Mr. Robert Fair (Battle River) moved:
That, in the opinion of this house, the government should take into consideration the advisability of giving clear titles to all soldier settlers of great war I who hold land under contract with the soldier settlement board.
He said: In moving this resolution today, I express the hope that this is the last time it will be necessary for me or anyone else to deal with this question, and that the government will see to its immediate solution. This matter has been dealt with from time to time since 1937, and it is now a little more than thirty years since these settlers first took up their land. I feel it is long past the time when a disposition of this matter should have been finally made.
In this house a great deal has been said about the sanctity of contracts. It has been mentioned by cabinet ministers and others, and this afternoon I am basing my appeal on the sanctity of contract. I have before me a copy of an address delivered by the late Sir Robert Borden, then prime minister of Canada, to the Canadian expeditionary forces in 1917. He said:
You are men actually facing the enemy day and night. You are suffering greatly from fatigue, overstrain, and lack of rest. The marvel of it is that men could undergo such a strain without breaking; but you have never yet broken and history will appreciate that in days to come.
You men are about to enter one of the most serious engagements that ever faced the Canadian corps. I cannot, at this moment, give any information as to where this attack will be staged, whether it be successful or not, it is to be borne in mind that it will not be an easy success . . . We feel confident that you will succeed where others failed; for you have never yet failed in anything you have set your hand to, as a Canadian corps.
You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as the head of the government, I give you this assurance; that you need have no fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to the country and empire in what you are about to do and what you have already done.
The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of the people at home, and it will always be our endeavour to so guide the attitude of public opinion, that the country will support the government to prove to the returned man its just and due appreciation of the inestimable value of the services rendered to the country and empire; and that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken with the men who won and the men who died.
In my opinion, Mr. Speaker, that is a definite promise on behalf of the government of that day. It is a promise that has not been kept, the fulfilment of which I hope the people of Canada will see is no longer delayed. The soldier settlement legislation was passed in 1919. As a result of that legislation, which some people thought was good and which was passed hurriedly by men who had no previous experience in the matter but were merely interested in getting the ex-soldiers out of the towns and cities, 25,017 veterans were given average loans of $4,358.40 each. These loans totalled $109,034,331.
For the information of those who have not heard this argument before, I might say that those soldier settlers were beaten before they ever started. Immediately after the war the price of land was high, as were the prices of grain and livestock. At that time-and I am not saying this from hearsay because I was in the country then-wheat was selling for as high as $3 a bushel; milch cows were selling for as high as $125 to $150 each; and horses for as high as $500 a team. Again let me state that in many cases the horses that were purchased by the soldier settlement board and sold to the settlers should have been used for crow bait rather than for the purposes of those veterans; the. same might be said of some of the cows and other stock that were purchased and also a good deal of the farm machinery was ready for the scrap-heap.
I have here a statement or "authority to sell chattel equipment". I might say that the livestock all belonged to the soldier settlement board, and the settler could not sell any of it without authority from that board. This is an authority granted to one George Connon, Junior, of Hazeldine, Alberta, a man in my constituency, who gave me this paper with permission to use it if I felt that I should do so. This is an authority granted to Mr. Connon to sell some livestock, and this is the appraisal placed upon the livestock by the officials of the soldier settlement board:
1 cow, 1,100 pounds $10
1 black cow, 10 years old, 1,000 pounds 10
1 roan cow, 9 years old, 1,000 pounds 7.50
1 red cow, 9 years old, 1,000 pounds
101 cow, tan and white, 10 years old
101 cow, red, 8 years old, 1,000 pounds
101 cow, black and white, 8 years, Holstein_ 101 cow, black, 8 years old
101 roan bull, 3 years old
102 yearlings, 1923 increase
That meant eleven head of cattle for
$107.50, less than the price of one animal four or five years prior to that time. I stated that these men were beaten before they ever started out, and I think that statement from
one of the settlers or that official paper of the soldier settlement board will bear out the statement I have made.
Another thing I see wrong with the contract was that, while there was a definite stated price in the contract that the settler should1 pay to the soldier settlement board, there was no guarantee whatever of the price that the settler would receive for his grain or livestock as time went on; and we know from sad and expensive experience that shortly after war broke out prices broke also and as a result the soldier settlers and many of us out in the country at that time had quite a hard time to get enough to eat, without paying interest, taxes or any of the principal of our debts.
Another injustice in the act at the time was I believe section 57, which took away from the settler the oil rights that went with his holdings. I am glad to say that some of this has since been restored. Back in 1937 or 1938, I am not sure which, legislation was brought in which would restore those oil rights to the settlers who were entitled to them; and while the legislation went through this house without much discussion, when it went to the other chamber we find that it was conveniently sent to a committee, and in that committee certain members, led by Right Hon. Arthur Meighen, saw to it that those oil rights were not restored to the settlers. The result was that it was not until a couple of years ago, since the present Minister of Veterans Affairs (Mr. Gregg) came into office, that these men have been able to get back that right. In that case I feel that the soldier settlement board might just as well have sold buildings off the farms as to have taken away the oil rights that went with the land.
Shortly after the settlers bought their land, as I stated before, prices dropped. We also had a series of poor crops out in that part of the country. As you know, the settlers were mainly located in Saskatchewan and Alberta. As soon as the prices dropped and the crops were short, we had a number of failures. Many of the settlers at that time who were wise enough, who could see far enough ahead -or perhaps through disgust-got off their farms and made a living in other occupations; but many of the others who were determined that they would some day own their land stayed with it', and are still staying with it. I shall deal later with the number who are still on the land.
From practical experience I know that some grades of oats sold for as low as three cents a bushel and in many cases where farmers hauled grain to the elevator and shipped it out in carload lots, after it got down to Fort
William they had to turn in either an additional car of grain or some cash in order to pay the freight. The farmers in general went through those conditions, and the soldier settlers of course were not in a condition to stand those things.
Subtopic: PROPOSAL TO GIVE CLEAR TITLES TO VETERANS WITH UNPAID BALANCES