February 2, 1948

PC

James Arthur Ross

Progressive Conservative

Mr. ROSS (Souris):

You cannot tell where you are looking by reading Hansard.

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

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

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

As I have said, this is one of the most important questions with which the country has been faced, and with which this parliament has been called upon to deal. I hope I have not said anything which was provocative. I have tried my best to have hon. members appreciate the opportunity that is being given to them now, and that will be given to them for the time this committee is sitting to help to expose what is wrong and to bring about redress in cases where there are unjust acts and unfair dealings. I should think that was something which the country, feeling as it does today, would appreciate, rather than something to laugh at, as some of my hon. friends opposite-though not immediately opposite-have been doing.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. MACDONNELL (Muskoka-Ontario):

If the Prime Minister is referring to me, I wish to say that he is entirely mistaken if he thinks I am laughing at anything he said.

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

I do not know why my hon. friend should have thought I meant him, unless he was conscious of some reason for it.

May I return again to the attitude of the opposition. It is a little puzzling to understand the different positions that have been taken by hon. gentlemen opposite, and I speak now more particularly with reference to the leaders of the three parties.

After I had announced the other evening that the government intended to have a committee of members of this house to investigate rising prices and the cost of living, I think each of them in turn said that this was welcome. One or two used the word "welcome," others said it was a good idea. I did not hear much in the way of deprecatory notes at the time the statement was first made. But, for some reason or another, a few days after

Prices Committee

the statement came out, an attempt was made to belittle the work that the committee would do. There was an effort made to distort the motives of the government in setting up a committee of this kind. Among other things, it was said that the committee would be impotent and ineffective, that the government was adopting a policy of deliberate and needless delay. Many other like things were said which I might cite if I wished to take the time.

It was the leader of the opposition (Mr. Bracken) who said that the Prime Minister evidently intended the committee to be impotent and ineffective. This was said when I was asking him and others on his side to look into this all-important question, and was giving him a free hand in the investigation. If this committee is impotent and ineffective the blame will not lie on the shoulders of the government which has given hon. members of this House of Commons the opportunity it is giving them today; it will lie on the shoulders of those members of this house who do not take full advantage of the opportunity that is given them, and who may thereby seek to make it impotent and ineffective.

I might touch on one or two of the other criticisms which have been made and which doubtless will be made again in the course of the discussion. The leader of the C.C.F. (Mr. Coldwell), using one of his many pleasant metaphors, spoke about this being a smoke screen. May I tell him-

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. COLDWELL:

It might be.

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

It might be.

Let us leave it at that. That is a milder form. May I tell him that it equally may be, and it is intended to be, the very opposite. It is intended to take away t'he smoke which today is hiding from the people the real causes of the rising cost of living, which today is blinding the eyes of the people of this country to the truth of the situation; it is intended to cause the smoke to disappear and to let us get a dear view of the situation.

Then it has been said that the committee is unnecessary. Knowing the mentality of the opposition, let me ask hon. members whether, in the event of the government not having brought in a motion of this kind, we would not have heard over and over again, if not immediately, then later on: "Why does the government not give the House of Commons a chance to deal with this question; why does the government not appoint a committee of members of the House of Commons and give them full powers of investigation? They do not dare to do it, they are afraid of certain interests. They are

afraid that in some way or another they would be exposing some weaknesses of their own."

That is the kind of thing we would have heard from hon. gentlemen opposite. When we bring in this measure, when we give them this opportunity, they say the measure is unnecessary.

Then they say that the powers are restricted. Hon. gentlemen of the C.C.F. were not even going to name members on the committee until they saw how extensive the powers would be. May I say I think the powers are as wide as it was possible for the government to make them. We made the terms broad that there could be no objection taken to them on the ground of their being too narrow. The motion reads:

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.

There is nothing narrow about that. I should like to know how that could be made any broader.

(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;

I have looked very closely at the terms of reference of the committee on the cost of living, which 'Sir Thomas White proposed in thi9 house in 1919. Those terms of reference enumerated a great many individual matters that could be investigated, such as the prices of foodstuffs, clothing, fuel and other necessaries of life, the rates of profit made thereon by dealers and others concerned, and so forth. May I say that, having gone over that list I cannot find a single item in it that would not be covered1 by the broad' language used in the resolution now before the house.

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PC

Norman James Macdonald Lockhart

Progressive Conservative

Mr. LOCKHART:

What about recommendations?

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

My hon. friend asks about recommendations. I am glad he mentioned that, because that was the next criticism I was going to refer to. May I say that hon. gentlemen opposite have taken exception to the resolution not specifying that the committee should bring in- recommendations. May I say that at -this stage the obligation was left out deliberately by the government, and for this reason. If it had been added that the committee were to make recommendations we would now be hearing from -hon. gentlemen opposite, and they would have been speaking correctly, that the minute you give to a committee of this kind1 the

Prices Committee

'business of making recommendations, that minute you- are certain to start all kinds of political controversy. You start issues of policy making. You would start pros and cons between members of the committee as to whether this recommendation should be made or that, and the time of the committee instead of being used for the purpose of getting at

he facts would be used for the purpose of

rying to bring forward one particular policy or another. I say this, that if the committee, after they have been at work for some time and have the facts before them, feel that they would like to have their powers enlarged and' be given the opportunity to bring in recommendations, I for one shall be very happy to further a purpose of the kind. But what the government wants to do today is to have this committee get down to the business of fact-finding as rapidly as it possibly can, and to carry out that duty as thoroughly as it possibly can.

I have already dealt with the criticism that there are already other agencies of government capable of investigating rising prices. I spoke of the government being accused in this connection of having a lot of bureaucrats, which is what members of the public service come to be termed much too freely at times-men who are doing a great public service and seeking to serve their country well and faithfully; they are dismissed as being bureaucrats. Let me quote the exact words of the leader of the opposition. He spoke of an inefficient and blundering bureaucracy.

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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:

Hon. gentlemen say "Hear, hear". The public will be interested in seeing what kind of an efficient and enlightened body this committee will become with the opportunities it has. It will not be a question of blaming the bureaucrats this time. It will be a question of every individual member of the house accepting responsibility for what he is prepared to allege and to do in regard to matters with which the committee is dealing.

I might mention one other matter which is important. It has been said that the committee would stifle or preclude parliamentary discussion. I think I have already made clear my view on that point. Last week, when my hon. friend the leader of the opposition asked me for my view as to how the government would construe the work of this committee, I said that we would expect it to go into its business thoroughly. When he then asked, what about the House of Commons; are we to be told that because the committee is

rMr. Mackenzie King.]

investigating this question we cannot speak on it in general debate in this house?-I replied that that was the last thing the government would wish; that it was not from that point of view at all that we would look at the matter. We can see no reason why on the general question of prices and the cost of living there should not be the greatest possible freedom of debate in this house where the rales of the house permit it, regardless of the fact that a committee is sitting which is investigating the question in the manner that I have described. I have discussed this aspect of the matter with the Clerk of the House so as to be in a position to give an authoritative statement to the house. I shall read the words of a memorandum which the Clerk has been kind enough to give me:

There is no standing order precluding members from debating on the floor of the house matters referred to select or standing committees. Precedents do not show that a general discussion in the house on su<;h matters is not permitted. There is no reference in May's fourteenth edition to this particular side of the question; but the trend of decisions is that no reference to the proceedings of the committee can be made until the committee's report has been presented to the house. The implication is that it is irregular for the house to duplicate the work assigned to a committee.

The Speaker of our house decided in 1873 that, in accordance with English precedents, papers and letters relative to an important matter under the consideration of a select committee could not be read in the house. Speaker Sutherland ruled in 1908 that any reference to the proceedings of a committee or evidence before the committee, 'after inquiry had been entered upon and before the committee reported, was out of order. Please note that these precedents do not deal at all with the right of debating on the floor of the house matters referred to the committees. There is a wide difference between discussing proceedings and debating the main question to which proceedings are applied.

When a matter is before a committee, motions for production of papers dealing with it should be made therein and not in the house. No question ought to be placed on the order paper seeking information obtainable from the committee, which has as much power as the house itself to compel departments to give written as well as oral evidence. The reason for this seems to be that the house should not encroach upon the committee's prerogatives.

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PC

Gordon Knapman Fraser

Progressive Conservative

Mr. FRASER:

Too bad that didn't come to light last year.

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

My hon. friend ought to thank me for giving him additional light at this time. That is what we are seeking. We want to let the light in on this price situation.

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PC

Gordon Knapman Fraser

Progressive Conservative

Mr. FRASER:

We certainly do, because we have not had any light on it up to now.

Prices Committee

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LIB

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

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

The more help we can get in that way, the better.

Let me add this one word in conclusion. Hon. gentlemen opposite will doubtless continue to criticize, will doubtless belittle, will doubtless question the motives of the government in respect of this matter. But what will tell in the end as to what they really believe will be seen when they show where they stand, not by their words, but by their votes on the appointment of this committee. I will venture to say that the numbers who will vote against the appointment of a committee to investigate this important question of rising prices and the cost of living will be mighty few indeed, if indeed there be any at all. The importance and value of the government's action will be judged by the vote on the motion which is now before the house. That vote will reveal whether in the minds of hon. members opposite they believe it is in the public interest or not. Whatever hon. members may say, there is one thing I am perfectly sure of, and that is that a committee of this house to investigate and find facts is what the people of Canada want at this time in reference to this all-important question. Knowing that is so, knowing this is a great question which affects the well-being of the nation as a whole, I hope that hon. members of this house will for the time being, if at all possible, forget their party politics and do their utmost to make the purpose underlying this investigation serve the great end that it is intended to serve.

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PC

John Bracken (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. JOHN BRACKEN (Leader of the Opposition):

Mr. Speaker, I am sure we have all listened with interest, if not with agreement, to what the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) has had to say. I think the members of the house have all been surprised that he did not deal more fully with the real issue before us instead of the side issues to which he has referred. If talking all around a question woidd solve the problems of the Canadian people they would all have been solved by now. But the fact is that after the Prime Minister's long years of office, and after all his plausible words, and after all his policies that he says are being brought to bear on the cost of living, Canada still faces the greatest economic problems which the country has ever been called upon to face.

The Prime Minister has stated that the setting up of this committee is only one of several measures of the government for dealing with the problem of the rising cost of living. My observation on that is that this is the measure we are dealing with now. The others are not before us, and there is nothing

to show that they will be before us in any different form from that now existing.

The Prime Minister went on to enumerate three other policies which the government has for dealing with this question. He mentioned the reimposition of price ceilings on meat, butter, fertilizers, and so on; the government's plans for extending the Emergency Powers Act, and the fact that we have a Combines Investigation Act on the statute books. Let me refer briefly to each of these.

The Prime Minister referred to the policy announced by the Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott) on January 15 of reimposing price ceilings on meat, butter, and so on.

I simply wish to say that if that is the kind of policy the government feels will solve the problem, there is little hope of its being solved. Indeed there is serious questioning in the minds of the Canadian people as to whether this government intends to use the price ceiling policy to control this condition of affairs.

The Prime Minister went on to say that the government was proposing to extend the emergency powers act. Mr. Speaker, the government already has the emergency powers act on the statute books, and what has it done? We have the problem still with us today, and the government is asking that only existing legislation be continued, the legislation under which the present problem has arisen.

The Prime Minister referred to the Combines Investigation Act. That is the favourite child of the Prime Minister. We have had the Combines Investigation Act for many years; we have also had this problem, and it has not been solved. If it has not been solved by that act up to now, what hope is there under it of its being solved later on? The Prime Minister said that he had told the officials administering the act to administer it rigidly. I want to ask how they have been administering it up to now. What is the act there for if it is not to be administered rigidly?

The Prime Minister resorts to the old excuse that all countries have this problem. Well, we understood that this government had the capacity to solve problems that every other nation in the world had failed1 to solve. Then he indicated that this problem was no new phenomenon: he said a similar condition had existed after the last war; and he went on to say that at that time a resolution. somewhat similar to this was introduced into the house, and-I do not know whether he meant this as advice to the present leader of the opposition-he said that the measure then went through without opposition. May I ask whether the present Prime Minister was leader of the opposition at that time?

Prices Committee

Some hon.-MEMBERS: No.

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PC

John Bracken (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. BRACKEN:

I venture to say that if he

had been, the resolution would not have got through without opposition from him. Then he referred to the fact that another resolution was introduced in 1934 under what he described1 as somewhat different conditions, and he anticipated the criticism of members on this side who might quote his own words at that time. I do not propose to use those words, but they are there to be used by way of criticism of the present government's policies if anyone wants to use them.

He went on to say that this was not a prosecuting committee, and not a witch-hunting committee. There are those who say it is to be a whitewashing committee. From, my point of view, I regard the proposal as a sidestepping of responsibilities. He says it is to be a fact-finding committee. Mr. Speaker, all the powers of searching out the facts are now in the hands of the government. They asked for them from parliament and they have had them. If the facts are not now available, who is at fault? I suggest that the present machinery of government for finding the facts is far superior to that of a body of men sitting around in a parliamentary committee and trying to search them out. That is what the government has had these hundreds, perhaps thousands of officials to do, to search out the facts, to know what is going on and to know where, if justified, to prosecute.

The government already has the power to search out the facts and to prosecute the guilty. It has not used it, and now it is proposing to sidestep its responsibilities and to try to direct the anger of the Canadian people away from the government, where it belongs, to some committee or to some individuals or institution outside the government.

I had thought that, for this debate, I would deal with the policy that is now before us, then with conditions in Canada as they are, which this and other policies are designed to remedy. I had thought of touching on the causes of rising costs and on the government's contribution to our difficulties. In passing I may say that whoever else may be guilty of causing rises in the cost of living, the government bears more guilt than anybody else, because its joint policies of expanding credit on the one hand and its restrictive policies, which resulted in lessened supplies on the other, have more than anything else caused rising prices. With these two policies combined nothing else can happen but that prices will rise. And for these conditions nobody else but this government is responsible. I will conclude my remarks by indicating some of the things which I think

should be done. And before I sit down I shall move an amendment, not limiting the powers of the committee but expanding them, and indicating some specific things that should be studied.

The resolution before us contains the government's immediate plan for dealing with the rising cost of living. It proposes to appoint a parliamentary committee to examine and to report from time to time as to the causes of the recent rise in the cost of living, prices which have been raised above levels justified by increased costs and rises in prices due to the acquiring, accumulating or withholding from sale by any persons, and so on. The Prime Minister says he seeks to find out whether there are hoarders or profiteers about.

The disease, Mr. Speaker, which the government is attempting to deal with here is the disease of inflation. It is a serious disease. It is easy to pass it off by calling it a rise in the cost of living. But we are dealing with a serious inflationary condition in the country and it is not going to be solved easily. The government is presuming to solve it in the three or four ways which the Prime Minister mentioned, ways which he already has had at his command, but with which the government have not solved the problem. They have only aggravated it. The only thing that is new in the government's policy is this proposal which he says is a fact-finding committee to do what he already has the power to do through the vast organization he already has.

From where we sit, this policy looks like one of delay, one of shelving responsibility from the government, where it belongs, to some committee or to some individuals or to some institutions unnamed in this country. It looks as if the government is sidestepping responsibilities it must accept as a government.

We have consented without prejudice, to the appointment of four members on this committee. As I have said, from where we sit this looks like a move to dodge responsibility, a device to try to direct public anger away from the government to somebody else. It looks like a move to give an emergent issue indefinite postponement. In my judgment this proposal does not touch upon several important matters. It does not touch the question of the government's inflationary policies, which, in association with others, in my judgment have been more responsible for this condition than anything else. It does not touch that. It does not touch the question of the government's policies which have resulted in the restriction of production and supplies in this country. It does not touch on the question of

Prices Committee

the merits or demerits of price control. It does not touch on the question of the value or the lack of value of subsidies under certain conditions. I am not here suggesting what the answer should be. I am suggesting that the public should know.

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LIB

Joseph-Arthur Bradette

Liberal

Mr. BRADETTE:

The hon. member knows all the answers.

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PC

John Bracken (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. BRACKEN:

Apparently a lot of

people on the other side of the house do not know the answers, or we would not have the conditions we have today.

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?

An hon. MEMBER:

That is the answer.

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LIB

Joseph-Arthur Bradette

Liberal

Mr. BRADETTE:

The hon. member knows them all.

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February 2, 1948