Page the salesman.
I have the honour to represent, as I said earlier, one of the finest agricultural constituencies in western Canada. Fortunately we are not afflicted there by drought; we have not been tormented by insect pests; and at the same time we have not broad expanses of cultivated land devoted entirely to the production of wheat. Nevertheless we have a problem, and a very serious one, and I propose using conditions there as a basis for delivering my message at this time.
As you are well aware, Mr. Speaker, in a mixed farming area, we are engaged in the production of certain agricultural commodities for which there is a very great demand at this time. I have in mind the production of cheese, lard, eggs, and milk; and when I mention milk I might also refer to our great eondensory at Red Deer, the product of which has, I understand, already reached the British market. I could enumerate other products which are derived from mixed farming.
It is true that prices of those commodities have definitely improved during recent days- that is, according to announcements which emanate from certain departments of government showing the established prices of those articles. But it always seems strange to me that when it comes to the final analysis, to the man who actuually produces the commodity and puts it on the market, his price is always so much lower than the quoted price. I have felt for a long time that the day has at last arrived when the government should take some definite action to see that the producers of these commodities are guaranteed a fair return in the light of prices
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which are presumed to prevail. I feel that some bodies or some organizations are taking advantage of these producers.
The situation in a constituency such as mine has been something like this. A number of years ago settlers moved into that area and purchased land. They were optimistic, no doubt, as the hon. member for Cochrane has said. But God forbid that we should ever lose that quality of optimism. They agreed to pay, in most instances, prices which were not regarded as unreasonable in view of the fact that wheat was worth from $1.50 to $2 or thereabouts a bushel. They paid as initial payments on that property possibly their life savings, and in many instances they borrowed money at 6, 8 and 10 per cent interest. It is also true that these farmers paid high prices for the machines which were required, high prices for the stock which they needed, and then they undertook farming.
We all know the whole desperate situation with which these farmers were confronted from 1931 until 1934. The bottom fell out of the price of grain. We well recollect the 30 cents a bushel which farmers were called upon to accept for wheat. Prices of all other farm commodities fell in proportion, but the interest charge against the farmer's borrowings, the value placed upon his land, did not come down-not in proportion, if at all. We know, too, that taxes increased owing to the extent of the relief which it was necessary for the various governments of Canada to pay. While the farmer's income dropped in many instances as much as 80 per cent, he was still called upon to pay the contractual price which he had agreed to pay for his land, at the rates of interest set forth in the contract. During those years we found many evicted from their properties. We found mortgage companies foreclosing. They did not foreclose all at once, it is true, but they gradually foreclosed as they could procure tenants for the land which they repossessed. Those, generally speaking, were the conditions confronting the farmers during that period, and those conditions did not improve materially even up until the time the war broke out.
The farmers did definitely protest against the conditions under which they were being forced to carry on. They protested, but on the other hand they continued producing. We found many of them branded as dishonest because of not meeting their obligations, and some of them to this day are having a difficult time living down the imputation of dishonesty which was put upon them. I think it is fair to say that during those years we did not realize that a necessary condition of the restoration of prosperity was the recognition
of a more adequate income for agriculture. We have always stated that agriculture is our basic industry, but we utterly failed to see that, with such a large part of our Canadian population depending upon agriculture, if we had given a square deal to farmers during those years we would undoubtedly have stabilized our economic life in this country and would have been much better able to face the situation with which we were confronted in 1939.
One more observation in that connection. It is quite true that during those difficult years some of the governments did take steps towards introducing legislation which had a tendency to scale down certain debts. But I would make this observation. I do not believe there is any member of this house who would say that as a consequence of the writing down of debts the plight of the farmer in Canada was appreciably improved. Many of us had occasion to examine into many of the soldier settlement contracts, and we realize from the experience we gained there that hardly 2 per cent of those whose debts were written down found themselves in a more favourable position after the passing of a few years. In my estimation it is futile to undertake to solve the problems of the farmers by merely scaling down their debts. All they want is an honest opportunity to pay their debts, and that can be done only through the establishment of a fair and just price for the things they produce.
I believe it is a fact that there is no class of people in the world who will rally to the defence of democracy, when democracy is threatened, sooner than farmers. When the war broke out in 1939, Canadian farmers were 'among the first to rally to the support of the country; and when I think of the extent to which they did rally to its support, offering their sons and their produce, offering to change their methods of farming, offering to do anything that would help the country in her hour of peril, I am reminded of the words of the President of the United States when dealing with this same matter. He said:
When democracy is in danger our farmers always have rallied to its defence and they always will. All they ask in return for their increased production is fair prices and assurances of protection after the emergency has passed.
We could modify that. We are not so much concerned about paying them for huge increases in production, speaking particularly of wheat, but we are concerned about giving them a decent price for that whea/t which can be accepted under a quota system of delivery.
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Through the first year of the war our government relied to a very great extent upon European markets. We believed, for example, that France would continue to be a large purchaser of Canadian wheat and that various other European countries would do the same. I do not think it ever entered our heads that we would not be shipping more grain to the United Kingdom than we have shipped during the past two years. Therefore, during the first few months, in fact, during the first year of the war our wheat surplus did not bother us much. But in June, 1940, came the crash; with the fall of France we found our European market cut off. Then we began to give consideration to the vast surpluses of grain which would surely accumulate.
During the following year, that is the crop year 1940-41, we instituted a scheme of acreage reduction, paid the farmers a bonus for reducing wheat acreage and turning the land into summer-fallow. I personally cannot subscribe to the idea that we should pay farmers to allow land to remain uncropped. I believe that every part of agricultural Canada can be put to use. I am not advocating that we should plough all our land and sow it to wheat. But I am stating what has already been stated here that a great deal of that land in western Canada can be used for the production of sugar beets. That is only one illustration. We might give consideration to the production of fodder crops and of further root crops, and to the expansion of the dairy industry-although that may not please certain parts of the country- but I am definitely opposed to curtailing the production of foodstuffs in time of war. I may be wrong, but I would rather be wrong in that regard than sorry if we ever are confronted with a great demand and an inability to meet it.
Last year the government also undertook to pay to farmers in areas where farming is more hazardous certain forms of assistance. I approve that; anyone who is familiar with those great expanses of prairie that were dried out year after year could not but subscribe to that form of assistance. Then a more recent innovation was the prairie farm income scheme. The farmers of western Canada were assured that these bonuses would be paid at certain times.
I understand all the farmers in my constituency were led to believe that the wheat acreage reduction bonus would be paid in December. They made their plans accordingly; they wrote to machine companies to whom they owed money; they spoke to the tax collecting agencies explaining that they anticipated the receipt of this money. Then weeks went by, in certain instances even months; they failed to receive the money and no
explanations were forthcoming. Did the machine companies, the tax collecting authorities and the mortgage companies accept the statements given to them by the farmers who were expecting the bonuses? No. I understand also that 50 per cent of the Prairie Farm Assistance bonus was to be paid in December. But I have had ever so many complaints from farmers that they did not receive the 50 per cent payment and that they had not yet received the payment which was due in March. The same thing applies to the income payments. I think there is one thing to be learned from that. The ministers responsible have seen the regional offices administered during one crop year, and if there is something wrong in the administration it is high time to set it right and remove the difficulty. I do not want to be harsh, but I sometimes think that the man and his association with the party are considered before his qualifications for the position. There was something wrong; we might as well admit it, and I think it is time right now to do a bit of housecleaning.
With regard to the policy for 1942, I must first say that we do appreciate the fact that the farmers are being offered another 20 cents a bushel. There is no denying that 90 cents is better than 70 cents. But 90 cents is not parity, and I am satisfied that the minister did not satisfy the members from western Canada that it was parity and, in some instances, perhaps more than parity. It is only fair and right that when it comes to determining parity level we should be given more information than was provided by the Minister of Agriculture if we are to be satisfied with his calculations. I believe, and I think the farmers of my riding believe, that $1 a bushel at the local elevator now is not a cent too much. I know that the farmers of my constituency cannot carry on and meet their obligations at less than $1 a bushel at the local elevator.
We do not go in for acreage reduction to any extent in that riding because we have not large areas devoted to the production of wheat. There is some reduction, but our income from that source is not very much. As far as wheat is concerned, we have to depend upon the price established for 1942, and I have not met a farmer yet who thinks that 90 cents will enable him to carry through and meet his obligations. I agree with what was stated by one or two members of this group, that there should be an amendment to the Prairie Farm Assistance Act with a view to making it a sound1 crop insurance scheme. I believe that is absolutely essential, and I am not impressed by the statement of the Minister of Agriculture that for
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this reason or that it cannot be done. We notice that when he is desirous of going in any direction he usually succeeds in removing the obstacles in his way.
I believe the farmers of western Canada require further guidance. We must through some means undertake a more complete organization of this country's agricultural industry; we must do further planning of production. I have already indicated that I believe certain areas might be devoted to the production of sugar beets. That is only a suggestion. We should plan production in this country province by province, and do it now.
Furthermore we should organize the agricultural resources of this dominion. It has been intimated in the press that farmers may encounter difficulty in securing farm machinery. If farm machinery is not going to be given priority, and I think it should be, then we must organize in order to use the equipment which is available this year or next under a system of restricted machine production. Also we ought to give further direction to our farmers to enable them to market their secondary products, on a cooperative basis if necessary.
There is one other matter. Those whom I represent are definitely opposed to the action of the government in draining man-power from our farms indiscriminately and without consideration for farm requirements. If they are going to continue this, then I expect them to tell us how the farmer can carry on under a system whereby we take our men from the farms into industry and to join the various branches of the armed forces without regard to agricultural requirements. This has become a very serious question. Under the present set-up they take a man in for training and indicate that he will be released later on to work on the farm. Then, when we apply for his release they say, "We have invested a certain amount of money in this man now. We are very sorry, but we cannot release him." We are confronted with that difficulty frequently. The allotment of man-power for farm work should be carried out on a carefully planned basis; and any scheme for allotting labour to the farm should have a direct relationship to the requirements of industry and those of the armed forces.
Final and complete victory will depend upon the consideration we give agriculture at the present time. If we fail to meet the requests of agriculture, then we are making a mockery of all those things for which we say we are fighting. We must understand that under the new order which we have promised to all, including the farmers, agriculture must be
guaranteed its rightful place in the national economy. Before the outbreak of war we regarded the farmer as the outstanding peacetime casualty. We all looked upon him in that way; we thought of every reason in the world for making him a casualty. Governments kept farmers disorganized and brought about that result. Then the war came upon us, and once again we are making the farmer the casualty. So I say in conclusion that, if final and complete victory is to be won, the farmer must be guaranteed his share of the national income, and further guaranteed that when the war is over he will not be forced back into the position in which he found himself during those extremely hard years from 1931 to 1934 and those difficult years from 1934 up to the present time.
Subtopic: PROVISION FOR INCREASED RATE PER BUSHEL ON WHEAT DELIVERED BY PRODUCERS