February 2, 1948


Motion agreed to.


PARLIAMENTARY RESTAURANT

LIB

Lionel Chevrier (Minister of Transport)

Liberal

Hon. LIONEL CHEVRIER (Minister of Transport) moved:

That Messieurs Black (Yukon); Bradshaw, Breithaupt, Cote (Matapedia-Matane); Cour-noyer, Coyle, Gagnon, Gariepy, Gladstone, Hark-ness, Jutras, Kirk, Laurendeau, Leger, Len-nard, Lesage, Marshall. Mayhew, McGregor, Mclvor. Richard (Ottawa East); Stewart (Winnipeg North); Strum, Mrs., be appointed to assist His Honour the Speaker in the direction of the restaurant, in so far as the interests of the Commons are concerned, and to act as members of a joint committee of both houses on the restaurant, and that a message be sent to the senate to acquaint their honours therewith.

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Motion agreed to. Prices Committee


VOCATIONAL TRAINING

EXTENSION OF 1942 ACT TO UNEMPLOYED PERSONS NOT APPLICANTS FOR UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE


Hon. HUMPHREY MITCHELL (Minister of Labour) moved that the house go into committee at the next sitting to consider the following resolution: That it is expedient to introduce a measure to amend the Vocational Training Co-ordination Act, 1942, to extend vocational assistance to unemployed persons although such persons may not have applied for insurance benefits under the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1940. He said: His Excellency the Governor General, having been made acquainted with the subject matter of this resolution, recommends it to the consideration of the house. Motion agreed to.


INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

INVESTIGATION, CONCILIATION AND SETTLEMENT OF INDUSTRIAL DISPUTES


Hon. HUMPHREY MITCHELL (Minister of Labour) moved that the house go into committee at the next sitting to consider the following resolution: That it is expedient to present a bill respecting industrial relations and investigations of industrial disputes and to make provision therein for the payment out of the consolidated revenue fund of the remuneration and expenses of the members of the boards and commissions and the officers, clerks and employees appointed or engaged by or under the authority of the act. He sand: His Excellency the Governor General, having been made acquainted with the subject matter of this resolution, recommends it to the consideration of the house. Motion agreed to.


APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO INQUIRE INTO PRICE INCREASES AND MATTERS PERTAINING THERETO

LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

Before you put this

motion, Mr. Speaker, might I draw to the attention of the house the fact that one clause which should have been added, has been inadvertently omitted. The committee is to be sixteen in number. Standing order 65 requires that a special committee shall be limited to fifteen in number unless special provision is otherwise made, and, unfortunately, notice of the suspension of that rule has been omitted. Perhaps the house would allow the motion to be amended by adding the words "and that standing order 65 be suspended in relation thereto."

With that amendment I would proceed with the motion. I move:

That a select committee of this house be appointed to examine and to report from time to time as to (a) the causes of the recent rise in the cost of living; (b) prices which have been raised above levels justified by increased costs; (c) rises in prices due to the acquiring, accumulating or withholding from sale by any persons, firms or corporations of any goods beyond amounts reasonably required for the ordinary purposes of their businesses.

That the committee shall have power to appoint from among its members such subcommittees as may be deemed advisable or necessary to deal with specific phases of the enquiry, and power to send for persons, papers and records, to examine witnesses under oath and to print such papers and evidence from day to day as may be ordered by the committee.

That the committee shall have leave to sit while the house is sitting;

That seven members of the committee shall constitute a quorum;

That the committee shall have power to engage the services of counsel, accountants and other necessary assistants who shall be paid out of the appropriation for parliament;

That the committee shall consist of Messrs. Beaudry, Cleaver, Fleming, Homuth, Johnston, Knowles. Lesage, Martin. Maybank, Mayhew, McCubbin. Merritt, Nicholson,' Pinard, Smith (Calgary West), Winters, and that standing order 65 be suspended in relation thereto.

I might begin by saying that I believe all hon. members of the house are agreed that the question of the recent rise in prices, particularly the increase in the cost of living, is a matter of nation-wide concern. This afternoon I do not intend to go into the question of the causes of the rises in prices, or of possible remedies, but merely to bring forward a motion on one related matter which is part of the government's program in dealing with this large question. As hon. members will have seen, the motion itself is for one specific purpose, namely, the appointment of a special committee of this house to investigate the rise in prices and cost of living, with special reference to what we describe ordinarily as profiteering and hoarding. I wish to make quite clear that the motion is only one of a series of -measures which the government has already adapted in relation to the solution of this problem, and also of other measures that will be brought forward later in the course of the present session.

On January 15 of this year, the Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott) made a public statement in which he indicated some of the measures which had already been taken or were about to be taken to deal with this question. Among others he mentioned that: Price ceilings were being reimposed on meat and on butter.

The prices of certain types of fertilizers which had advanced sharply in eastern Canada

Prices Committee

would be reduced by the application of markup controls and by the roll-back of certain basic chemical ingredients.

Mark-up controls would be applied where necessary to imported fruits and vegetables.

The government would invite parliament to extend its authority to control prices and rents for a further period of one year, that is to say, to March 31, 1949.

Price ceilings on sugar and molasses, oils and fats, certain canned fruits and vegetables, primary iron and steel, tin, and residential rents would be continued in effect until circumstances justify their removal.

The wartime prices and trade board has been requested1 to examine further into recent sharp increases in certain food products to see whether there were grounds for launching exemplary prosecutions against persons who have been selling such products at prices that are higher than is reasonable and just. Shortly thereafter I announced that the commissioner of the Combines Investigation Act had been told that it was part of government policy and the wish of the administration that this act should be vigilantly administered. He has been told that he and the members of his staff would be expected to exercise to the full the authority given under provisions of the act where there was justification for bringing those provisions into operation. Today I am asking hon. members to appoint a select committee of this house to examine and report on matters pertaining to the recent rise in prices and in the increase in the cost of living. For obvious reasons some other parts of the government's program could not be disclosed at this time. For example, it had been stated in the press that the proper way to bring down the cost of living is to make certain changes in the tax schedules and the like. As hon. members know, the government cannot disclose its program regarding taxation until the budget itself is brought down. What I am seeking at the moment to make clear is that the resolution before us today does not purport to do other than what appears on the face of it, namely, to be a request to this House of Commons to appoint a select committee with wide powers to investigate the causes of the recent rise in prices and of the cost of living, and the matters mentioned in relation thereto.

Now I should say just one word, before proceeding further, in regard to the problem of rising prices at a time like the present. I would say that the problem of rising prices is not in any way peculiar to Canada. I suggest that is something which may well be kept in mind in any discussions that may take place on this question. As far as I am aware, it is 5849-48

a problem affecting every country in the world; and I believe that were an investigation of the situation made in the different countries it would be found that, everything considered, Canada has been affected less adversely by rising prices than any other country in the world.

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?

Some hon. MEMBERS:

Oh, oh.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

I hear som.

hon. gentlemen taking exception to that. If when they come to speak they can tell this house what other country or countries have been more fortunate, all thing considered, than Canada in the matter of the cost of living since the recent war, I hope they will give us that information. That is a statement of fact which is well known, and which I think it is important to have kept in mind.

In the second place I would point out that the problem of rising prices is not a new phenomenon; it is something that, I think, has occurred in every country after a great war, whether it has been civil war or an international war. The whole range of prices has changed; as shortages in supplies have arisen, prices have risen suddenly to new heights. That, as I say, is something which inevitably appears after a time of war. In this connection I should mention what happened in Canada and in this House of Commons after the first great war, which, as hon. members will recall, was from 1914 to 1918. In 1919 Sir Thomas White, who if I recollect aright was then Minister of Finance, introduced a motion for the establishment of a committee on the cost of living. He did so by a motion very similar to the one I am introducing at the present time. I should like to draw the attention of the house to this significant fact, that when that motion was introduced by Sir Thomas White it was carried by this house without any opposition whatever, and without any debate. At that time it was recognized very clearly by hon. members, as it was by the public, that the question of the rising cost of living was something on which the public was anxious to have full and exact information, that the public itself desired to know the facts concerning a phenomenon with which for the first time it was being faced in such an emphatic manner. The parallel with today is as complete as it could possibly be. The establishment of that committee did not prevent the government of that day from adopting other measures, but it did afford to this House of Commons, and the public, information which was of assistance in meeting what was most necessary in the public interest at that time.

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I have no doubt that, in the course of this debate, we shall have frequent references to another select committee of this house which also had to do with matters of prices; that is, the select committee on price spreads which this house appointed in 1934. It was the late Viscount Bennett, as Prime Minister at the time, who introduced the motion for the price spreads committee. I have no doubt that some hon. gentlemen opposite will find, in some of the remarks I made at that time, much that they would be pleased to quote at this moment as to why wider powers should have been given to that committee than apparently was the case. May I draw attention at once to this important circumstance. In that case the parallel does not hold.

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?

Some hon. MEMBERS:

Oh, oh.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

I expected that laugh, because I knew a great many hon. gentlemen opposite were not fully informed about the situation as it then existed. If they had been they would not have laughed. Let me now illustrate what I mean by saying there is no parallel between the duties of the two committees. The committee of 1919, which had to do with the question of the cost of living, was appointed at a time when prices were going up rapidly, when persons were concerned about further increases in the cost of living and wished to discover the causes. When Mr. Bennett introduced his motion for a committee in 1934, prices were not rising. It was not a problem of a rising cost of living; it was the problem of a depression. Prices were falling very rapidly, and the public of that day could not understand how it was that, in some cases, prices had dropped considerably, while in others they remained comparatively high or had not fallen at all in comparison with prices in some other branches of industry and commerce. The committee was appointed to discover, if possible, the reasons for great spreads in prices between primary products and consumer goods, or what was regarded as an exploitation of the producers on the one hand and the exploitation of the consumers on the other. That was an entirely different situation; and the ground, above all others, which was given at the time -and to a large extent, I think, correctly- as to why some prices were kept at such high levels instead of falling with the others was that combines were operating to keep up certain prices and preventing them from falling in accordance with the natural law of supply and demand, as they would otherwise have fallen. For that reason, in that debate, the emphasis was placed on increasing the powers

under the Combines Investigation Act and giving larger powers to deal with combines, mergers and trusts.

In the present situation of rising prices I believe there are many cases in which an existence of combines does not enter at all. Owing to the circumstances of our time, owing to the opportunity which is afforded to individuals here and there to hoard, owing to the opportunity which is given them to exact high prices in sales, they are keeping prices at an unnaturally high level; but there is not necessarily a combine supporting them. The question of a combine entering into the picture to support them may not enter at all. I do not say that is so all through, but I do say that it is one of the things the committee I am today asking the house to appoint could inquire into, and upon which it should be able to throw a considerable amount of light. I venture to say no one of us in this house today knows whether in some of this class of cases a combine is operating, or whether there are greedy individuals, selfish individuals, mean individuals who, without the support of combinations of any kind, are taking advantage of their fellow members of the community to exact undue profits, because they have consumers in a tight place with conditions as they are at the present time. I wish to make that point clear at once, in order that hon. members may understand the difference between the work of the two committees and why it is that a committee dealing with the question of rising prices has quite a different task from one which is dealing with a depression and falling prices, where quite other factors may enter in to affect the situation.

Now may I say just a word as to the committee which is being proposed today, first of all as to what it is and, in that same connection, a word as to what it is not. As I said at the outset this motion is for what it purports to be for and nothing more, namely, to establish a committee to investigate with a view to finding facts. It is a fact-finding committee, not a policy-making committee. It is the belief of the government that this is essential and necessary in order to make clear in the quickest possible time what the real circumstances are that are governing in the situation at the present time.

May I say that this desire to find the facts, making that the basic duty of the committee, is founded upon the very sound philosophy that in the cure of what one might call social wrongs or anti-social evils, those anti-social acts which adversely affect the great masses of the people in their individual lives and

Prices Committee

homes, publicity in regard to the facts is a much more effective remedy than penalty.

Whatever men may be in their individual lives, there is nothing they abhor more, if they have been guilty of any meanness or taken any undue advantage of their fellowmen, than to have that meanness exposed in public. In regard to this class of social wrong I believe that if there are people today in Canada who are hoarding where they should be selling, and if there are others who are profiteering where they should be glad to do what is fair, just and reasonable in the matter of prices, such people will quickly take notice of the fact that this House of Commons has appointed a committee which can go into any single phase of this problem and bring individuals from any part of the country to answer for situations in which they may be involved.

I for one firmly believe in the power of publicity when based on facts. Public opinion plays a very large part in determining the course of events and the conduct of human beings. However, if public opinion is to be effective and to be of national service, it is very important that opinion be fully and clearly informed. The trouble wfith the situation today is that there is not sufficient knowledge of the facts to enable public opinion to be formed intelligently. Men are being blamed in one quarter for doing things of which they say they are wholly innocent, while others may be doing many things which they should not be doing, but for which others are being held responsible. At the present time, except to a very limited extent, there is not the opportunity to turn the searchlight of investigation upon a questionable situation with a view to informing public opinion intelligently in regard to it.

I venture to say to the House of Commons that if public opinion can once be formed intelligently and brought to bear on any situation which adversely affects the well-being of the people, very soon parliament will find the remedy for that situation. But without knowledge of the facts, some suggested remedies may do more harm than good. Remedies must be directed to the right place and in the right way.

It is not more in the way of legislation that we need; it is more in the way of information. There is a body of legislation already on the statute books of this country; but, as everyone knows, the minute an effort is made to set in motion some of this machinery, obstacles are raised from one side or another which tend to operate against speedy and thorough action. Nothing will remove those obstacles so quickly as the power of a committee of this House

of Commons to take up questions.which affect the well-being of the people, something which adversely affects their lives.

I would also say that the mere existence of this power, the mere existence of a committee of the House of Commons appointed to investigate these matters, to a considerable extent will have the effect of curbing and possibly reducing what otherwise might be a further rise in prices and a further increase in the cost of living. I know that has been so in regard to what has happened under the Combines Investigation Act, what has happened under the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act, and what, I believe, has happened in connection with investigations by the wartime prices and trade board. I would point out that in regard to all these bodies, however, they are agencies of government, and the minute an agency of government, as contrasted with the action of members of parliament themselves, is put to work on a problem of this kind, it is immediately suggested that they are a body of bureaucrats; that they are under the control of the government.

What the people of Canada want to be convinced of is that the body appointed to investigate is one in which they have full confidence. They also want to know that those they have returned to parliament have the right, to make their grievance known and to see that it is thoroughly investigated. That is the opportunity which the government is giving to members who have seats in this house at this time. The people of this country want to have their representatives in this parliament proceed to discover the causes underlying what they have experienced thus far of what they believe to be an unwarranted rise in prices, whether due to profiteering, hoarding, or any other cause.

Now, just a word as to what this committee is not. The government has no desire or intention that the committee should be used in what might be described as a witch hunt, to see what persons, w'hat firms or what corporations may be brought into difficulties, or to have individuals, firms or corporations unnecessarily embarrassed by a public inquiry. If the committee were used to serve a purpose of that kind that would completely defeat the end and purpose the government has in mind. The committee is not intended to be a prosecuting tribunal; it is hoped it. may save the need for prosecutions. The committee is a fact-finding body. Its purpose is the publicizing of facts, not the piosecution of offenders. Once the fadts are known, the

748

Prices Committee

opportunity, for prosecution will come in accordance with legislation already on the statute books.

I do not believe the people of Canada today wish to have any person in trade or commerce do other than receive what is recognized as a fair and just remuneration for services rendered. I do not believe the people of Canada wish producers or distributors to be paid prices lower than those which are just and reasonable. Once they are convinced that, having regard to an existing situation, prices are just and reasonable, they will be content to try to find ways of making necessary adjustments, but what they do not like is the idea that some individual or firms or corporations are profiting unduly at their expense, and that others are hoarding in a manner which prevents the people from getting the benefit of that plenty

which there may be in the land-although it

is not as great a plenty as it may have been at other times.

I repeat that the aim and desire of the people is not, as I believe, the prosecution of any victim; what the people are interested in is having prices reduced-

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?

Some hon. MEMBERS:

Hear, hear.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

-and having the cost of living reduced to the point where it is just and fair.

I hear some hon. members applauding. Of course they applaud; we all applaud that. We all wish to see prices and the cost of living reduced, where there is legitimate reason for believing that prices are unfair and that the cost of living is being held up by unjust means. But I ask those who are applauding the sentiments I have just expressed whether they would say that prices are being fairly reduced and the cost of living is being justly reduced if, in the course of that process, injustice is being done to producers or distributors who are doing their utmost to supply the people's needs today under the difficult situation which exists. The purpose of the committee is not to embarrass any individual, any firm or any corporation that is seeking to do business in a business-like, honourable and fair manner. Here I may point out that many concerns in this country are being criticized today on the score that they are responsible for some unfair increase in the cost of living, that they are responsible for some anti-social behaviour. This committee will give an opportunity to any individual or firm that has been unjustly accused to make its position perfectly clear to the public of this country. It cannot be said that this procedure of setting up a committee of hon. members of the House of Commons to make a public inquiry could be other than

helpful to those who are doing what is right, while making it increasingly difficult for those who are doing what is wrong.

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?

An hon. MEMBER:

Get off the bandwagon.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

Just a word as to the attitude of the opposition. I will begin by expressing particular surprise at the fact that members of a certain group not immediately opposite at whom I am looking at the moment should have found it necessary to make so many interruptions and to inject so much in the w7ay of laughter during the course of my remarks this afternoon on a question which concerns the whole country.

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February 2, 1948