Having waited for some time to take part in this debate, Mr. Speaker, I might say that, if I could start off in the high gear achieved by the speaker who has just taken his seat, it would not take me long to get through with my remarks. But having waited to say a few words in this debate, it being one of the most important ones of the session, I am glad to have this opportunity now. This debate gives to all hon. members on either side of the house the opportunity to speak for the district which they represent in this parliament of Canada. For that reason it is one of the most important debates of the House of Commons, if not the most important one.
I was rather surprised when the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent), who himself spoke in this debate for half of a labourer's day, was anxious at the opening of the debate to give it what we might term "the back door run" or to get rid of it in a couple of days. We have, however, listened to the great number of speeches which have been made. Many of the ministers have spoken, and some of them for the second time. It must, therefore, be an interesting debate to them. I can fully realize why the Prime Minister is anxious to have this debate shortened. An election is in the offing, and it would be well if the government could avoid criticism from the floor of the house with regard to their maladministration for the past four years.
When beginning his remarks, it is customary for a member to pay compliments and offer congratulations to those who have taken part in this debate. But as they have all received numerous congratulations, any adjectives that I might have to offer would be only a matter of repetition of what has been said by those who have spoken before me.
I will, however, say "amen" to all the congratulations that have been heaped on the mover and seconder, and on the other speakers.
There are, however, two or three congratulations I should like to add. I am sorry that the Speaker himself has left the chamber. I intended to congratulate him on being able to hold his honourable position in view of reports circulating after the close of the house on June 30 to the effect that he was slated for some cabinet position, and in view of the shuffle that took place while we were at home. I might say that the cabinet was nearly all gone over. We now find ourselves wondering, when we come in here, just who is who, and what cabinet minister administers which portfolio.
At this time I should also like to congratulate the Prime Minister even though he is not here in the house just at the moment. I wish to congratulate him on attaining the highest position in the House of Commons although he has been a member of parliament for only a short time. He deserves those congratulations and I am glad to extend them. At the same time I sympathize with him, as do many others, in having bequeathed to him the leadership of an extremely sick party at the present time.
I might also congratulate my hon. leader, but he has been congratulated by everybody, even the Prime Minister; he was congratulated by all the speakers on our side of the house and by many on the other side. I will say this to him by way of congratulation. To this house "He came a hero strong his race to run." He has also received the hearty congratulations conveyed in the winning by his party of three by-elections since he became leader.
The speech from the throne is a governmental document prepared by the cabinet ministers and then placed in the hands of His Excellency by his constitutional advisers. Hence any remarks by way of criticism made by any member of parliament in this debate are not in any way directed toward His Excellency, either in person or in private or public life. One can therefore speak at almost any length and on any subject, as long as one uses the common parliamentary language.
As one views the speech from the throne one finds that it is similar to others which have come before this parliament from time to time. I might say it is, more than anything else, a detour from the real issues confronting the people, and which the people of Canada thought that we should have at this session of parliament. No doubt it was designed to lure my leader away from the course that he might take. However, he was not to be lured away. He took his own course, followed it, and won his spurs in his first speech in this House of Commons.
If time permits I shall say something on freights and freight rates; but something has arisen in the legislature in Prince Edward Island, which is in session at the present time, which almost bars me from doing that. When speaking on the address in the legislature of Prince Edward Island on February 23 last, the premier of Prince Edward Island said this:
The dissenting seven provinces of Canada are making a strong impression. I think we are beating them right now.
He was referring to the powers that be who had increased the freight rates. He continued:
We have held up increases already granted and I do not think the railroads will be allowed to charge the exorbitant rates that they have been asking for.
Therefore the premier of Prince Edward Island, when speaking for the seven provinces, said more than I would have said if I were speaking on the freight rates. However, there is one thing on which I should like to say a few words, namely, transportation. Transportation and freight rates, ferry auto charges and the Maritime Freight Rates Act of 1927 seem to be so interwoven that when one speaks on any of these subjects they all lead into that of transportation. Some newspapers, also many members of parliament and others, continue to make reference to the Maritime Freight Rates Act of 1927 as a subsidy or a charity handout to the maritime provinces. It is unfortunate that such misinformation extends even into the sittings of the railway committee of the House of Commons, and it is very harmful indeed.
The maritime provinces have suffered from the ever-increasing unconstitutional injustices in connection with the operation of the Intercolonial railway, which is perhaps the most important part of Canada's constitution. The report of the Duncan commission in 1926 discloses this injustice. The Maritime Freight Rates Act of 1927 is an admission of it, and the action of the federal government, partially to offset the unconstitutional injustice by paying both railways an amount which reduced their charges in accordance with the act, is also an admission of the injustice. The amount that has been paid is only a fraction of the amount of the unconstitutional overcharge to the maritime provinces. Here let me mention this fact in connection with the freight rates act. When the railways were amalgamated freight rates were greatly increased across Canada. Taking 100 as the basis on which freight rates were established, the average increase in the maritime provinces was 92 per cent, while 55 per cent was the average increase across the rest of
The Address-Mr. McLure Canada. When the Duncan commission studied this matter they found that this was an unconstitutional injustice to the maritime provinces. On that basis they made a recommendation that brought into effect the Maritime Freight Rates Act of 1927, and our rate of 92 per cent was reduced to equal the average rate of the rest of Canada. Consequently almost 20 per cent was paid to the two railways for the freight that they had carried.
I bring this to the attention of the house, Mr. Speaker, in order that it may not be referred to as a subsidy or a handout. It is an effort to alleviate the injustice which had been imposed on the maritime provinces by reason of the overcharge of freight rates from the time of the amalgamation of the roads up to 1927. There is still a large amount owing to the maritime provinces for the years that they suffered these high rates as compared with the rest of Canada. That amount should be paid either in dollars and cents or in extra public works, which are long overdue in the maritime provinces. The way that they could start to pay it at this time would be by giving us some public works such as the bridge at Canso, the building of the Chignecto canal and, last but not least, giving Prince Edward Island a railway connection and living up to the terms of our going into confederation by treating the water which separates Prince Edward Island from the mainland as a bridge and not as part of the railway on which we are charged, which is against the terms of 1873, when we entered into confederation.
Time will not permit me to go into all the details of the maritime rates, but I wish to say that there is a better feeling in the maritime provinces now that we are to have a tenth province, another maritime province, which will help us, and make four provinces to fight for their maritime rights. For years we have been endeavouring to push our claims with the federal authorities, but we have been more or less discouraged. Some of the cabinet ministers have called us yappers because we were always talking about our freight claims and so forth. However, it does not matter what they term us; we are out for our rights and we are going to get them. If we do not get them from a Liberal government, we are sure that we shall get them from the Progressive Conservative government.
I want to deal with transportation in my own province, because this is the great problem faced by our farmers, fishermen, importers and exporters. This is the problem with which they have to deal, because we are not a manufacturing community. Our endeavours are more or less those of agriculture.
1386 HOUSE OF
The Address-Mr. McLure Sixty-five per cent of our people earn their livelihood from the land.
Fishing is our next largest industry. Freight rates offered our farmers, and means of transportation, are the all-important question with us. In the wintertime, from November until May, we have only one means of transportation, that of the Borden-Tormentine ferry. In the summertime we have the Wood Island-Cariboo route. Both of these, taken together, handle the service fairly well. However, we still want more service by way of transportation.
For instance, we are discriminated against because trucks are not allowed to travel free on the new ferry, using the Borden-Tormentine route. They are still being charged a rate, contrary to the terms under which we entered confederation. The heavy charges for the freight carried, as well as for the trucks, is by no means a satisfactory condition, so far as truck traffic by way of the ferry is concerned. Some slight reduction was made by the board of transport commissioners after their sitting at Charlottetown. While they had no jurisdiction over water rates, they did go down there and make some slight adjustment. When they got there they learned that they had no jurisdiction over water rates. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) state in the house the other day that he knew that the board of transport commissioners had no right whatsoever to set freight rates for water carriage between any provinces, or between any province and any other British territory. This matter has been under discussion for some time, and I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister endorse my views in that connection-views which were in accordance with the terms of confederation.
The unfair part of the situation in connection with trucks is that while the ferry had no right to make a charge, according to our contract, they are nevertheless making a certain charge. They should carry the load free. I notice that some of the motor trucks are enclosed. The freight does not require handling, and in most instances those who are in charge never see it; nevertheless the weight is recorded, along with the weight of the truck, following which a rate somewhat lower than that of 1945 is charged.
That rate is charged for a certain class of goods including potatoes, turnips, hay and farmers' livestock. But supposing a farmer kills his hogs or his beef cattle, and wishes to take them across, he must pay the highest l.c.l. rate. However, if they are shipped as livestock they go at the lower rate. This is not the fault of the operators of the boat; they are just living up to the regulations.
Truck operators find the men on the boat most courteous; but they must live up to the orders sent to them by the Canadian National Railways or by the Department of Transport-or both of them. These charges are made on dressed beef or pork because they are not considered products of the farm. How they come to that conclusion, I do not know.
Farmers should have a preferred rate on all those things. Then, if a farmer is bringing back a load, according to the regulations freight traveling from Tormentine to Borden is charged at the highest rate. I have reference to coal, Nova Scotia apples, lumber and many things the people of Prince Edward Island must buy from the other provinces. A change in these rates would benefit our farmers and our people generally in the maritimes.
As hon. members know, the car ferry Abegweit is the boat on that run, and she has been giving excellent service. However, that boat is not able to handle all the traffic. Consequently we are hoping to have a new boat on the Wood Island-Cariboo route when it opens in the spring.
I understand a delegation was here in Ottawa interviewing the Minister of Transport (Mr. Chevrier) and placing before him the suggestion that we should have a new ferry within the next year. I do not know how successful they were. They could not have been very successful. One suggestion they made was that they themselves would build the new boat if their subsidy was increased by $50,000 and guaranteed for a period of ten years. I do not believe either proposition was successful, because when the delegation returned to Charlottetown the news items did not contain any glamorous report as to the way they had been received.
I understand the Abegweit was built to carry out the terms of confederation. For that purpose the ferry system was inaugurated by the Borden government. While the car ferry is handed over to the Canadian National Railways, and while the railways are the greatest users of the boat, at the same time they use it as a connecting link between the Prince Edward Island railway and the railways in the other provinces.
What we should have is a free rate across the water for all our products, both outgoing and incoming. Why should the Canadian National Railways, who at the present time are the subcontractors of this boat, exclude any other method of shipping goods, such as the use of trucks? They could dispense with the truck opposition by placing a high rate on the transportation of the truck and on the freight it carries. Both these proce-
dures are unconstitutional and, according to the terms of 1873, an injustice to Prince Edward Island.
I am not going to say much more about transportation, but I should like to pay attention to another detour in the speech from the throne. The Postmaster General (Mr. Bertrand), as the lord of Canada's post office business-and I wish he were in the house tonight to hear this-announced a net balance of profits of some $10 million. The figure given is $9,827,491. Like many others I am proud to see the Post Office Department piling up profits over the years. It is really a grand thing. However, the 33 J per cent wartime emergency tax on letter postage must have played a considerable part in piling up these surpluses, yet the Postmaster General has said that there will be no reduction in this tax. I am not arguing that it should be reduced, as I would rather see the Postmaster General use the money to give his rural mail couriers a chance to live by being paid sufficient for rendering the best service of any civil servants in Canada.
The mail couriers in my province, and I imagine the same remarks will apply to all provinces, are doing a wonderful work. They are wonderful men. They have to work almost every day in the year and are on the job through rain or shine. It has been brought to my attention that the department is rather niggardly with these mail couriers, and I should like to cite one case.
A few days ago the mail courier on a good route was offered the magnificent sum of six and a half cents per day to operate an extension of the route to the university near Charlottetown. This extension was to serve some 300 students and the staff and help at the university. The mail courier was quite ready to do the work for thirty or thirty-five cents per day, but all they would offer was six and a half cents per day and therefore the extension was not put into effect and the people at the university must continue to go after their own mail.
We have been promised from time to time that the problems of the mail couriers in Canada would be gone into thoroughly by this House of Commons and that adjustments would be made whereby these men would have some hope that after securing the necessary equipment their contract would be permitted to run for more than four years. At the present time the contract can be abolished if someone bids $1.50 or $2 lower. That is very discouraging. These men have no safeguard. All they have to do is their work, and they are doing it.
The Address-Mr. McLure
At the present time the department is offering mail contracts to veterans, and I am glad to see that being done. However, these contracts are being offered to veterans in receipt of small pensions and the suggestion is being made that perhaps they can bid a little lower than others and apply their pensions to what they receive. That is what I take objection to. Why should a veteran be asked to apply his small pension in order that a contract may be let below the regular contract price?
A short time ago a mail route in Queens county was advertised and tenders were asked for. It was stipulated that the tenderer must have a half-ton truck for mail delivery during the spring, summer and autumn and a snowmobile for the wintertime. They might just as well have added that he should have a small Moth plane equipped with special parachutes. A man could not tender for that contract unless he had a half-ton truck and could assure the department that he would have a snowmobile for the winter. The total equipment there would cost from $4,000 to $5,000, and yet the contract would be for only four years with no assurance beyond that. I do not know how many tenders were received but when the estimates of the department come down we will surely find out how many tenders have been put in for contracts on this basis. There are other matters in connection with mail service that I should like to deal with but we will have an opportunity to do this when the estimates are brought down.
In the few minutes I have left I should like to say a few words about a topic that has been discussed fairly well-taxation. In my province the burden, the annoyance and the perfect nonsense of taxation in connection with collecting and making out the forms falls most heavily upon the farmers. The farmers are quite willing to pay a legitimate tax but they are rebellious over being hounded by these inspectors or snoopers or whatever they are called. This whole thing is causing great concern to the farmers and labouring people.
Toward the close of the last session we made the great mistake of voting $19 million for the Department of National Revenue to cover temporary employees. I understand that that was largely to cover the employment of an army of tax collectors, many of whom were hired to spy on the farmers, labourers and small businessmen. They were armed with authority to go to the different dealers in the constituency to ask for information about their neighbours. The farmers in our province held a series of meetings to protest against the income tax form and the
The Address-Mr. McLure manner in which they are being hounded by the officials of this department.
A few days ago the income tax branch at Ottawa sued the president of the farmers' federation of Prince Edward Island. The courthouse was crowded when the trial started and when the prosecuting lawyer started to question the witness he used a form of question which it was impossible for the witness to answer. For instance, he was asking him what he had to eat for his Christmas dinner six years ago. He also asked such foolish questions as whether they had extra turkey for Thanksgiving. He refused to answer because he could not answer such questions, and then the prosecuting lawyer said: "If you do not confess to this charge that is laid against you I will withdraw it and bring in four charges more serious against you." I should like to ask the Minister of Justice (Mr. Garson) whether he considers that is justice in law.
There is another matter on which I am compelled to say something, although it has been mentioned so often now that I understand the Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott) is going to abolish some of the taxes in his next budget. We have a tax on soft drinks and chocolate bars. I believe every member of parliament has received thousands of requests for the abolition of these taxes. It is a heavy tax; 40 per cent is very high indeed. I have a letter on my desk from one man complaining about it. He says that it caused him so much worry that he did less business and had to lay off a staff of some twenty men. It is cutting down on employment. On the one hand we have the generosity of the governmept, of the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Martin), who goes around and hands out the family allowances to the children. On the other hand we have the Minister of Finance coming around the corner and snatching it all from the little ones.
There is one form of taxation that has caused us a great deal of worry in my section of the country, the taxation on furs and conservation fur farming. Under the former Minister of Finance the Liberal party seemed determined to put fur farming off the map, and the former Minister of Finance almost did so. Now that he has left, however, we hope that the new minister will look into the matter and study it from a sane and honest point of view. For example, the government imposed a tax of 25 per cent, called a processing tax, on the raw skins. There was not very much objection to that although it made an ordinary garment, even though the tax was imposed in process, cost all the way from $10 to $150 more than it should have. After that tax had been in force for a
year the fur merchants and fur farmers of Canada got after the Minister of Finance, and he stated that he would reduce the tax. He reduced the tax from 25 per cent to 15 per cent on the processing, but what did he do then? He had a real bludgeon behind him and he went to work. He reduced the tax to 10 per cent on the processing, and then on the finished article he imposed a tax of 8 per cent, which meant that the 25 per cent tax was increased from 2 per cent on the lowest grade of furs to 45 per cent on the best grade of furs. This heavy tax has put hundreds of concerns out of business.