The people of the Magdalen islands, the fishermen, are asking the government; to come to their aid. These citizens have perhaps contributed most to Canada's war effort, and we have no right to ignore their plea and still less to ignore their distress. The government's attitude in the matter is extraordinary. In spite of all the consideration, all the respect, all the esteem which I have for the Minister of Fisheries-and this is the reason for the moderateness of my remarks-I cannot help saying that the government's bahaviour in this matter is really iniquitous. It is strange beyond measure that aid has been refused to these people. Public opinion has been moved by the pleas made on their behalf by the newspapers and by some of the most eminent personalities in the country. In spite of all, nothing has been done for them here. Not a dollar of help has been given to them.
These people were not complaining then. When the Conservatives came into power in 1930, they gave assistance to the unemployed and to all those who had reason to complain. I find it extraordinary that the minister, that the government, has not complied with the requests of these sorely tried people. It is inconceivable. It seems to me that in this time of crisis and of struggle for the survival of democracy, when we are appealing to all classes of the population to fight for the good principles for which it stands, we should endeavour to put them into practice. It seems to me that if we cannot all intervene with our bodies between democracy and its ferocious assailants, we can at least protect it at home by applying the principles of charity, of justice and of humanity on which democracy rests. I ask the minister what he intends to do for these fishermen. They are not requesting charity; they seek only what the government grants to the other people of Canada. They ask for the same treatment as the people of western Canada. Thus, they ask the government to fix a minimum price based on normal years-$7 a barrel for mackerel, $25 a case for lobster. This is less than what they obtained in good years. Mackerel once sold as high as $36 a barrel. At that time, no complaints were voiced by the people of Magdalen islands. For the first time, they now ask that something be done for them. In spite of all the hardships they have to bear, they keep a level head. They respond quickly to every government appeal for help in the struggle against the common enemy.
They merely demand justice, and that is what I claim on their behalf. They do not want direct relief or charity for, in spite of their poverty, they are self-respecting. They only ask that a reasonable price be guaranteed for their fish and that they no longer be exploited for the benefit of outside traders who take advantage of their straitened circumstances. They want to be guaranteed a minimum price of $7 per barrel for mackerel and $25 a case for lobster. They merely wish that the government help them to sell their production when good prices prevail. Let the government meet their request and there will no longer be any distress among the Magdalen island fishermen.
I would be grateful if the minister kindly took my suggestions into consideration. I know that he sympathizes with those poor people, as evidenced by a letter which I have
received from him. I hope he will be able to touch the hearts of his colleagues and that the government will consent to help.
Having mentioned the colleagues of the Minister of Fisheries, I wish to state how strange it is that the estimates of the Department of Fisheries have decreased to such an alarming extent, at a time when the position of the Magdalen islands fishermen is so serious on account of the peculiar geographical situation of those islands and owing to the character of their production. In 1939-40, the minister's estimates amounted to $3,535,145; this year, they have been reduced by one-third, or $1,260,145. Including the supplementary estimates recently voted, the Department of Agriculture now has a total appropriation of $48,122,738.53. In addition, the country will have to meet the deficit resulting from the minimum price which the government have fixed for wheat. Last year, this item amounted to $60,000,000, as mentioned by the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. MacKinnon) in a statement made at the end of March. The estimates of other departments have considerably increased. Yet, the fishing industry, like agriculture, has its place in our war effort. Nevertheless, the government have reduced by one-third, as compared with 1939-40, the estimates of the Department of Fisheries. It should be noted, by the way, that a federal election was held during that year, as well as a provincial election in Quebec.
I "wonder how the minister will be able to carry on with such a reduced, and even insufficient, appropriation, unless further supplementary estimates are provided. As a matter of sympathy and justice and in conformity with the democratic principles which we are upholding, let the government treat the people of Magdalen islands fairly and alleviate the physical and moral sufferings they have had to endure for more than a year.
listened with the greatest attention to the remarks of the hon. member and his appeal on behalf of the fishermen of Magdalen islands. We should not forget that those worthy people are in a peculiar position in relation to the dominion government. Magdalen islands are included in the province of Quebec, although the administration of their fisheries has remained under the control of the dominion government after the agreement of 1922.
Magdalen islands are part of the province of Quebec, and their inhabitants are also included in the population of that province. Until 1936 or 1937, the fishermen of Magdalen islands had not received any special consideration from governments, particularly from the dominion government. From 1930 to 1936, whatever the hon. member may say, not a single word was spoken and absolutely nothing was done on behalf of the fishermen of Magdalen islands no more than for those of other parts of the country. And it was during that period that the fishing industry touched bottom, if I may use an expression that is quite appropriate as applied to fisheries and nautical matters. It was not till 1936 and 1937 that the fishermen of Magdalen islands, like those of other parts of the country that are under dominion jurisdiction, began to receive some form of help, and especially relief in money and in kind. The fishermen of Magdalen islands have been treated like those of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Gaspe. I may even say that, in 1937 or 1938, they were granted preferential treatment, on account of the peculiar conditions then prevailing in the islands.